Paul Balmer – Memories of working at Pebble Mill

I worked at Pebble Mill for 17 years from 1974.

I initially worked as a sound guy on many of the continuing dramas including many Second City Firsts and Classic Serials.

I also worked developing the soundscapes for the BBC’s first stereo drama serial – Juliet Bravo.

As a musician I was the ‘off screen’ guitarist for Alison Steadman in ‘Nuts In May’ – Mike Leigh’s direction was “No! No, worse much WORSE!” (difficult for a trained classical guitarist). I was in the dubbing suite for ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’.

Alan Platers ‘Curriculi Curricula’ was also a major undertaking – the first lightweight on location electronic drama also with stereo sound – ‘hand synced’ by Roger Guest and videoed on location at Birmingham University!

I stood next to the writer on the very first ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ as the horse produced copious manure and the props guys argued over whether poo was an action prop or litter?

I also wrote music for Pebble Mill at One films – McClouds Mysteries – re enacted ghost stories! – Great fun. I have VHS copies somewhere!

I became a radio producer for Radio 1/2/3 and 4 and eventually a TV director having moved to Television Centre writing and  directing multi camera drama for BBC Schools TV.

At Pebble Mill In 1976 I had met Stephane Grappelli  – the great violinist and wrote his biography, produced a 1 hour biog on Radio 2 and a two hour DVD which was nominated for a BAFTA in 2002.

I also directed the multi award winning ‘Africa I Remember’ – shot on location in Africa.

Pebble Mill was an amazing place to work – in the same day you could work on Radio 3, The Archers and the local news!

One day I staged a ZULU charge on the front lawn.

Faintly bizarre in hindsight! But truly wonderful.

I now work as a full time writer.

All the best

Paul Balmer,

Author ‘The Haynes Guitar Manuals’, Penguin Encyclopaedia of Music, Julian Bream etc

Pete Simpkin – The Mad Axeman!

THE MAD AXEMAN

When the Pebble Mill Radio Studios were being built someone forgot to install a visual alarm so that people broadcasting in soundproof areas would be made aware of any emergency and respond accordingly. One afternoon I was presenting the scheduled show alone in studio 1 when I looked up to see a Fireman complete with helmet and an axe waving at me through the control room window. Apparently there was a fire alarm and I was the only person who was not aware of it. Actually it turned out to be a false alarm and I refused to leave my post and kept on the air but soon flashing alarms were installed throughout the area for future safety!

On another occasion we were all evacuated from the building and as we  trooped out we became aware that we were being filmed…..it was for a programme about how quickly

a building could be evacuated…..we were not best pleased.

Coming down from the 7th floor restaurant one afternoon I walked into a lift and was told to ‘carry on, behave quite normally’ A silent sequence was being filmed for some drama for TV and I had to stand next to a famous actor until we reached the required floor. I never saw my appearance!

Pete Simpkin – Memories of the Ghostly Voice

Pete in WM Studio 1

THE GHOSTLY VOICE

One of the security men who was on early duty at the back door in the early hours had a frightening habit of scaring me witless every time he was in situ by waiting until I had collected my studio keys from him and walked up the darkened back corridors of the building to a particular point where there was a security loudspeaker installed. He could work out the time to reach this place and then whisper ‘Pete’ into his microphone. The effect of this unseen voice whispering my name in the stigeon gloom of the early morning was unsettling to day the least but I was always caught out. Luckily he retired before I did!

Pete Simpkin – Memories of Working at Pebble Mill

WORKING TOGETHER

With the creation of the famous ‘Pebble Mill at One’ show there was an immediate challenge to how to produce a live TV programme in the entrance Foyer and yet keep the building operating. In the end it proved impossible and the actual operating Reception area had to be relocated but for several years we all mixed in and went about our daily business as best we could. On one never to be forgotten lunchtime I had been recording some ‘Thought for the Day’ talks for the breakfast show given by a local Catholic priest.

At the end of the session I had to get him back out to the street and the routine when PM@1 was on air was to just make our way out along a narrow gangway at the back of reception. This usually worked well but on the particular occasion in question the TV show was broadcasting some dancers at that end of the area and just as the producer switched cameras to a wide angle of the dancers there could be seen a bespectacled person pushing gently with hands to the shoulder blades of a frightened looking priest crossing the scene! Clearly the director was not happy because when I attempted to get back into the building after seeing the priest off the door was locked against me. As my next duty was to read the 2pm news summary it was essential to get back in and the only way was to run up Pebble Mill Road to the side entrance, down the long drive, along the back corridor and up a flight of stairs to the studio. My eventual performance was breathless reading with long gaps to get my breath. After the Manager had rushed in to tell me off for careless work and I had explained my reasons there were hurried top level enquiries made and arrangements made to prevent breathless newsreading in the future…….but that’s the sort of building and challenges we had.

Pete Simpkin radio producer

Memories of Pebble Mill

Pete in WM Studio 1

From PETE SIMPKIN  – Radio Birmingham/WM producer and presenter 1970-1988

Pebble Mill was a pioneering Broadcasting Centre custom built to house the cream of the BBC’s non metropolitan broadcasting and its staff. It unified under one roof several premises in Birmingham and so brought together all the talent and technology for Broadcasting in the 70s and 80s. It also was the headquarters of the BBC’s non London Organisation.  Others will tell the story of the building, of it’s multitude of programmes both on TV and Radio. There was a high profile Radio operation including drama and Music of all kinds, not forgetting of course the fact that it was the home of ‘The Archers’, the Radio soap opera.

For my part it was a terrific place to work. Local Radio was the first part of the operation to be homed here as it went ‘On air’ as the Mill was being commissioned. Wherever there are local radio broadcasters there are thousands of tales to tell and so I have collected here just four personal memories which pull together the magic of working at Pebble Mill and the ways in which this extraordinary building operated for good or ill!