Colin Pierpoint blog 5 – Birmingham Broad Street

BBC Gosta Green Studios

BBC Gosta Green Studios

BBC offices in Carpenter Rd, Edgbaston, where I think Donnellan would have worked whilst producing 'The Colony'

BBC offices in Carpenter Rd, Edgbaston























Birmingham Broad Street

When I arrived in Birmingham I found that the regional centre was split into three, mainly for historical reasons. The main television studio was at Gosta Green, which had been so quickly installed in an old cinema at the start of Independent Television, that radiators were still fixed to the walls at varying heights where the audience seating used to be. I worked at Broad Street in the Sound Control Room, where there was also a television studio (Studio 1 later the larger Studio 4) for regional opt out; and teleciné. The drama studio was Studio 2. The managers were all at Carpenter Road, some distance from either operational centre, which was an excellent arrangement because you never saw them! The building was a blind school before the BBC took over, and some said it had never changed. The Midland Light Orchestra used Studio 6 at Carpenter Road, recording their music on tape machines a mile away at Broad Street, actually in the Control Room (Only the BBC could do it this way!)

I have mentioned my inability to get out of bed in the morning, and while working at Broad Street, I’m afraid I was late for work several times, especially on the 6-30 am shift. At my next annual interview I expected this to be on my report, so it was vital that I was not late for the interview. I decided to take no risks, start early and not use public transport so I wasn’t late due to the traffic. I therefore walked from my flat in Edgbaston to Carpenter Road where my Engineer in Charge (EiC) has his office.

As I went along the Hagley Road, and saw a madman attacking a nun, I knew that I was going to be  late! He had her by the arm and was dragging her along the pavement. She even asked for my help as I went past trying not to notice. The phrase “I can’t stop now, I have got my annual interview this morning” seemed to be inadequate. So I asked the man, politely, if he would mind telling me what was going on. He said “I am arresting this woman because she is a prostitute”!  Mm I see. Keep him talking I thought. As I did so I asked a passer-by to call the police from the nearby phone box on the corner of Portland Road. The man heard this, but thought it was to get the woman arrested. He said to me, “That’s right, call 99 999 99  9 99”. He’s nuts I thought. Unfortunately, the passer-by called for an ambulance, but they told me that a police car would follow. And quite quickly, a Panda car arrived. I told the officer what the man had said, and he was locked in the back of the police car, still thinking that he was to give evidence against this woman at the police station.

The officer asked other people what had happened, and at this point several brave young men now came forward to claim that they were the first to intercept and rescue the nun! She was quite distraught by now, and a woman took her to the Convent which was nearby.

So, nun back into safety, madman in police hands, I could now continue to Carpenter Road and my annual interview. There was only one problem, the interview was in five minutes, and I was still a mile away. So I went to the phone box and rang (Midland 8444 as I remember). I said that I am going to be late for my annual interview because on the way in I met a madman attacking a nun.

There was a silence from the other end. Then “ er – OK. I will tell the EiC” said with a hint of disbelief in her voice. When I arrived, something like half an hour late, my EiC just said “Congratulations on the best excuse I have ever heard”! Being late for work was never mentioned.

I must add that I received not a word of thanks from the Police, nor the Convent. It was however reassuring when I later spoke to some members of BBC staff who has seen something going on from the top of a bus in the Hagley Road. Perhaps you were one of them.

Colin Pierpoint


News Assistants need drawers with locks

2013-07-03 14.31.06












Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This note is held in the BBC Archives, and must have been written during a check of the new facilities at Pebble Mill before the building opened in 1971, as the address included is Carpenter Road in Edgbaston, the former BBC Birmingham headquarters.

I wonder what the Chief News Assistants were keeping in their desks to necessitate the locks, or was it that other members of the newsroom were particularly light-fingered, as well as being noisy?

Radio Birmingham being fed off the ringmain was obviously an after thought and had to be added in pencil!

Derek Smith – Obituary, from John Williams

Derek Smith, directing regional Top Gear. Photo from Jim Knights, no reproduction without permission

Derek Smith, directing regional Top Gear. Photo from Jim Knights, no reproduction without permission













I have much to thank Derek Smith for. He was the one who gave me my career in the BBC with the chance to join the Film Unit in Carpenter Road. It was him who took me around the world to Singapore and a story on Bishop Wilson. A wonderful story of wonderful people that matched man’s inhumanity to man, with man’s humanity. On to Malaya and a brand-new army base cut into the middle of the jungle complete with married quarters, school, swimming pools and sixty bed hospital, now to be closed by the then Wilson government and left to be devoured by the jungle. When university students were getting very bad press of their happenings during vacations we followed them and found them in Andorra working on the Forna and then on to a farm, living above the cattle in a barn high up in the Austrian mountains giving a holiday to a group of German orphans. We got bored one night and climbed halfway down to a cafe which we expected to be empty, it was packed full of people on some sort of pilgrimage already well awash on the beer and in full song. There was no escape, we were dragged in and expected to sing. My song went well. Derek let us down by singing Lilly Marlene, which was greeted with stunned silence, and he was very seriously asked where did he learn that song. Evidently it was something to do with his time in the Eighth Army, Rommel and the desert during the Second World War. As penance we were each made to drink an enormous glass of beer where upon everyone cheered and laughed and joined in. I don’t remember the rest of the evening!! !!

Then there was Top Gear, not sure if one should mention that, because I think it was Derek who introduced ‘you know who’ and it was me who did the first story, but there is so much more. I like to think Now Get Out of That, was a programme based on a chat Derek and I had together on the reliability and initiative tests we faced whilst training in the forces, and was the forerunner of the many celebrity shows developed along the same lines that are now so successful. My chance to live and fly with the Harrier Jet fighters of One Squadron was all down to Derek, you don’t forget that in a hurry!

Plenty of us should have lots to tell of Derek’s contribution to broadcasting. He was a maverick that thought outside the box and I feel fortunate to have been allowed to work with him. My condolences to all the family.

John Williams

John Williams, cameraman

John Williams, cameraman






The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Murray Clarke:’Yes – a great director, never afraid to blow the budget and make interesting programmes that viewers really enjoyed watching. And yes, the original Top Gear was his creation.’

Derek Smith Obituary

Pebble Mill Shoots 13












(Photos from Jim Knights, of the regional Top Gear show, somewhere in Europe, no reproduction without permission)

(The following obituary for director, Derek Smith, has been written by his son, Graham Smith).

Derek Smith joined the BBC in Birmingham 1957, working as an assistant producer on the newly created Farming magazine programme. He worked at Gosta Green studios and Carpenter Road.
In the early 1960s he moved on to general programming, as director and producer. He made a number of films about the armed services, including Soldier In The Sun, a film looking at the Royal Anglian Regiment in Aden and Yemen (1964) (The film can viewed on BBC Four Army Collection and i-Player). Singapore Twilight (1965), The Last Outpost, (1965); Men Of Action, (1966); They Speak The Language Anyway (life at a US Air Force base.) (1967).
From the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, he made a number of single network documentaries. For The Flight Deck Story, the history of the aircraft carrier, he filmed on board both HMS Eagle and on USS Enterprise off the coast of Vietnam. The film was narrated by actor Kenneth More. (BBC1, Tuesday Documentary 1969)
Mission To Hell followed the Bishop of Birmingham, Leonard Wilson, returning to Singapore to tell his story of war time imprisonment by the Japanese. In the film, he met his former torturer. (BBC 2 1969)
Another military history film Derek made at this time was Jump Jet, the history of the Hawker Harrier. (BBC 1 1970).
A film for the series “The World About Us”, The Lost River Of Gaping Gill showed cavers Sid Perou, Mike Wooding and Tom Brown as they sought to discover the route of an underground river in the Yorkshire Dales. (BBC 2 1970)
Journey Through Summer was a series of six films with actor and writer P.J. Kavanagh, as he viewed Britain through long distance walks. (1974)
Four In Hand was a one-off film with HRH Duke of Edinburgh, demonstrating Carriage Driving. (1974)
A studio based programme Derek devised was Major Minor, a piano competition for 10-13 year-olds. A BBC Midlands programme, repeated on the network, it ran for three seasons and was presented by musician Steve Race.
In 1975, Derek returned to military matters with Return To Dunkirk. On the 35th. anniversary of the evacuation, the film told the story of the men who escaped from a massacre at Esquelbecq. (BBC 2 1975)
Just A Year was a film that followed three of the survivors of the Birmingham pub bombs in November 1974, on their long recovery from injury. (BBC 2 1976)
In March 1977, Derek created a new series for BBC Midlands, Top Gear. The programme ran for nine monthly episodes shown only in the Midlands region. It was presented by Angela Rippon with Tom Coyne. The following year, it became a network show, on BBC 2. Derek continued as series producer until 1986.
An original programme devised by Derek was Now Get Out Of That. It was a competition between two teams testing their survival abilities along with problem solving mental tests over two days. It was filmed on location, with documentary film crews on 16mm. The first two seasons used teams from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, while series three and four were a contest between Britain and the USA. The programmes spanned 1981-84.
After leaving the BBC, Derek spent two years in Saudi Arabia working as a programme controller. He then lived in Spain for five years before returning to Sutton Coldfield. Well into his 70s, he continued to work part-time, as historian on tours to the sites of the Normandy Landings.

Derek Smith. April 16, 1927 – March 17, 2015.

Pebble Mill Shoots 16









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

Murray Clarke: ‘A very talented director – never afraid to stick his neck out and make interesting programme that really entertained. Yes, I was there with him at the birth of Top Gear in 1977. Love and condolences to his family.’

Conal O’Donnell: ‘A marvellous tribute to the kind of person who made the BBC & pebble Mill ..’


Dancing at the BBC Club

























Photos by Karen Bond, no reproduction without permission.

These photos of dancing in the BBC Pebble Mill Club date from the early 1990s. They mostly feature Pebble Mill series editor, Steve Weddle, taking to the dance floor, amongst others!

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

Marie Phillips: ‘Funny you posted this today. We were lunching with friends today at The Boot in Lapworth and in walked Steph Silk who I have bumped into twice in a week after 25 years. She was meeting former Pebble Millers, including Jenny Brewer and ….. Steve Weddle also 25 years on. Great to see everyone and share a few laughs. Steve was excited about his recently published book – available on Amazon! It must be part of the aging process but nobody looks any different as the years roll by.’

Judith Markall: ‘Remember dances in Studio 9 at Carpenter Road!’

Bridget Vaughan: ‘Tall girl could be Bev Dartnall, bless her.’

Janet Collins: ‘Sure it’s Bev and is the other person Julie Knee?’

Steve Weddle: ‘What is he like? Don’t answer that! And yes, that could be Bev – she was always full of fun and frolics, god bless her.’