Studio Operations (part 4) – Ray Lee


Studio A EMI 2001 line up. Photo by John Kimberley, no reproduction without permission.

Studio A EMI 2001 line up. Photo by John Kimberley, no reproduction without permission.












The Cameras

Both Studio A and B were equipped with EMI 2001 cameras, which were unique in using four 1.25 inch camera tubes. Unlike most of the other colour cameras which used just 3 tubes, the EMI’s had a 4 way light splitter block (the ice block) which allowed a full spectrum image to the Luminance tube, and then split to red, green and blue for the colour images. The reason for this was that it meant only the luminance channel needed to be a full bandwidth channel, as this was the one channel to define the image sharpness and detail. The colour channels could get away with a lower bandwidth, and thereby were less critical. The downside was lack of sensitivity, as the luminance split effectively halved the sensitivity for the same amount of light. This meant Studios had to be lit very brightly, with a lot of lighting power.

Other manufacturers used only a 3 way colour split and had the green channel as the full bandwidth channel, to provide the detail information. This maintained sensitivity, but because the image was the filtered green image, this did not always work as well as a full spectrum image.

One of the problems of the early colour cameras was the lack of sensitivity to the red end of the spectrum, and this was particularly so with the EMI’s. It most noticeably showed up with purples and magentas which were invariably seen as blue by the cameras. Later cameras used extended red response tubes, and generally seemed to produce rather more saturated colours than the EMI’s could, but few seemed able to match the image sharpness and crispness which seemed so characteristic of the EMI’s

Prior to every studio booking the cameras needed alignment. This was because the electronics of that era tended to drift with temperature, and the camera tubes themselves drifted being thermionic devices. Also the length of cable between the camera and CCU had a big effect on the  camera signal, and had to be compensated for by the electronics. The cameras were all set up looking at a grey scale chart, and adjustments were made on the CCU to ensure that all the colour channels were giving the same signal level, in order that the combined output was neutral grey, at the different brightness levels of the chart. The light on the chart was adjusted to give a colour temperature of 2950 and a light level of 1600lux using a special light meter called a Collux.

The cameras were also aligned on a registration chart. This was a grid of lines which enabled adjustments to be made so that the images from each tube exactly over-laid each other. If these adjustments were wrong coloured fringes would appear at the edges of objects.

One of the first jobs I did after starting to work in studio ops. was to write up a set of alignment instructions for the cameras. It helped me to effectively learn more about the cameras and how they worked, and also gave a set of standardised methodical adjustments to aim to get the best out of the cameras, that all the engineers could use. I am grateful to Peter Hodges for pushing me to do this in the early days, as it really helped ground me in the basics. Whether other engineers actually found it helpful I don’t know, or whether they even referred to them, but at least they were available where before there was nothing written down.

Ray Lee

Developments at Pebble Mill 1984


Eng inf 1984:5 PP Studio B PP








































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

Thanks to Peter Poole for sharing these pages about technical developments, including a new dubbing and sypher suite, and Studio B control room refurbishment, at Pebble Mill in the internal BBC Engineering Newsletter from 1984/5.

The following information was added on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Keith Brook: ‘The original 1/4″ location sound was transferred onto special 16mm separate magnetic, sep-mag, film. Now, the film and the sound were the same ‘size’ and could be edited together by the film editor. If it was drama, for example, you’d end up with a complete film and dialogue track but minus the music, sound effects, wild-track and so on. You would them make a second, or third, sep-mag track that had the music, effects and so on, all in the right places but with extra lead-in and lead-out.

Dubbing was where you took that 16mm film, its matching 16mm dialogue track, the other tracks and put them on a huge machine that kept everything in sync. You would then run the whole lot through a sound mixer onto a final track, fading the effects in and out according to a dubbing script that matched the frame counter.

SYPHER was a video system and is a BBC acronym for ‘SYnchronous Post-production using Helical-scan video and Eight-track Recorder’. Essentially, it worked like film-dubbing, but the 8-track sound machine was kept in sync with the video player by time code rather than mechanically as in film. Again, once you had the dialogue track and all the other bits in the right places, you would have a final ‘dub’ where you put it all together onto the audio track of the video recorder. The clever bit with SYPHER was the motorised faders on the sound desk which, again using timecode, would remember their settings at each moment during the final dub.’

Stuart Gandy: ‘Good memories of those times. This was during a period of 3 – 4 years of major refurbishment of the studio and VT areas. From the vision viewpoint in the studios , it was the change from the stalwart EMI 2001 cameras to the Link 125.’

The Old Curiosity Shop

Jim Gray

Jim Gray











Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Jim Gray on 4

Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Jim Gray on 4

Tony Wigley on crane, Keith Froggatt swinging

Tony Wigley on crane, Keith Froggatt swinging

Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Keith Forggatt swinging and Martyn Suker

Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Keith Forggatt swinging and Martyn Suker

John Couzens talks to director, Tony Wigley on crane, Richard Reynolds on boom

John Couzens talks to director, Tony Wigley on crane, Richard Reynolds on boom

Closing credits, Jim Gray back to camera

Closing credits, Jim Gray back to camera

Studio A

Studio A






















































Copyright James French, no reproduction without permission.

The Old Curiosity Shop was a nine part series which went out in from December 1979 to February 1980. Barry Letts was the producer, Julian Amyes the director, Alistair Bell the script editor, William Trevor wrote the script adaptation, Michael Edwards was the production designer and Peter Booth was the lighting designer.

The cast included Sebastian Shaw as grandfather, Trevor Peacock as Daniel Quilp, Natalie Ogle as Little Nell, Granville Saxton as Dick Swiveller,  Wensley Pithey as the Single Gentlemen, and Christopher Fairbank as Kit Nubbles.

The photos are of:

  • Jim Gray
  • Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Jim Gray on 4
  • Tony Wigley on crane & Keith Froggatt swinging.
  • Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Keith Froggatt swinging & Martyn Suker tracking.
  • A typical set
  • John Couzens, with arms folded, talks to the director (Julian Amyes). Tony Wigley on Mole crane, Richard Reynolds on boom.
  • Doing the closing credits. Jim Gray back to camera. Scene hands’ names may be Dick & Phil?

Thanks to James French for sharing the photos.

Studio A. Jim Gray. Contributed by James French.

EMI 2001 Camera (Part 3) – Keith Brook (Scouse)














‘Very Low Angle Dolly’ with EMI 2005, image copyright Vinten, no reproduction without permission.

EMI 2001 Part 3

Earlier I spoke about how the compact size of the Emmy enabled cameramen to be closer and more involved in the action when shooting drama.

This also applied to other programmes such as ‘Pebble Mill at One’, and one day we nearly got way too close and personal.

Somebody, either Bill Vinten or Telly Centre’s fabulous Mechanical Workshop, had built a VLAD. Very Low Angle Dolly. And they could only build it because the Emmy was small enough to fit.

This device was rather like a miniature go-cart. It had four tiny wheels, a short arm to mount the camera and a seat for the idiot manning this device. The base, and the idiot’s seat, was about an inch off the floor and was used, as the name implies, for really, really, low angle shots.

It was so low that the camera could easily go under the cantilevered part of the reception desk in the foyer.

The trick with camerawork is to use foregrounds to give a three dimensional sense in a two dimensional world. Thus, using the reception desk on the top of the shot would give an even greater sense of movement.

So, this particular day, Tony Wolfe was directing and he’d ordered the VLAD up from London. Muggins here was given the job of operating this bijou beastette and we rehearsed loads of items with a new angle that, frankly, was rather nice.

Then it came to rehearse the music.

Lovely perspective changes, over the 8 bars intro, as we slide serenely under the reception desk, and our eyes are drawn to the man in the distance.

As we break cover, the man in the distance sees me, sees the camera and, more specifically, sees just how low the camera is.

And I didn’t like the look on his face.

At that point, the full horror of what Wolfy had in his evil mind, struck me.

Those of you who can remember the 70s, and were occasionally there during rare moments of clarity, will know that Demis Roussos was, how can I tactfully put it, a tad abdominous.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he had more chins than the Hong Kong phone book and a stomach that, any larger, would require landing lights.

We, and I say ‘we’ because my brave tracker and I were a team, a team united in a looming catastrophe, were getting closer and closer and nervously waiting for the moment when Mr Roussos would throw a complete wobbler and storm off in disgust as we drew attention to his ample rotundity.

Now, you can imagine that, with the lens only two feet off the floor, the rather generous bits that surrounded his belly button would, eventually, ever so slightly, dominate the shot.

The music continues, and so do we, until eventually we reach the point of no return, where the poor man was almost bending forward to find the lens.

The look of amazement on his face gradually disappeared, replaced by a little smile which, in turn was replaced by hysterical laughter.

You can’t believe how relieved I was that he saw fit to see the funny side of what we were doing.

And yes, we did the shot on transmission. Twice.

That Emmy has a lot to answer for.

Keith Brook (Scouse)


EMI 2001 Camera (Part 2) – Keith Brook (Scouse)

EMI 2001, Bob Langley, Keith Brook












Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission. (Keith Brook on camera, with Pebble Mill at One presenter, Bob Langley)

EMI 2001 Part 2

In Part 1 I gave a little background to how the Emmy became the size it was by having the Angénieux lens inside the camera.

Here, I’ll show how the compact design had implications that went much further than just the technology and positively affected the quality of programmes, especially drama.

With the early colour cameras, one of the major problems of having a large lens hanging out the front was that as you panned there was a pronounced side-to-side tracking effect from the front element swinging through a large arc. This was most unnatural on drama and some cameramen compensated by tracking the ped in the opposite direction. Not an easy feat with such a cumbersome camera.

On the Emmy, the front of the lens was much closer to the pivot point, as was the cameraman at the other end, and with the steering ring back to its original size, the whole beast became far more compact and manoeuvrable. There are probably loads of other benefits that my colleagues will remind me of, but for me, with the cameraman closer to the drama, the most important of all was that the cameramen became actors in the scenes.

You may find this a strange concept but it was Tim Hardy, ‘Siegfried’ in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ (yes, that’s his real name), who told me this. He also said the crew gave the cast reassurance, often simply by the body language we were giving off as scenes progressed. Other actors had said the same. I vision-mixed ‘All Creatures’ and I was also surprised when he told me that occasionally the cue lights helped him pace a scene.

The fabulous US anti-terrorist series ’24’ stars Kiefer Sutherland. He has often said that Guy Skinner, their excellent cameraman, was the third actor in the scene.

And it was with us as we danced around the sets, with our ‘short’ Emmys on Vinten peds, matching the actors moves.

Malcolm Carr, ex-BBC Manchester, did an wonderful piece here about the Emmy and mentioned the ‘shot box’. It’s impossible to underestimate just how important that magical device was, especially on drama.

Earlier I said that we often had only a few words, sometimes less than a second, to change the shot size. Zooming manually, you couldn’t guarantee matching the other camera, so EMI kindly added the ‘shot box’ to Monsieur Angénieux’s lens which allowed us to pre-set the lens angles and reproduce them every time. It had 6 memories; 1 and 6 were set to the tight and wide ends and the middle 4, using a chart, were set to match the angles of the old turret lenses 9, 18, 24 and 36 degrees. This wasn’t some attempt at keeping the ‘old tradition’ but rather a nod to the artistic reason why the fixed lenses were the size they were.

A quick word on ‘lens angles’. If you imagine lines coming from the lens and going out to the objects that you see on the left and right of the frame, that’ll give you the lens angle. It’s more intuitive than talking focal length because you can visualise it as you look over the top of the camera.

Ah, I digressed again.

These four lens angles gave us a number of ‘natural’ frame sizes, when related to actors, and they are, CU (close up, 9deg), MCU (medium close up, 18), MS (mid-shot, 24) and MLS (medium long shot, 36). The reason they’re natural is that they enable the actors eyes or centre of interest, as the shot gets wider, to stay on the golden third. The ‘thirds’ split a frame into three equally horizontal and vertical parts and are found in all aspects of art.

So, from one position, we could quickly select the CU, MCU, MS and MLS sizes. That’s not to say we didn’t move the cameras, but keeping things simple enabled a drama to play out inside the ‘natural’ frames with no distractions.

As a result, such dramas as ‘Poldark’, a 50 minute costume drama, were recorded in 50 minutes. Yes, real time!!

Knowing that a mis-frame, wrong lens, wrong position from a camera and a mis-move, wrong line, wrong position from an actor would mean that the whole caravan would have to stop certainly concentrated our minds and cheeks. Keeping that up for 50 minutes was so exciting and, I believe, produced the highest quality drama.

There are many people nowadays who say that those programmes are boring but they forget that the essence of a good drama is that the viewer is immersed in, and not distracted by, the system that they’re watching. If you analyse cinema films, they generally let the actors move inside a static frame. This represents what you would see if you were in the same room. Your head would stay level and you’d watch the actors killing each other. Sure, action films shake the camera quite violently, but you must first know the rules before you can break them.

As this is about the camera itself, I haven’t mentioned physically moving them around the studio on peds, that may be another missive!!

Anyway, back to the plot. The Emmy wasn’t just an innovative engineering design, it also enabled cameraman to produce fluid moves very quickly allowing the crew to be significantly involved in the intimate world of drama.

The EMI 2001, what a wonderful camera.

Keith Brook (Scouse)