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

Pebble Mill at One – Salman Rushdie. Memories of Make Up artist, Maggie Thomas

Salman Rushdie on Pebble Mill at One

One day Salman Rushdie came to Pebble Mill to talk about his new book. I was working on Pebble Mill at One that day. I didn’t know anything about this man in my make-upchair; we had such a variety of people on the programme and many of them were not famous, so he was just another shiny head to powder. As always I was in the make-up room right up until we went on air and, as it was live, it was quite a challenge to find a corner on the sidelines and keep out of shot, ready to step in if any sweat appeared on the presenters when the cameras were not on them, and dab them with the cool chamois. On this day, when I looked outside I could see swarms of strangely dressed men with banners streaming into Pebble Mill Road . Even then I was too busy concentrating on my work to pay much attention. It was only when the item interviewing Salman Rushdie came on that this huge crowd of them outside started advancing on the building, shaking their fists and waving their banners. It was the most chilling experience of my life, partly because of the huge number of them and partly because there seemed nothing to stop them entering the building. Everyone was frozen to the spot and the poor interviewer struggled to appear as though nothing was happening. Fortunately, one of our security guards must have phoned the police and they soon arrived in some numbers and quelled the advance of the hordes. It wasn’t until I saw the local news that evening that the whole story was explained. His book had made some insulting remarks about their religion and they had come to protest. I have often wondered why a man of letters and supposed intelligence such as he didn’t realise that his ‘Satanic Verses’ would upset his fellow countrymen and how much it has cost this country to protect him from them. How unsuspecting we were in those days that this would become the norm.

From ‘Dishing the Dirt’ by Maggie Thomas available from Amazon authors on line

Pete Simpkin – The Pebble Mill Roof

Pete Simpkin radio producer

THE PEBBLE MILL ROOF

As the Pebble Mill at One Show developed more items were broadcast from the inner quadrangle of the building which was a pleasant grassed and landscaped area. However the British weather increasingly played its disruptive part and so a foldable roof was installed so that whatever the weather the show could go on.
It was however fascinating on wet days to see the gardener having to water the flowers and shrubs under the roof while perfectly good rain fell on the roof above! Similarly we were fascinated one snowy day to look down from the radio studio to see artificial snow being distributed around whist real snow was falling outside. Fascinating challenges!

Peter Poole adds the following comment on Facebook: ‘I remember the artificial snow well. I worked on ‘A Song for Christmas’ in the Quad. We used several Sony ECM 50 mics. The snow got into the XLR plugs and caused problems. After the show it took ages to clean all the cables. I now hate artificial snow!’

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