For the first in this series of posts on my years at Anglia Television look HERE:
Like all the Regional ITV Stations, Anglia TV served their ‘local area’ with a regular output of local programming, now sadly missing from television. For this reason, we went off frequently to do Outside Broadcasts around East Anglia and also well into Lincolnshire beyond ‘The Wash’, as far as The Humber. Mostly these were weekends away covering a Saturday football match and a Sunday church service, as both could be done by the same OB crew.
However, Anglia took a very big gamble and decided to make a regular drama, a ‘soap’ called ‘Weavers Green’….and to do as much of it as possible with an expensive Outside Broadcast Unit, shooting in video.
Weavers Green was about a vet’s practice and its dealings with the local community. Shooting was mainly undertaken around the real Norfolk village of ‘Heydon’ with occasional visits to other locations, as we shall see.
It was a big ‘niggle’ to those of us working in video that as soon as a person in a TV video ‘drama’ walked out of the studio set, the producers had to cut to ’16mm film’….which just didn’t have the same ‘look’ as the studio at all. So to shoot both the exteriors and the interiors in video would be far less jarring and enhance the final visual appearance of the programme.
There was however a big cost implication, as a small Film Unit was so much cheaper than a 3 or 4-camera video OB, however, the Film Unit was much slower, shooting ‘one shot at a time’, so the OB Unit could be turning out a drama like a ‘soap’ on a pretty fast basis as it could shoot longer, already ‘stitched together’ scenes.
The above photo shows the new OB scanner CVG333D which was delivered in 1966, being directed into its parking position somewhere around the village of Heydon where ‘Weavers Green’ was usually shot. However, the following sequence of pictures was taken with the OB Scanner setting up and shooting on the beach at Aldeburgh, the beautiful Suffolk seaside town.
Note the two camera cables and sound ‘loom’ plugged into the Scanner ‘tailboard’.
Colin uses a pair of ‘cans’ and a small speaker to test the lines, which lead off to wherever the Post Office Engineers have installed the ‘Post Office Block’, a set of screw connection terminals mounted on a wall or post near the Scanner. He would be listening for a ‘tone’ signal to check for any breaks. The new Anglia scanner came with a 2″ QUAD machine on-board, but if we were sending back to ‘base’, then the audio lines would comprise a ‘music circuit’, sending the programme audio back and a ‘four wire’ communications circuit, with ‘in and out’ talkback, to co-ordinate during a live broadcast. In fact, the ‘VTR Clock’ can be seen propped up against a post just along from Colin. This was a a large clock started on camera to indicate the ‘start time’ of each of the programme parts and used in the transmission of the completed programme. During this period we were still sending Programme Audio over an ‘equalised phone line’. The quality was somewhat variable and to be honest you could sometimes here low-level telephone ringing noises on such a circuit! These were the days of 405-line TV of course.
An operator working a studio boom, literally had both hands full as his left hand operated a lever just behind him, that both panned around and tilted the microphone. His right hand operated the wheel in front of him, which racked the boom arm in or out. Coordination was soon learnt to pan and rack at the same time when covering actors. The more difficult bit was working out what shots each camera was producing, so that the mic was getting sound that related to the variety of those shots, particularly since you also needed to read a script placed on an upstand in front of you on the boom. The Mole Boom here was perhaps overkill on this Aldeborough shoot….really nice if it could be used but in fact on this scene the ‘boom ops’ had to rely on ‘fishpoles’ because of access to the shingle beach. Tracking that large ‘boom and its pram’ wasn’t going to be possible.
A big set of wheels have been put on this tripod base for movement on the shingle and Tony Ashridge frames up and shows his shot to Colin and Peter. Colin’s ‘fishpole’ is a genuine bamboo pole, suitably strong to carry the heavy AKG D-25 with its windshield. At this time Anglia was switching the standard audio connector from the big ‘F&E’, to the smaller ‘XLR’, so a converter adaptor is plugged in along the fishpole’s length. More weight for Colin to heft! A heavy mic on a fishpole soon leads to very tired arms on a long bit of dialogue.
The lens turret is rotated by a handle, which blanks out the picture as it swings the lens, so it obviously cannot be used during a shot. A zoom is ungainly, but much more versatile….and at this time cost a fortune. Both Cameramen and Directors learnt the focal length and the angles relating to each fixed TV lens so that the Director could ask for a ‘3-inch’ and know what the coverage would be.
Cameramen listen to the ‘gallery talkback’ from the Director and the PA ‘calling camera shots’ on their headphones. Each shot is numbered and a camera card is given to each of them to show which shots will be theirs. On an OB like this, the sound operators have chosen not to be on ‘talkback’, as that’s less cabling involved although an assistant nearby would probably listen to help pass messages from the Sound Supervisor.
Boom Operator John Tebble and Cameraman Peter Townley cover the moving dialogue sequence helped by Duncan tracking the Vinten Dolly. Note the camera being kept on the hard concrete and also the Floor Manager Michael on ‘cabled talkback’. Radio talkback was still not in use in 1967 and Floor Managers had to cope with pulling a cable around, which always ended up in terrible knots.
Colin can only pre-set the fixed position of the D-25 mic within that round windshield, so dexterity is required in positioning as actors move around. A piece of tape on the back of the windshields indicates where the back of the cardioid mic is to help keep the pick-up ‘on mic’. Getting dialogue with both actors and the crew moving on a stony, pebble beach, must be a Sound Supervisors nightmare!
Tony has a large Taylor-Hobson Varotal zoom lens and operates the zoom handle with one hand and focus with the other on Camera 3 whilst Floor Manager Michael looks after the cueing, with the Stage Manager in attendance. Camera assistant Duncan and Peter on the dolly with the other camera have parked after their shot finished and John rests his fishpole.
Tony checks his camera card for the next sequence whilst the director in the Scanner prepares to move on. Senior Cameraman Peter Sargeant on Camera 1 on the roadway continues the sequence as the dog is about to be driven away.
As much as possible is made in real-time on a television drama in the early days. Here the Caption Operator, a stagehand, holds the printed black ‘Part Two’ caption board upright for the camera, after which a cut to another camera will follow for the sequence to continue, without any editing.
Since I was a new trainee and happily able to take photos during this location scene, I must have been the soundman monitoring talkback, still considered too inexperienced to operate a ‘fishpole’, or that Mole Boom.
‘Weavers Green’ was transmitted twice weekly, Thursdays and Saturdays and unfortunately only lasted for 25 weeks owing to the ITV Networks’ stupid scheduling and some ITV company infighting. The Wednesday episode was at peak viewing time but the Saturday episode got lost at ‘children’s TV’ time which meant most of the audience couldn’t keep up the regular viewing a ‘soap’ needs and the audience didn’t build as it should have done. The idea got stolen by other TV companies later on though.
Next time….the Anglia Television Scanner takes an ‘Entertainment Show’ on the road in 1967.
Apologies by the way to those readers who have a good knowledge of TV techniques, as I’m sorry if I seem to be over-explainingeverything. TV is so different now that I want to point out how crude it was over 50 years ago ……but what good results were achieved every day!