Colin Pierpoint blog – Part 2, New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room on the first floor of BH Extension had a different technical layout than the previous wartime Control Room. Gone were Incomings and Outgoings; instead they had the Multiple Switching Position MSP. The Multiple or “Mult” was the name for the uniselector switching system. The Simultaneous Broadcasting Position (SB) was still there dealing with the regions and transmitters. There was an Outside Broadcast (OB) position and a Television Sound position, (which had also been on the balcony in the Old Control Room). The “Bays“ of the old Control Room were replaced by Control and Monitor Positions (C&Ms). [Later in my career when I was a Lecturer at the Engineering Training Department, I was telling a course of male and female Studio Managers about London Control Room. As I mentioned the SB position the OB position and the MSP position some of them started to grin. When I got to the C&M position they were nearly in hysterics! Contact me for an explanation if you don’t understand!]

Most of my work in the New Control Room was on the C&Ms. Occasionally I would be chosen to operate the three channel mixers which were in a separate cubicle in the Control Room, and used for some foreign dispatches, and the Shipping Forecast on Long Wave.

It was in the New Control Room where I sent +24 decibels signal level to the Long Wave transmitter at Droitwich. This event is remembered even today by ex-Control Room Staff!
About this time in March 1962 I went on TO Course 13 at Wood Norton. Here is a photo of me in the Wood Norton Control Room, where I could do less harm.












On return to London I was move into the XP unit, which did tape editing and worked in the studios on transportable tape machines; actually TR90s on wheels, hence the name XP, transportable. I never knew if this was because of my error but I gained a lot of experience of tape editing, and working with producers. At my level I was only in the recording channels, but my colleagues worked on the Jack Jackson show actually in the studio cubicle. (For readers from a television background, in Radio, the place where the artists work in called the Studio, the place where the Studio Managers and the mixing desk is located is called the Cubicle. They are connected visually by a double glazed window, as in Television).

Some of my recording in London was on disk, and on a trip to CBC in Canada a few years ago, I came across the same model of disk cutter that I had operated.

Presto disc cutting recorder

Presto disc cutting recorder












I also found the so called “Midget” tape recorder used by reporters at this time. It used 5 inch reels of standard tape, and could record for seven and a half minutes on full track. In 1961 the midget recorder was used for interviews. The recorded tape was then taken to an editing channel. Editing standard tape at 7 and a half inches per second was no problem, the BTR2 tape machine which was used for editing could be switched to 7 and a half ips. Later these field recorders were changed, first to the Ficord and then to the Uher tape recorder. The Ficord presented a problem because it used long play tape which was thinner. When spooled back on a BTR2 the heavy machine from a German design stretched the tape! So we had to copy from the recorder first. Not convenient with an urgent news story and a deadline.


"Midget" recorder by EMI

“Midget” recorder by EMI

Colin Pierpoint blog part 1- London

My BBC career. By Colin Pierpoint


To begin at the beginning.
My career began on 14th August 1961 when I, a timid 18 year old, left my parents’ Cheshire home, for London.
The first week was an Induction Course,which was quite comprehensive I remember. It took place in the Langham Hotel, a BBC building opposite BH. But with many on-site visits. On my second day, I arrived 20 minutes late worried that I would be in serious trouble. “Sorry I’m late” I said as I found my seat in the classroom. “Oh London traffic is terrible” was the only answer from our instructor!

So on my first days of real work I was sent to the Control Room in the sub-basement of BH London. This was the emergency wartime Control Room, installed in a hurry because the original Control Room was on the top floor of the building, rather liable to air attack. It distributed Radio, but also Television Sound; vision went through the Switching Centre in a different part of BH (only the BBC could do it that way!). The main positions in the Control Room were Simultaneous Broadcast (SB), Incomings, and Outgoings; but I and other Grade D new staff were on”The Bays” where we monitored and sometimes controlled a contribution passing through to recording channels or other destinations such as Home Traffic and Foreign Traffic. In two very small double rooms were the Continuity Suites for Home and Third programmes. Light Prog Continuity was upstairs on the basement floor.

London Control Room; Christmas 1961. Note the “Drop Flap” telephone exchanges.The metal flaps would actually drop from the energy created by someone turning the handle of a telephone to ring, often from hundreds of miles away. [for the technical readers 50 Hz at 80 volts]

London Control Room; Christmas 1961. Note the “Drop Flap” telephone exchanges.The metal flaps would actually drop from the energy created by someone turning the handle of a telephone to ring, often from hundreds of miles away. [for the technical readers 50 Hz at 80 volts]















On the “Bays” we were ringing all across Europe to establish contact with reporters. Our communication device was a field telephone with a handle to turn to ring. It may seem antiquated but these were great, because you could feel how long the line was, by how hard you had to turn. After getting contact, there was a speech test on the Music line, and two way circuits were established. (A Music line was high quality circuit which carried the broadcast material, whether speech or music). I was on C shift with S.K.Newling as TOM (Technical Operations Manager), Johnny Bradbury as ATOM, and Paddy Cairns, the “Grade C Engineer”. H C Miller was the Recording Supervisor in Cavendish Mansions, opposite the East side of BH, later on the 5th floor in the new recording channels. We had to look each day if we had been allocated to Control Room or Recordings. I did a lot of recording in Egton House and Cavendish Mansions and remember walking many times through the underground tunnel which connected the two buildings. Later I worked in the new recording channels on the 5th floor, often in H57. I once marked up a Radio Times with the programmes I had edited, and every day there were several Radio transmissions I had edited in some way.

H57 had the variable speed facility, called appropriately the “Savage” Bay (manufactured by the Savage Company!). It consisted of two transmitter valves which amplifier the output of a 40 to 60Hz oscillator to mains voltage, to feed the quarter horse power capstan motor of a BTR2. This was to vary the speed of the quarter inch tape! Only the BBC could do it this way. The equipment was very unpredictable, and on one occasion caught fire. The operator informed the Control Room who rang the BBC fire office, so lots of firemen were rushing around the first floor, looking for a fire which was on the 5th floor. The operator then rushed into the Recording Supervisor’s office shouting H57’s on fire. The unflappable Mr Miller said “You had better take your lunch break then”!

I have to admit to a disaster affecting a programme while I was working on recordings in London. I was to record “Music of the Masters”, a live programme broadcast on The Home Service which was repeated the following day or week, hence my recording. On the control console a monitoring key-switch allowed you to listen to either “Line In” or “Rep (Off tape)”. I began the recording on time, but when I switched to Off Tape I heard a mixture of the Home Service, the Light Programme and several other things. I rang the Control Room to query this and they told me (quite correctly) to contact the Recording Operations Office which I did. Unfortunately, when I played the recording back after the programme ended it was still a mixture of all services. So I was the cause of an announcement the following week to say that “We are unable to bring you the advertised programme for technical reasons.” I was told later that I would not be blamed. It was a complicated fault [for the technical readers, a one leg to earth due to a faulty (normally unused) key-switch on the machine I was recording on.] This experience did make me realise that when you record a live programme, it is best to have both tape machines set up and ready to record. I did that for the rest of my career, although it would not have saved me in this case because the one-legged fault on the input would have also affected the second machine also.

There was a new control room in the BH extension on the first floor (obviously another war was not expected) and they were in the process of changing over. In fact that is why my joining date was brought forward. Eventually the Old Control Room Staff had only to plug sources across to the new Control Room for transmission, and I was one of the few staff left in the old one. There should have been a supervisor present also. I remember coming on duty (alone) and finding all bookings on the sheet had finished, so I unplugged them all. “I had better check” I thought, so I read the booking sheet a second time.”What’s this Maida Vale 1 to Third Programme?” I plugged it up again, and listened to the Third Prog. The announcer said “We come now to part two of this evening’s concert…” By luck I had got away with my error in the interval while Third were on tape from continuity for the interval talk!