Signature tunes: Look Hear, Second City Firsts, Gangsters

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

These Pebble Mill signature tunes are for:
1) Look Hear – Regional studio based entertainment show, presented by Toyah Willcox.
2) Second City Firsts – 30 minute studio A drama series, featuring new writers to television.
3) Gangsters – 1976 Play for Today, and later series.

Thank to Peter Poole for sharing the signature tunes.

Look Hear

Look Hear

Gangsters 1976

Gangsters 1976







The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:
Stuart Gandy:’I certainly remember all these, and Look Hear was one of this first programmes I worked on as a TA in Studio Ops back in 1980.’

Videotape in the ’70s (part 2) – Ray Lee


Photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission












Photo of Jim Hiscox in VTB

Editing with Quad

As mentioned earlier cut editing was not feasible for videotape, so all editing was performed using “Dub” edits, and in sequence. The editor would decide which piece he wanted from the play in tape, and a cue point would be marked 10 seconds prior to that on the back of the tape with a china-graph pencil. The electronic editor on the record / edit machine recorded a cue pulse on the edit tape to initiate the electronic editor. This performed the switching sequence to switch the record machine from playback to record at the edit point, and involved careful timing of record and erase circuits, in order to create a seamless join. The Edit machine could work in Assemble or Insert edit mode. Assemble meant joining a new recording to the end of a previous one, and the new recording would then continue until the stop button was pressed. Insert recording was used to add a new section of pictures ( or sound) to an already existing section of recording which had to be continuous. The control signal that is recorded during a standard recording, or Assemble edit, was not re-recorded in insert mode, and as this was the equivalent of film sprocket holes, had to be continuous for a stable playback. This meant that insert edits could not alter the overall duration of a recording, and that the section being inserted had to be the same duration as the one being removed.

Most programmes were assemble edited, starting with the line-up, and VT Clock (in those days a mechanical clock in the studio). Then the opening title sequence, which would often have come from film. VTA was the play machine, which could be used to do simple “on the fly” edits, whereas VTB had the Editec controller which allowed for some adjustment of edit points. The procedure was, locate the in point on the playback machine and wind back 10 sec, marking the tape (physically), locate the in point on the record machine, marked with a pulse, wind back 10 sec and mark the tape physically. Remote the play machine, switch on the editec and then run both from the record machine. If the in point was at a shot change from the player, it was quite important to check the edit point for flash frames. The nature of the colour TV signal meant that editable points were always 2 frames apart, and for a given sync point on the recorder, it was possible that if the in point on the player was on the non editable frame, the machines might sync on the wrong frame giving a flash frame. This was adjusted by physically moving the tape either forward or back from the china-graph mark when re-cuing.

In respect of Quad editing, John Lannin was a master of the craft. I remember him, and I think Steve Critchlow working for several days of edit sessions putting together a title sequence (Might have been for “Gangsters”) which comprised a long series of flash frames, probably no more than 4 frames of any clip. The effect was truly stunning.  There must have been 300 or more edits, and each one needed a 10 second run up, both to locate the shot and to edit it into the sequence, and finally to review it. No wonder it took a long time.

With every edit the recording went to another generation, due to the fact editing was a playback and re-record process. Also because the sequences all had to be laid down on the tape in order, it meant that to re-arrange the order meant another edit, and hence another generation. Ideally the best that could be achieved was 2nd generation, where the final edit was the first edit. For a lot of programmes a first edit was fine tuned by a second edit, leading to 3rd generation. However for programmes like ‘Pebble Mill at One’, inserts would often come from previously edited programmes or shows, so by the time they appeared in a ‘Pebble Mill ‘Highlights programme would be 5th or 6th generation, by which time the recording deficiencies start to become obvious. This has been something of a problem for archives, as often the original early generations have often been wiped, or the original source lost in the trail of hand written records. No wonder everyone welcomed digital recording with the infinite generation promise of fidelity, but that did not come for nearly another 20 years.

Ray Lee

Film Editor, Henry Fowler – photo by Ian Collins

Photograph by Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

The photo shows film editor Henry Fowler at his Steenbeck, editing.  Henry Fowler edited a variety of dramas and documentaries at BBC Pebble Mill including:

‘Death of a Miner’ 1968, ‘Before the Mast’ 1971, ‘That Quiet Earth’ 1972 (30 Min Theatre),’The Shoals of Herring’ 1972, ‘Land of Green Ginger’ 1973 (Play for Today), ‘Steps Back’ 1973 (Play for Today), ‘Penda’s Fen’ 1974 (Play for Today), ‘Gangsters’ 1975 (Play for Today), ‘Breath’ 1975 (Play for Today), ‘The Other Woman’ 1976 (Play for Today),’ The Muscle Market’ 1981 (Play for Today).

Andy Meikle – who sadly died today

Gardeners' World Christmas Lunch 1990

It was with great sadness that I heard that Andy Meikle died this morning, after a long battle with cancer.

Andy worked for many many years at Pebble Mill, first of all in the drama department on series like Gangsters and then as a director and producer on factual series like On the House and Gardeners’ World.

Andy was an extremely generous, and incredibly practical man – he was brilliant at DIY!

I worked with him on the DIY series On the House , when I joined an established team as a brand new researcher.  He taught me a lot about researching for factual television, as well as about working with contributors.

I remember him being really supportive when I directed my first insert on Gardeners’ World in 1990.  He said jokily, ‘don’t you hate it when someone can just do it?’ – I certainly hadn’t been able to ‘just do it’, but knowing that he thought I’d done a good job was really important to me, and really helped my confidence.

This photo is from the Christmas lunch for the Gardeners’ World production team from 1990.  It includes, left to right: Andy Meikle, Denis Adams, Mark Kershaw, Kulvinder Chudge, Nick Patten, Steph Silk, next might be me (Vanessa Jackson) or Ann Holmes, I can’t see enough of the next two girls to identify, then Patti Evans with the blonde hair, Howard Perks, and Gail Herbert (whose photo it is).

Andy will be much missed, and our thoughts go out to his loved ones.

The Deep Concern – Richard Callanan

The Deep Concern.

I directed four episodes of this six-parter and it was a memorable fiasco!

The problems I believe began with the series Gangsters which David Rose had produced the previous year. It had been very successful critically but had also drawn a lot of flak for the violence and for the portrayal of Birmingham as a gangster city. David felt that he had to rein in and chose to commission a conventional country house mystery serial and turned to his former colleague (and onetime Head of BBC Drama Series) Elwyn Jones to write it. Elwyn Jones was a master of television series writing with a long line of credits including Z Cars andSoftly Softly.

David offered the scripts to several high-flying Directors who all turned the job down. I was working at the time in the Regional Drama script department at Pebble Mill with Michael Wearing and Peter Ansorge. I was not a member of their staff but was “on attachment” from my post as producer/director at the Open University. I was there to gain experience and explore possible career paths. At the OU I had directed several studio based literary dramas but had no experience of popular television and very little experience of filming.

I feigned an interest in the scripts to David Rose and, without actually lying, I convinced him that I could do a good job directing them. It was typical of David’s adventurous approach that he took the risk of employing me, a complete novice in the field, rather than turning to an established director who would have doubtless done a competent job. If he could not have a rising star as a director, he would choose an unknown and live dangerously.

Once appointed, I set about working on the scripts with Michael Wearing. They were, frankly, dreadful. Full of cardboard cut-out characters, glib dialogue and unbelievable plot twists. There were whole boxes of misleading red herrings. The story centred on a group of international celebrities, all leaders in their field, who were brought together for a corporate conference in an English country estate. A dead body is found at the end of the first episode and I think there was a body per episode after that. I can’t remember who done it!

Elwyn Jones was extremely unwilling to do rewrites and provided only a few minor alterations in answer to our requests.  Michael Wearing and myself arrived one day at his remote cottage in Wales for a script meeting. He opened the first bottle of fine claret at 10 am! He would not rewrite and he would not let us rewrite but he did let us cut. And we cut as much as we could. But despite stretching out the action to fill what had been cut we still under-ran. One episode (Ep 5, I think) was so short that it had to have a transmission slot which was a full five minutes shorter than planned.

The shoot was divided between location and studio and it would probably be a consensual feeling to describe it as “unpleasant”. As often happens with a bad script, the cast were embarrassed to be doing it and found scapegoats to blame for being there! The scapegoats included the catering and their fellow actors. I was far too inexperienced to deal with the egos that arose. Resentment built over the duration of the shoot; some actors were literally not talking to each other by the end of it.

And yet there was a group within the cast, philosophical and amused by their predicament, who could laugh about it and enjoy the experience despite the pain. I remember them all fondly.

Obviously the bosses in London didn’t like the series much and sat on it for several months before scheduling it in mid-summer. It got poor audience figures and was panned by the critics. Clive James reviewed it in The Observer and finished his review (I’m quoting from memory) “At the end of the first episode it is discovered that all the car keys have been stolen. So nobody can escape. Except us. Click.”

I’m sorry to say I have no photos from the shoot or any other souvenirs. I do remember The Birmingham Post taking photographs of our leading ladies (Katherine Schofield, Beth Porter, Yolande Bavan)  on a vintage car.