Colin Pierpoint blog – Part 2, New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room (BH London)

The New Control Room on the first floor of BH Extension had a different technical layout than the previous wartime Control Room. Gone were Incomings and Outgoings; instead they had the Multiple Switching Position MSP. The Multiple or “Mult” was the name for the uniselector switching system. The Simultaneous Broadcasting Position (SB) was still there dealing with the regions and transmitters. There was an Outside Broadcast (OB) position and a Television Sound position, (which had also been on the balcony in the Old Control Room). The “Bays“ of the old Control Room were replaced by Control and Monitor Positions (C&Ms). [Later in my career when I was a Lecturer at the Engineering Training Department, I was telling a course of male and female Studio Managers about London Control Room. As I mentioned the SB position the OB position and the MSP position some of them started to grin. When I got to the C&M position they were nearly in hysterics! Contact me for an explanation if you don’t understand!]

Most of my work in the New Control Room was on the C&Ms. Occasionally I would be chosen to operate the three channel mixers which were in a separate cubicle in the Control Room, and used for some foreign dispatches, and the Shipping Forecast on Long Wave.

It was in the New Control Room where I sent +24 decibels signal level to the Long Wave transmitter at Droitwich. This event is remembered even today by ex-Control Room Staff!
About this time in March 1962 I went on TO Course 13 at Wood Norton. Here is a photo of me in the Wood Norton Control Room, where I could do less harm.












On return to London I was move into the XP unit, which did tape editing and worked in the studios on transportable tape machines; actually TR90s on wheels, hence the name XP, transportable. I never knew if this was because of my error but I gained a lot of experience of tape editing, and working with producers. At my level I was only in the recording channels, but my colleagues worked on the Jack Jackson show actually in the studio cubicle. (For readers from a television background, in Radio, the place where the artists work in called the Studio, the place where the Studio Managers and the mixing desk is located is called the Cubicle. They are connected visually by a double glazed window, as in Television).

Some of my recording in London was on disk, and on a trip to CBC in Canada a few years ago, I came across the same model of disk cutter that I had operated.

Presto disc cutting recorder

Presto disc cutting recorder












I also found the so called “Midget” tape recorder used by reporters at this time. It used 5 inch reels of standard tape, and could record for seven and a half minutes on full track. In 1961 the midget recorder was used for interviews. The recorded tape was then taken to an editing channel. Editing standard tape at 7 and a half inches per second was no problem, the BTR2 tape machine which was used for editing could be switched to 7 and a half ips. Later these field recorders were changed, first to the Ficord and then to the Uher tape recorder. The Ficord presented a problem because it used long play tape which was thinner. When spooled back on a BTR2 the heavy machine from a German design stretched the tape! So we had to copy from the recorder first. Not convenient with an urgent news story and a deadline.


"Midget" recorder by EMI

“Midget” recorder by EMI

Brian Vaughton – Radio Documentarian

Ian Parr, photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission

Ian Parr, photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission

Ian Parr, photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission

Ian Parr, photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission

Photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission

Photo by Sam Coley, no reproduction without permission























Ian Parr, the Secretary and Trustee of the Charles Parker Archive, visited the Birmingham School of Media recently to deliver a collection of equipment formally used by Birmingham born radio producer, Brian Vaughton.

“On looking back I find that the majority of my documentaries have been aimed at capturing the past, before it is too late.” Brian Vaughton

Brian worked in both radio and television from the late 1950s – into the twenty-first century. In 1961 and 1962, Brian compiled and wrote two radio programmes which were produced by Charles Parker in the BBC Birmingham studios (Broad Street). These programmes, The Jewellery and Cry from the Cut, became known as  The Birmingham Ballads and have become important audio documents, preserving the legacy of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and the commercial boat traffic which used to fill the city’s once busy canals.

It is interesting to note that Brian did not work under the security of full time BBC employment – instead preferring the freedom offered by being an independent producer.

“The beauty of being a freelance is that you can choose the subject of your article, radio programme or documentary film that you want to put up for consideration by the powers-that-be. And if they reject your suggestions, it is not the end of the world!” Brian Vaughton

Brian kindly gave permission for his collection of radio equipment to be permanently displayed in the Radio Suite of the new Parkside Building. This includes an L2 EMI “midget tape recorder”, a Brennell editing deck and anSTC4032 microphone. These are all in pristine condition – which Brian says this is because he paid for the equipment himself – and therefore took good care of it. While BBC equipment at the time was often subjected to more “knocks”.

The School of Media is delighted to announce the naming of a new annual award “The Brian Vaughton Award for Excellence in Radio” which is to be given to the radio student achieving the highest overall mark on the conclusion of their BA in Media and Communication / Radio studies.

For more information about Brian’s achievements, please visit the Charles Parker Archive Trust where there is an excellent series of interviews and notes relating to his work and the “Birmingham Ballads”.

Sam Coley (Degree Leader Radio, School of Media, Birmingham City University)

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

Pete Simpkin: ‘Many the reporter I taught to use the famous EMI L2 recorder….weighed a ton but was portable at last!’

Ieuan Franklin: ‘Hi Vanessa – that’s great about the donation of the equipment, and the naming of a new award after Brian Vaughton. I have listened to both programmes at the Charles Parker Archive, and I really think they do deserve to be included within the ‘official’ series of Radio Ballads (1958-1964). I have never met Brian, but his lengthy article on the Charles Parker Archive Trust website is incredibly informative, and was useful for my PhD research. Seán Street will be interested in this and may be able to comment on the equipment itself!’






The Charles Parker Archive can be found in the Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square, and more details can be found on the Birmingham City Council’s website:


Sam Coley (Degree Leader, Radio, Birmingham City University)