For the first in this series of posts on my years at Anglia Television look here: HERE
In September 1967 the large RAF fighter base at RAF Coltishall was one of the many RAF stations that opened their doors at the anniversary of The Battle-of-Britain and held an airshow. Anglia TV decided to televise it and I either ‘tagged along’ or was working on it…I can’t remember which, but being still being an aviation enthusiast, I took along my camera. It looks like I was still using the camera I had since my teenage days in Singapore, a cheapish Japanese 35mm rangefinder with a fixed 45mm lens, a Samoca MR.
Anglia must have had to put in lots of preparation to undertake this ‘OB’, as in the photo below you can see the Anglia OB Scanner, plus the support tender parked on the grass in front of the Coltishall Control Tower.
Positioned between the control tower and the runway, Anglia’s OB Scanner has been parked to make the most of the cable runs to the unit’s 4 Pye Mk5 cameras and the commentary position on the control tower balcony. A Whirlwind HAR10 Air-Sea Rescue helicopter is landing near the unit, beside a Tiger Moth glider tug. Coltishall’s resident Lightnings are scattered around in the distance.
As the vehicle is within an area to be used by visiting aircraft, the camera and sound cable runs from the scanner are hidden, having obviously been dug into trenches radiating out to each of the four cameras, plus runs to the sound positions. Prior to the day, the TV Director would designate his camera positions and the Location Manager would have then undertaken to get the cables buried and the scaffolding camera towers erected as required.
The programmes sound and video for the live transmission would be routed back away from the scanner by connections to the ‘Post Office block’, erected especially for this transmission. The video might only go to a nearby ‘high point’, before hopping the rest of the way to Anglia House in Norwich with micro-wave links. The sound however would run, via these ‘equalised’ cable sound circuits, all the way back to base. In fact the lines were basically telephone cables with repeater amplifiers along the way. The ‘Post Office block’ was just usually a small watertight case, with screw connections to the newly laid in Post Office cable, disappearing off to a suitable termination cabinet somewhere. ‘Postie’ would leave a scrawled note giving the connections we should use for the outgoing ‘music circuit’, ie the equalised pair for the transmission sound and also the connections to make for the ‘4-wire’. That’s the talkback circuit back to base. A member of the crew was given the task of ‘comms guy’ for the day and would stay with the scanner during ‘line-up’ and transmission to check that the circuits and talkback around the site was going OK.
Whilst we are rigging I’m able to snap a couple of shots of aircraft incoming to Coltishall. This is a very pretty RAF Beagle Bassett, coming from Bovingdon nearer London and bringing a VIP arrival. Hence the ‘best whites’ for the marshaller directing the aircraft in.
As is befitting one of Britain’s top fighter stations, Coltishall gets a brand new French visitor, a very sexy Mirage IIIE that’s come across France to be here. It’s getting refuelled but has dropped off those enormous wing tanks. Jet fighters never seemed to be able to carry enough fuel for any reasonable duration, although Coltishall’s Lightnings have external ‘belly tanks’ that helped. OK…..enough of aircraft photos…what about the OB!
One or two camera positions have been rigged on the ground beside the runway, plus another on the control tower balcony and this high scaffold tower, set to get a clear view throughout the airshow and it’s near to, but above the aircraft ‘static park’, a feature of all airshows.
Here’s the ‘crowd-line’ during the show, as seen from the control tower. ‘Tannoy’ PA speakers can be seen mounted on the striped poles that house the ‘apron’s’ night time illumination. A public commentary on a PA system like this makes it more difficult for a TV sound supervisor to produce a clean sound mix. The delay of the PA signal produces multiple ‘echos’ that muddy any FX mics near to them. Of course it might have been that the Anglia TV commentary was being broadcast on that PA system as well…but it’s still a set of ‘acoustic echos’ that need to be avoided on those FX mics. The RAF official aerobatics team in 1967 was ‘The Red Pelicans’, flown by instructors from the Central Flying School. In the shot above they are running down the runway in front of the crowd and four of Coltishall’s Lightnings are seen just off the runway before their own aerobatic display.
A commentary position has been created on the balcony directly in front, and below the control tower and Colin looks after the two commentators, one of whom is an RAF Flight Lieutenant helping with some ‘expert’ aviation commentary. Both commentators are using the Coles 4104 ‘Lip’ mics, favoured in ‘British Broadcasting’ in all it’s forms since the post war years. The Lip mic was in fact a ribbon mic that relied on the inherent ‘bass tip up’ of the ribbon design, plus the the very close proximity to reject unwanted sounds in noisy surroundings. This mic can still be purchased today, although most users changed over to headset mounted mics sometime in the 80’s. Colin is wearing the stylish ‘S.G.Brown’ headset that we all had to suffer back in the ’60’s. These clamped the head in a most uncomfortable way and both Colin and the Anglia commentator here would have painful ears at the end of the day. The canny cameramen however had by now changed to wearing lightweight STC ‘telephonists’ headsets. They might ‘leak talkback’ a bit more, but were much more comfortable. Colin would have been patched into the ‘sound talkback’ feed from the scanner. It carried the Director’s talkback, however the Sound Supervisor, Sid Denney, would have been able to ‘overkey’ it with specific sound instructions. Here’s a later photo of Sid in an Anglia OB scanner in the early 1980’s.
The commentators have a a large TV monitor, showing the scanners output and looking out from their position they have this view of the airfield. The cross made by the camera cable ducts, dug into the grass can be seen. In the distance beside the runway, near where the two aircraft are crossing is one of the Anglia cameras, plus a sound assistant with his ‘parab’ fx mic.
Camera beside the runway, with nearby…..
A ‘parab’ being carefully aimed here by one of my colleagues, Mike Tomsett beside the camera alongside the runway. A Sound Supervisor tries to relate the his sound fx mix to the relevant camera that’s ‘cut to air’, so Sid has placed this ‘manually operated fx mic’ beside the runway camera and would have at least another one on the control tower balcony to give a different perspective.
This is a ‘parabolic reflector’ fitted with an omni directional 4035 mic. The ‘parab’ focuses the sound back into the mic giving a directional characteristic….well above perhaps 500Hz it became directional. These ‘parabs’ were used until better quality, more directional ‘gun mics’ came along and were soon dispensed with when Sennheiser introduced the superb MKH805 ‘long gun mic’ a few years later. They were soon also able to be mounted on the camera, which allowed them to be panned with the action as the camera moved. No more ‘manual panning’! Mic lines contained within the camera cable also helped sound considerably.
Back in the ‘commentary box’, the RAF expert continues with commentary, whilst his Anglia TV colleague talks on the phone to the Director in the scanner. Being ITV, there would have to be a few commercial breaks inserted into the programme and any changes to the ‘running order’ of the airshow would require some updates to be passed between them. The rather beaten up TV monitor can be seen in front of them, with a tatty bit of cardboard being used as a sun shade. Television is not always as high tech as it could be!
Director’s talkback, also called ‘omni’ or ‘open’ talkback, was a constant patter that required listeners to pick out the bits that were relevant to them. Some presenters and commentators requested this ‘open talkback’, whilst others preferred to have a ‘keyed talkback’ feed, just getting messages specific to them. It was always wonderous to observe a presenter, happily talking to camera, whilst the director nattered away in perhaps one ear to all the cameras and to others like ‘Presentation’ back at base.
So we might hear: “Peter (Camera 2) come a bit wider…that’s it” “Take 2 (to Vision Mixer)…John (Camera 3)…give me a close-up of the lead aircraft” “Cut to 3” “Bob (the Anglia commentator on talkback)….we’ll take a break soon” (commercial break coming) “Steve (Camera 1)..show me the crowd. Take 1” ” OK cut to 2″ “This is the last pass and they’ll break to land” (to everyone) “John…follow the first one as he lands…wider on 2” “Pres (Anglia TV presentation)…coming to the break in about 30 seconds” “Take 3” Bob…we’ll take the break in about 20 seconds, start to wind Ian up” (the other commentator) “Lets go to the break as the first one lands” “Pres…break in 15” (Pres needs 10 seconds notice to roll the commercials) “Break in 10, throw to the break Bob” “Cut to Camera 1″( shot of crowd) “Super the Caption” (superimpose the caption over the crowd shot) “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” “We’re on the break everyone…well done cameras…tell Ian he’s doing great Bob, loved his story about the Red Pelicans” etc…..
A programme like this airshow was exactly like’ sport’, where some directors did their own ‘vision mixing’. However some didn’t and in an ad-libbed programme, there was no ‘camera script’, ie list of shots, to follow. Cameramen knew when there camera was live , because of the cue-light seen in their viewfinders of course, however they never knew when they might be ‘cut to’ so tried to make every moment a decent shot if they could.
Perched above the VIP enclosure, on the roof along from the commentary position is another camera.
And I can’t resist a photo of a Danish Air Force Starfighter as it lands. As it’s complete with wing tanks it’s probably done at least one other airshow today already.
And the high tower camera gets a clear view of the ‘locals’ showing off…the Coltishall based 226 operational Conversion Unit Lightnings, doing a fast formation run. Coltishall’s own fighter squadron, No 74 ‘Tiger’ Squadron was no longer resident, having recently departed with their Lightning F6’s for a tour at RAF Tengah in Singapore, where the ‘Confrontation’ with Indonesia was still winding down.
This Pye Mk5 camera is mounted on the usual Vinten MkIII head…a superb design that kept the camera balanced during any up down motion using a system of cams and here the camera is also fitted with an angled ‘wedge plate’ to enable this almost vertical panning. Ted Williams is here following a team of Skydivers exiting their plane overhead the airfield. His tripod is also mounted on spikes with additional webbing between the legs to tighten it up. That’s quite a weight now all pivoted on one side of the tripod.