How many VT boys does it take to move a Quad?

Photos from Mike Bloore, no reproduction without permission.

These photos were taken at the switch off of the last Quad suite at Pebble Mill, circa 1984.

Pebble Mill’s Videotape Editors were a group of highly trained and skilled professionals – but there were some problems where even they had to resort to brute force! PAs sitting on top of 2″ Quad machine I suspect made the task to shifting it slightly harder, but a whole lot more enjoyable!

Included are: Mike Bloore, Nigel Evans, Ian Collins, Jim Gregory, Steve Critchlow, Chris Glover, John Burkill, Brian Comley, Jon Parker – and sitting atop – PA Sue Williams.

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

Ray Lee: ‘It is an Ampex VR2000, VTB Cubicle and on the 6th photo you can just see through the marley door into VTC which is clearly equipped at this time.’

Videotape in the ’70s (part 1) – Ray Lee

Ampex VR2000 Quad machine in VTB, photo by John Burkill (1976)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo copyright John Burkill, no reproduction without permission – the photo must have been taken after lunch – well during VT’s standard liquid lunch!)

The Videotape area adjoined Telecine, so I got to know the VT staff, and something of the operation even before I had chance to actually work in the area. In 1974 there were just 2 VT machines, Ampex VR2000 2 inch. These were known as Quad machines as the recordings were made using 4 rotary heads across the width of the tape, quadruplex recording. VTA was optimised as a play in machine, and VTB as an edit machine. Both were capable of being used as stand alone recorders or players with the studios, and could be used for simple assemble editing, but more usually one was used as a master recorder and the other as a backup at that time, as there was no way of knowing until playing back, that the recording had been successful. There was no off tape monitoring, and a head-clog at the start could render the whole recording useless.

At that time John Lannin, and Tony Rayner were the senior editors, with Ian Collins, John Burkill, and Steve Critchlow making up the remaining VT team. What many people working in TV today fail to realise is that VT machines then needed careful alignment for every tape, and that they required a ten second run up in order to lock up fully synchronously. (Occasionally even 10 seconds was not long enough!). Although cut editing of tapes had been occasionally done in Black and White days, it was not accurate enough (normally) for colour recordings.

There were exceptions. I believe there was a unique recording that had somehow had tape damage that caused the tape to snap, (the transverse rotary heads were not unlike a circular saw if there was a nick in the tape) and John Burkill performed a cut edit to join the tape back together. This involved applying Edivue, a suspension of fine iron particles in solvent, to the tape to develop the tracks and the edit pulse, on each side of the damaged area. Then using a travelling microscope to locate the correct point and place it precisely in the edit block, cut the tape either side of the damage, and finally splice together using splicing tape. Normally a cut edit like this would not play without some glitching, but on this occasion it played almost as well as a standard electronic edit. Subsequently some months later I also had to repair a tape in this manner, and achieved a similar result!

VT was a noisy area. The rotary heads ran at 15,000RPM, and there being 4 heads on the drum a new head entered the tape past the edge 1000 times a second. Added to that the rotary heads were run on air bearings, which was supplied with compressed air, and created a vacuum for the vacuum guide to hold the 2 inch wide tape in a circular arc. The machines did have their own air compressor which could be used (adding even more noise), but generally used compressed air from a central compressor housed away from the area. The same compressor fed airlines to the Telecine cubicles to allow for blowing dust out of the film Gate. So what with whirring heads, hissing air and other general mechanical noise, the monitor loudspeaker was generally quite loud in order to hear the sound.

The VT machines needed careful looking after to get the best out of them, and tended to drift as they warmed up. So the normal course of action for the switch on man was to switch on the machines, check that the basic systems were working, then go and have a coffee while the machines warmed up. There was always a 1/2 hour line-up period scheduled before each booking, to allow time to make the fine adjustments required for the tape. In an edit session using several different source tapes, line up could take up quite a lot of the time. If the tapes came from the same recording session, a quick 2 to 5 minute adjustment may be all that was required, but where there were tapes from several different source machines, (often the case for Pebble Mill at One), 10 – 15 minutes or longer could be required if there was a particularly awkward tape.

Finding the required place on the tape could take a while also, as there were no pictures in shuttle. Tapes were logged on a card that was kept with the tape. The machines had a counter which was calibrated in minutes and seconds, and was surprisingly accurate considering it was a friction drive. On loading the tape, one had to remember to zero the counter, otherwise the times would not correspond to what was written on the card, or worse you could end up logging the incorrect times on the card for a new recording. Tapes were re-used quite a lot, as the tape was expensive, and in order to ensure a clean tape  they were put into a bulk eraser (nicknamed the fish fryer on account of its height shape and the perforated roll lid.) It took about 20seconds to erase the tape, so you had to be certain that you had the right tape, and that it really was ok to wipe it, before pushing the button.

Some compilation tapes were reused without first erasing them, which could sometimes cause confusion when remnants of a previous recording were left in between two logged items.

Ray Lee

Pebble Mill Club – final days

Photos by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission.

Tim took these photos on 23 Nov, 2004, one of the final days at Pebble Mill.

The photos include post production staff including: John Burkill, Jim Gregory, Amrik Manku, Brian Watkiss, Ivor Williams, John Duckmanton, Tony Rayner, Martin Dowell, Mike Bloore, Pete Shannon, John Macavoy, Dave Pick, Frank Stevens.

Please add a comment if you can identify others.

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

Stuart Gandy: ‘In image 1016 the guy in the blue shirt holding a pint is John Macavoy, Engineer, and in image 1017 I see Dave Pick in the check shirt and next to him is Frank Stevens, former engineering services manager.’

Keith Brook: ‘If I may take friendly issue with Stuart Gandy about John Macavoy. He wasn’t just an engineer, he was a god. He was able to invent magical cures for any crazy idea that production could conjure up. Even worse, he would undertand their mumblings and give them more than they ever dreamed of. I hate him. The best days were, of course, when the bar was on the second floor. Very few managers realised all the post recording toxic, adrenaline, hyper-excitement that could corrode a great day’s work was diffused with a few beers upstairs. Incidentally, a truly ‘involving’, ‘participating’ and ‘egalitarian’ system, as we had at The Mill, works in any organisation. British industry, banking and the NHS would be major successes if they applied the same rules.’

OB in the back of a van

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by John Burkill, no reproduction without permission.

The photo takes from October 1980.  It looks like part of an outside broadcast set up.

The portable 2″ quad recorder, in the briefcase on the side is an Ampex VR 3000. It was a specialist piece of kit designed for field recording, when it wasn’t possible to take a full 2″ machine.  Even so, it was pretty heavy to carry around – weighing 55 pounds!  It was capable of high or low band recordings, used 20 minute reels, and could be powered by battery or on AC.  Visit this link for more information: http://www.oldradio.com/archives/hardware/TV/Ampex/VR3000.htm

The men in the photo are John Smith (multi camera director), Peter Hodges (sitting down) and Derek Price (engineering manager).

The shoot was almost certainly for a ‘Pebble Mill at One’ programme, since John Smith was one of the principal directors on the show.

Paul Vanezis added on the Facebook page that the ‘Pebble Mill at One’ titles, with the fisheye look, were in fact recorded on an Ampex VR 3000, as were some of the opening titles of ‘Look! Hear!’.

Please add a comment if you can add any information.