2005 Prospero article by John Wood


John Wood Prospero PP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

This Prospero article by John Wood, is from September 2005. It concentrates on the heyday of Pebble Mill, when 10% of output was created in Birmingham. Phil Sidey, the first HoB of Pebble Mill is credited with spotting the potential of the foyer as the studio for Pebble Mill at One.

Phil Sidey is shown in a photo with John Wood, from the press office, in the bar.

Thanks to Peter Poole for sharing the article.

 

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!!’

2nd Floor Bar – Keith Brook (Scouse)

Photo by Tim Savage. Included l to r: Ivor Williams, Nigel Evans, Mike Bloore, John Burkill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Floor Bar

The second floor bar, or VT-C to some, was instrumental in the early success of Pebble Mill.

It was a place were everyone involved in a production could meet before, during or after a programme and chew the cud over what went horribly wrong or what went wonderfully right about a show.

This freedom of opinion was crucially important in making producers choose to bring their babies to PM. They loved it and were suddenly free of the ‘unionised’ structure of Telly Centre (which was caused by dreadful bad management) and could relax, as equals, in the talented and artistic world of ‘The Mill’.

Directors were astonished to find they could have conversations over talkback with cameramen and VT instead of relying on nods and buzzers.

It was London’s jealousy, caused by producers ‘wanting’ to work at The Mill, that was its eventual downfall. That moment was continually pushed back by Phil Sidey who would regale us, often at big meetings in the boardroom, with stories of his battles with management, much to the horror of management I’m delighted to say!!

The nearest I got to the feeling of Pebble Mill’s last days was when I worked on the final edition of the ‘Big Breakfast’. So many people came out from the party and stood on the grass just looking at the house. Many in tears, many just stunned, but all in complete bewilderment as to why it should happen and how awful the replacement was.

So, the managers move BBC Birmingham to the Mailbox and contract to pay £2.4m a year for 25 years, instead of £800, just because of jealousy.

If they’d all gone to ‘The Club’ things could have been so different.

Keith Brook (aka. Scouse)

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

Cathy Houghton: ‘The bar on the 2nd floor was the best and yes the BBC lost a treasure when they made the decision to close the Mill .. ‘

Lynn Cullimore: ‘a lot of creative ideas came to pass in that bar!!!’

Pete Simpkin: ‘The original second floor bar was often thought of as an extension of the Radio Birminham newsroom on the floor below. There was great excitement when the journos heard the Newsroom was moving to that exact spot in the expansion of the Local Radio facilities but this turned to bitter disappointment when on arrival in their new newsroom the beverage dispensing facilities had been moved outside the main building to separate premises!’

Andy Marriott: ‘Are there any photos of the interior of the bar? I came along to the mill far too late to have witnessed it. I loved the fact there was such an informal place to relax in after (and in some cases, before!) work.

Working at MediaCity just doesn’t compare, having to remortgage your house for a tiny bottle of fizzy gnat’s pi** while sitting in the same uncomfortable plastic seats you eat your overpriced lunch at just isn’t the same. It seems every time the BBC moves to a new building, a little bit of its soul dies with it.’

Stuart Gandy: ‘My first memory of the old bar was actually on rum punch day. Having spent 3 months on my A course at Wood Norton in the autumn of 1979, I spent just a couple of days at pebble Mill before the Christmas break, but before I officially started there in the January. One of these was rum punch day. Of course I didn’t know what that meant when my new colleagues said it was rum punch, but none the less I went to the bar to find out, and there began my knowledge of this old Pebble Mill tradition. The bar was rammed full including the outside balcony, with the punch being served at the far end so it was quite a challenge to actually get to it. Happy memories of the old place.’

Pebble Mill Locomotive


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The first photo is of the Pebble Mill locomotive sign (in final black and silver colours –after Virgin repainted it in 1998). It was an electric locomotive, Class 86, number 86256.  The locomotive was originally a British Rail one, before becoming a Virgin one after the privatisation of the railways. It was taken out of service in 2002 and was finally scrapped in 2006.

The other photo is a screen grab of the actual naming ceremony in Nov 1981, Phil Sidey, Head of Pebble Mill, is pulling the string.

I understand that this sign with ‘BBC Pebble Mill’ was meant to be used on the train, but the powers that be didn’t want BBC on it, so it was never used.  It is currently being listed for sale on ebay.

 

 

 

 

This link includes some photos of the Pebble Mill locomotive in service.

http://flickrhivemind.net/Tags/86256/Interesting


This YouTube video is Birmingham to London in 5 mins. At 1.21 in the train stops at Birmingham International and you can see it is “Pebble Mill”: it was made by Ewan Kiel from Midlands Region.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vv640aRwFS8

Stuart Gandy left the following comment on the Facebook page: ‘I remember travelling on a train pulled by this locomotive. It was in 1987 when I was going to London by train for a course. I distinctly remember waiting on Wolverhampton station for the London train to arrive, and when it did it was this one named Pebble Mill. How uncanny was that!’

David Waine

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

David Waine was Head of Building at BBC Pebble Mill from 1983, when he took over from Phil Sidey.  The photo was taken in David’s office, and in the back of shot is a still of the famous Harrier landing at Pebble Mill, from ‘Pebble Mill at One’.