Videotape in the 70s (part 5) Ray Lee


photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission












VT Christmas Tapes

There was a tradition in VT to compile together a series of funny out-takes from the programmes, into a programme for internal viewing at Christmas. Quite where it started I don’t know, but it also involved colleagues at ATV, and London VT. The most famous were “White powder Christmas” and “Good King Memorex”. This was at a time when the BBC was pretty straight laced, and it was unthinkable to broadcast actors failings. It became quite well known among the regular actors, who when they had stumbled, or let rip with an expletive, would quite often add “Merry Christmas VT”

In the run up to Christmas there would quite often be mysterious line bookings, late night edit sessions, and other clandestine goings on, in order to complete these works of art. Initially managers turned a blind eye to it, but it got clamped down on when it started to impinge on genuine bookings. As the years went by VT editors had become ever more ambitious and the process was taking away too much effort from genuine work. However it later became legitimised to some extent with the programme “It’ll be Alright on the Night” Somehow there was never quite the same incentive to try to create Christmas tapes again.

Ray Lee

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

Jane Clement: .We all loved those Xma VT tapes – they were greatly anticipated every year. It was always funny for people in different parts of Pebble Mill to see the gaffs in other areas as well as their own. On Pebble Mill at One we were responsible for quite a few outtakes as we were live to air – the presenters in particular were always a bit nervous as the great Xmas unveiling approached! I seem to recall Drama had its fair share of the tape too, and Midlands Today. But any program (and anyone) was fair game for the VT boys.’

Stuart Gandy: ‘I think if you look on you tube you can at least find parts of them. The first time I remember seeing one was towards the end of my A course at Wood Norton when our course lecturer had obtained White Powder Christmas on tape. This was just before Christmas of 1979. It was so funny, and as Ray says it was of footage that would normally have been thrown out. The story goes, from the grapevine, and I could be wrong here, that it was produced during the strike in the run up to Christmas the previous year. White Powder Christmas was so successful, that the following year Good King Memorex was made, altogether much more polished.’

Peter Poole: ‘Copies of the tapes got into the hands of the tabloid press. These papers printed a story that presented the BBC in a poor light. It was the usual BBC bashing. The BBC then banned production of the Xmas tapes. Even out takes must not be kept.’

Keith Brook: ‘Yes. Another classic example of bad management. The tabloid story was based on ‘wasting’ licence payers’ money, which wasn’t true of course because it was in their own time and at no cost to the BBC. The management could have just let the story wither on the vine but instead over reacted and threatened dismissal of anyone caught making a Christmas tape. That’s why the following year it was an ‘Easter’ tape!!’

Marvin’s Credits

Photo by Tim Savage. Marvin is on the far right!













Marvin’s credit on Track One. Grab from Keith Brook.













VT editors are a singular breed, and sometimes curiously attached to inanimate objects! The VPR2 machine in VTC was affectionately known as ‘Marvin’. Presumably after ‘Marvin the paranoid android’ in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Not only was ‘Marvin’ the machine, named, but he was also credited – on at least one, and possibly on more programmes, for his creative efforts.  ‘Marvin’ is the machine on the extreme right of top photo – not a very good shot of him!

‘Marvin’s’ credit was on ‘Track One’ a regional programme for the discerning younger audience. The credits for VT read: ‘Marvin – Mike Bloore – Ivor the Engine’ in that order. So Marvin got top billing as well!!  Keith was the director of that episode, produced by Keith Haley, with executive producer, Mike Fitzgerald. (Thanks to Keith Brook for this information, and the grab!).

‘Marvin’ may also have enjoyed other credits – possibly on ‘Look! Hear!’

Videotape in the 70s (part 3) – Ray Lee

Photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission

VT Expansion

Around 1975/6 VTC was created. A pair of AmpexVR1200 were installed into the new area, but because there were only sufficient lines on the Comms router at that time for one more VT they shared a single source and destination route, and one control line. When working with a studio or outside destination, they only saw whichever machine was switched to line, which meant that for programmes like Midlands Today, one machine could be cuing the next item, while one was playing, but normally it would need a brief return to another source so that the machine to line could be switched prior to playing the next item. I had a fairly extended period working in VT after VTC was created, and even did some training of others including Tim Savage. At that time Angela Ripon was the main presenter on “Top Gear” which was frequently edited in VTC.

Soon after that the IVC 9000 Slant track machine was installed in the former Telecine viewing room. More and more programmes were using VT and so any viewing of film material took place either in the viewing theatre run by Stan Treasurer, or in the Telecine cubicles themselves. The IVC 9000 used 2inch wide tape like the Quad machines, but recorded the tracks diagonally across the tape. The tape also ran at half the speed that the Quad machines used, so could accommodate longer continuous recordings.

It was slightly less noisy than the Quad machines and had a much quicker start up mode. (I believe it could be synchronous in 3 seconds instead of 10). This machine was used extensively by Pebble Mill at One, but because there was only ever one machine, it still required a Quad machine to do edits, and also any material that was on slant track format tapes, could only be played on that machine, which rather limited its usefulness. The idea of obtaining a second machine for an edit pair never materialised, as by this stage the Ampex VPR2 machines were starting to be installed in London, and subsequently at Pebble Mill, and these had the advantage of seeing pictures in still frame and shuttle mode, which enormously improved the location of edit points.

Ray Lee

Ray added this additional information on the Pebble Mill Facebook page: ‘VTC was equiped with VR1200s which Paul (Vanezis) is quite correct were older machines (than the VR2000s). Pebble Mill had them 2nd Hand I think ex London when they were just starting to install VPR2’s at TVC as far as I recall.’

Falling on the Cutting Room Floor!

Photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission.

Sometimes recording on 2″ videotape did not go well, and the programme ended up literally on the floor!

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

Lynn Cullimore: “but you brilliant VT men always sorted it out didn’t you? Little geniuses…when often it was directors and producers who got the credit.”

Keith Brook: “I bet that was a stunt to scare the xxxt out of a director. The accompanying words were ‘Ah, I think the machine has chewed the only copy of your programme’.”

Building a VT Suite

Photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission.

I was always impressed that the VT editors designed how they wanted new suites to be kitted out.  They were at the heart of any major fit-out.  There didn’t seem to be much ‘getting a man in’ to build you a new suite!

This photo is of the fitting out of VT E.

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