Panasonic D3 VCR

D3 Machine LH












Photo by Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

This is a Panasonic D3, D350 VCR. D3 was introduced as a new 1/2″ tape format in 1991. The format was not used on location as far as I remember, but was used extensively in VT editing suites, because the beauty of it was that it did not degrade if you went down a generation. It was also used for master copies of programmes for transmission.

Unfortunately D3 does not seem to have withstood the tests of time very effectively, and many D3 tapes in the BBC archives have deteriorated badly.

Mike Skipper added the following information on the Pebble Mill Facebook group, ‘one of the disadvantages of D3 is that the recorded signal is digitised composite PAL. The format rapidly went out of favour when productions started to shoot and archive material in 16:9 widescreen format. Digital Betacam, being a component recording standard, rapidly took over from D3. Digital Betacam machines require an option board to be fitted to allow them to play back analogue Betacam SP tapes.’

Ray Lee added the following information on the Facebook group: ‘from a maintenance point of view the D3’s needed a lot of expensive equipment for rotary head replacement, so all machines were dealt with in London, whereas the Digital Betacam were much more straightforward, didn’t need so much equipment and we replaced the heads locally at Pebble Mill. One reason digital Betacam was shunned initially is that the system employed a kind of signal compression. Although few real signals would ever trigger the compression, it was felt better to use a non compressed format. However as standard betacam gained widespread use in News, and the component editing was already gaining acceptance, Digital Betacam was a natural extension, and the machines could even play the analogue tapes. In fact it was a simple matter to substitute Digital Betacam machines into an analogue edit suite, as most of the existing wiring could serve for both.’

Marconi vidicon camera

Marconi showing inbuilt racks PS











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

The photo is of Pete Simpkin at the controls of a Marconi vidicon camera, with inbuilt racks controls, at BBC Southampton.

For more information see:

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

Mike Skipper:  ‘I don’t think Vidicon cameras would have been used for very long for broadcast – Vidicon tubes had an appalling low light performance (very laggy) and I believe gave a barely acceptable performance when scenes were well lit. I don’t know the times involved but the Plumbicon tube certainly outperformed the Vidicon when it became available… ‘

Pete Simpkin: ‘I agree, but remember these were the days of 405 lines and the whole system was pretty low definition. Also most of the studio shots were static with not too much in vision movement. However we achieved very good pictures in a small studio news environment.Our studio was on air for most of the 60s until 625 arrived.’

Alan Miller: ‘We used EMI 201 Vidicon 625 line cameras in Glasgow Studio B in the 1970’s and they were truly awful. They smeared all over the place especially if you were stupid enough to use a crawling caption across the screen.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘I agree Alan about the picture quality the 201s were never as good as the Marconis actually but they had quieter lens change!’

Charisma Keyboard

Charisma keyboard













Photo by Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

VT editor, Ian Collins, took a number of photographs of obsolete kit before the closure of Pebble Mill in 2004; this still of a Charisma keyboard among them. Charisma was a digital video effects machine which was de rigour in the late ’80s, early ’90s.  It enabled complex video effects to be incorporated in programmes like ‘The Clothes Show’.  In fact the style of series like ‘The Clothes Show’ were largely due to Charisma, and the skilled use of it by VT editors like Mike Bloore, who was awarded a craft BAFTA for his editing of the programme. I remember being really excited about using Charisma in VT edits, and thinking the effects looked really great.  If anything it was used too much, and caused a reaction against multi-layered complex edits and effects and back towards straightforward cuts.  Nowadays the effects look pretty dated. I also remember a funny story about an edit assistant, who shall remain nameless, going to a job interview and being asked about what he thought about Charisma.  He replied that charisma was an important quality in a person, and meant that they could be inspirational to others etc.  It was only later he realised that they were talking about the Charisma machine.  I can’t remember if he got the job or not! The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook Group: Mike Workman: ‘As used by the Six O’Clock News in 1985 for headline transition wipes, what a machine – VizRT is not a patch on Charisma!’ Matthew Skill: ‘we had one in Newcastle BC, there’s a complete set of manuals down in the workshops in the basement of TVC. That’s all the info i have for now….’ Mike Workman: ‘there’s a few dotted around TVC that came out of the then N1/2 news studios when the News Spur opened in 1997’ Mike Skipper: ‘Their successor the Ten X was used up until about a year ago at TV Centre!’ Ian Collins: ‘Without this piece of kit, Clothes Show would not have been the success that it was.’ Jane Green: ‘Ian’s right. I remember racing back from the NEC Clothes Show Live 1992 with the rushes of the live show and using Charisma with VT at Pebble Mill to put the show montages together. The effects were groundbreaking at the time. Took the finished tapes back to Roger at the NEC for TX and everyone crowded round to watch and loved the Charisma transformation.’

Pebble Mill at One – Sea King, blog by Keith Brook

Keith Brook (Scouse), preparing to record in the Sea King helicopter













This picture was taken in 1979 by the Navy when we covered a parachute drop for Pebble Mill at One, what else.

I may look cool, calm and collected but I was actually shitting bricks. It wasn’t helped by a very tight throat mike that made me want to up-chuck, or ‘burst’ in Navy parlance. It was only my social responsibility of not wanting to return some of the licence fee to the good people of Selly Oak in the form of fragments of canteen breakfast that held me back.

I needn’t have worried because these guys were among the heroes that saved so many lives in the Fastnet Race disaster of that year. Their stories were incredible and a wonderful example of teamwork. Funnily enough, on the Fastnet rescue, the man who did the ‘least’ work was the pilot. His job was to keep the helicopter in the same orientation and to take orders from the other two crew members. The co-pilot called the waves so the plane would rise and fall with the swell. The winchman then asked for up or down feet and the pilot did the sums to keep the poor man in the same place in space, usually on the deck of a boat. Amazing.

The pilot asked me what I wanted to do when the parachutists came out of the Wessex we were tracking. My well thought out idea was that the sun was very fetching and we’d have a great shot if we could descend with them, keeping them in silhouette. He suggested a rehearsal and promptly dropped the Sea King out of the sky. ‘Excuse me, old chap, but what was that about’, or slightly similar words, came ‘frog like’ from my stupid mike. Obviously, they drop like stones before opening their ‘chutes, so we’d have to do the same. That idea was quickly abandoned to be replaced by a shot looking up at the Wessex and the kamakasi crew dropping ‘through’ the sun. Nice.

The Navy were brilliant and the pilot did everything I asked as the parachutists dropped onto the front lawn. Well, most of them did. Some landed in the trees, which was embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as the poor man who, having wrapped up his parachute, had to walk from Cannon Hill Park, find his way across the Pershore Road and make a dignified entrance to the building as best he could.

Before we landed, I wanted to do a shot of the ‘The Mill’ that was a little different and, after describing it to the pilot, we had a go. It was rubbish, mainly because we were at 2000ft and he did it head-on, forgetting that I was poking out the side and couldn’t see anything apart from my house in the distance.

He announced that we only have five minutes of flying time, and should land. I croaked that we need to do this shot again, sideways, at zero feet, very fast and NOW.

So, off we went beyond the Bristol Road, turned, and came bombing in sideways just above the trees. Halfway down Pebble Mill road the pilot calmly asked ‘What next?’ I shouted ‘Stand by to turn right and hover’.

By the time I’d finished the sentence we were there, so I screamed ‘Turn, turn, turn’, which he did on full lock. This meant the Sea King was on its side, I was dangling, face down, from my safety cable and the camera was looking up through the blades, but we got the shot and it was used in the titles for months.

I should also add that, after we landed behind the new club building, we still weren’t finished and I had to run to the front lawn while the Sea King popped over to the rear car park to pick up the parachutists for one more shot. As I ran from the club grounds, director screaming down my ear, Ikegami on shoulder with large BBC sticker, onto Pebble Mill Road, turning left onto the front lawn, I was stopped by security who wanted to see my ID!! I’m sorry to say that I used a bad phrase that obviously upset the sensitive nature of that particular uniform wearing zealot and he reported me to his boss.

So, as I was sitting on the pavement, in front of Studio A, camera in lap, taking a ‘moment’ after the tribulations of the morning, I was tapped on the shoulder by none other than head of security. He was a little upset at my suggestion of remote intercourse to one of his staff and was going to report me to Sidey. I told him to arrange a meeting at 3:30 because I was going to the bar. Suitably tanked up, I staggered into Sidey’s office and gave my version of the story. HoS was duly told to perform the same distant relationship and, after a Sidey sized gin and tonic, I managed to find my way back to the club for more incredible rescue stories.

Keith Brook

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

Pete Simpkin: ‘Absolutely cracking story! Well done and well told Keith. Phil Sidey, now there’s a name to conjure with!’

Keith Brook: ‘Thanks Pete. Yes, Sidey had a lot to answer for, making us have so much fun.’

Mike Skipper: ‘Wonderful story !! Looks like the camera you were using was an Ikegami HL-79D (I can just about remember those being used back in the 1980s at Television Centre).

Your story about Security certainly rang a bell – even at TV Centre you can sometimes take ‘pot luck’ with whoever happens to be on the gate when you need to get through. I can recall Jim Davidson referring to some of the more “jobsworth” types as belonging to the Zaire Border Patrol, back in the days when we were recording Big Break…’

Keith Brook: ‘Thanks for the comment Mike. In fact it was a 79A. We had set up a single camera unit way before TC and Acton and because it operated out of a car, it was easy to shove into a helicopter. The fun we had in the early single camera days might be the subject of another missive!!’

Videotape machines in MFA



































Photos by VT Editor, Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

Ian took photos of various pieces of kit, for posterity, before Pebble Mill was decommissioned in 2004.

These photos are of different videotape machines, including beta sp, and digibeta.  Betacam sp, was a 1/2 inch analog videotape introduced as a format in the early 1980s and took over from U-matic tapes.

The machines were probably in MFA.

Mike Skipper added the following comment:

‘Just managed to have a closer look – the very top machine is indeed a Panasonic AJ-D350 1/2″ digital D3 recorder.

These machines saw heavy use at TV Centre until the 16:9 aspect ratio was settled upon as the standard recording format, at which point Digital Betacam became the preferred recording format. In very simplistic terms, D3 ‘digitised’ PAL signals before putting them to tape, whereas Digital Betacam processes signals in their component form.’