Studio Operations (part 7) – Ray Lee

Studio Lighting Studio A

Photo of Studio A lighting gantry 1975, by Jim Gregory
Photo of Studio A lighting gantry 1975, by Jim Gregory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio A had a grid of lighting hoists – referred to as barrels – arranged in rows and columns, I think there were 96 in all. Some in the corners of the studio were short ones, but most could accommodate up to 3 luminaires, and were normally equipped with 2 double ended ones, with a soft light on one side and a key light on the other. The lighting hoist could be lowered to floor level to change luminaires, or add extra ones, and it was quite common for additional spotlights, or effects lights to be added to the standard complement of 2 dual source lamps, or even for one or more of the dual source lamps to be substituted by another more suitable lamp. This was all done on the set and light day. Each barrel (apart from the short ones) had 3 lighting circuits each controlled by its own dimmer. There were a number of outlets on the studio wall also controlled by a dimmer for connecting to cyclorama lighting units or floor standing lamps.

The lighting control system was called a Qfile, and was an early system using computer type memory storage based on magnetic core stores. This allowed lighting scenes to be stored both in terms of which lights were on and how bright they were, and facilitated smooth and quick lighting transitions with ease. In the lighting gallery there was a mimic display, laid out in the same way as the lighting barrels, which showed which lights were on in the studio in white, and the next scene (preview lighting) in green. To test the mimic lights one memory (99) was set with all the lamp circuits on, but woe betide you if you ever cut that up to the live scene. The studio would become very bright very briefly, before the circuit breakers in the basement cut the power off. There would then follow about a 20 minute hiatus while the electricians, went through the sequence of going to the basement and of re-setting the circuit breakers. The lighting panel had a set of meters to show how much power was being drawn, and it was expected that the lights would be distributed across the 3 phase supply to keep a balanced load. The circuit breakers were designed to trip if any one phase exceeded 150kW, so in theory the total lighting load could be close to 450kW, which made for a pretty hot studio. Most of the lamps were switchable 2.5 / 5kW, but occasionally 10kW lamps would be used, so it soon added up.

The Qfile operator was drawn from the engineer pool, but because of its specialised nature, was also  one of a small group of people. It was recommended that operators had been on a lighting course, and seen as the first step towards becoming a TM2. Initially Dave White, Peter Wood-fisher, and Ian Dewar, with Mike Lee as a stand in. In the mid 70’s Dave left for Norwich, and Peter moved to VT, Brian Jones then became a regular but Mike had to fill in a lot more. I had a brief time operating it, but was never accepted for a lighting course, and did not really take to it, and would not have coped with some of the fast paced work that the more experienced handled.

The Qfile mimic could be made to display some words in a fairly crude block text. When Playschool was hosted “Little Ted” was the favourite. One had to use your imagination a bit to see the words, but that was the kind of idle exercise that helped brighten some quite long studio days.

Ray Lee

Studio A, All Creatures Great and Small, photo by Tim Savage

Studio A, All Creatures Great and Small, photo by Tim Savage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Pete Simpkin: ‘What a fascinating Blog. Congratulations Ray from one who’s lighting experience was restricted to news studios where the maximum availabilty was one key and fill per person in vision, a ‘pup’ for head and shoulders to separate them from the cyclorama backing and the odd background shape light shining through cardboard cut out patterns!!’

Peter Poole: ‘I worked as theatre electrician before the BBC. I used a Rank Strand Threeset desk. Every time a lamp blow out it took the fuse. Was it the same at Pebble Mill?’

Videotape in the 70s (part 7) – Ray Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Paul Scholes. Included are Brian Watkiss (blue T-shirt), Leigh Sinclair (shirt and tie), and Mike Bloore (far right)

VT Staff Changes

As I recollect, Tony Rayner was the first to leave becoming a director, and Mike Bloore to join VT as a junior. Steve Critchlow then became a VT editor alongside John Lannin. There was a period of stability until John Lannin became Operations organiser, and Steve Critchlow went I think to Planning. John Burkill, and Mike Bloore then became VT editors, and subsequently with VTC expansion Ian Collins became a VT editor. With the expansion  and promotions VT was quite short staffed, which is when I had a longer spell working in VT, and training others in the operation of Quad Machines. I don’t remember details but Tim Savage, Brian Watkiss and Ivor Williams all arrived around that time. Peter Wood-Fisher was in VT later but not at any time I was working in VT. I think Steve May and Martin Dowell came later, possibly when the VPR2’s first arrived. After that I lost touch with staff movements in VT, as I spent more time in the Studio end of operations, and from 1984 in Engineering Services.

Ray Lee

Videotape in the ’70s (part 4) Ray Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still from Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

Peter Wood-Fisher’s electronic clock. Grab from Keith Brook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VT Clock

The countdown clock was initially a mechanical clock on a kind of blackboard in the studio, and was recorded at the beginning of each section of recording. It had sections for the programme title, tape number, take number, sequence title and other important identifying information. This was written on by the floor manager, (or assistant FM) prior to the recording. One of the difficulties was that when a tape was edited, the clock information could not be updated in VT to indicate this was an edited master, unless a separate clock had been recorded previously. The clock was generally started at around 30 seconds and allowed to count past 0, although in shows recorded as live the vision mixer would cut to black at 3. Where a series of clocks for editing purposes were recorded, the cut to black would be done in the edit by VT.

In the late 70’s Peter Wood-Fisher, a keen engineer built an electronic VT Countdown clock using a large quantity of integrated circuits, and housed it in a home made plywood box. It was around 18inch square with a full size keyboard at the front, then an up-stand housing the rest of the electronics, on which there was just room for a pair of 9inch monitors. This allowed VT to add clocks to edited items and recorded inserts without tying up studio time. This was the forerunner of using the BBC Micro as a VT Clock, which only became possible in the mid 80’s. (the BBC Model A was first produced in 1984). In those early days studio recordings often still recorded the clock from the studio, but the VT clock was used for subsequent edits. As there was only one VT Clock, various routing arrangements were made in order to make it available to the other VT areas. It sat on the back shelf in VTA cubicle.

Ray Lee

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

Peter Poole: “BBC Norwich still used these VT clocks long after Pebble Mill changed to electronic. I went on attachment as a Tech Op. The studio looked like a museum of broadcast equipment!”

Eurwyn Jones: “Just read the article on the Pebble Mill site. I remember the clock well – on live shows like ‘Farming Today’ on Sunday mornings,the clock was used at the end of the show as well. It faced the presenter in the studio and on cue from the PA counting down to the end on the show we would start the clock and they would see how long they had left. Some would ignore it though!!”

Peter Poole: “Pebble Mill engineers had a great talent for building ingenious electronics.”

Ned Abell: “Its ironic this surfaced the day after Ceefax closed…now wheres my BBC B from September 1982?”