1966 to 1969 – ANGLIA TELEVISION | MY FIRST YEARS IN TV SOUND.
POST No. 1 by DAVID TAYLOR
First posted FEBRUARY 2020
This is the first in a series of posts about my early working years in television sound and when I’m able to I’ll put in some photos from those times.
I hope that describing the techniques we worked with, starting in my case in the 1960’s, will help point out what a primitive technological world we worked in and how far things come since then.
I started in the summer of 1966 when Sid Denney, the Head-of-Sound at the ITV broadcaster Anglia TV, took a gamble and let me join the Sound Department in Norwich. He didn’t have much to go on as there were no college courses at that time…I’d just showed an interest in sound and had been tinkering with tape-recorders, but Sid set me off on a really great career.
Anglia had two studios built in 1959 into the old Agricultural Hall in the centre of Norwich and also an Outside Broadcast ‘scanner’. Television was still in the ‘black and white’ 405 lines days and all the cameras when I joined in 1966 were Pye MkV’s, usually fitted with a mixture of ‘fixed’ lenses in the studios, although zoom lens were mainly used on OB’s. However here’s a photo from when Anglia started in 1959:
ANGLIA’S FIRST OB SCANNER
The above is a picture of Anglia Televisions first OB Scanner, a few years before I joined. The Pye MkIII camera’s were replaced by MkIV’s but these had also already been replaced by Pye MkV’s and a newer scanner had arrived in 1966 as well. Bob Gardam had left and became a World of Sport director at LWT for many years, however the two ‘Peters’ above were still with Anglia.
AND THE STUDIOS
Studio A was the larger of the two studios at Anglia House and the control galleries were on the first floor, looking down into the studio.
This is Studio A Sound Control. In the corner over-looking the the studio is the Pye mixer, fitted with big ‘quadrant faders’. It’s positioned hard up against the window separating it from the Production Gallery so that the Sound Supervisor at the mixer can look through the large window in front to see the production monitor stack. There were no vision monitors in sound at all at this time. Beside him on his right side is a smaller window, looking down to Studio A below.
The Pye mixing desk was a ‘valve’ unit, with only faders and above them on the console, a few controls for the channels gain, pre-fader listen, foldback, echo send and the talkback keys. Central on the upstand the PPM programme meter. The heart of the this mixer was the valve microphone and line amplifiers, housed in a couple of full height 19″ rack cabinets along one wall behind the Supervisors chair. In the ’60’s ‘Equalization’ on the channels was not fitted although at some places around this time large outboard plugin Eq units were available.
The only difference in 1966, when I joined to the above, is the addition of a second EMT turntable.
The monitor loudspeaker, which probably housed a Tannoy dual concentric driver, was a big ‘corner’ cabinet hung up to the right of the Supervisor above the studio window. It really wasn’t considered unusual to have sound monitoring and the TX picture monitor that it related too, quite far apart in those days.
Here’s the Production Gallery of Studio B, ready to start ‘About Anglia’ after the ITN News at 6pm.
Studio B Sound had an early germanium transistor mixer, which was an EMI, the same light green colour as the tape deck below. Being a transistor desk made it much smaller than Studio A’s valve Pye desk as all the electronics were now within the mixer. It also had quadrant faders of the more modern ‘Painton’ type, and ‘grams’ had a newer EMI BTR4 tape deck and a turntable, which I think was just a ‘domestic’ Garrard 301, fitted with a ‘slip mat’. The Sound Supervisor also looked forward into the Production Gallery, with a window looking down into the studio below on his right.
For some reason my strongest memory of Studio B is looking down on a live performance in 1969 during an About Anglia by Peter Sarstedt singing “Where Do You Go to My Lovely?” with Vic Thurston mixing.
Peter, singing into an AKG D-24, was accompanied by an accordion player and some wonderful double bass from Dave Richmond.
I remember rigging the bass with an STC 4037 well wrapped in foam and then stuffed into the bridge….. it kept the mic ‘close’ to the instrument, often a problem with the big String Bass.
Hearing that deep bass on a big Tannoy loudspeaker back in the control room sounded great to my young ears!
LET’S TAKE A TRIP AWAY TO TOP OF THE POPS THEN….
Alas I’ve not found a copy of that performance, but here it is introduced by Simon Dee (who’s later shows at LWT Wembley I worked on) in a BBC Top of The Pops recording. No live accordion or bass on this though…but Peter sings live into a C-28, with his guitar miked using another with a VR1 extension as was typical with Top Of The Pops at that time.
He sings to a pre-recorded track, with strings, by the TOTP Orchestra, conducted by Johnny Pearson.
If you’re interested in such things, this was in BBC Lime Grove Studio G with Richard Chamberlin mixing and that would be just before TOTP moved to Television Centre TC8, later in 1969…and that was when colour arrived!
Richard Chamberlin….using an echo chamber I would think, plus some ‘tape delay’ echo send, noticeable on the accordion opening. Richard was famous for using BK6 neck mics, worn around the string players necks….in order to get a tight sound. Some of us didn’t catch onto that idea until much later, when ‘clip on’ ECM77’s began to be put on ‘the fiddles’!
MEANWHILE ….BACK AT ANGLIA
As a trainee Sound Assistant I was learning about the mics were used and how to play in the ‘grams’ on the children’s show ‘Romper Room’ or the nightly local news and magazine programme ‘About Anglia’.
‘Grams’ in those days were 78rpm sound effect discs played from the turntables or perhaps title music from the TR90 tape deck. 33rpm LP’s were common, but the sound effect library was still 78’s.
The EMT 927 turntables were massive, larger than an LP disc and had felt mats that allowed you to ‘hold’ the disc with the turntable spinning underneath. ‘On cue’ you released the disc, after having pre-set a short run up and the heavy pickup arm, tracking at about 3 grams, coped with the start up as the sound effect or music was ‘spun in’, with the rotary fader on the front of the turntable being turned up at the same time.
ADDING FX TO MUTE NEWS FILM
The local evening news preceding ‘About Anglia’ had most stories shot on 16mm Bolex cameras by ‘stringers’…..freelance film-cameramen paid ‘by the story’…and they had no sound capability at all. Therefore we watched the films in a brief run through before the news started and tried our best to offer up ‘something suitable’ from the sound effects discs. A passing bus might be covered OK with a library disc but perhaps something to fit a shot of a ‘man on water-skis’ would be difficult to find.
The answer was the perennial ‘buzz-track’, a non-descript 78 rpm disc of nothing more than ‘noise’ would be faded up and down to approximate the sound of a fast boat splashing through the water in time with the shot. Such antics didn’t really work well, but somehow it was better than totally mute film…and there was usually a ‘studio commentary’ going over it anyway.
And here is the ‘About Anglia’ weatherman, Michael Hunt and you can just see his fairly large AKG D-109 neck mic.
As there were no radio mics in use at this time, a presenter such as Michael would have to be connected to a long cable, possibly down his trouser leg! He walked in a few moments before he was needed, plugged himself into the mic extension cable and took up position for the ‘weather’. The boom operator ‘hung about’ just in case something went wrong with his ‘plug yourself in at the last moment’ technique.
BOOMS AND MICS
Booms were used to cover everyone else, except for the occasional trotting out of a hand mic or stand mics for seated interview
Our studio booms were Mole-Richardsons, which were made a few miles ‘down’ from Norwich at Thetford. We had a couple of the large Moles, and a mini-boom and all were fitted with the ‘tri-cycle’ platform.
So apart from mic rigging and boom tracking, I started operating the Mole Boom on simple duties, like covering a ‘2-handed interview’. You learnt that you needed to keep your eye on the person that wasn’t talking as much as the one who was, because you had to anticipate anyone ‘butting in’ so as to not be ‘off mic’ at any time. And of course, boom shadows were not appreciated.
We used the large AKG D-25 mic in a sprung suspension in the boom. The mic cupboard had a selection of AKG and also STC mics, such as the STC 4021 ‘apple and biscuit’, the 4037 ‘stick mic’ and the 4038 ribbon mic. The 4038, often still called by it’s original BBC name of ‘PGS’, carried on being used by both broadcasters and recording studios for many years to come, particularly on brass instruments.
The AKG D-24 cardiod hand mic was often used on singers although there were exotic C-28 condenser mics in the mic cupboard as well, which were sometimes fitted with discreet VR-29 extensions to make tidy looking mics positioned by an interviewees chairs. Condenser mics like the C-28’s required the use of a separate power supply box, along with mains, input and special output cables of course. No mics at that time were built for the new standard output XLR cables.
Sid Denney was a great head of department and was trusting enough that after a period doing the boom, he let me move on to the grams and then even take over the mixer sometimes for the simple children’s Romper Room. As it went out each weekday, we recorded three at a time and then the other two the following day.
In order that a recorded TV programme could be cued to start accurately, a VT Clock was recorded on the front of each part of the programme tape. In the picture above, the clock is started 30 secs before the programme start, with a ‘verbal ident’ spoken by the Floor Manager and later on also possibly by the sound mixer using a ‘slate’ key on the mixing desk.
In this instance the verbal ident would be: “Romper Room, programme number 15474, recorded on 10th September for TX on 18th September”. The vision mixer faded to ‘black’ at 5 secs to go and the Director cued the the ‘fade up’.
Typically, as in the case of Romper Room, the titles were on Telecine, so the PA would have ‘rolled Telecine’ at 6 secs to go, but the opening music came off grams, which the sound mixer then cross faded ‘under’ Miss Rosalyn the presenter, who is here seen behind the VT board.
For the sound mixer the sequence would probably be: ‘Play Title music tape over opening caption, fade up the boom for the presenter, play more music in for a game…and later perhaps for a song from the children’.
You’d try and tell the boom operator if it looked like he might get in a forthcoming shot as his floor picture monitor would only show the picture that was ‘cut to air’, where as the sound mixer could see all the camera monitors through in the Production Gallery.
Finally the end music was ‘pre-faded’ under the closing dialogue, to finish at the final ‘out time’. So you might set the end music to a mark 30 secs before it finished on the tape, so when the 30 secs to the end time arrived, you started the tape but left it faded down until the last moments of Rosalyn’s closing words and then gently start fading it up, finally lifting it to ‘full up’ when she stopped speaking, the vision mixer then cutting away to ‘closing captions’ for the last few seconds.
Sound like this was the simplest of stuff but great for a young sound assistant like me only a few months into the job!
I was learning about keeping the dialogue in check…we had no limiters at all I think and nobody wanted the transmitter to go ‘off air’ because of a high sound mod and children can be noisy. (In fact there was a limiter was at the transmitter.)
The show was ‘syndicated’ from Talbot Television, so the set and props were the same in other countries and on Anglia ‘Miss Rosalyn’, Rosalyn Thompson, was much loved by kids all over East Anglia.
Anglia, along with all the other ITV companies produced in their early years programmes called ‘Ad-Mags’. These were usually ‘mini dramas’ of perhaps 15 minute duration consisting of blatant advertising…the fore runners of today’s ‘Shopping Channel!
They were apparently very popular with ITV’s audience, but were condemned in the 1962 Pilkington Report into ITV, which said: “Ad-Mags blur the distinction between programmes and advertisements. In effect characters known to viewers as friendly personalities because they appear in regular programmes endorse, as though they were disinterested parties, the claims of the advertisers. They give the impression of having, on the most sensible homely grounds, decided to recommend this article rather than that.” Not much has changed on that score in commercials then over the years!
Here’s a photo looking down on an ‘Ad-Mag’ recording in Studio B. The cameras and the operators headsets are the give away to me that this was the early ’60’s
However Ad-Mags had gone when I joined Anglia…though often were still ‘laughed’ about.
THE REQUIREMENT FOR ‘SERIOUS PROGRAMMING’
Anglia tried their best to do a wide range of East Anglian flavoured programmes of course, like a farming programme, but Anglia, like all the ITV Companies, was required to do ‘serious programming’. So Anglia had a weekly current affairs programme ‘Arena’, introduced by a renown broadcaster Brian Connell, and we used a boom covering the ‘two-hander’ on that.
And with a well known drama producer, John Woolf on the board, Anglia also were determined to do ‘drama’ and brought in some top actors and directors to make them. Eventually Anglia was able to record I think twelve dramas a year for the ITV Network and although initially these were recorded by Rediffusion in London, by the time I joined these were the high spot of work each month in Anglia Studio A.
VIDEOTAPE…BUT IT WAS STILL ‘LIVE’ TO US:
The dramas were shot on videotape, but were ‘as live’ because of two limitations. The first was the fact that the Actor’s Union only allowed a 3 hour recording to take place in a day, so we rehearsed scene by scene for a full day and then came in the next day, did a full ‘dress run’ right through and then did the recording, which consisted of complete parts, done without breaks. I can remember how frightening it was to go into the recording without being able to remember anymore than the first few shots! Somehow you usually managed to recall your boom moves once the flow of the drama started…..and it helped if you’d marked up your camera script accurately of course
The other limitation was the videotape. At that time massive ‘Quadruplex’ machines recording on 2″ tape were used and at Anglia this was the Ampex ‘Quad’ VTR.
But when the new Anglia OB Scanner was delivered in 1966 it had it’s own 2″ QUAD VTR inside…must have taken up rather a lot of that vehicle I think. I originally had written here that the Anglia mobile VTR must have been the first in the country, but have since read in Wireless World that at the Earls Court Radio Show in September 1959, Tyne Tees TV took along their 2″ QUAD VTR in a truck to demonstrate video recording, and that there were now 25 VTR’s operated by ITV companies and 4 were in vehicles.
EDITING….ONLY IF ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
Editing was a major task requiring finding the edit point approximately in ‘play’, then removing the roughly marked up 2″ tape from the spinning ‘Quad’ headstack and painting on a solution of ‘suspended iron-filings’ called EdiVue directly on to the tape. As it was necessary to keep the control-track pulses intact, the editor waited a few moments until the solution dried and revealed these pulses. The VT editor then made a butt splice on the tape clamped in an editing block through a ‘surgical technique’ using an editing microscope device attached to a guillotine.
Edits could be done within a programme but it wasn’t encouraged at all, firstly the sound track was half a second in front of the vision, so a cut made there would lose a bit of the incoming sound. The ‘hole’ needed filling in, which editors could do by a relaying it with the sound copied off a 1/4″ machine, however that took time though. Secondly the edit could still make the picture ‘frame roll’ if not perfect….so it was best to do it after a fade to black or before the start of the next part.
2″ videotape was also extremely expensive…so cost would also be the third reason not to edit.
PLAY OF THE WEEK – ANGLIA DRAMAS
The Anglia dramas were produced by John Jacobs, who also directed many as well, along with other directors such as Alvin Rakoff.
Here’s a picture of Anglia Studio A with Alvin Rakoff ‘blocking’ on the floor, the first stage in the studio of rehearsing with actors and crew through the script, shot by shot. The PA and Vision Mixer, upstairs in the Production Gallery would be following the camera cuts, as Alvin walked the actors through the scene
In the picture above of a crew rehearsing for an Anglia drama on Studio A, there are two floor managers following the script and and one of them, Sonny Vasallo, to the right of the boom has beside him on the floor camera and boom ‘camera tape’ marks. On the left side, the floor monitor is positioned for boom op to be able to see it and as often happens a ‘props man’ is standing in front of it! Bill (or Bert?) Brennan on camera 3 and Peter Townley on camera 4 are cross shooting the two actresses and I imagine the boom op Peter is waiting for Jane Asher, on the right to turn ‘onto his boom’
BOOM OPERATING ….THE FIRST SKILL TO LEARN
As sound assistant I ‘tracked’ the booms and might even be just out of sight in the picture above behind Peter’s boom and marked the studio floor with those bits of ‘camera tape’ to get the boom into it’s rehearsed positions. You then marked up your script to get it right throughout the play.
If I was lucky I would also get to operate a ‘mini-boom’ or fishpole once or twice alongside a main boom or perhaps in a corridor set. A corridor scene could be painful for a new boom op as the narrow space allocated meant the dangerous ‘key light’ was usually just above you waiting to give you a nice big shadow! In the picture above there are two types of soft ‘fill lights’ hanging up on each side in the foreground and in the centre between them, visible behind Alvin’s head, is a ‘pup’ which although tightly fitted with ‘doors’, Peter will have to avoid crossing or risk getting an ‘arm shadow’.
Sound perspective is so important in drama and boom operators learn to match the mics position to the ‘size’ of a camera shot. So for a close-up of a seated actor on Camera 1 you would be expected to drop the mic down and pick-up close sound, then as the actor stood up you would haul the mic up for Camera 2’s wide-shot…keeping out of the frame each time. The Vision Mixer, along with the Director of course, are fretting when they see you in the forthcoming Camera 2 wide-shot….and hope…and often call out on talkback for you to clear the new shot.
Boom operators can see the ‘on air shot’ on a monitor on the studio floor and they mark up their scripts to remind them of the action that they are covering. As I mentioned before, it was very necessary as it was often a few hours since you had last rehearsed that scene.
The Sound Supervisor often has to seemlessly cross fade from one boom to another as actors move, so two boom ops ‘splitting’ a scene will have to at some point position there mics close to each other to allow the mixer to crossfade without any noticeable change or ‘phasing the mics’.
DODGING AROUND THE KEY LIGHT
TV Lighting Directors have to cope with lighting a set that will be seen by a number of cameras at once, so can’t just light ‘one shot at a time’ like in film. The usual method is to have a hard ‘key light’ that is the main source of ‘light’ and then have soft ‘fill lights’ to reduce the contrast and make the scene look realistic. Often there are small ‘pup lights’ to highlight people or areas on the edges of the set and the boom op must stay out of any of the shadows all these lights will cast. The hard ‘key lights’ are the enemy, but sometimes even ‘softies’ can cause small shadows. During rehearsals, the boom ops sometimes trots off to the lighting gallery to ‘appeal’ for help from the ‘LD’ in moving a light… not always successfully!
All camera shots are numbered with the PA calling out the shot numbers throughout, so the friend to any boom op was a simple thing…the click sound as heard through his talkback of the Vision Mixer pressing the buttons. The boom op could listen for the cut that had just happened…particularly if that meant he could now drop in for the close-up sound that matched the new shot.
A great boom op working is a joy to watch, matching the sound perspective to a flow of camera cuts without getting caught!
I thought I’d got to be reasonably OK as a boom op during my 3 years at Anglia, but alas I learnt the standard of operating at my next company LWT was really ‘shit hot’! I had some more practising to do……some of those guys had been working booms almost daily for many years!
A TV Sound Supervisor goes to an ‘outside rehearsal’ with the Director, Senior Cameraman and Lighting Director to watch the actors rehearse and there he works out how how to allocate the booms and whether perhaps a little ‘fishpole’ or a ‘slung’ mic will suffice in a hallway; perhaps even resorting to a mic hidden in a plant pot, to pick up a ‘line off’. The senior floor boom operator will also attend and perhaps have some of the crew with him to suss out the drama or sit-com as well. The other important sound crew member, the ‘gram op’, will have to source any sound effects and title music required.
These ‘as live’ TV shows always had the grams all played in as it was shot. Later we were able to add fx and music when required in a sound dub…but that was not until videotape was more easily ‘worked with’ in the early ’70’s.
WHEN TELEVISION DRAMA’S GOT BIG AUDIENCES
As I said, the dramas were the high spot for the Anglia crews and I loved working on them and at that time they were part of the ITV ‘Play of the Week’ and frequently reached really enormous audiences. The one pictured below had a record audience for an ITV drama of 25 million. Can you imagine what it was like to have almost half the population of Britain watching…scary for the actors, having to get everything right in one take and it was also scary for the crew to have audiences that large!
Very atmospheric lighting in the recreation of a Dublin street and church exterior for the 1967 drama ‘Little Moon of Alban’. I’m still trying to remember who the cameraman is but Colin Lovewell is on the Mole Boom. If you look carefully you can see that the boom cable has been rigged from up in the lighting grid and it hangs down in front of the windows on the left before ending up in the cable holder besides Colin’s script rack, this helps keep the floor clear for camera and boom moves. The camera assistant Peter Hall is wearing a headset to follow the camera shots, whereas the boom tracker John Havart is just relying on Colin for instructions. The ‘spark’ (lighting crew) to the left of the boom is hand holding a light, a ‘basher’. A cobbled floor as seen here was created with a special paint frame but the pavement and curb stones do look ‘elevated’, thus limiting the camera from moving onto them.
I also remember doing “The Man Who Understood Women”, shown in an earlier photo, with Tony Britton and Jane Asher….and I can confirm that Paul McCartney wasn’t the only guy to fall for Jane asher! Alvin Rakoff directed.
And being a passionate photographer I was tickled pink when in 1968 we did ‘The Photographer’ with Robert Stephens and Susannah York, which John Jacobs directed. It obviously had something of ‘Blow Up’ about it , Antonioni’s famous 1966 film about a photographer and his models.
Although the BBC now had BBC2 in colour and the bigger ITV companies were going to start soon, Anglia of course was still in black and white…but TV Times advertised it on their cover like this:
THE FIRST LOCATION DRAMA….A ‘SOAP OPERA’
Anglia also tried it’s hardest with a twice weekly ‘soap opera’ that featured the made up village of ‘Weavers Green’
The above shot shows an Anglia crew rehearsing right beside the new scanner CVG333D during the making of Weavers Green in 1966 in the village of Heydon. Tony Astridge is manning a camera on the roof with Peter Sargeant on the camera mounted on the Vinten Crane. That high camera would give the fishpole operator a few difficulties unless it was tight-shot.
Finally here’s a photo Sid Denney sent me when we talked in 2013, of some of the Anglia Sound Dept working on ‘Weavers Green’…we’re all trying to look relaxed …and I’m forth from the left. Sadly Sid Denney died a few years ago; I do wish I had continued corresponding with him.
Next time we can go on an OB with Anglia for a ‘Weavers Green’ …my first Outside Broadcasts.
For Weavers Green-see also: