David Hughes

David Hughes, copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

David Hughes died recently and his funeral was held on Monday 5 Dec. Here is an obituary for him from Louise and Roger Willcox, which David’s widow, Marian, is happy to be shared.

 
“David Hughes moved to BBC Pebble Mill in 1974 after having established his credentials at Television Centre in London. He was encouraged to move to this Birmingham Audio Unit by the then head of department, Bryan Forgham, who knew David from his time at Television Centre. The Audio Unit serviced both radio and television programmes – studios, outside broadcasts and post, and promised a greater variety of work.
 
David’s specialism was sound for multi-camera drama – Pebble Mill was the home of the English Regions Drama department and hosted a lot of drama from London production teams. At Television Centre he had been one of the sound supervisors to mix series 1 and 2 of Doctor Who, so it was obvious that, when the Doctor Who story Horror of Fang Rock was to be recorded at Pebble Mill, David should be chosen as the sound supervisor. The story involved the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. The ‘hurry-up and wait’ nature of making television was even more true for a Doctor Who episode, as everyone had to wait for the special effects team to finish their preparations before a safe recording could begin. Horror of Fang Rock was made at Pebble Mill because engineering work at Television Centre had reduced studio availability and it was the only Doctor Who story of the earlier series’ to be made outside London.
 
At Pebble Mill, studio multi-camera drama sound supervisors followed their dramas into the dubbing theatre. David was a skilled dubbing mixer and was a great advocate of this continuity, arguing that sound design decisions taken in the studio often made dubbing easier and quicker, and the final sound design more polished.
 
David was part of the team that mixed the three innovative and iconic Pebble Mill shows: the daily Pebble Mill at One – for those too young to remember, think The One Show, but at 1pm for an hour, with a large audience. Live music in every show and the whole building wired for sound and cameras. The studio was the huge marble-floored reception area, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Pebble Mill’s front lawns and tree-lined Pebble Mill Road. Items were many and varied: live band; celebrity interviews in the foyer studio – often actors (including Tom Baker) working in the studio next door; gardening items from Pebble Mill’s many landscaped areas; occasional visits from military bands trouping on the front lawns with the odd helicopter fly past, shot from the roof, thrown in; once, a Harrier Jump Jet landing – live and to the timed second – in the field next to the Pebble Mill car park! Pebble Mill at One ran from 1972 to 1986. In the same stable were the occasionally anarchic foyer-based Saturday Night at the Mill chat show (think Graham Norton, but with a smaller budget!) and Pop at the Mill – Pebble Mill’s mini-Glastonbury, from the back garden. Wall to wall music – with all the technical challenges that that involved. David’s talent navigated through them all.
 
Pebble Mill was also the home of a new Asian Unit, which David was involved with. He was well respected for – and very proud of – his Asian music mixing skills; stylistically so different from western music. In recognition of his work, David and his wife were invited by the Unit’s producers to the Ravi Shankar 50 years in broadcasting celebration – a big event at Pebble Mill.
 
When David arrived in Birmingham, the Audio Unit made mono programmes for television, but stereo programmes for radio. Television didn’t start broadcasting in stereo until August 1991, but Pebble Mill’s Audio Unit staff were well prepared – not least because, in 1985 David was the first sound supervisor to mix a multi-camera drama in stereo. The series was called Late Starter, about a retired university professor (Peter Barkworth) starting again after his wife walks out, leaving him penniless. Making this series helped the BBC to decide, and define, the ‘format’ (usually centre speech, stereo music and effects) for the broadcast industry, and informed the wider BBC audio community on the operational challenges associated with stereo recording for TV.
 
In retirement, David went on for twenty years organising and making cassette tapes for the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind. He also did many talks for local organisations called Grampa’s Gramophone
 
where he took along numerous 78 records of Music Hall songs and others and played these on his grandfather’s wonderful old gramophone which had a large wooden horn. The audience were soon singing along.
 
When David was admitted into care, five and a half years ago, he still continued his life of music. Each night he conducted silently beside his bed. If anyone asked him where the music was he just replied “It’s all in my head”. He told his wife that he would only ever pass away if and when this music disappeared.
 
Not long before he died, he said the music was fading….
 
David passed away on 14th November 2022, he was 90.”
 
Louise and Roger Willcox

Joan Walsh

 

Pebble Mill canteen, photo by Philip Morgan, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joan Walsh, who worked in the BBC canteen in Birmingham from 1952, sadly died last week (Oct 2017), aged 93. Louise Willcox has pieced together some of information about Joan’s career, with the help of former colleagues.

Joan worked at Carpenter Road, before Pebble Mill opened in 1971, rising through the ranks to become the second in command of the canteen. Eileen Bywater was brought in as Canteen Manager and she and Joan looked after the Pebble Mill canteen office. Jenny Brewer says that she was incredibly capable, delightfully calm and a joy to deal with.

Please add a comment, if you can add any more information about Joan.

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

Judy Markall: ‘Lovely lady. Her birthday was 28th May. I have many fond memories from when she was friends with my mom and then myself.’

Anne Smith: ‘Lovely lady, have lots of good memories of working with Joan and Eileen.’

Tracy Crump: ‘Sad, worked under Eileen and knew Joan.’

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Memories of Alan Ward from Louise Willcox

Alan Ward in spring 2017. Photo by Louise Willcox, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Ward, retired Senior Studio Manager specialising in serious music, passed away last Wednesday, 12th July 2017.   He died aged 85, peacefully, at his home.
Louise Willcox remained in touch with Alan after he retired and remembers his kindness well.

“I am a generation or so behind Alan in terms of my Audio Unit career and frankly, after Alan retired and moved to the New Forest, I thought that our paths might potentially never cross again.

Spool forward 20 years:  Alan’s lovely wife Rita had died, leaving him bereft.  Coincidentally, my daughter Heather was being employed by DSTL for a ‘year in industry’ before university.  Towards the end of that year, a mutual friend pointed out that DSTL was not far from where Alan lived, and Roger and I got in touch.  We and Heather took Alan out (or rather, he took us!) for the odd meal in one of the plethora of lovely eateries around the New Forest.  We kept in touch by phone and email, and a year later, when Heather was invited to spend her summer vacation continuing her work-placement, Alan stunned us by offering her accommodation at his beautifully appointed home – point blank refusing to let us pay him for it, and he’d got in touch with someone who could give her a lift into work!

Heather was a shy 20-year-old but, to my astonishment, said yes.  For four years she stayed with Alan during her summer placements – by year two she could drive and she would then share the driving (probably safer), going out for meals together – Alan making great play of having a 21-year-old on his arm!   He openly admitted that he had been lonely after his wife had died and that just having someone in the house (even if she was in her room on her computer all the time!) just helped.  They developed a firm friendship and Roger and I visited whenever we could.

Heather ultimately got a job at DSTL after university, and we have continued to visit Alan.  The last occasion was about four months ago, when it was clear Alan was becoming more frail.  He had lost none of his wicked sense of humour, though!

Towards the end, Alan had full-time care at home, and was becoming more confused due to his depleted oxygen levels.  I mention this only because, at one point Alan asked the family if they’d got enough XLR cables!  This will bring a smile to audio unit colleagues – the A. Ward Award – for emptying OB Stores of equipment – was apocryphal!   Alan’s family thought it was apt that towards the end, he was planning an OB.”

Louise Willcox

Freelance Sound Supervisor

 

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The Curse of Doctors – Martin Fenton

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Fenton notes the frustrating realism of continuing drama:

“I’ve recently remembered two incidents which might as well be called ‘The Curse of Doctors’.

I had very little money on me on my first day at Pebble Mill, but it was alright because I’d noticed a cash machine in the front wall of Pebble Mill when I went for my interview. As you all undoubtedly know, it was a blank, installed for Doctors. Louise Willcox generously lent me a tenner just so I could get some sustenance at the tea bar. I was so embarrassed – on my first day, too!

A couple of years later, I moved to the south end of Selly Oak. I’d noticed The Mill Health Centre on Bristol Road, and made a mental note to go and register there the following Monday morning.”

You can guess the rest.

(Martin Fenton)

 

I don’t think you are alone Martin, in wanting to register at The Mill Health Centre, from talking to a couple of the Doctors’ team, I understand that a few older ladies have also thought it looks like a very nice G.P.’s surgery!

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William Smethurst

William Smethurst, photo by Simon Farquhar, no reproduction without permission

William Smethurst, photo by Simon Farquhar, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM SMETHURST : TRIBUTE AND FUNERAL DETAILS

You may have heard on the news that William Smethurst, one time Editor of The Archers, passed away, on 22nd July.


William was at the helm when I was first trusted to mix the drama.  I have always remembered trying to compassionately manage a particularly lethargic spot operator during an episode that William was directing.  William, kindly but authoritatively, encouraged me to deal with the issue.  With knots in my stomach, fearing the immense hurt I was going to cause my colleague, I went into the studio, only to discover that he couldn’t have cared less!   I learned valuable lessons: that not everyone has the same sense of duty and obligation, and that difficult issues are best tackled sooner than later. This has stood me in good stead ever since.   Thank you, William.  Needless to say, said spot operator went on to become a very successful Radio 1 producer, later to forge a successful career in both broadcasting and feature films!

Writer, Jo Toye, was learning her craft at the same time that I was learning mine, and has sent this tribute:

“William arrived on the writing team of The Archers in the mid-Seventies and started his shake-up of the programme in his typically imaginative way then. By the time I joined the production team as a PA in 1980, he’d been Editor for a year and delighted in the team of ‘left-wing, feminist’ writers he’d engaged. His storylines eschewed social comment for what he called ‘social comedy’ – a typical Bridge Farm family story involved not the dawning realisation of domestic abuse but the saga of CND-supporting Pat changing their daily paper from the ‘Express’ to the ‘Guardian’, to Tony’s mystification.  As I typed the scripts his bold crossings-out and rewritings taught me everything I know – no chance of the writers doing their own rewrites then as everything was sent in hard copy, by post…

With his clear-sightedness about what The Archers should be – ‘the voice of the shires’  – and the support of then Network Editor Radio, Jock Gallagher, who’d rescued the programme from the doldrums after the retirement of the legendary Godfrey Baseley – William’s energy and ever-whirring marketing brain raised the programme’s profile and listenership.


So many of the characters he created are still there today – Caroline Sterling, Susan Carter, and the inimitable Grundys, while others (Nelson, Nigel) have passed into Archers mythology. So many of the writers he took on – me included – are still writing today.  His willingness to back untried young hopefuls didn’t stop at The Archers: when he later created and ran the sci-fi soap Jupiter Moon for BSkyB he gave their first big break to Anna Chancellor and Jason Durr.


He could be tough when he wanted to be – when he moved to Crossroads in 1986 he revelled in the title of ‘Butcher Bill’ – but he was also ingenious, inventive, intelligent, witty, warm, massively well-read, and a genuine lover of the countryside, its seasonal rhythms and its history.


He shepherded The Archers through what many now see as a golden age – in simpler times and in the very special atmosphere of Pebble Mill itself.   He brought great pleasure to millions of people but for me it was personal. I owe him everything and shall always be grateful.”

William’s funeral will be at 2pm, on Tuesday 2nd August, at Halford Village Church, Queen Street, Halford, Near Shipston on Stour.

Louise Willcox

(Here is an obituary for William Smethurst on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36905761 )

The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Julian Hitchcock: ‘Sad indeed. Fine, much deserved tributes. I loved his sense of mischief and gossip, wry chuckle and that dangerous glint in his eye that warned that you or your name might just find their way into Ambridge.’

Cathy Houghton: ‘I worked with him on Midlands Today, a really lovely man.’

Linda Flavell: ‘Loved working with Bill so many years ago, a truly lovely guy.’

 

 

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