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.’

Rum Punch Day Football Match


These photos are taken of the Pebble Mill football match, organised by the BBC Club, traditionally held on ‘Rum Punch Day’, just before Christmas each year.  Thanks to Gail Herbert, who was Chair of the BBC Club at Pebble Mill for many years for making the photos available.  The match was ‘Personnel versus the Club’.

Top photo (not sure which year) were the losers, top row left to right: Colin Spears, Rick Thompson, Steve Lee, Alan Towers, Brian King, Peter Urie, Jock Gallagher.

Bottom row: Paul Howell, Bridget allen, Mark Duggan, Jane Morgan, Andy Tylee, Roy Saatchi.

Lower photo: Rum Punch Day Football Match 1985.

Bottom Row: Andy Turley, Mary Mallett, Mel Stevens, Paul Howell, Roy Saatchi, Jock Gallagher Row l to r: Colin Spears, Andy Tylee, Kevin Knock, Peter Urie,?, Brian King,Peter Windows (freelance producer on The Archers, then lecturer at BCU), Ted Woodhead ?.

If you can fill in any of the unidentified players in the second photo, or know the year of the first photo, please add a comment.

More of a Way of Life than a Job – Les Podraza

Les with David McCallum

By Les Podraza.

The first production I ever worked on was “Moonstone”. It was enormous, taking up the whole floor space of studio “A” at Pebble Mill. I was 19 and wet behind the ears! This brilliant place was to be my new home for over 25 years. Years that can only be described as unforgettable. Or to put it another way, in the words of Walt Disney “If it can be dreamed, it can be done.” I worked on so many productions I’ve lost count. I was so proud to work at Pebble Mill. As we all know, it became the Centre Of Excellence For Drama. And by golly did we churn some programmes out or what!

My parent department was Scenic Servicing, along with attachments to various other departments. I can hardly believe that it’s just a hole in the ground now! I loved being part of Pebble Mill and all it stood for, my job and all that went with it. Such a crying shame that all that talented and professional work force have moved on to pastures new, some of whom I see regularly still, and some have passed away. My thoughts go out to all their families.

To have worked for the BBC at Pebble Mill was distinctly a way of life and not a job as such. Every day was different that’s for sure. One day I would be building a set for Play For Today, the next day I’d be out on location somewhere in the UK. My friends and colleagues were my family. For some people that statement would be hard to understand, but when you spend so much of your time with people you work with, they do become your family. Hours spent working on shows, travelling, sleeping, and then working on shows. It wasn’t routine, and it could get very interesting at times. There were good and bad times but all in all it was a magical place to be involved with. I still possess many letters from producers and production crews alike thanking me for the good work me and my colleagues did on a particular show. These letters were so good for morale. That is probably why so many production crews wanted to work at Pebble Mill and not London. Because of the good will and professionalism they knew they would get from all the various departments that it took to produce brilliant programmes.

One particular event took place once a year. It was called Rum Punch day. All would meet up in the bar first and then move on down to the workshops. Nearly always on or between the 20th and the 23rd December. It was a chance to put up some glitzy sets in the studio workshops. I remember when Howard’s Way had finished. The main set was stored for Rum Punch. When staff from all departments and regions came down to the workshop floor, the place was rocking with a DJ at one end, with loads of overhead lighting on the dance floor, and the longest ever bar in the world at the other, with about 10 scene staff serving 200 to 300 people at once. We always got incredible comments every year. The worst one emotionally, was the last one ever in December 1992. I can remember seeing grown men crying, coming to terms with their redundancy notices for April 1993. It was a very sad time indeed.

There is so much I could say about the place that has made me so very proud to be a part of the best design and production facility in the world! But alas, there is not enough time or space here. But please enjoy my photographic memoirs of various productions I worked on. I’m sure you will find them very interesting. (Les’s photos are posted under the individual programme titles).