Terrance Dicks at the Forgotten Dramas Conference

Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, held a conference from 23-25 April, 2015, entitled: Television Drama: the Forgotten, the Lost and the Neglected. The conference brought together academics and former programme makers, and several of the sessions had a relevance to BBC Pebble Mill.

The final session of the conference was an interview with producer Terrance Dicks by academic, Billy Smart. Dicks is well known for his work on Dr Who, but here he was talking about his role on the Classic Serial 1981-8, first as a script editor, and then as producer. The Classic Serial went out on BBC1 on a Sunday afternoon, and was designed to be family viewing. It was part of the Series and Serials department, and always involved the adaptation of a classic novel, Dickens being a favourite author. It was an expensive strand to produce because of all the design costs. Dicks pointed out the similarities between Dr Who and The Classic Serial, in that both are a series of serials.

Great Expectations, BBC1,1981, was an early production when Terrance Dicks was a script editor. The novel was adapted for television by James Andrew Hall and was a significant success. Dicks described the role of the script editor as planning the production with the producer, choosing the writer and talking through the show with them, followed by liaising with the writer and making sure that the scripts were in on time.

Jane Eyre, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

Jane Eyre, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another notable production was Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre, BBC1,1983, adapted by Alexander Baron, with Timothy Dalton as Rochester. This drama, like many other Classic Serials, was recorded at BBC Pebble Mill, as a hosted London production. I asked Terrance about why Birmingham studios were chosen. He replied that London crews behaved like they were doing you a favour in working on your shows, whereas Birmingham managers were much more supportive, and the crews were more co-operative and grateful – if not quite as good! I’m sure that the crews in Birmingham would dispute his judgement that they weren’t as skilled, whilst being pleased that they were considered better to work with!

The Invisible Man, BBC1, 1984, was a significant 6 part serial, which had to have an evening transmission due to its inherent violence. After this production, Dicks became a producer, which he described as doing proper grown up work, something which he’d tried to avoid all his life!

Oliver Twist, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

Oliver Twist, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

Vanity Fair, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

Vanity Fair, photo by Neil Wigley, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two further serials were discussed, both of which were recorded in Studio A at Pebble Mill: Oliver Twist, BBC1, 1985, and Vanity Fair, BBC1,1987. Oliver Twist was a fantastic success, and the viewing figures were so good that they enabled Jonathan Powell (then Head of Series and Serials) to convince Michael Grade (Controller BBC1,1984-6), not to cancel The Classic Serial. Vanity Fair, was a less successful production, being in Dick’s opinion too big and expensive a production, with problems with viewer engagement, due to the ambiguity of Becky Sharp’s character

Drama on television has certainly developed as a genre since the 1970s and ‘80s, and in the main 30’ series, like The Classic Serial, are no longer made, although adaptations of classic novels are still made, albeit in longer format.

Vanessa Jackson

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

Terry Powell: ‘I worked on both productions. And worked at TVC London let me say we were streets ahead in professional and talent and. Attitude xxx’

Anne-Marie Palmer: ‘Some of us worked for BBC London before moving to BBC Birmingham, and visa versa, where does that place us?’

Jean Palmer: ‘If they weren’t good why did they keep coming back.’

Kevin Hudson: ‘We were every bit as good. Real reason we were cheaper!!!’

Keith Brook (Scouse): ‘They were much better than the London crews who used bullshit and fancy accents to cover up their failings.’

Radio Outside Broadcast Truck

Radio OB truck 2 MF Radio OB truck 1 MF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos taken by Martin Fenton in 2003, no reproduction without permission.

Radio Outside Broadcast truck, parked in what looks like the BBC Pebble Mill garage.

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

Paul B Read: ‘Ahhh the Type B…fond memories…..’

Keith Brook: ‘I’m only guessing, but if you look above the truck, it looks like studio sound proofing. Maybe it was in Studio A before they trashed it.’

Kurt Tarrach: ‘No that’s definitely the OB garage that’s one of my orange stickers on the trolley!!’

Editing Boys from the Blackstuff

Editing Boys from the Blackstuff from pebblemill on Vimeo.

Video recorded by Colin Fearnley, no reproduction without permission.

Colin Fearnley recorded this video in November 2004, on the last evening of editing at BBC Pebble Mill. He filmed the editors looking round the empty edit suites and reminiscing about the programmes they had edited there. Mike Bloore remembers editing Boys from the Blackstuff in VTD, on 1″ videotape, with director Philip Saville sat on the sofa in the edit suite.

Editor, Mike Bloore

Editor, Mike Bloore

 

 

 

 

 

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

Keith Brook: ‘Well done to Mike. A great editor and thoroughly nice guy. We had so much fun at Pebble Mill.’

Abby Bottrill: ‘Aww, the legend that is our very own Sir Mike Bloore.’

Early editing of drama on videotape

Early drama editing on videotape from pebblemill on Vimeo.

Copyright, Colin Fearnley, no reproduction without permission.

The video above was recorded by Colin Fearnley on 23rd November 2004, which was the last night of editing at Pebble Mill before the building closed. In this video, Steve Critchlow talks about the early editing of drama on videotape. Thanks to Colin for having the foresight to record the editors reminiscing amongst the emptying of champagne flutes.

All Creatures 1989 JR

 

 

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

Keith Brook (Scouse): ‘It’s Steve Critchlow. He saved my glittering career a few times. He moved into management in the early 80s and was my boss after I went back to cameras.’

Ray Lee: ‘Sadly now deceased. He and John Lannin pretty much were VT at Pebble Mill in the early 70’s. John amazingly is still alive and I was at a lunch gathering with him yesterday, reminiscing about old times.’

Herbie Donnelly: ‘A gent of the first order and a pleasure to deal with.’

Al Barnett’s retirement party

Colin Bailey dresser, Peter Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Peter Church, no reproduction without permission. Peter Church was the partner of senior dresser, Colin Bailey, for many years.

The photo is probably of Al Barnett’s (Costume department) retirement party.

Senior dresser, Colin Bailey, sadly died in 2005.

Thanks to Colin’s partner, Peter, for sharing the photo.

Bob Jacobs (drama dept), second from the left.

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

Keith Brook (Scouse): ‘It’s John Abbott in the suit foreground. Harvey Frost is behind Gwen. I think it’s Yvonne O’Malley hiding behind John’s right shoulder, our left.’

Susan Astle: ‘Gwen Arthy.Joyce Hawkins John Linlair at the front. Jane Wellsley behind Colin.’

Kate Hawkins: ‘And that’s me bottom left hand corner…checked jacket. I was ‘Senior Personnel Officer’ to Programme Services. Harvey Frost is behind Joyce & John.’

Liz Cox: ‘Karen Bevins is in black behind Gwen’