Colin Pierpoint blog – Part 2, New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room on the first floor of BH Extension had a different technical layout than the previous wartime Control Room. Gone were Incomings and Outgoings; instead they had the Multiple Switching Position MSP. The Multiple or “Mult” was the name for the uniselector switching system. The Simultaneous Broadcasting Position (SB) was still there dealing with the regions and transmitters. There was an Outside Broadcast (OB) position and a Television Sound position, (which had also been on the balcony in the Old Control Room). The “Bays“ of the old Control Room were replaced by Control and Monitor Positions (C&Ms). [Later in my career when I was a Lecturer at the Engineering Training Department, I was telling a course of male and female Studio Managers about London Control Room. As I mentioned the SB position the OB position and the MSP position some of them started to grin. When I got to the C&M position they were nearly in hysterics! Contact me for an explanation if you don’t understand!]

Most of my work in the New Control Room was on the C&Ms. Occasionally I would be chosen to operate the three channel mixers which were in a separate cubicle in the Control Room, and used for some foreign dispatches, and the Shipping Forecast on Long Wave.

It was in the New Control Room where I sent +24 decibels signal level to the Long Wave transmitter at Droitwich. This event is remembered even today by ex-Control Room Staff!
About this time in March 1962 I went on TO Course 13 at Wood Norton. Here is a photo of me in the Wood Norton Control Room, where I could do less harm.












On return to London I was move into the XP unit, which did tape editing and worked in the studios on transportable tape machines; actually TR90s on wheels, hence the name XP, transportable. I never knew if this was because of my error but I gained a lot of experience of tape editing, and working with producers. At my level I was only in the recording channels, but my colleagues worked on the Jack Jackson show actually in the studio cubicle. (For readers from a television background, in Radio, the place where the artists work in called the Studio, the place where the Studio Managers and the mixing desk is located is called the Cubicle. They are connected visually by a double glazed window, as in Television).

Some of my recording in London was on disk, and on a trip to CBC in Canada a few years ago, I came across the same model of disk cutter that I had operated.

Presto disc cutting recorder

Presto disc cutting recorder












I also found the so called “Midget” tape recorder used by reporters at this time. It used 5 inch reels of standard tape, and could record for seven and a half minutes on full track. In 1961 the midget recorder was used for interviews. The recorded tape was then taken to an editing channel. Editing standard tape at 7 and a half inches per second was no problem, the BTR2 tape machine which was used for editing could be switched to 7 and a half ips. Later these field recorders were changed, first to the Ficord and then to the Uher tape recorder. The Ficord presented a problem because it used long play tape which was thinner. When spooled back on a BTR2 the heavy machine from a German design stretched the tape! So we had to copy from the recorder first. Not convenient with an urgent news story and a deadline.


"Midget" recorder by EMI

“Midget” recorder by EMI

CMCR9’s travels this year

Photo by Steve Harris, no reproduction without permission

Photo by Steve Harris, no reproduction without permission

Below is some information from Jerry Clegg about where you see the outside broadcast scanner, CMCR9, which was Pebble Mill’s original CM1, and became Manchester’s North3. The restoration of the scanner has made further progress since it was last on display, and it now has working cameras and a generator.


“North 3 will be on show this coming weekend at the Llandudno Transport Festival on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday (April 30-May 2 2016). This is a great show in a super location. The scanner will not arrive there until Saturday morning so don’t come too early or we won’t be fully rigged!

Here is a list of North 3 events for 2016 :-
N3 Events 2016

Events 2016

Events planned for 2016 so far: (other events may be added)
April 30-May 2nd The Llandudno transport Festival
We missed it last year but will be returning for this major event in a superb location, not to be missed.
June 25th & 26th: The Kelsall Steam and Vintage Fair
One of the biggest classic commercial shows in the country, a great day out.
July 10th: The Wilmslow Show (NOT YET CONFIRMEd)
Something for everyone at this event.
August 13th & 14th: Astle Park Steam Rally.
Hundreds of classic cars, steam engines, commercials in a picturesque setting.
August 28th and 29th (Bank Holiday weekend): Shrewsbury Steam and Vintage Vehicle Rally, Onslow Park.
One of the largest and most interesting events around

Playing for Time

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Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

There is a studio schedule for Playing for Time, which was recorded in Studio A at Pebble Mill.

Playing for Time was a daytime general knowledge quiz hosted by Eamonn Holmes. There were at least two series of the show, which went out in autumn 2000 and spring/summer 2001.

Thanks to Stuart Gandy for sharing the schedule.

Alison Steadman – early dramas

At the Flatpack Film Festival on Sunday 24 April 2016, at the Midlands Arts Centre, there was a screening of two of Alison Steadman’s early films. The dramas were both in the Second City Firsts slot of 30 minute films, which brought new talent to the small screen.

freeze frame from Girl

freeze frame from Girl

























The first film was a studio drama, with an entirely female cast, and practically all set within a single room, which makes it feel quite claustrophobic. The copy was quite poor quality, presumably due to the transmission copy being lost. It tells the story of Jackie, played by Steadman, who is being discharged from the army due to being pregnant. She is portrayed as quite a vulnerable character, preyed upon by the predatory Corporal Harvey. The drama features the first lesbian kiss on British television. Below is the original entry from the Radio Times for 25th Feb 1974:

“A season of six original plays from Birmingham 2: Girl by JAMES ROBSON
Jackie is leaving the Army. While waiting for the car she re-encounters Corporal Harvey , her previous lover …
Script editor TARA PREM Designer MYLES LANG


Writer: James Robson
Unknown: Corporal Harvey
Editor: Tara Prem
Designer: Myles Lang
Producer: Barry Hanson
Director: Peter Gill
Harvey: Myra Frances
Jackie: Alison Steadman
Maggie: Stella Moray
Bailey: Eileen McCallum”

Helen (played by Steadman), pops next door

Helen (played by Steadman), pops next door

Helen with Vinny

Helen with Vinny
























The second film was shot on location in Oldham. It was Alan Bleasdale’s first TV drama, and features the adulterous Helen, played by Steadman, who is brightening up her mundane life as a housewife, by enjoying some extra marital sex with Vinny, the young athletic next-door neighbour, who is about to leave for university.

Here is the original Radio Times entry for Early to Bed:

“A season of new plays from Birmingham Early to Bed by ALAN BLEASDALE
There’s Helen (top). She’s on her own in the mornings after Frankie (middle) goes to work. But young Vinnie (bottom) from next door comes calling …
The pupils of HiNBUY AND .RRAY GRAMMAR SCHOOL Designer Michael EDWARDS
Script editor William SMETBUttST Producer BARRY HANSON
Director LESI PEBLAiR ,i Birmingham*
Birmingham welcomes careful writert: see Jeature beginning page 13


Unknown: Alan Bleasdale
Designer: Michael Edwards
Producer: Barry Hanson
Director: Lesi Peblair
Vinny: David W Arwicic
Helen: Alison Steadman
Mother: Patricia Leach
Frankie: Johnny Meadows
Mr Hughes: Clifford Kershaw
Postman: Ashley Thompson
Frankie’s mates: Charles Hatton
Frankie’s mates: Cliff Duncan
Diana Marina: Barbara Ruan
Musicians: Sylvia McPokald
Musicians: Jack McDonald”

[NB mistakes are in the Genome project entry]


Second City Firsts screenings Sun 24 April 2016

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission










There is a series of screenings at the Midlands Arts Centre on Sunday 24 April 2016, starting at 2pm, as part of the Flatpack Film Festival. Below is the publicity information from organiser, Ian Francis:


During the 1970s, a key strength of the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill was its ability to unearth new talent; not just through flagships like Play For Today, but also the entry-point offered by the likes of Second City Firsts. Running from 1973 for ten series, this half-hour slot took a chance on a spectacular range of ‘regional talent’ including Willy Russell, Julie Walters, David Rudkin, Brian Glover and many others. Just as importantly, it offered a diversity of representation that often compares favourably with today’s TV drama. This afternoon we’re joined by Tara Prem, a script editor and subsequently series producer on Second City Firsts, to explore six very different episodes from the strand.

Girl 1974

Girl 1974

Early to Bed

Early to Bed 1975










Volume One:

A Touch of Eastern Promise; Girl; Early to Bed

Our first film, A Touch of Eastern Promise (1973), is not officially a Second City First, though it emerged from a very similar slot. Written by Prem herself, it’s the tale of a daydreaming shop-boy who has the opportunity to meet his favourite star. Partly shot in Balsall Heath, all the cinema scenes were captured at the now-demolished Imperial on Moseley Road. To follow, an Alison Steadman double-bill: studio-shot military drama Girl (1974), which features the first lesbian kiss seen on British TV; and then Early to Bed (1975), with Steadman smouldering on location in a depressed mill town. This claustrophobic tale of infidelity was the first television script by Alan Bleasdale, who later went on to Boys From the Blackstuff and GBH.


The Permissive Society 1975

The Permissive Society 1975

Jack Flea's Birthday Celebration 1976

Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration 1976









Volume Two:
The Permissive Society; Club Havana; Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration

It was at the Midlands Arts Centre where Mike Leigh first embarked on his unique approach to devising scripts, and Pebble Mill which commissioned much of his early TV work. Made a year before camping comedy Nuts in May, The Permissive Society (1975) is an overlooked gem. Also confined to a single set, Club Havana (1975) is a tense portrait of a Handsworth speakeasy by playwright Barry Reckord, featuring Don Warrington as the landlady’s son newly arrived from Jamaica and an incredibly young Julie Walters as the barmaid. We conclude with Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration (1976), a psychosexual nightmare from the pen of Ian McEwan which is very much in keeping with his short stories of the time.