Pete Simpkin – The Pebble Mill Roof

Pete Simpkin radio producer


As the Pebble Mill at One Show developed more items were broadcast from the inner quadrangle of the building which was a pleasant grassed and landscaped area. However the British weather increasingly played its disruptive part and so a foldable roof was installed so that whatever the weather the show could go on.
It was however fascinating on wet days to see the gardener having to water the flowers and shrubs under the roof while perfectly good rain fell on the roof above! Similarly we were fascinated one snowy day to look down from the radio studio to see artificial snow being distributed around whist real snow was falling outside. Fascinating challenges!

Peter Poole adds the following comment on Facebook: ‘I remember the artificial snow well. I worked on ‘A Song for Christmas’ in the Quad. We used several Sony ECM 50 mics. The snow got into the XLR plugs and caused problems. After the show it took ages to clean all the cables. I now hate artificial snow!’

Pete Simpkin – The Mad Axeman!


When the Pebble Mill Radio Studios were being built someone forgot to install a visual alarm so that people broadcasting in soundproof areas would be made aware of any emergency and respond accordingly. One afternoon I was presenting the scheduled show alone in studio 1 when I looked up to see a Fireman complete with helmet and an axe waving at me through the control room window. Apparently there was a fire alarm and I was the only person who was not aware of it. Actually it turned out to be a false alarm and I refused to leave my post and kept on the air but soon flashing alarms were installed throughout the area for future safety!

On another occasion we were all evacuated from the building and as we  trooped out we became aware that we were being filmed… was for a programme about how quickly

a building could be evacuated…..we were not best pleased.

Coming down from the 7th floor restaurant one afternoon I walked into a lift and was told to ‘carry on, behave quite normally’ A silent sequence was being filmed for some drama for TV and I had to stand next to a famous actor until we reached the required floor. I never saw my appearance!

Pete Simpkin – Memories of the Ghostly Voice

Pete in WM Studio 1


One of the security men who was on early duty at the back door in the early hours had a frightening habit of scaring me witless every time he was in situ by waiting until I had collected my studio keys from him and walked up the darkened back corridors of the building to a particular point where there was a security loudspeaker installed. He could work out the time to reach this place and then whisper ‘Pete’ into his microphone. The effect of this unseen voice whispering my name in the stigeon gloom of the early morning was unsettling to day the least but I was always caught out. Luckily he retired before I did!

IT CAME FROM PEBBLE MILL 2-4 July at mac, Birmingham

Long before shows like The Wire and The Sopranos ripped up the television rule-book, a corridor of the BBC’s Birmingham studio was rivalling HBO in the range and riskiness of its output. Over the course of a decade from 1972 onwards the unpromisingly-named English Regions Drama department created a unique culture where young writers and directors could flourish,  where sci-fi and cop-show were taken in strange new directions, and where contemporary Britain in all its glory and messiness was reflected on the small screen. Last month the UK was represented at the Cannes Film Festival by Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears, two acclaimed filmmakers who developed their craft on that very corridor. It Came From Pebble Mill offers a rare opportunity to rediscover some of the best work from that period and to find out how those who made it got away with it.

Highlights include:

Licking Hitler – David Hare’s first film, about a World War 2 propaganda unit

Nuts in May – cult Mike Leigh comedy about class warfare on the campsite

Empire Road – Britain’s first (and last) black soap opera, set in Handsworth

The Muscle Market – a precursor to Boys From the Blackstuff, starring Pete Postlethwaite and Alison Steadman

GangstersThe French Connection comes to Spaghetti Junction

Plus landmark films from writers including Ian McEwan, Alan Plater and David Rudkin, and the half-hour play which featured British television’s first lesbian kiss.

Just like HBO, the department built its reputation by allowing writers to experiment. Having scored a hit in the 60s with police series Z Cars, producer David Rose established an environment with as little interference as possible from London. Cast and crew were all based in Birmingham during rehearsals and shooting, and in smoky corners of the BBC social club ideas were thrown around and new alliances were forged. Often shooting film on location – as opposed to the video-shot studio drama which dominated at the time – Pebble Mill produced gritty realism but also surreal comedy, sharp satire and the enduring poetic visions of films like Penda’s Fen and Red Shift.

Remarkably enough Rose went on to repeat this feat in the 1980s at Film Four, and recently his achievements were recognised with a Fellowship of the British Film Institute. Along with many of his colleagues from that time David Rose will be returning to Birmingham for this very special weekend of screenings and discussions at the newly refurbished mac, just around the corner from where Pebble Mill once stood.


Friday 2 – Sunday 4 July, 2010


Mac, Cannon Hill Park. Edgbaston, Birmingham B12 9QH


Call 0121 446 3232, or buy online at

Full programme information also available at

It Came From Pebble Mill is presented by Birmingham City University and 7 Inch Cinema, with support from the National Lottery through ScreenWM. Additional support provided by the BBC, British Film Institute and Aquila TV.