34 years since Torvill and Dean’s Gold Medal

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With the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics today, it is 34 years since the Pebble Mill crew brought Torvill and Dean’s Gold Medal winning performance of Bolero to millions of viewers. The action was caught on Eric Wise’s single camera, when the Yugoslav pictures proved disappointing. Besides Eric, the team included Roger Guest on sound; Bill Youel, vision recording; and John Allinson, Engineering Manager.

The article above is from the internal BBC newsletter, Midlands News from March 1984. It gives the audience for the broadcast as 17.5 million, whilst the BBC today was listing it as 24 million.

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Marie Phillips: ‘I remember this. I had tickets for their Show that night and was able to get them signed. I asked if they would be performing Bolero and Christopher Dean said “You will have to wait and see !” and of course, they did – wonderful.’

James Lund: ‘”Bad luck had led to disappointing coverage from the Yugoslav’s six rink-side cameras” – seems a strange way to describe things. Is it put diplomatically? Does anyone have further details? I assume the Pebble Mill camera was only for UK viewers, and not fed back to host broadcaster, JRT.’

2 comments on “34 years since Torvill and Dean’s Gold Medal
  1. Legendary story, often re-told to me by Eric over the years. Incredible achievment, given the technology of the time. Bulky, heavy equipment transported at times on a improvised sledge I was told.The title of the piece is, I guess a pun. T & D stood not only for Torvill and Dean but also for ‘Travel and Duties’ i.e. ‘Expenses’ as we’d probably call it now.

  2. James Lund enquires about details of the BBC Pebble Mill camera being deployed in Sarajevo for the Winter Olympics in 1984.

    A single camera unit was sent from Pebble Mill ahead of the games to shoot coverage and features for a preview programme and interviews during games time, previously such work would have been undertaken with a film camera. It was hoped that Torvill and Dean would do well, so the advantage of a video camera meant that material could be turned around quickly and there was the possibility of a live interview from the stadium.

    As with all major international sporting events (olympics and world cups) the coverage of the event is the responsibility of the Host Broadcaster in this case JRT as mentioned, If a rights holding broadcaster wished to use their own camera they would need to pay the Host Broadcaster for a position for it, this would be expensive as you could not have every broadcaster turning up with cameras. The only broadcaster that has the budget to do that is the American network with the rights. This multilateral coverage by the Host is made available to the regional consortiums of broadcasters, in Europe EBU (Eurovision) for distribution to their members.

    In order to facilitate an interview with T & D that was under their control at the stadium the BBC hired an interview area this was adjacent to the rink but positioned so that coverage of the event could not be done from it. The BBC had paid for a unilateral circuit from there back to the IBC (International Broadcast Centre) so that any interview could be relayed from there back to London by a booked unilateral satellite. The main Host Broadcaster multilateral feed being received in London via the EBU network.

    In the afternoon Production wanted us to get the camera to the edge of the rink as there were stills photographers there, we were not allowed access there as we had the wrong sort of arm bands, ours had PJ on them which we thought meant Photo Journalism whereas the Photographers just had a P on theirs. This was pointed out to production and a Producer sent Eric the Cameraman off to try and obtain one. I jokingly remarked what if he does not come back? the reply from the Producer was don’t worry he would do the camera as he was an ex cameraman. We later noticed that people were walking in without any armbands on, so we took ours off and just walked in without being challenged. We got the camera in by the evening although the camera cable was not long enough which resulted in over enthusiastic pulling by several producers which caused a technical problem but that’s another story. The officials must have assumed that we were an American outfit.

    We recorded the competitions and feed back to the IBC, we did not have access to the host broadcasters coverage so we did not know what it was like, but we were informed for T & D’s performance London would be live on our pictures. This put the pressure on Eric who was concerned about batteries, luckily we had a battery belt that I don’t think had ever been used. So with the battery on the camera and two on the belt there was confidence that we could last all evening. All went well until just before T & D started, it was quiet then I could hear a rumpus coming back from the camera, the Yugoslavs had realised that the camera did not belong to the American network and certainly was not one of theirs, and were going to eject it and cameraman. The last I heard was Eric saying “I am British and I am staying here” then the music then struck up and the performance commenced. I was very surprised that the pictures kept coming. It must have been decided against frogmarching a British cameraman off in front of the world’s press and cameras while the British couple were preforming, or knowing the bureaucracy there was no one to authorise such a public expulsion. We completed the live coverage on the single camera then did what our original goal was, the live interview although it was maniac with the BBC’s interview area been practically overrun by the photographers etc. It’s worth mentioning that the BBC commentator at the stadium could not see the BBC’s output only the Host’s, so he had to be guided by a producer with him luckily he took it in his stride.

    I did hear that the Host coverage was very artistic with the skaters appearing to be skating up and down hill, also that the BBC provided our coverage to the Germans.

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