1950’s – PYE BROADCAST AUDIO CONSOLES | PART THREE | THE VALVE STUDIO MIXERS

2021-06-12 0 By David Taylor

Contents:
1950’s – THE VALVE STUDIO MIXERS
Typical 1950’s Installations
Anglia TV’s Pye desk
Granada’s Studio 10 at The Chelsea Palace
The Duke at The Palace
Replacing The Valves

THE FIRST IN THE FOUR ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF PYE’s AUDIO CONSOLES IS HERE
A .PDF FILE OF THIS ARTICLE CAN BE DOWNLOADED (1Mb)

1950’s – THE VALVE STUDIO MIXERS

As we have seen in Parts One and Two, the earliest Pye Television equipment went into Outside Broadcast scanners, starting with the MCR’s for the BBC. Pye though were soon installing equipment into TV studios, such as Photicon cameras at Lime Grove in 1950, but there is scant information on when they started building valve audio consoles for broadcast.
In the 1950’s, and for many years after that, the BBC usually built their own sound consoles for radio and television, however the first Pye mixer in a ‘studio’, was possibly when a Pye valve console of 16 or 24 inputs was installed in 1953 in the ‘BBC Television Theatre’, as the Shepherd’s Bush Empire was re-named when the BBC took it over.

Here’s a 16 channel valve console of the mid ’50’s:

A Pye console with 16 big Painton faders and rotary Main Op pots
From a Pye ’50’s audio brochure via Richard Ellis. [1]

Here’s a similar mixer of this design in operation:

Pye valve mixer of Granada TV.
Photo: via Richard Ellis

Pye equipped studios 2, 4 and 6 at Granada TV when it went on air in 1956, with consoles like the 24 channel valve desk in this photo. [1] We can see that there are three banks of 8 faders, although the middle set may of course include ‘group faders’ or ‘independent faders’. Certainly each the outer sets with their differing coloured fader knobs, would route to their dedicated groups, as was the usual way……well until Neve came along with the concept of ‘any channel to any group’ I guess.
The ‘big knob’ is the Main Output, one of the older rotary ‘stud’ faders that had been in use for many years in BBC Radio desks. It has lots of ‘chunky’ selector buttons around it. Everything about desks like this was big…..perhaps that’s because everything ‘valve’ was on the large size and all the amplifiers for the console took up at least a couple of full height 19″ bays somewhere behind the console.

Looking like this in fact:

Two equipment bays for the valve mixer.
Photo: Pye via Richard Ellis

The valve equipment took up so much space that each mixer required 2 or more bays to house everything else necessary for the the desk’s operation . The top left here has the mic amps, with the jackfields underneath and the routing jackfields on the right. The Power Supplies and Output Amps were also in there, plus another 19″ rack carrying the Foldback and PA amplifiers, all requiring installing in a TV sound control room.
Most rows of jackfields like these Mosses and Mitchell ones were wired as ‘listen/line/apparatus’. That is you could plug your cans into the top ‘listen row’ to check the incoming signal and it wouldn’t break the signal in the middle row, which was coming from the ‘line’. The line in this case was perhaps the studio wallboxes for mics (although you wouldn’t hear such a low-level signal of course on headphones) or high-level inputs from CAR for the Telecine or VT machines, or even your local ‘grams’. The third row was going to the ‘apparatus’, that was the channel or other part of the desk such as the monitoring, which was the destination. Plugging into the middle, line row broke the normal wired signal going to the ‘apparatus’ and enabled patching it to a completely different ‘destination’.

Typical 1950’s Installations

Here’s a shot of a typical small 1950’s installation of a desk, speaker and picture monitor:

A mixer, probably 12 channel, in a typical mid 1950’s room.
Photo: Pye

Mixers were pushed up against the studio windows like this, although this doesn’t look like a TV Sound Control Room, more likely a small sound studio, perhaps for voice-overs. The design of this desk differs from the Granada model and there also appear to be faders on the sloping upstand. It’s not a UK broadcaster either as there’s no ‘BBC PPM’ on the desk.
The walls in the Granada photo are lined with the ubiquitous ‘peg board’. Acoustics was still a primitive art at that time and many rooms were still fitted out poorly for sound absorption, The photo at Anglia below, has those visually dull looking acoustic tiles….just like the Redifussion studios when I went to Wembley.

Anglia TV’s Pye desk

Supplied in 1959, this is the Pye desk in Studio A at Anglia TV, as it was when I was with the company in the late ’60’s:

Sound Supervisor Sid Denney at the 16 channel Pye valve mixer, with assistant Colin Eldred operating the EMT927 turntables during a ‘drama’ in Studio A.
Photo: Anglia TV

Sound’s Monitor Loudspeaker, a big Tannoy, just like the wall mounted one visible beside the picture monitor stack in Production, was hung up above the studio window that was beside Sid’s right shoulder and Anglia haven’t provided any Picture Monitors at all in the Sound Control; you have to view the programme through the window into the Production Gallery.
I think Anglia’s 16 Channel desk here had an ‘Effects’ switching bank, so that ‘Telephone Distort’ could be pre-selected to switch in and out following camera cuts. All the Pye equipment; the sound mixer and the consoles housing those EMT927 turntables, were coloured light blue with dark blue trim.

The light blue Pye front panel from an EMT turntable console.
Photo: Paul Faraday

The control panel on those turntables had a volume pot labelled ‘prefade’ for your cans level and the large rotary output pot, a constant impedance studded type, had just a 180 degree arc and allowed a fast fade up as soon as the turntable was started. Many FX discs were still being cut as 78’s and note that Colin in the photo above has a 45rpm 7″ disc on the left EMT deck and a 78rpm 10″ on the right one.

Granada’s Studio 10 at The Chelsea Palace

Here’s a couple of small Pye OB desks with the big Painton quadrant faders transferred for a studio use:

Two Pye OB desks in use at the Chelsea Palace, which Granada used as a studio from 1959.
Photo: Michael Harrison via TV Studio History.

Michael Harrison gave the following information about the Chelsea Palace sound setup:
“The original sound mixer seen here with James Goldby at the controls.  It was later replaced after a big technical refurb but for the first few years this was it! The mixer was in a cubby hole just to the right of the stage. The equipment was Pye OB kit, and the sound supervisors of the day only had 16 channels to cope with full orchestra, two booms and small music groups.  The shortage of channels was coped with by re-plugging microphones – the plug board can be seen on the left. Mike Roberts mixed most of the shows and he showed enormous skill and a cool head by re-plugging during live and very expensive top-class shows.[2]
The studio was used for the series ‘Chelsea at Nine’ which started in 1957:

“Chelsea At Nine was Monday night’s big variety offering presented by Granada TV from its Chelsea Palace theatre and it showcased top transatlantic stars, such as Billie Holliday, Alan Young and Ferrante & Teicher, with American directors employed to give the show an international sheen. As well as major entertainment names of the day, the programme included regular comedy skits from the team of Mai Zetterling, Dennis Price and Irene Handl, and excerpts from contemporary theatre shows, while The Granadiers were the house song-and-dance troupe, directed by Cliff Adams.[3]

Johnny Dankworth on one of the ‘Chelsea’ shows in 1958.
Photo via Nostalgia Central website


Some ribbon mics seen in use during Chelsea at Nine (later Chelsea at Eight) in 1958. Johnny Dankworth soloing into a Reslo Ribbon and another on the bass, and there are a couple of STC 4038’s also visible. It appears that the Chelsea Palace was refurbished in 1959, so a new desk would have gone in, but as Pye was the preferred supplier to Granada, I guess it was like the bigger desks seen earlier.

The Duke at The Palace

The Duke Ellington Orchestra were at the Chelsea Palace on 21st and 22nd January 1963 for another networked Granada TV show, ‘Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra’:

Ellington on the cover of TV Times for February 1963.[4]
Duke Ellington conducts during the recording of the Granada Television show ‘Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra’ at the Chelsea Palace, London on 22nd January 1963, which was transmitted on 13th February 1963.
Photo by David Redfern [5]

I don’t know who mixed that Ellington Chelsea Palace recording, as the Mike Roberts mentioned was at ABC in Teddington by 1961, but it had good sound and some tunes from this Duke Ellington TV programme have been released on CD, along with others taken from Hugh Barker’s mix that the BBC recorded on 20th Feb 1964 in TC4. These had been collected by Ellington’s son Mercer from audio tapes. [5]

A Scottish Pye

As I mentioned in the earlier part about OB desks, when Scottish Television went on the air in August 1957 they had a Pye built scanner but were also using one of the Pye valve mixers like Anglia’s in their new ‘studio’. Like Granada at the Chelsea Palace and a number of other ITV companies, this was actually a converted theatre, the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. [6]

A brief shot of the STV Pye desk in the Theatre Royal studio. [6]


The Scottish Television Pye desk was in the Production Gallery, alongside the Director’s monitors, as shown by a clip from the 1957 Hogmanay show. Here it is in a ‘screengrab’, and the sound mixer is wearing cans because Ray Purdy, the STV Programme Controller introduced the show from ‘the gallery’. [6]
By 1963 The Theatre Royal was a housing a total of 4 studios, but the building was destroyed by fire in 1969 and STV had luckily by then obtained another ‘theatre studio’, The Gateway in Edinburgh, so production moved across country to there.

Replacing The Valves

These were the last valve consoles before both broadcasting and recording studios moved to transistors and although the new germanium transistor designs arrived at the very beginning of the ’60’s, some valve consoles lasted another 10 years until silicon transistor console designs like Neve’s finally replaced them.
Despite the fact that many modern engineer’s would love the ‘warm sound’ of a valve mic amp into their digital Pro Tool’s rigs, most engineer’s at the time were pleased when big, hot, inflexible valve consoles were replaced. However some’ like Geoff Emerick at Abbey Road felt that the new transistor consoles didn’t give the sound they got from the previous valve models.
In Part Two I reviewed the first of Pye’s OB transistor desks but it was Pye’s first germanium studio desks that broke new ground with a truly innovative modular ‘wrap-around’ design. Those are covered in Part Four.

Credits and References:

THE VALVE STUDIO DESKS:
[1] Many thanks for all the information I received on Pye sound desks and installations from Richard Ellis. Richard’s book gives us the following names from the Pye audio department in it’s early years: Ron Blackler, Charles Peck, Bob Barrass and Bob Moore.
[2] Details from Martin Kempton’s remarkable website about the history of our TV Studios over the years:
http://tvstudiohistory.co.uk/studio%20history.htm#chelsea%20palace
[3] The report of ‘Chelsea at Nine’ comes from: https://nostalgiacentral.com/television/tv-by-decade/tv-shows-1950s/chelsea-at-ninechelsea-at-eight/
[4] TV Times cover and details from the Transdifussion website: https://www.transdiffusion.org/2018/02/14/tonights-granada-tv-in-1963-3.
Ken Val’s Book ‘Duke’s Diary Part 2 tells us: “MONDAY 21st JANUARY – GRANADA TV studios in Chelsea, London to rehearse and pre-tape ‘Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra’ for transmission on 13 February.
TUESDAY 22nd JANUARY – GRANADA STUDIOS, CHELSEA to complete pre-taping for ‘Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra.
Take the A Train / C-Jam Blues / The Eighth Veil/ Rockin’ in Rhythm /Angu / Mood Indigo / A Single Petal Of A Rose (DE Piano solo) / Don’t Get Around Much Anymore  / Diminuendo In Blue and Wailing Interval.”

‘Jazz on Film and Video in the Library of Congress’ by Rebecca D. Clear 1993 states:
DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS FAMOUS ORCHESTRA”. Valburn/Ellington Collection Granada TV, 1963. Director: Eric Price; Producer: Peter Wilderblood. : A 1/2″ Videotape in Library Of Congress Archive”
Most of the music appeared on a 1990s CD, The Great London Concerts, reissued on Nimbus 2CD, NI2704/5.

[5] Photos of the Chelsea Palace Duke Ellington recording, taken by noted Jazz photographer David Redfern are on the Getty Images website and at least two CD’s are available containing 6 tracks taken from the Chelsea Palace Granada recording coupled with 8 more from a BBC show at the TV Theatre 20th Feb 1964-mixed by Hugh Barker, on a Pye desk. (Travelog CD 518 446-2 and Nimbus NI 2704/5)
[6] Video of the first Hogmanay broadcast by Scottish TV, shows the Pye desk as part of the Production Gallery in The Theatre Royal, Glasgow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEL9YHJgIRk