Photos from Shirley O’Mara, no reproduction without permission. These photos feature most of the Post Production team as Pebble Mill was stripped out for the move to the Mailbox in 2004.
KEITH ACKRILL – MEMORIES OF PEBBLE MILL
I worked at Pebble Mill on Radio 4 and television, from the day it opened until I left in 1982. I have very many pleasant recollections of the years I spent there.
The thing you noticed most was the tremendous enthusiasm that permeated the whole staff.
It was the feeling that we were in a brand new building hailed as the biggest combined radio and television complex in Europe. We were all determined to make Pebble Mill programming a force to be reckoned with.
Hours and hours of top television had the Pebble Mill label. As well as Birmingham productions, many London drama series were based in the studio or filmed on location, using Birmingham crews.
The Brothers, Poldark, All Creatures Great and Small, Juliet Bravo, Howards Way, even Basil Brush – the list goes on and on. And that doesn’t include the many classic dramas that were produced in Studio A.
Radio was an important part of the building’s output too. Radio Two programming found a home there, the Midlands Radio Orchestra was in residence for many years. Folk music, pop music – every kind of music came from Pebble Mill. And that’s not forgetting radio drama. Pebble Mill, of course, was home to The Archers and many other dramas of all kinds were produced alongside, together with some fine radio documentaries.
There were many landmark programmes – Top Gear, Pebble Mill At One, Saturday Night At The Mill – all of which I was fortunate to have worked on.
My main memories from the last programme include talking to actor Robert Wagner, in the hospitality room, about English beer. I know nothing about beer, but it was worth talking about it just have Natalie Wood’s dark brown eyes focused on me! I remember sitting across the table from Ginger Rogers and, later, photographing Bob Langley dancing with her – lucky devil – accompanied by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, with guest trumpeter James Hunt. Many, many great stars came to Pebble Mill to take part in the wide range of radio and television programmes that came from within that building.
I miss meeting them, but I also miss the camaraderie of the people I worked with, of being part of a team dedicated to putting broadcasting in the Midlands on the map.
THE PEBBLE MILLY POLKA
As producer presenter of the mid afternoon show on Radio WM I had to seek out all sorts of people in the community who were achieving things or involved in events and occasions which were important or interesting in the community of the West Midlands.
These could range from visiting personalities or experts or, as was mostly the case, people who had done even one thing that was helpful to others or just plain interesting or entertaining.
Enter Denis Sheppard an octogenarian ex- Birmingham policeman and indeed Police Bandsman. Over the years he had composed music and songs on various subjects mostly annual expressions of love for his wife who was celebrated in many such songs. However living as he did in the Pershore Road he watched in the late sixties the development of the new building at Pebble Mill. He was moved to write a song in celebration of the opening and so it was when this came to my notice in 1982 some years later I just had to feature him and his music on the show. He gave a fascinating interview which has unfortunately not survived the move to the Mailbox but I still have a recording of the song which I enclose with this item together with copies of his original sheet music which you may be able to graphically include in the website. There is a mention of the BBC in the lyrics towards the end of the song. These items are included with the active help and permission of his family.
The First Series Of ‘All Creatures’
Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison and Carol Drinkwater were with us all the time, since most of the storylines required them to be ready for their scenes all day. My main responsibility was Chris and Carol. How lucky was that? They soon became my dearest friends and keeping Chris’s period haircut neat was really the most make-up I needed to do for him. We were really aiming for the totally natural country look and with Carol it was a matter of controlling her beautiful natural curls into a slightly more old- fashioned look. So, apart from hats on and off and making sure that wind-blown pieces of hair were in the same place for continuity, the actual make-up job seemed pretty minimal, until we realised that every storyline had an injured animal in it and that my Designer and I would, as far as possible, be doing them!
What we didn’t know was that every animal injury in the storyline would require a lot of attention from the Make- up Department. It soon became very clear that we were going to have our work cut out to achieve some believable looking animal injuries and other problems that I will now relate to you. Another lovely job that came our way was mud – on and off at all relevant times, i.e. when an artiste slipped over in a cowshed or an animal had a sudden and unexpected movement that made the artiste get dirty. So, at the start of every day we had to mix up our bucket of artificial mud that went everywhere with us, just in case! That was not the worst thing we had to produce. Every day the script would throw up things like puss in the horse’s hoof which had us propositioning the catering wagon for a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise which we then put into the hole in the horse’s hoof that the real vet Jack Watkins had cut out in readiness and then we put some of the horny hoof bits back over it so that when Chris (Mr. Herriot) started to use the hoof implement the puss would ooze out.
Excerpt from ‘Dishing the Dirt’ by Maggie Thomas, available from Amazon, authors on line