Radio WM’s Stuart Miller at the Birmingham Superprix

Photo by Rod Fawcett, no reproduction without permission












Radio WM engineer, Stuart Miller, at the controls for the coverage of the first Birmingham Superprix road race in 1986.

Thanks to Rod Fawcett for sharing the photo.

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

Andy Walters: ‘Would it surprise you to know we still have that mixer and DK monitoring unit at WM?’

Rod Fawcett: ‘Wow yes a little surprised!! But it was well built and I think flight cased to protect the gear…’

Iain Betson: ‘All standard BBC LR issue OB kit. MX6/2, DK2/21, ASC mod’ed PR99. It just worked. I know, I used it a lot!’

Andy Walters: ‘I must admit it gets little use but does still work. Must be thanks to the flightcase as my OB kit was stored in the garden shed on the car park at Pebble Mill for years.’

Malcolm Hickman: ‘Stuart was a great guy. I first met him when I was attached to P&ID building the Comms Centre in 1971. Radio Birmingham were in the building before it opened. There was no restaurant, but we had a kitchen and the lads came in to use the kettle.’

Keith Conlon: ‘Stuart was a great man when I was working for BBC Radio Birmingham then BBC Radio WM as a freelance Station Assistant. Very helpful offering advice with my live music sound mixing.’

Colin Pierpoint: ‘I worked with Stuart many times when he was in Radio OBs and I was in Radio 4 Midland continuity (previously the Midland Home Service). Afterwards when he was Radio Birmingham Engineer (later Radio WM) we cooperated one evening when there was a fault on air on Radio WM. He was at home and asked me to go into an unstaffed Radio WM Ops room, he then talked me round the equipment to make the necessary adjustments. That was in the days when the phone I was using to hear Stuart had a wire attached!’

Pete Simpkin: ‘Stuart was a real pioneer. Together we did the first…and… as far as l know…..only complete broadcasts for Radio Birmingham/WM of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish worship on any radio station in the country….one of them live. It involved complex rigging and audio balances and observation of the customs and traditions of the various communities.’

Comms Centre














Thanks to Stuart Gandy for sharing this photo of the Comms Centre at Pebble Mil. It probably dates from the early noughties. The Comms Centre handled all the radio and vision circuits coming in and out of BBC Pebble Mill.

The photo was first shared on the Pebble Mill Engineers Facebook group.

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

Malcolm Hickman: ‘Dear departed Graham Todd and I were attached to P&ID to build that. Probel supplied the routing system but didn’t appreciate what we wanted. Took 2 man years of programming effort of get it right.’

Andy Marriott: ‘I loved working there. My first proper job in the BBC. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s towards the end of its life. Certainly post 2001 which is when I left. The old DOS mode CBIS machine appears to have gone from the right of the desk and there appears to be an LCD screen on the left that I don’t remember being there. Interestingly the left bank of Trilogy panels appear to be missing, could they have possibly been taken for use in the Mailbox? Which would put us squarely in 2004.’

Andy Walters: ‘WMs transmitter lines and the inter local radio programme sharing circuits and control systems​ went through there too along with those for network radio.’

Richard Taylor: ‘And the Energis distribution system and Digital TV, both 601 for the studios (those bays are in the background left) and ‘Freeview’ or DTT as it was then. The BBC1 DTT off airs can be seen to the left of the desk displays. BBC2 was to the right. I suspect it was close to 2003? Best desk I ever worked on and I include London Switching Centre and Cardiff CC. And it’s tidy, so can’t have been taken on my shift!’







Brian Johnson in the Comms Centre

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission












Brian Johnson in the Comms Centre at Pebble Mill, on an evening shift – not comedian Dave Allen on the television.

This photo was originally posted on the Pebble Mill Engineers’ Facebook page.

The following comments were posted on the Pebble Mill Facebook page, where I had asked what duties there would be in Comms Centre in the evening:

Malcolm Hickman: ‘At one time we knew what every button and switch did.’

Colin Pierpoint: ‘We did a number of duties on evening shift. for each Midland opt out of BBC1 we extended opt out control to the Pres Desk. There was usually one at every programme junction. Contribution circuits for television were routed through BM Comms Centre from Manchester, carrying Scotland and Northern Ireland contributions, and from Norwich. There were two vision contribution channels from Manchester and two to London Switching Centre, although we could hire extra circuits from BT if necessary. Each of these extra circuits had to be tested. Sound circuits were 669, 297 and 148 from Manchester, and 136 or 276 going north. 289 from Norwich. Sound circuits to London were 549, 296, 271, 698 and 339+689 via Daventry. From London 114 and 270. All these are music circuits, which mean broadcast quality for either speech or music. All were regularily tested. Routing tests tended to be in the evening when they were less used. They were switched according to the SB chart which was issued daily by Circuit Allocation Unit in BH London. Later changes and additions came on a teleprinter in Comms Centre. Control lines associated with these bookings could carry talkback and cue programme. Control Lines into BM from London were 007 and LO-BM 30 and 31, similar to Manchester. So if there was any contribution from the regions in the evening going to London it would be routed through BM Comms. There were sometimes region to region contributions, not ending in London, and contributions from London to the regions, particularily for Scotland and Wales. At the time I worked there distribution passed through here and we were responsible for testing and maintaining circuit quality and rectifying faults. Birmingham fed Towyn transmittion station with Radio networks (R1 and R2 I think), as well as all the Midland transmitters and feeds north. We also routed circuits within the building from Studios A and B to VTR. Outside Broadcasts coming into Birmingham on radiolinks had to be tested and routed. These could be in the evening. Radio News contributions looked after themselves most of the time on the NCA network, but we dealt with any faults. However, other sound circuits could be booked for Radio, for example if there was a stereo OB from the Town Hall (later Symphony Hall) of an orchestral concert on radio 3, the lines would be tested to BM comms and then routed to London. We also took calls from listeners and viewers on technical and programme queries.’

Malcolm Hickman: ‘As he is wearing a tie, I suspect he was the shift supervisor. The shift was the B shift – 15:30 until BBC 1 closedown. He would have an engineer on the same shift with him and a second engineer doing the D shift that finished at 22:00 hours. When David Stevens was on form, the Presentation show could extend the closedown by 30 mins.’

Colin Pierpoint: ‘..and once went out in Northern Ireland because their opt out had already closed down and the transmitter automatic switch (TLS failure) switched over to the Midlands RBS (Rebroadcast standby)’

Steve Dellow: ‘When I was on B shift (particularly on a Sunday) I’d be ringing the Club to see whether a certain supervisor was in a state to get back to the Comms Centre so I could go home! Other times on a quiet evening I’d practice coding something with SIS (?) on the bays as if it needed feeding to LO (say). Or practice commoning up some audio circuits to the single speaker in the desk, which was useful to hear all the footy commentators starting to plug up their COOBE’s on a Saturday.’

Jane Partridge: ‘The breakfast shift was more fun… I was working in Contracts & Finance at the time, so Phil and I travelled in together and the aim was to have just had a full cooked breakfast (so there was the lingering smell of bacon) just before the A shift got in. The Comms Centre had its own kitchen, so that early and late shifts could have a hot meal.’




Colin Pierpoint blog – part 14 Working at Pebble Mill, Comms

This is part 14 of Colin Pierpoint’s blog about his BBC career:

I transferred into Communications in Birmingham in 1971 after completing the Grade C Engineering Course, and a year’s attachment to the Engineering Training Department at Wood Norton. In 1975 I got another secondment as a Lecturer for a year, and then after returning to Comms, a vacancy arose in 1977 for Communications Supervisor and I applied and got it. This was the job I really wanted in Manchester. I also had my sights on ETD, but at the time they wanted memberhip of an Engineering Institution on applications for Lecturers. I had been studying for an Open University degree with this in mind, but the OU at that time did not give the required qualification of “CEng” (Chartered engineer) at the time.

So from 1977 until 1980 I continued working as Communications Supervisor in the Comms Centre at Pebble Mill. An exciting evening was when the “Song for Europe” programme was broadcast live, with voting around the British Isles to choose the entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Vision circuits from Manchester, Glasgow and Norwich were passing through the Birmingham Comms Centre. There was tie for first place so the regions had to vote again at short notice. Just as this was announced , I saw the Norwich picture lose sync (start breaking up on the screen). I said to one of my staff, put an extra equaliser in the circuit, and just twiddle the knobs until the sync pulse look square. He did this quickly and seconds later they cut to Norwich for their vote.

It was nice to be trusted by TAR staff (Television Apparatus Room, who adjusted the camera channels for studios A, B and C). Comms were often the only engineers in Pebble Mill in the evening and David Stevens would sometimes ask me to clear a fault. Usually I could do a tweak of the camera control unit, which I always reported to TAR staff the next day. One fault I failed to rectify: there was shading across the Midland Symbol C (the rotating world). No matter what I adjusted; iris or target volts, I could not get the image over the whole field, [for the technical readers, the monocrome output went into an inlay switcher, and parts of the image would disappear as I adjusted]. So next day the TAR staff told me what the problem was. The bulb lighting the bottom of the symbol had blown! Too technical for me I am afraid.

Colin Pierpoint

TV Apparatus Room (TAR) ST B Line Up Desk with John Macavoy & Maurice Darkin

TV Apparatus Room (TAR) ST B Line Up Desk with John Macavoy & Maurice Darkin. Photo by Ivor Williams, no reproduction without permission.

Letterhead circa 1980s

PM comp slip SD (found in Comms 1984)










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

Thanks to Steve Dellow for keeping this A5 notepaper safe, and for sharing it.

Steve found the slightly crumpled letterhead in 1984, in the Communications Centre drawer! The sheet dates from the 1980s, and was designed by graphic designer Lesley Hope-Stone. It’s interesting that telegrams could still be sent to the phone line – I don’t know when that stopped being possible.

This version of the BBC logo was used between 1971 and 1988, the corners of the blocks are rounded in this iteration, whereas the previous version had sharp edged blocks. The line drawing logo of the Pebble Mill building was used soon after it opened in 1971.

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

Dave Harte: ‘Pebble Mill logo is awesome. That should be on a t-shirt.’

Ian Wood: ‘I did work experience at Pebble Mill during my BA Graphic Design course, working alongside graphic designer Lesley Hope-Stone in early 1984. Towards the end of my time she was working on a corporate identity for BBC Pebble Mill to be used across stationery with a view to extending it to the screen – possibly on regional news bulletins and for the copyright line on end credits.

It didn’t quite happen, which was a shame in my view – I loved Lesley’s design. It was superseded by the “flying plughole” logo used for BBC in the Midlands in 1986. It would have been in circulation from (roughly) summer 1984 to summer 1986. I think it was then felt that a logo was needed to represent the whole of the BBC’s activities in the Midlands rather than to symbolise Pebble Mill alone. Hence the flying plughole after the relatively short two years that Lesley’s stripes ruled.’

Here is the ‘flying plughole’ logo which Ian is referring to:

pebblemill letterhead PP