Studio Operations (part 6) – Ray Lee

All Creatures Great and Small, Studio A. Photo by Tim Savage

All Creatures Great and Small, Studio A. Photo by Tim Savage

Saturday Night at the Mill, 1977. Photo by John Burkill

Saturday Night at the Mill, 1977. Pebble Mill courtyard. Photo by John Burkill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Programmes

Studio A had a lot of drama series, and one off plays, as in those days drama was more often than not recorded in a studio. Exterior shots were done on film for the most part, and played in from TK during the recording session.

One of the early drama series was The Brothers  which was a fairly dire soap opera about a set of brothers who owned a lorry transport business. I remember virtually nothing about the series apart from the lovely Lisa Goddard, but it was a regular booking and kept us all in employment. Rather more interesting were the Dickens classics – Martin Chuzzlewit and Nicholas Nickleby. Then there were several series of  All Creatures Great and Small adapted from the James Herriot books. The first few with Carol Drinkwater, and the later series with Linda Bellingham, as James’ wife Helen. Then there was Gangsters which was I think the first studio production to use a “handheld” camera. The camera was a Bosch Fernseh, which had a quite large camera on a shoulder pad, connected to a back pack by a short cable, then the cable from the backpack went to a further CCU which was rigged in TAR. The Camera / backpack combination was pretty heavy, so the cameraman tended to put it all down as soon as the required shots had been taken.

There were a number of plays for today, and several series of The Basil Brush Show. The latter was recorded on a Saturday evening with a live audience, but for the afternoon dress rehearsal, several staff members and their children formed and audience so that “Basil” had someone to perform to. My wife and children came on several occasions when I was working in the gallery or TAR.

We hosted Playschool for at least one series, possibly two. This may have been around the time when there was a union dispute regarding who was to start the clock! As I remember, electricians said it should be them as it was electrical, and scene hands said it should be them as it was a prop. I don’t remember how it was resolved, but it was that kind of union silliness that set Margaret Thatcher on her crusade against the unions.

Studio A hosted Young Scientist of the Year at least twice, and also The Great Egg Race  with professor Heinz Wolff. There were several series of  Angels a kind of forerunner to Casualty. Then there was the great Pot Black which really put snooker onto the map for the first time. This was recorded over four intensive days after Christmas (27th – 30th Dec) and then shown one game per week. The quote of note being “For those of you watching in black and white, the red ball is next to the green ball, just beyond the black” or something like that. The problem was there was little difference in the grey level of red and green balls, so identifying them virtually impossible. It really was a game that had been waiting for colour. There were just so many programmes that came out of Studio A, the place buzzed with activity.

In addition to that there were all the Pebble Mill at One programmes which came from both studio A and studio B gallery, with the cameras in the foyer area or outside both at the back and front of the building, and occasionally on the roof! From the camera rigging point of view it was like an outside broadcast, but with the fixed infrastructure of a proper studio gallery.

In early 1975 a pilot programme Pebble Mill at Night was produced. It eventually materialised as Saturday Night at the Mill but not until 1976. This likewise used the foyer area, and depending on whether Studio A had a drama booked in used either Studio A or Studio B gallery.

Saturday Night at the Mill had the dubious honour of causing 2 of the big windows to be replaced. I think it was the night that a parachute jump landed on the front lawn, and in order to get some additional lighting, the lighting director (TM) had 2 big lights shining through the long gallery windows onto the lawn. The lights were well back from the windows and he checked that the windows were not getting hot. However they would have warmed slightly. That night after the show we had one of the hardest frosts in a long while, and the thermal stress on the windows caused them both to crack (several hours after the lights had been switched off). The replacement of the windows subsequently featured on a Pebble Mill at One, although what may not have been seen was that the new ones were about 3/4 inch too short! The gap was filled with mastic.

Studio B progammes in addition to the regular Midlands Today, hosted the Asian unit New Life programme on Sundays, and Farming, (the forerunner of Countryfile). Pebble Mill at One on any days when Studio A was in use for drama, and several programmes that could be squeezed into the small space, including incredibly some with an audience. Sadly I cannot remember all of them but The Clothes Show certainly started off in Studio B. There was rarely any slack days, and Studio B (or its gallery at least) may well have seen at least 2 and often 3 different programmes during the course of 24 hours! The presentation annex was arranged as a self operated area, and close down was done from there every night, with just a couple of engineers manning the TAR end of things. David Stevens was one of the regulars, and used a series of colour slides for his close down sequence. Sometimes the slides jammed in the slide scanner, resulting in a somewhat curtailed sequence. One of the slide scanners took a pair of slide boxes from which the slides were pushed up into the scanner gate by a metal plunger known as the Sprod. Unfortunately this required consistent slide mounts to work properly, and David’s assorted slides were not quite as regular as required, so sometime it spat out a slide altogether, just leaving a blank white screen. When possible the other slide scanner was used for this as the slides were pre slotted into place in a pair of discs which rotated into the scanner gate. The disadvantage of that being that changing the order of the slides took much longer if they needed to be changed.  As there were only the 2 slide scanners, and both studios might need to use slides there was a lot of pressure on the engineers to keep them both in working order.

Ray Lee

 

Kenny Ball dies


Photo copyright Keith Ackrill, no reproduction without permission.

Trumpeter, Kenny Ball died yesterday aged 82 of pneumonia. He was one of the stars of the ‘trad boom’, the jazz craze that was popular in Britain in the 1950s and 60s. He had a number 2 hit with ‘Midnight in Moscow’, in both the USA and the UK in 1961.

Kenny and his Jazzmen were the resident house band on Pebble Mill’s, Saturday Night at the Mill which ran from 1976-81. It was a live entertainment show from the Pebble Mill foyer.

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

Samantha Taylor: ‘My Dad and I went to see him perform just 12 months ago on Bournemouth Peer. It was sad to see such a great end his career so pitifully. He was a true great in his day. May he rest in peace.’

Beverley Dartnall: ‘Lovely memories of Kenny Ball and his jazzmen, working on Saturday night at the Mill, serving rum punch to the audience with Sue Robinson and Gail Herbert and once the audience had gone in to view the show, having lots of laughs with him and his band and of course finishing off the rum punch.’

Lynn Cullimore: ‘I remember Kenny serving him drinks in the green room on a telethon and time over running so he did not get on. I luckily was not the one to tell him – not that I think he cared by then ha ha.’

Kenny Ball plays Saturday Night at the Mill

Copyright resides with the original holder

In 1977 Kenny Ball and his band were the house band for the entertainment show from Pebble Mill, ‘Saturday Night at the Mill’. The show was a spin off from ‘Pebble Mill at One’. Here is the title track of the band’s 1977 album, which was also the show’s title music.

Thanks to David Ackrill for sharing the link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Donny MacLeod and the Kenny Ball band by John Burkill, no reproduction without permission.

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

David Crozier: ‘I was the designer on a number of these shows. I remember them as being huge fun and with a very real sense of being live. It was working on Sarurday Night at The Mill which gave me the first yearnings for becoming a live programme, multi-camera TV director, which I later became. Great times!

Stuart Gandy: ‘It certainly was a fun programme to work on and like so many programmes we did, put Birmingham on the broadcasting map, something it sadly no longer seems to be.’

Julian Hitchcock: ‘I was Floor Assistant / AFM on any number if these and recall it all vividly. As David says, “great fun”.’

Kevin Lakin: ‘I remember Bruce Forsyth taking a very dim view of trays of beer being bought down from the bar on the 2nd floor during rehearsals . . . . pillock’

Janice Rider: ‘I earned the nickname Strobe Rider from Rob Hinds after the Hollywood movie star Joseph Cotten threatened to walk off the programme if he couldn’t wear his very inappropriate black & white dogtooth jacket which flared dreadfully during his interview !’

Julian Hitchcock: ‘Now this is interesting. I remember going on the studio directors’ course and wanting, in my final project piece, to show a scene in a cinema (it was an adaptation if Graham Greene’s short story, “A Place off the Edgware Road”. Cinemas are, of course, dark. However, the technical manager was adamant that if the scene was dark, no one would be able to see anything,- as if this could not possibly have been intended. I pathetically agreed, with the consequence that the cinema was entirely visible. On this basis, what would be wrong with a person appearing with a “strobing” jacket? When, having left TV, I found myself having to be interviewed in the foyer, I deliberately put on a check jacket because I wanted to strobe…’

Jane Mclean: ‘I did autocue. Maggie Walne (Kidger) was PA. Yes, a beautifully alcoholic programme to work on. And afterwards we always went to The Strathallan on Hagley Rd to wind down. Remember Roy Norton directing the early morning traffic! He directed with Roy Ronnie (I think I’m right).’

Julian Hitchcock: ‘I can never remember Roy Ronnie directing, but it’s possible. They were each great fun in different ways. Norton was wonderfully nervy. I well recall him ordering us ( the floor crew) to “make them laugh”. And thereon hangs another tail.’

Kevin Lakin: ‘Does anyone remember the ” The James Last Orchestra ” fiasco . . . the 50 piece Orchestra were going to be performing in the courtyard, then at 7 o clock we were told they would coming into the foyer, at 7.30 the whole Orchestra went back outside, and that’s when the two Roys went and hid on the 5th floor.’

Julian Hitchcock: ‘I do! Better with hindsight than at the time. I was the guy who had to tell Herr Last. I think this was one if the things that lead to the building of the quadrangle roof.’

Carol Churchill: ‘Oh l loved working on it , l remember making Kate Bush up on her first TV appearance .’

Tim Dann: ‘I did twelve of these beauties!!…& it certainly was off to the Srathallan afterwards!!…tho I don’t remember ‘winding down!!!’…The milkman beat me home every time!!!!…After the ‘credits’ Roy Norton the director, who was always in a state of high excitement…used to leap to his feet sending his chair crashing into the gallery window & screamed “Take me Pres, take me Pres!!!”….I can only imagine ‘Presentations’ enjoyment & envy of what fun we, in the Midlands were having!!…Designed the ‘Kate Bush’ prog too…which morphed into ‘Dave Brubeck’ & then we took the set to Glasgow for an ‘Andy Williams Special.’…. Thwarted tho by Production A’s/managers/managers industrial action!!…Roy Ronnie produced & Roy Norton directed them all.’

Kevin Lakin: ‘Andy Williams was cursed then, I worked on an Andy Williams Special from Warwick University which was thwarted by the Musicians Union, all the orchestra walked out 2hrs before the show started, and fair play to Andy Williams he did the whole show to just a piano accompaniment, it was recorded, but never went out. I think the two Roys were behind it, Mary Spencer was the Designer.’

Studio C, Calrec Sound Desk – Peter Poole

Photos by Peter Poole, no reproduction without permission.

Studio C was the Foyer, made famous by ‘Pebble Mill At One’. In the early days of ‘Pebble Mill At One’, Studio C did not have a dedicated Production Gallery.  Studio A or B’s Galleries were used depending on which one was available. About 1982 Studio C had it’s own Gallery built. This enabled much greater use of the Foyer by other programmes. ‘Saturday Night At The Mill’ and ‘Good Morning With Anne And Nick’ were among many programmes to be broadcast from Studio C. In the final years of Pebble Mill the Foyer was used to record the daytime drama ‘Doctors’.

The photos show the Studio C, Calrec Sound Desk, which gave similar facilities to the Studio A desk, and offered more channels than the Studio B desk. It was very well designed for live broadcasting.

Peter Poole

Saturday Night at the Mill – photos by John Burkill

Photos by John Burkill, no reproduction without permission.

‘Saturday Night at the Mill’ was a live entertainment show that went out between 1976-81. It was set in the courtyard behind the Pebble Mill foyer (where ‘Pebble Mill at One’ was situated).

An ice rink seems to feature in this episode of ‘Saturday Night at the Mill’, and Bob Langley is the host.  Presenter Donny MacLeod is also featured, and it is possibly Anita Harris who is skating.

Please add a comment if you recognise other people in the photos, or can add other details.

Thanks

Vanessa

Saturday Night at the Mill