1969 – I MOVE ON TO LONDON WEEKEND…via THAMES
by DAVID TAYLOR
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In 1968 Independent Television had received it’s first shake-up, when licenses were all up for renewal and although Anglia retained its licence, the separate weekend contracts for the North and the Midlands became full seven day ones and the North was split into two regions.
London continued as two separate week and weekend contracts but the weekday London one was given to a new company Thames, formed by combining Associated-Rediffusion and ABC, and ATV’s weekend contract now went to another new company, London Weekend Television.
With these changes, I decided in 1969 that I’d follow vision mixer Mike Gibbon and my cameraman friend Peter Hall to London …although I was ‘chasing’ a girl-friend who lived in London as well.
Off to Thames
I was taken on by Thames at Television House, it’s central London studio that had been previously run by Associated-Rediffusion.
Television House was at the bottom of Kingsway, opposite the World Service’s Bush House and when in 1968 Thames took over, they made the foyer into ‘Studio 4’, renumbering it after the three Teddington studios. This was for the daily local news programme Today, presented by Eamonn Andrews, and behind him commuters could be seen walking along the pavement and peering in through the windows in the background of the shots, probably the first time you could ‘look into’ a live TV studio in the UK. I worked here for the first months of my time in London in 1969.
I discovered that the marriage between Associated-Rediffusion and ABC wasn’t without some tensions but felt sure they would disappear over time. However Television House was only really producing ‘Today’ and a few ‘talking heads’ programmes. The guys at Television House were ex-Rediffusion; like Tom MacIntrye, Jimmy French, Ivan Agar, John Eveleigh and David Law (see the ARTV senior sound staff photo below) and the Thames Teddington staff were all ex-ABC. One quirky thing that came up, was Rediffusion having run the tape decks at 15ips, whereas ABC did it at 7.5ips. Good fun when doing grams as it was an extremely embarassing to forget to change the tape speed live on air!
The other was that ABC’s mixing faders were ‘backwards’. Like the BBC, to fade up you ‘pulled’ the fader towards you and didn’t ‘push it up’. We’d got an ABC desk at TV House (probably Studio 4) with the ‘backwards’ faders along with the old Rediffusion Marconi desks that ‘push-up’ the faders (like the rest of the world!) in the other studios. Many years later I too learnt to frequently ‘switch’ between these two modes of ‘fading up’!
To do anything more challenging…like operating a boom on a drama, I would have to wait to be seconded to something requiring ‘extra staff’ at Thames’s Teddington studios. I worked on ‘The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ I remember, but alas when that happened I was the ‘unknown incomer’ on the Teddington crew and given the ‘fishpole’ in the hall and the boom tracking jobs.
After three months I managed to get two job interviews which I hoped would lead to more interesting work. One day, in the morning I was interviewed by John Tasker, the Teddington Head-of-Sound and in the afternoon by Brian Penny, the London Weekend equivalent. John Tasker asked lots of technical questions in a formal way….”What is double-normalling, and can you draw it for me?” (err no idea) and Brian Penny said ” I’ve talked to Sid Denney at Anglia”, so I gathered that he already had an idea what my experience was (not a lot!)…as he offered me a coffee and I jumped for joy when the London Weekend job was offered to me!
My new home – London Weekend’s Wembley Studios
London Weekend Television had taken over Associated-Rediffusion’s Wembley Studios, converted from film studios in 1955 just down the road from Wembley Park tube station. They were built on ground once occupied by the ‘Empire Exhibition’ of 1924…which my father had visited in his youth and was still surrounded by old buildings from the exhibition and was near Wembley Stadium. It felt great to be at a big studio centre at last and I really enjoyed being part of that despite the fact that the Wembley Studios still had a feel of ‘the 50’s’ about them with lino floors and white pegboard for treatment in all the control rooms.
In 1959 A-R had added a pair of large studios to Wembley, named Studios 5A and B. Both studios had separate control rooms but could become one really enormous studio by lifting the dividing wall. Doing this was a fairly major task that took 30 minutes, as the enormous winches slowly pulled up the heavy acoustic wall between 5A and 5B and many years later, in 1989 when Limehouse took the studios over, the Chief Engineer Chris Cooper told me the control gear for the winches still had ‘valve’ electronics and he had to ensure replacements were still available.
The LWT staff were ‘ex-Rediffusion’ and had stayed at the Wembley Studios and were soon being ‘topped up’ with some newer, less experienced guys like myself.
Rediffusion had rapidly altered the old Wembley Film Studios into TV Studios back in 1955 and after the 5A and 5B Studios were added the studio plan looked like this:
Here’s a plan of Wembley Studios in Rediffusion’s time…and during LWT’s was still like this:
1: Studio 1 | 2: Studio 2 | 3: Telerecording | 4: Studio 4 | 5: Studio 5A and 5B| 6: Fuel Store | 7: Mech Maint | 8: Compressors | 9: Carpenters Shop | 10: Assembly Bay | 11: Paint Shop | 12: Props Store | 13: Loading Bay | 14: Tech Stores| 15: Electrical Workshop | 16: Loading Bay |17: Drapes | 18: Scenery Store | 19: OB Garage | 20: ACTT Room | 21: VTR Room | 22: GPO Links | 23: Film vaults | 24: Building Main | 25: C.O.W. | 26: Electronic Workshop | 27: D & I offices | 28: STU | 29: Back Projection | 30: Telecine |31: Post Room | 32: Dressing Rooms | 33: Wardrobe | 34: Reception | 35: Canteen | 36: Make-up | 37: Quick Change | 38: Camera Servicing | 39: Camera Control Unit | 40: Camera Store | 41: Quick Change | 42: Make-up | 43: Planthouse No1 | 47 : Office and Stores | 48: E-Cam Maint Workshop | 49: Covered Scenery Store | 50: Boiler House | 51: Sub-station 1 | 52: Lamp store | 53: Control Building | 54: Contil Building 3&4
Note: Production Control Rooms for studios were on 2nd floor. see Studio 5 Control Room plan below.
1: lighting console operator | 2: Lighting Director | 3: Vision Mixer | 4: Director | 5: PA | 6-9: Visitors gallery | 10: Sound Supervisor | 11: Gram Op | a: Lighting Console | b: Lighting patch panel | c: fuse box | d: Vision Control-TX op monitor | e: Off-Air op monitor | f: Clock | g: Production camera and source monitors | h: Special-FX desk | j: Vision Mixing panel | k: Comms panel | l: Sound mixing console | m: Tape deck | n: Grams decks
The above plans and photos are from the Transdiffusion website, which has more information on the history of both Wembley and Television House: https://www.transdiffusion.org/tv/rediffusion/rediffusion-studios/
Valve mic amps, big faders – little else
The sound desks in Studio 5A and 5B were matching Marconi valve desks, which were also used in the other Rediffusion studios, both at Wembley and Television House.
“Studio 5A and 5B sound consoles each have facilities for 26 low-level and 9 high-level input channels. Echo circuits, artificial reverberation and sound
reinforcement are provided, together with three disc reproducers and one magnetic tape recorder for each half of the studio. There are 52 microphone circuits available for the full studio, 28 for each when the two halves are used separately.“
(From an ARTV brochure via rediffusion.retropia.co.uk website)
The source for the above photo of the Marconi desk stated:
“….the basic building block was a unit called mic/prog amplifier. This was a 2 stage amp with a 30/600 ohm balanced input and a 600 ohm balanced output ( all transformer ). It used an EF86 and an E88CC in a cascode circuit. There would need to have been at least 36 of these in this desk. The mic signal was fed in to the first unit and the output from this fed the preset gain ( stud rotary ) control. The preset gain output fed into a second mic/prog amp which lifted the signal to a fair old level for passing into the channel fader. The outputs from the channel faders were grouped as A, B & C, which fed the A, B and C group faders and then merged into a master signal. ( note: the rotary control ).
From looking at the layout, there appear to be 4 mic channels in the A group, 10 in B and a further 4 in C, making 18 in all. Each of these 18 channels appears to have PFL switch, Echo mixture switch (another stud rotary ), preset gain control ( see above ), PA button ( ?) and foldback key. The echo arrangements appear to have 2 returns via quadrant faders, although there’s apparently only 1 echo send. Echo 1 appears to be switchable to only 1 group of channels at a time, but likely that the centre group of channels, B, were tied to echo No. 2 permanently.
Most of the other panels are taken up with monitoring and switching functions.”
“There appears to be some sort of camera selector switching panel, presumably to facilitate switching between different mics as the vision was switched between cameras? I can also see what appears to be a locking Kellogg key and two panels with lighted legends…..this was transmit/rehearsal switching with accompanying indication. Extensive switchable PPM monitoring, but note the RH mechanical zero meter movements, being driven by valve amps which when powered on gave the meter its electrical zero on the LH side.”
Photo and text via vintageaudioworkshop.blogspot.com
‘Extensive Outboard Equipment’
I remember that to change a channel from ‘Mic’ input to ‘Line’ input, you plugged in an octal based transformer…however I can’t remember if you pulled out a ‘circuit board’ to do that. ‘Eq’ was a separate unit that could be plugged in and gave you perhaps six ‘Eq’ units….as required.
The limiters at Wembley were mono Fairchild 660’s, also plugged up ‘as required’- usually on the ‘Main Out’.
The photo above shows the complete ‘box’ that the Fairchild was mounted in….very large and heavy!
“The Fairchild employs no fewer than 20 valves with 30 systems and 11 transformers. Its solid 6U enclosure weighs in at a hefty 30kg. Most of the numerous parts and pieces in the circuitry aren’t employed in the signal path, which, as is typical of designs from this era, is simple: the input transformer is followed by a single, variable push/pull valve stage, and the signal is then fed directly to the output transformer. The rest of the components help to shape the processor’s side-chain control voltage.”
Quote from: Sound-ON-Sound magazine
Monitoring, at least by 1969 when I arrived was with the BBC designed LS5-1A speakers. Built for the BBC by KEF, these were finished overall in silver (Hammerite?) with a black grill and were lifted about a foot off the floor on small metal frames and the amplifiers fitted to the stand were Radford K25 valve amps. As the name implies, they chucked out a whopping 25 watts.
The big foldback speakers, pushed around on casters, were possibly the BBC LSU/10’s. They weren’t yet the ‘Lockwood Reds’, that were in use later on at the Southbank and ‘tracking’ a foldback speaker was considered an important task on a music show. If it was too loud, there was noticeable ‘spill’ and if the speaker was too far away, then ‘miming’ could begin to go ‘out of sync’…well that’s if it was ‘in-sync’ in the first place of course.
‘The Sound Transcription Unit’
One of the key areas for us sound guys at Wembley was the tape preparation known as STU – the Sound Transcription Unit. The ‘gram ops’ were tasked with finding the sound effects and the title music for shows and STU housed the FX discs and tapes, along with the ‘programme tapes’, made up for each show with the opening, end and start of part and closing music. The tape decks in use were either mono EMI BTR2’s or TR90’s and all the turntables were the EMT 930 version, just a little smaller than Anglia EMT 927’s…but still big turntables.
Alas no photograph of Wembley’s STU, but the set up looked rather like these BBC BTR2 machines. Editing tape and leader tape much in evidence……plus lots of scrap recording tape spooled off onto the floor! It had that stylish pegboard on the walls as well. The BTR2 had a variable speed knob on the front for controlling the spooling speed and the TR90 had one as well.
However if you wanted ‘a fast start’ for your 1/4″ playback…you’d needed the newer EMI TR90 machine. A BTR2….’thought about it’ before conceding to ‘go into play’, which it did with a loud ‘clunk’!
The ‘library’ in STU housed racks with vertically stacked 10.5″ spools of 1/4″ tape, along with the mainly 78rpm sound effects discs. The tape boxes were labelled with an ‘LFX’ number, so LFX1004 might be catalogued as ‘Bangs and Crashes No. 9 ‘- a tape full of leadered up effects, many from original 78’s but perhaps with some more recently recorded effects added as well.
The only portable tape machine for recording on location was the EMI L2. I was going to write ‘little L2’ but it wasn’t…although it was a battery powered machine, since it was a valve unit it required 8 D-Type cells plus two big 67.5volt batteries to give the HT for the electronics. It therefore weighed 14lbs. Alas as it had no erase head, just a record and a play head and it therefore needed blank tape…and the rewind was by a handle located in the lid; close the lid and wind back the tape by hand to check the playback!
(Later a Nagra 3 arrived, but I still remember carrying off an L2 to record something when I was a gram op at the South Bank.)
Two very big studios
Looking towards the control rooms, with the audience seating in place. Three Fisher booms are present, with four cameras. Although it was committed to building new studios, the coming of colour TV caught LWT with having to put colour cameras into Wembley in 1969 and it equipped Studios 1 and 2 with 4 EMI 2001’s shared between both studios and 4 each for 5A and 5B, plus another 4 in the OB unit. Two or three of the 21″ floor TV monitors are for the crews whilst slung TV monitors and the long Pamphonic ‘100volt line’ PA speakers are hanging above the audience.
There isn’t however the platform at the back of the seating that carried the big black-and-white Eidofor projector or it’s large hung screen. This was commonly used on ‘sit-coms’ and the difficulty of rigging speakers and mics around the screen and the noise of the whirring Eidophor fans was not much liked by the sound dept.
Audience mics were initially D-20’s and then I think D-202’s were tried, but Calrec 1050’s were finally settled upon. These were rigged hanging about a foot under each PA speaker, the mic and PA cables coming from the sound ‘wall boxes’ up in the grid. The’ grid’ however at Wembley was just scaffold bar supported walkways. LWT never adopted the BBC method of ‘figure of eight’ STC 4038’s between the speakers.
The Wembley lighting grid had no ‘mono-poles’ and the scaffold ‘cross-bars’ are clearly visible. It wasn’t always that easy for the Lighting Director to ‘just move that pup’ when a light gave problems to a boom operator.
A note about the numbering of the ‘big Wembley Studios’: Above is a photo of Studio 5A, which is how it was built by Rediffusion and the labelling was continued by LWT. The lifting wall/door is on the left, looking towards the control rooms. It was numbered 5A because it was nearest to reception (and the canteen) however this became somewhat confused in later years.
The next owner, Lee’s made these into a film stages and called this one ‘Stage B’. Thus when Limehouse moved in in 1989 and moved the reception up to where the carpark had been, the other studio was the one you came to first so became ‘A’ this one became Studio B and finally Fountain followed suite when they took over.
The Internet is full of errors that are often repeated endlessly. I certainly don’t want to add to these, so if something I say is incorrect do please contact me so I can amend it!
References and Credits: