Alan Miller 1951-2021

Countryfile team with Press Office. Photo from Tim Manning, no reproduction without permission. Alan Miller is fourth from the left, next to John Craven.

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

Alan Miller died on 16th March 2021. He was 69. Alan worked on a whole range of factual shows at Pebble Mill, but particularly Top Gear GTi and Countryfile. I worked with him on a couple of films when I was a researcher on Gardeners’ World in 1991. He was originally a sound recordist who then moved into directing. He will be remembered as a kind, funny and generous man, who taught a lot of us an awful lot. (Vanessa Jackson)

Annette Martin: ‘I first met Alan when I was on attachment to Glasgow as a Vision Mixer and he was in the Sound Dept. He was a generous and friendly colleague and even lent me his tent so I could enjoy the wonderful Scottish countryside. Then we met up again at PM and worked on many programmes together. He was a pleasure to work with and I’m so sad he’s passed on.’

Columbo Street: ‘This is so so sad. Alan’s generosity with his knowledge and experience was the bedrock of my (& many others) early tv life. Such happy memories as a new researcher of filming with Alan and John Craven – from every corner of the UK to Oz, Mauritius and the US … The TV industry in the Midlands and beyond is richer for being lucky enough to have Alan Miller as a part of it.’

Julie Mason: ‘This is very sad news. I worked with Alan a lot, shooting various things but Top Gear Gti in particular. We shared a lot of laughs. Went up and down the M6 – he drove like a lunatic – working with a small, bijou team who shot the items for the UK Horizons spin off. Fun times.’

Jim Knights: ‘Such sad news on the passing of a friend and colleague. Always a pleasure to be his cameraman on shoots. And most importantly always ensured a 1 hour lunch break, excluding travel. Good and generous guy. The likes of which we will never see again.’

Midlands News 1992

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This page from the internal newspaper, Midlands News from 1992, shows what a vibrant place Pebble Mill was at this time, with both radio and television programmes winning all kinds of accolades, and even the restaurant winning an award for healthy food! Jeremy Clarkson is looking very youthful in the top right-hand corner, but down at the bottom the photographs for Countryfile‘s day out and Sarah Rowlands and Mark Decker’s digital editing session seem to have been swapped over – oops!

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John Craven on Countryfile

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Here are a couple of screen grabs of John Craven presenting on Countryfile.
Thanks to Ian Collins for making the stills available.

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

Jo Moore: ‘I’ve got half an idea that I was the AP on this item…I think it was an Alan miller shoot – possibly when we were doing something about water/ irrigation etc.
I still see John from time to time and like most people who’ve been lucky enough to work with him – he taught me SO MUCH about all things tv. A total gentleman, generous of spirit and warm beyond measure. Some of my happiest telly times.’

Alan Miller: ‘It rings a bell with me too but I cannot be sure I was the director or merely compiled the programme it was in. That’s the trouble, I made so many films with John that I have lost track.’

Andrea Buffery: ‘The bath scene was for a compilation programme directed by Joanna Brame starring Bob the duck!?! and my old snorkel’

Dawn Trotman: ‘The compilation had Charlotte Smith’s bog snorkelling piece in it I think? The train pix was I think from the scenic train journey items we did just before we left Pebble Mill. John always pulled the whistle! A true legend and one of the nicest men in telly.’

Kulwant Sidhu: ‘I directed JC on a steam train thread for CF on several occasions…that screen grab looks like Severn Valley…but could be mistaken. Great man, great raconteur.’

Roy Thompson: ‘Such a great guy, really helped and guided me during an attachment to Countryfile.’

 

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Top Gear GTi

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Thanks to Ian Collins for making this titles still from the Top Gear GTi series, which went out on the UKTV, UK Horizons channel.

Here is the entry from Wikipedia which explains the series, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Top_Gear_%28original_format%29_episodes#Top_Gear_GTi:

“Top Gear GTi was a series of programmes broadcast by the BBC covering a variety of features such as car reviews, special features such as attending a driving school and motor shows. Essentially, GTi is an expansion on the main programme. The series was mainly presented by Vicki Butler-Henderson, although Steve Berry and Jason Bradbury appeared on the show at times. The show was the last of the spin-off series’ of Top Gear to be broadcast, airing between September 1999 and May 2001, with more than 100 episodes in its name. Unlike any other spin-off, Top Gear GTi was broadcast on a near daily timeslot on the UK Horizons channel.”

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

Sarah Wilkin Hodgson: ‘Did we even have a budget?!! It was fab fun though…..apart from when I blew the tyre on the tracking mondeo car…..can you remember the weeing incident Michelle in the Honda Jazz when we were stuck in traffic in Madrid?…..and how ill I was in Barcelona….!!!! ‘

Michelle Davies: ‘Yes I remember Madrid!! That was a crazy 24 hrs smile emoticon and yes I remember Barcelona, you were so poorly. Do you remember me fixing the minicam to the Audi TT (you were presenting) and it fell off and smashed to pieces on the A345?! Managed to save the rushes though – sorry Alan Miller! So many memories .’

Alan Miller: ‘The show was by UKTV standards quite well funded but BBC overheads certainly ate into that budget big time. We cut costs by shooting and editing everything ourselves. Everyone did their bit,. Driving tracking cars, rigging in car cameras, writing running orders and even supervising the final compile were all shared by the entire team including the PA. It was a very flat hierarchy I think. The directors and producer of course shot and edited their own items. With very little lead time before the first TX we had to generate 23 minutes per week ourselves towards the 46 minute long programme, which had of course commercial breaks. Despite the pressures it was great fun to work on and I was and still am proud of what the fantastic team achieved, sometimes beating the BBC1 Top Gear to be first to test new cars!’

Joolz Richards: ‘It was one of the most fun programmes I ever worked on, certainly. Plus, we got to travel and stay in some excellent hotels. I particularly remember Branson’s place in Mallorca with Mark Scott and Steve Berry – I directed one piece and actually got Steve to recite Shakespeare (not well admittedly, remember that northern accent????) as this hotel had a proper Juliet balcony. There was also one occasion in Barcelona where the other journos thought I was Steve’s wife… Jeez…We were looked down on massively by the main programme which I think we really loved!!!!! However, it gave all of us the opportunity to learn lots of skills we would never have been able to otherwise – writing scripts, driving filming vehicles, sound boom, second camera, directing, the list is endless. An excellent training ground. Fab memories.’

Tracey Bagley: ‘May I add … Yes you all did a great job and quite frankly at times I know it proved challenging. Alan Miller, I recall going through that budget with you and you then taking me through all the technical aspects of the self shooting / self editing ! The innovation …. Happy days .’

Alan Miller: ‘Hi Tracey. We certainly played around with the budget to get the most out of it. I am sure I could not have done the various “deals” which allowed us to work the way we did without your inestimable help. I always thought of you as a crucial part of the team.’

D3 and Beta SP machines

P7121397Photo by Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

The photo shows a Panasonic D3 machine, and an Ampex Betcam SP machine.

D3 was a 1/2 inch videotape format which lost very little information between generations, and was hailed as a great revolution. It was brought in, in the early 1990s. I remember how excited everyone in post production got about D3, because you didn’t lose picture quality in going down a generation – although some thought that it would make production staff even more lax in their editing, because it didn’t matter if you had to go round again! Ironically, the tapes did not stand the test of time well, meaning that much of the BBC archive had to be digitised. D3 tended to be an editing and delivery format, rather than a shooting format.

Beta SP was also a 1/2 inch videotape format, and was the standard tape used in the late 1980s, and early 1990s for recording portable single camera location pieces.

These machines were in post production – probably in the machine room between VTC and VTE.

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

Paul Vanezis: ‘We had three D3’s in VTE but 2 machines everywhere else. We did totally mad pre-read edits on Top Gear and The Clothes Show. But the maddest was a Motor Show Special. It was 10 minutes before TX on a Sunday afternoon in 1992. Steve Neilson was editing and dropped out of record in the middle of a pre-read edit. The look of horror on his face was something to behold. I got him to redo the edit as audio only and pick the vision up later! We did make it on air and there were plenty of examples of that going on.’

Alan Miller: ‘I believe the D3 saga has an interesting ending in that the BBC has thousands of tapes to archive but there are not enough D3 head assemblies in the world to copy them to another format!’

Adam Trotman: ‘And you had to line them up properly or you would get a hop in the picture. …’

Russell Parker: ‘They retired there, but I think this photo is either VTE or Edit 17’s machine room.’