1949 to 1967 – PYE BROADCAST AUDIO CONSOLES | THE OB SCANNERS PART ONE

2021-04-23 0 By David Taylor
PART ONE CONTENTS:
The early scanners with valve mixers:
1949 – BBC MCR3 and 6
1951 and 1952 – BBC MCR11 and 12
1953 – Pye scanners go International
The Aussies restore their very first scanner
1955 – ITV arrives and starts buying scanners
The ’60’s with the first germanium transistorised mixers:
1962 to 1967 – BBC MCR19 to 28
The 20 channel Pye Type 5705 mixer
The Old Man -The toughest OB of the ’60’s?
Jazz 625 on the road at The Marquee Club
With an OB, you can make a studio anywhere
The Philips tape deck in the MCR’s
1966 – Football Commentaries galore: The ATV International Commentary coach

I don’t think the merits of Pye as a builder of broadcast audio equipment have been given sufficient credit, which I hope to correct in this three part article.
Pye were for many years a major broadcast equipment supplier, along with Marconi and to a lesser extent EMI, and Pye had started delivering fully equipped Outside Broadcast units back in 1949. Therefore let’s start by taking a look at these OB vehicles and at the smaller valve and then transistor sound consoles that were fitted in these Pye built OB scanners.

Cutaway of a Pye ‘Mobile Control Room’, built for the BBC in the mid ’60’s.

This first part is about the earliest consoles in OB vehicles up until the end of the ’60’s, and then the OB units and their sound desks from the end of the ’60’s will be detailed in Part Two. In Part Three, I’ll look at the TV studio sound mixers that started with the valve desks built in the late ’50’s, and then at the later ’60’s transistor Pye sound consoles that were used by both the BBC and ITV, like that shown below:

News item in ‘Wireless World’, December 1961

I’ll try and concentrate on the sound gear but I apologise if I wander a bit into other details, as I find Outside Broadcast scanners so fascinating.
I’m interested in these ‘old scanners’, perhaps because I can imagine my earliest senior sound colleagues, sitting in primitive smoke filled trucks and mixing on rotary pot valve sound desks. Their assistants outside would be looking after a commentator, who was using an old L2 lip-mic or maybe they would be panning an FX ‘parab’ dish, fitted with an STC 4035 mic, towards the football pitch from ‘the boat’.

1949 – BBC MCR 3 and MCR 6 OB UNIT’s

In 1947, Pye were demonstrating a Humber Estate Car or ‘Shooting Brake’ equipped with 2 early cameras, plus a transmitter with hydraulic mast and a ‘videosonic’ modulator. All of which made it grossly overloaded but it did at least demonstrate the concept of a fully mobile unit that even included a way to get the signal back to base.
The Iconoscope tube in the original camera was then developed into the smaller Pye Mk1 camera with the Cathodeon Photicon tube and this prompted the BBC to order a new ‘OB scanner’, Mobile Control Room 3 in 1948, equipped with 3 of these Photicon cameras.


The BBC were already using both EMI Super Emitron and the CPS Emitron cameras, which suffered with various highlight problems [1] and it was reported that: ” The Photicon had good highlight handling and grey scale but suffered from flare, which was picture dependent.”[2].

BBC’s first OB scanner that was built by Pye was Mobile Control Room 3, delivered in 1949.
MCR3’s interior with the large valve audio mixing equipment in the centre.
Photos: Pye via Richard Ellis

The interior of MCR3 shows how they had already developed the layout that many of us will recognise from later OB scanners, with in the front, the vision engineers manning the CCU’s, and camera and Preview/ TX monitors above, positioned so that all the Production crew could view them. Much of the centre desk is allocated to the large 8 channel Pye valve audio mixer. The Production desks are beside it with another desk behind that. Perhaps that’s where the ‘camera switching’ panel was. Note the STC 4021 ‘apple and biscuit’ talkback mics and that there two phones on the production desk, plus one at the back and another beside the sound desk.

The 8 channel valve mixer on its ‘sound console’ built for MCR 3.
Photo: Pye via Richard Ellis

The audio department at Pye under Bob Barrass built the 8 channel valve audio mixer for the BBC OB MCR3. I assume that the microphone amplifiers were within the ‘fader’ section and that coarse gain controls are the rotary switches above the faders. I somehow don’t think any ‘echo mixture’ controls were likely to be fitted, but certainly a foldback and PA feed could be derived.
This design has the talkback, foldback and PA amps housed in the lower parts of the large console. In this picture it’s hard to discern the labelling, but we can see that the upper section contained the PPM’s with their large rotary selector switches beside them. In the centre are the talkback keys and a simple jackfield, although this is more likely to be associated with the ringing circuits for the internal and external telephones, than audio.
The phones would have ‘dolls eye’ indicator lights to show when ringing was occurring and this section would normally be the preserve of the Engineering Manager. So for instance the incoming ‘Engineering Control Line’ could be patched to one phone and the ‘Production Control Line’ to another.
Looking hard at the two pull-out drawer units on the left section of the stand, I can read something labelled ‘power’, and presumably not just PSU’s but somewhere they are housing those foldback and PA amplifiers. The right stand is labelled ‘talkback unit’.
There was no requirement for any ‘high-level’ input sources in 1949, as there were no tape machines or even ‘gram decks’ being carried. Every time I see a pair of those metal S.G.Brown headphones, I can recall the pain on the ears that was felt after even a short time of wearing them!

There’s nothing quite like seeing ‘a moving picture’ to bring something to life, so here’s a video clip of showing MCR3 and the Pye Mk1 cameras in action:
VIDEO: PRESS ‘PLAY’ (possibly hidden in the bottom left corner)

A short clip of an MCR3 OB, with a section showing the interior with crew and the sound desk.
Video from the Pye website: pye-story.org

I note that it shows ‘four cameras’, and MCR3 was leaving the BBC ‘Palace of Arts’, the first BBC OB base in Wembley and arriving at The Royal Albert Hall for a boxing OB. The Pye MkI had both a crude optical viewfinder frame on top and an electronic viewfinder.[3] A BBC MkI camera in 1949 at the Albert Hall, became the first to be fitted with a zoom lens, a Watson that had only a 2:1 zoom ratio though.

Pye MkI camera.
Photo: Richard Ellis

MCR3 was delivered in 1949 and was followed by the similar MCR6 in early 1950, which was driven from the Pye Cambridge factory to Hay’s Wharf beside the Thames in Chiswick, to undertake coverage of the Boat Race in April.

The ‘de-mounted’ MCR6 whilst with the West Region. It was replaced in the early ’60’s by MCR12.
Photo: via pye-story.org

MCR3 didn’t last that long however, ending it’s service in September 1950, and as the photo above shows, MCR6 later went to the West Region in Bristol.[4]

I’d like to mention how they ‘cut the cameras’ in these two scanners, but I have difficulty even spotting the device used in the either the interior photo or video clip of MCR3, and I assume the unit required to cut the three cameras was fairly simple and I don’t know if a mix was yet obtainable.

1951 and 1952 – BBC MCR11 and 12 and the Pye Demonstration Unit

Pye next produced MCR11, in March 1951 and MCR12 in July 1952. They followed the Scammel articulated chassis design of MCR3 and 6, but had a change of cameras to Pye’s very successful MkIII cameras, which had 3-inch Image Orthicon tubes.
MCR12 was late on delivery and because the BBC hadn’t accepted the vehicle the Pye demonstration OB unit was provided, complete with a Pye crew who dashed to cover a heavy BBC commitment of a two week job bringing the first television pictures live
each night from a number of Paris locations, in association with French RTF.[5]
As you can see in a video a bit further down though, the BBC MCR12 certainly also went to France.

Painted light blue and bearing the Pye logo, the Pye demonstration OB unit and crew on the streets of Paris.
Photo: Pye via Richard Ellis

The first part of the programme for the Pye Unit required a complete derig of the all the OB equipment to get it to the top stage of the Eiffel Tower via the lifts. This first live transmission from Paris included shots of the city and a trapeze artist swinging from the Eiffel Tower, with interviews and commentary by Richard Dimbleby.

Pye MkIII camera on the Eiffel Tower during the two weeks of Paris OB’s in July 1952.
Photo: Pye via Richard Ellis

The next two parts were a sequence beside the Seine, with the scanner safely on the bank and then another from The Louvre; although the shooting of this item was quickly revised whilst the camera cables were being re-run throughout the building, as they had been rigged the wrong way round.

A BBC crew then did a night club insert and this was followed by a Sunday morning church service.
The 14th July Bastile Day celebrations were finally featured. During this the Pye sound operator Bunny Warren managed to force Dimbleby to have his desk mic close to him and therefore in camera shot, which at that time
was not normally considered acceptable .


Here’s a video of the the BBC / RTF programme from Paris. Interesting that a BBC unit is briefly first seen, but then all other images are of the Pye Demonstration Unit, which is shown doing parts of the programme, so there must have been two OB’s in Paris, the ‘untested’ MCR12 and the Pye Unit.[5]
VIDEO: PRESS ‘PLAY’ (possibly hidden in the bottom left corn

The Paris Outside Broadcast. Did you notice Richard Dimbleby in the ‘Seine fashion show’ sequence?
Video from the Pye website: pye-story.org


Because the cameras in MCR11 and 12 were now Pye MkIII’s, I think that this time we have a photo of what the vision mixer or ‘camera mixing unit’ looked like, and surely MCR12 was also now carrying this version:

This is the image and text from the Richard Ellis book ‘The Pye TVT Story’. The ‘2014’ camera mentioned above is the Pye MkIII that was used in MCR11 and 12, plus Pye built OB’s for many other clients.


As newer equipment arrived, the BBC MCR scanners from London got moved on to the ‘regions’, so MCR 11 was later used in Glasgow and MCR 12 in Bristol and they carried on working until the early ’60’s.

1953 – PYE SCANNERS GO INTERNATIONAL

After supplying the BBC, and with television spreading around the world, Pye now started making OB Units for many International Broadcasters, and began to use a design with an integrated cab and body. Most of these units, with the MkIII cameras, would also be a ‘standard design’, as below:

The ‘standard’ OB Unit interior in the Mid- 1950’s. The cameras would be Pye MkIII’s.
Photo: via Richard Ellis

As can be seen from the above picture, the ‘standard’ scanner was much simpler than the preceding BBC ones. Built on a five ton Morris chassis, the coach work by Papworth was kept to a minimum inside, with the equipment on shelving or placed directly on the working desks. The sound here is with a simple five channel mixer, which wouldn’t have had the PA or Foldback outputs of the BBC desk. Likewise the Producer/Director has a ‘camera mixing unit’, but that also seems to be simpler than the model I mentioned earlier. It does retain the ‘mix fader’ though.

During the mid to late ’50’s, the Pye Morris based scanners were delivered to Turin, Switzerland, Denmark, and here’s one in Hungary:

Hungarian Magyar TV’s Pye scanner.
Both photos: Istvan S. Ortutay
Scanner interior-Magyar TV, Hungary in 1957, equipped with MkIII cameras. The picture monitors are now the very successful Pye 2780 models, with 2802 Waveform Monitors..

A Chevrolet chassis was used for a Canadian unit in Toronto for 525 lines working and 2 more Chevrolet body units were built in Belgium; one for the ‘Flemish’ network and the other for the ‘French’.
With this expansion of TV, Bayerische Rundfunk, Bagdad, Poland, Thailand, Kuwait, New Zealand and ABC in Australia also purchased units.
The BBC also bought one of the ‘standard’ vehicles with MkIII cameras, MCR 17, which remained in the standard Pye blue and white livery. It was possibly bought for a specific programme requirement as in 1962 it was parked outside a terraced house in Ealing covering a 39 part weekly live series following DIY specialist Barry Bucknell renovating the house. Afterwards the equipment was de-rigged and used in a studio. [6]

The Aussies restore their very first scanner

One of the two Australian Broadcasting scanners is with the Australian National Museum and was restored to full working condition by some of the crew who had first operated it in 1956.
Photo: National Museum of Australia.

The ABC scanners were for the Melbourne Olympic Games and it’s hard to imagine, but the crew who received the bare scanners and installed the equipment, had never even seen any television. They were mainly engineers with the Australian Post Office, or ex-military. One young recruit was 17 year old Barry Lambert:
“It was built but everything was wrapped up and in boxes. We didn’t have anyone from Pye, we just had to follow the manuals. It was a whole lot of new technology, like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“That was in June of ’56 and the opening night of the Olympics was in November. So we did a number of small OBs around Sydney getting ready, covering football, surf events, and so on.” [7]

Two of ABC’s OB vehicles used for the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956.
Rigging a 50kg Pye MkIII camera – Aussie style. Note the camera cable carried above the water on scaffold pole supports in the background.
Pye TVT Facebook [8]


The Pye scanner worked until colour arrived in 1975 and it went into storage. Barry Lambert rebuilt the moth-balled unit, 40 years later….and got the old valve gear working for the Queen’s visit to the Museum in 2000. [10]

1955 -ITV arrives and starts buying scanners

From 1955 on, ITV arrived in the UK and the new companies rushed to get on the air and in order to equip them Pye, and Marconi were suppling the scanners. Redifussion bought a Pye scanner although their allegiance through their BET owners, was to the Marconi Group.

The new scanners were undoubtedly the first ‘technical kit’ the new ITV companies got their hands on, as this item on the ‘Transdifussion-TeleVault-ITV Story’ website shows:
“Commander Robert Everett, in charge of Outside Broadcasts for London’s Rediffusion, travelled up to Cambridge to collect an O.B. scanner which was at once christened “Sweetie Pye” by the staff. It was their first one and they were so pleased to get it. Then he told the Programme Controller: “Look, we’re going to take it over to the Festival Hall and try it out.” The technicians lumbered off in a great big O.B. van, Everett himself following in his nippy sports car. A camera was set up by the side of the Thames while “Sweetie Pye” and a monitor screen, packed inside an O.B. van, were parked outside the Festival Hall.
Distance from camera to scanner was about 100 yards. Suddenly everything was switched on. The camera focused on a bus crossing Waterloo Bridge and as it did so, there was a yelp of excitement from Everett inside the O.B. van. “It works! ” he yelled, startling passers-by. “It works! We’ve got a picture!”

Pye MkIII cameras in position for Redifussion’s first Outside Broadcast trial.
Photo via TeleVault website

At once, he telephoned Television House to tell the waiting Programmes Controller the good news. Then, for half an hour or so, the whole unit enjoyed itself, taking pictures of passing buses or river craft, mocking up a commentary as they went along.[9]


These outside broadcast units were an important part of ITV’s first night of transmissions and the Redifussion Pye scanner, now being called the Blue scanner, was at a fashion show and the opening party of ITV at the Mayfair Hotel in Piccadilly, whilst the Marconi Green unit was at the banquet in the Guildhall. Redifussion’s subsequent units were also from Pye, with 2 vehicles coming later in that first year of ITV, 1955.

An ATV Pye built scanner, parked behind a ‘Post Office’ van, which would be carrying out the ‘Links’ role. And ‘Evenin’ All’ ….that looks like Jack Warner playing the ‘bobby’ part there as well.
Photo; Dicky Howett

ATV’ s first unit OB1 was a Marconi but they then turned to Pye vehicles and one of these, either OB2 or 3 is pictured above and the 2 camera unit OB4, delivered in July 1955 was often used as a ‘remote’ unit covering the starts at horse racing. It later became ‘Monoculus’, a single camera ‘drama’ unit with it’s own 2″ QUAD VR1000 and a generator as ATV were doing lots of drama ‘inserts’ shot on video to match their studio quality.
Granada had a couple of OB units that they called ‘Travelling Eye’s, with towed generators to allow fast on-site set-up.
On May 7, 1956 two days after Granada TV first came on-air, they were able to broadcast the victorious Manchester City Cup Final winners returning to the city and frequently Granada used their video units in covering breaking news stories, such as a hurried live report into the ITN News from the Ringway airport crash of a Viscount aircraft in March 1957.[10]
Scottish TV got a Pye built scanner in 1957:

Scottish TV went on the air on 31st August 1957 and was the first of the ITV companies to broadcast 7 days a week.
Both photos via MCR21.org.uk

One of the early OB’s for the vehicle, with Pye MkIII cameras, was the first Hogmanay Broadcast by STV on 31st December 1957, when the scanner was out with the crowds at Glasgow Cross.[11]

Interior of the Scottish TV’s scanner.

The Scottish TV scanner has the vision panel on the right and the sound desk on the left has the big Painton Quadrant faders.

Two of the Pye OB mixers shown in scanners from the mid-50’s.

Photos from a Pye Audio Products brochure from the mid-50’s. On the right is the mixer fitted in the ‘standard vehicle’ seen earlier and on the left, that fitted to the Scottish TV OB.
Although the big Painton Faders were already on studio desks, this mid-1957 mixer is one of first I’ve seen using ‘non-rotary’ faders on a small ‘OB’ desk built by Pye.
Marconi had a mixer, the DB579 in the mid-50’s, that was fitted with these big Painton quadrant faders. I think UK broadcasters preceded both UK and American recording studios in the move away from rotary faders, although German desks with Danner and Eckmiller faders may have been appearing at this time.[12]

ATV’s OB5 was a 4 camera black and white unit, delivered in October 1959, in the usual Morris Chassis, but it had both 405 and 525 lines capability, and became an ‘International Unit’, as Lew Grade got ATV doing so much work for the US.

ATV’s OB5 was a Pye built 4 camera vehicle fitted out for dual 405 and 525 Lines working. This enabled it to be used for American NTSC work.
Photo : IMCDb website

Anglia TV in Norwich got a Pye scanner in 1959, similar in design to the Granada units. Here it is at another of the really big OB’s of the ’60’s, Churchill’s Funeral in 1965 :

Sound assistant Bill Brennan (once a colleague of mine), waits to operate his FX ‘parab’ dish, beside a Pye MkV camera on the roof of Anglia TV’s scanner NCL721 in the City of London.
Photo by Colin O’Brien

Pye had it’s corporate fingers in many pies and in 1960, re-organisation resulted in the formation of the transmission division into a new company, Pye TVT.
The Pye equipment numbering system has always seemed rather obscure I think, as everything ‘broadcast’ was given the label Type 84; from cameras and sound desks to the smallest amplifier.

1962 to 1967 – BBC MCR19 to 28

In May 1961 the BBC put out a press release announcing: “To facilitate contributions to Eurovision and the making of video-tape recordings for use in other countries, without standards conversion, the five new mobile control units ordered from Pye by the B.B.C. are capable of operating on the 625 and 525-line standards as well as on 405 lines. These mobile control units are each fitted with four Pye 4 1/2in image-orthicon camera channels. Power consumption and heat dissipation from the equipment will be minimized by the use of transistors wherever possible. An innovation is that the vision mixer control panel will be detachable and can be operated when required up to 300 feet from the main equipment. Each camera will be capable of operation with up to 2,000 feet of cable. Production facilities will include electronic “wipe,” permitting parts of two pictures to be transmitted simultaneously.” (….now why would you operate the vision mixer 300ft away I wonder?)

In fact a total of 10 of these new ‘multi-standard’ MCR’s were ordered, nicely coinciding with the start of 625 line transmissions on BBC-2 and these Pye built units, MCR19 through to MCR28, were the mainstay of BBC Outside Broadcasts in the 1960’s.

Today, thanks to the work of the engineer’s currently restoring the third of these MCR’s, MCR21, we have a ton of documentation on these important BBC scanners.
I won’t repeat too much of the details therefore, but advise you to visit MCR21.org.uk and read about both the history and the renovation details that are so well recorded by this group, the Broadcast Television Technology Trust. Documents include an Operational Manual for the complete scanner and a Manual for the sound desk…..all interesting reading!

Here’s a photo of the exterior of MCR22 when being delivered by Pye in February 1964.

Although MCR22 is shown here with a ‘West Region’ label, it was retained in London.

The BBC had been using Pye MkV cameras at Riverside, but insisted on a number of changes to the cameras for the MCR’s. These cameras, designed to BBC Specification TV96, became MkVI’s and as is pointed out by Richard Ellis: “The MkVI was never sold outside the BBC and brought into focus the dilemma facing equipment manufacturers at the time. BBC specifications were so parochial and special that the resulting products were rarely marketable elsewhere. Was it sensible to design one-offs for the BBC where the development costs were not usually recovered? Balancing this was the belief that selling to the BBC, with their high technical specifications, was a stamp of approval which would ensure that export customers would buy one’s products.”[13]

Here’s a great cut-away drawing, which explains the unit’s layout:

The MCR21 group found this drawing and I’ve added the index to explain the equipment.

The 20 Channel transistorised Pye mixer – Type 84-5705

I’ll move on to the sound mixer in these scanners and much of this information comes from Brian Summers who is involved in MCR21’s renovation. He has in fact already written about the Pye mixer in MCR21, details at [14] below. I’ll try not to endlessly repeat Brian’s summary!

Built by Pye in 1963, MCR21 was equipped with this Pye 20 Channel 3 Group mixer, which was fitted alongside the Engineering Manager’s position and jackfield on the left and the vision mixing panel on the right.
Original Pye photo: via MCR21

It was at the very end of the ’50’s into the early ’60’s that germanium transistors started being used for audio amplifiers, so the Pye audio department under Bob Barrass must have been very early designers of professional transistor audio amplifiers being put in the new BBC MCR’s and also into the big ‘wrap-around’ studio desks going in Elstree and Television Center.

Here’s a detailed picture from the mixers point of view, of the MCR mixer, a Pye Type 84-5705 which works with it’s companion Audio Auxiliary Unit Type 84-3992:

I hope the guys at the Broadcast Television Technology Trust who are renovating it won’t mind me making his ‘cleaned up’ version of their original image of the MCR21 desk. I have ‘removed’ as much wear as I could and ‘switched on’ the Painton Fader bulbs and tried to set it in an operational state.
If anyone would like to do the same with the ‘real desk’, I’m sure BTTT would love to have your help.
Photo by Brian Summers, with some spring cleaning by Adobe PhotoShop.

Don’t forget by the way that, being a BBC desk, the faders ‘pull towards you’, to fade up. So in the photo above, the faders for channels 1, 2 and 3 along with 11, 18, 19 and 20, are all on their backstops and are ‘off’.
Let’s run through the facilities:
1: 3 audio multicore cables inputs are provided for mics, which can be cross patched internally and two radio microphone receiver channels are provided for.
2: 20 input channels with 30/600 ohm mic inputs and a 60dB padded line input.
Each input has a 25dB gain switch and a 25dB ‘balance’ pot, before the fader. The Channels are arranged as 10 inputs to Group A (Green), 4 inputs to Group B (Blue) and 6 inputs to Group C (Red).
3: The top ‘A’ row of the audio jackfield is wired as ‘listen/source/destination’ so the headphones can monitor and not break the incoming signal. The ‘B’ row has break jacks so that any source can be patched to any input of the 20 channels.
4: Each Group goes directly to the Main Ops and can also be selected to any of the 3 Group Ops, which are effectively ‘Group Clean Feed Ops’. You can feed the all 3 Groups to 1 CF Op or to any combination of 3 separate CF Ops.
5: Three Main Ops, with 1&2 routed to line Op via a ‘Transmission/Rehearsal’ switch, which allows the Tone or Ident, to be switched during ‘line-up’. Main Op3 is independent of this.
6: Each channel has a ‘none locking’ PFL / ‘locking’ PA switch. The channel PA then routes to a separate PA amp for it’s own Group, therefore there are 3 PA Ops, tied to each Group.
7: There are extensive ‘back-ups’ of facilities, as expected of a broadcast desk:
Two Power Supplies, one as a spare, plus a full battery facility that can run the desk. See also [16] below.
Two PPM’s on the upstand; a Main plus a Spare PPM, which can be switched to become the Main PPM.
One spare OP Amp provided can be relay switched to substitute for any of the Group, PA, or Main OP Amps and there’s also a pluggable 2nd spare Amp.
Another 2 Spare Amps to provide ‘more gain’ or as SDA’s, which can also be used via the JF.
8: Two OP sockets for small Cue loudspeakers, with switching to listen to any of Prog Snd/Production TB/ Radio Check (Off Air) or 2 pluggable IPs, with a selector panel on the right upstand. The same panel has separate Fader Interlock selectors to mute either of the two Cue loudspeakers as required, when any selected channel fader is lifted.
9: Audio SDA’s feeding Mixed Camera TB, Commentator 1 and Commentator 2.
10: Monitor Loudspeaker level control, Dim and Mute switch and a switch to listen to Radio Check (Off Air)/Main Op/or following the PPM. A PPM selector switch allows the PPM to select Main 1/ Main 2/ Main 3 / Group 1/ Group 2/ Group 3/ PA 1 / PA 2 / PA 3. Each PPM amplifier has a small PPM incorporated to aid setting up. An external Monitor loudspeaker output is available, if the desk is de-rigged.
11: Two Sound Operator Headphone outlets with Prog Sound on one ear and Production TB on the other. Separate gain pots for the Prog Snd. and Prod TB. are provided via the JF. A patchable headphone feed is provided for at the Senior Engineer (E.M’s) panel. The Producer can also work on a headset if required.
12: Inputs from the 2 channel Philips EL3503 1/4″ tape recorder that is located in a separate compartment at the front. This can be remotely started
(see details later).
13: The complete Mixer and the Auxiliary Unit with all it’s plugin amplifiers, can be detached and used remotely. This is part of the complete ‘de-rig’ capability of all the scanners equipment, allowing the scanner to become a temporary control room when road access was impossible (see later again).

Brian Summers also has a photo of that associated mic and line amp rack, the Auxiliary Mixing Unit, that is under the mixer desk. [15]
There are two Radio receivers either side at the top of the Monitor stack and one must be the ‘Radio Check Receiver -Type 84-2715’. The vehicle originally carried two Radio Microphone Receivers, based on a big Eddystone HR20 Receiver, fitted with a new Pye faceplate. These were carried in the front area and could obviously be removed in use to be located near the receiving aerials.
Brian also points out that the MCRs had an interesting device in the monitor stack, an ‘optical PPM’. That’s it immediately to the left of the clock, although you’d have to know what it was to recognise it’s function I think. Pye labelled this as ‘Type AG24026 -including BBC Type PRM/1B’:

The Optical PPM

Drawing of the optical PPM from the BBC R&D document.
Developed in 1954, when with electronics it looked like this. Only the linear display at the top was the actual ‘optical PPM’. [16]

Designed to allow the the Sound Supervisor to keep an eye on his levels whilst watching the transmission monitor, the only bit of this kit visible would be the long ‘scaled unit’ shown at the top here. In this 1954 photo, the regular (at that time) circular PPM was obviously for calibration, although I suppose all the rest of the circuitry shown had probably completely changed in the intervening years before it was used in the MCRs
These details come from a BBC R&D Report from 1954, and surprisingly there’s some ‘contentious stuff’ in it, as it suggested that : “It has already been mentioned that the scale of the optical meter has been extended by increasing the gain of the associated PPM/2 preamplifier by 4 db, so that the l00% modulation mark on the scale of the standard instrument is 7 instead of 6.
This is reverting to the procedure existing before 1st June 1944, when “line-up” was at “5” and 100% modulation of the transmitter corresponded to “7”. At that time all programmes were maintained at the highest possible average modulation depth and therefore overmodulation was quite common. The extra 4 db gained by the new line-up enabled operators to avoid overmodulation more easily.
Now that we have reverted to pre-war conditions it would be possible to revert to pre-war line-up arrangements.
The simplest way to introduce optical PPM’s into the service would, therefore, be to operate them on the “extension meter” jack of the normal PPM/2 and line up for l00% modulation at “7”.

So in the 1954 document, they seemed to have produced a PPM that now had a ‘Peak of ‘7’ and not the usual PPM ‘6’, but surely by 1963, when this Optical PPM was in use in this scanner, PPM6 had remained the ‘Peak Level’, particularly since they mention that previously ‘overmodulation was quite common’! [16]
Over the years I always enjoyed the fact that non-broadcast trained sound engineers rarely understood what the graduations on a ‘BBC PPM’ meant.

The de-riggable MCR units, didn’t need you to strip the scanner of all it’s cables, as also provided by Pye was a complete set of the necessary cabling to plug the equipment in away from the vehicle.

That Pye 5705 mixer-What’s not to like?

It’s obviously a well specified outside broadcast mixer for that time in the early ’60’s. What’s ‘not to like’?
1: Well the lack of any Equalisation (or ‘Response Selection Amplifiers’), was typical of the mixers prior to the early ’60’s. This desk really was just on the cusp of the change to the smaller transistor designs and in the years immediately after this was specified, broadcast and recording consoles were all fitted with EQ on every channel. Interesting though that the big Pye studio consoles being built at this time had EQ, and even Marconi’s equivalent transistor desk, the B1103, had two pluggable EQ units built in. Even a LF cut would help on most OBs.
2: The other change that soon arrived was removing the ‘fixed grouping’ arrangements. Later consoles could send any channel to any of the groups, which made the desk a lot more flexible.
3: PA feeds here are by switches only, so no channel send pots are provided. PA feeds were assumed to be the same as were being mixed within a group. So all the faded up ‘speech mics’ on Group 2 for instance, would perhaps be sent via PA 2 to the venue’s PA system. That worked but, a separate volume pot would occasionally be nice to have.
4: The gain structure of only having a pre-set +25dB mic amp. followed by a +25 dB ‘coarse gain’ pot might have been restricting as higher output mics, like AKG and Neumann condensers and ‘gun’ mics for instance, were becoming more common.
4: As I mentioned, this was the first of the transistor consoles, which allowed it to be such a small mixer. Alas these early germanium transistors were often noisy, causing a more limited overall dynamic range than the next generation of silicon transistor models. Anything with a really big dynamic range, and you were stuck between ‘the noise floor and the headroom’, which was perhaps only 60 dB.
5: The Painton faders used ‘studs’ (each of 1 dB I believe) and a wiper travelled over them to give the fader attenuation. The studs gave little level jumps as you faded up and down, which although the wiper made around .25 to .75dB steps, this was discernible as clicks on steady signals, like an organ for instance and certainly on ‘tone’.
I should mention something that always impressed me though…..those narrow Painton Quadrant Faders lit up when in use. A wonderful sight to see them ‘back-litwhen the desk was powered and a micro-switch then made them brighten up more when you lifted a fader! A light show for sound mixers.

The Old Man – the toughest OB of the ’60’s?

In his writing about this MCR series of scanners, Brian Summers seems to agree with me that the most notable OB of the period was when the Glasgow based MCR27 did a series of live transmissions over a Saturday and Sunday in July 1967, covering the climbing of ‘The Old Man of Hoy’ in the Orkneys. It got massive viewing figures of around 10 million….and I can’t resist taking a look at a few minutes of the agonies the BBC production staff and the crew of MCR27 had to go through to mount this programme!

VIDEO: PRESS ‘PLAY’ (possibly hidden in the bottom left corner)

The enormous technical problems are explained in these excerpts from the 1992 documentary about the making of the 1967 programmes, and that looks like the mixer on the move there.

The full 48 minute documentary programme, made in 1992 includes many of the climbing excerpts as transmitted, and is available on YouTube, so if you’d like to see more, do take a look at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6aYKZwr15k

It’s not only the extreme problems that this OB encountered that I find so interesting, but also I’m pleased when I come across something like that clip and see being used, technology that then was really new but that we now take for granted. For instance the two radio cameras, the 1″ Vidicon Thompson LEP CHF503 models that BBC OB’s had at that time, were certainly not serious professional cameras, but were vital to bring the immediacy of the climbing. There were also radio mics on most, if not all of the six climbers, which was pushing the primitive technology. The climbers also were equipping with radio earpieces. And those big Pye MkVI cameras being placed in ‘impossible’ spots, like the one down at the foot of ‘The Old Man’. Only the BBC could have conceived of this OB in 1967.

Jazz 625 on the road at The Marquee Club

Here’s another bit of video from a completely different type of programme done by the 1960’s MCR scanners….Jazz 625 and various others like Jazz Goes to College. Whilst many of the Jazz 625 series, which originally ran from April 1964 to August 1966, were recorded at the TV Theatre, there were also many done as OB’s at The Marquee Club. Visiting American Jazz stars were often featured and a few excerpts are still available to view online.
It’s not that easy to make a jazz group, playing in a tight group in a small club to sound good, however I like this one of Johnny Scott’s Quintet, with a nice sound mix in the little Marquee Club:

Taken from a BBC4 ‘repeat’ show called Jazz Britannia. The sequences were taken from the original Jazz 625 programmes shown between April 1964 and August 1966.

I don’t know who the Sound Supervisor was on that, I’ll guess Graham Haines, but Vic Godrich and Chris Holcombe are London OB mixers who’s names also come to mind as doing great music mixes. Nice to see lots of AKG C-28’s there…the ‘go to’ condenser mic for music in TV at the time. Johnny Scott, on flute is miked with a ‘straight’ C-28; beside him is Duncan Lamont on sax, with an AKG D-24, then the unusual sight of a harp played by David Snell on another C-28. The string bass of Arthur Watts has ‘something’ in the tailpiece, and an ‘omni’ was often stuffed there or in the bridge, wrapped tightly in foam. Finally Barry Morgan’s drum kit has two C-28’s with their VR1 extensions aimed left and right and quite low. No overhead in use though and there is something ‘parked’ in front of the bass drum that may be hiding another mic although a jazz bass drum wasn’t tightly miked then.
Barry Morgan went on to play with ‘Blue Mink’ and owned Morgan Recording Studios and Johnny Scott went to the US and ‘made it’ in film music.
A few of the Marquee Jazz 625 shows do sometimes sound a bit ‘boxy’, but this doesn’t and even has a small amount of echo added to the flute and even more noticeably on the tenor sax.
So how did a music OB in the mid ’60’s, like this Jazz 625 would cope with ‘reverberation’? BBC OB soundman Ken Osborn detailed how this was done:
“There was a device in a box with a spring arrangement inside that could sit on the back seat, on the right-hand side after you had ascended the back steps. This could be ordered as a piece of additional equipment from stores at Kendal Avenue.  It had to be powered, and the input and output connected to the sound desk by means of tie lines, which I seem to remember were in that area.  The results were poor.
A better method was to send the audio requiring treatment to an echo room at BH (Broadcasting House, Portland Place). This was achieved using Post Office circuits on the BT (Block Termination). The two circuits (Go and Return) had to be “Music Circuits” i.e. of suitable quality. There would also be a control circuit (telephone) to talk to the man in the control room at BH.
At BH, the audio was fed to a loudspeaker in an echo room in the basement, tiled to produce the hard surfaces, and the result was returned via a microphone.  I imagine that different sizes of room were available to produce different reverberation times. I remember stories about poor results causing the man in BH to go down to the echo room to resolve a problem.  A flooded room was not helpful!
There was also a “portable” echo unit, a large device which could sit in the camera-van.
If you were really stuck at a venue, you could utilize the toilets by installing a loudspeaker (LS1 perhaps?) and a microphone (probably a 4035). It was a good idea to arrange for the water to be turned off, and the door to be locked of course.” 
[17]   

With an OB, you can make a studio anywhere

There’s a list of just some of the many programmes that just one of these scanners worked on the MCR21 website, and here’s a photo from an OB that I like. It shows the overhead lighting rig, the three Pye MkVI cameras with one on a Heron, plus a Mole Mini boom, with a D-25 mic, in a temporary studio covering the Edinburgh Festival, used for 4 days at the beginning of Feb 1965: 

 

The temporary studio for the Edinburgh Festival in February 1965.
Photo MCR21.org.uk

The Philips tape deck in the MCR’s

Sound Assistant Keith Gunn setting up a tape deck.
Photo via MCR21.org.uk

Finally before we leave this long visit to the 1960’s Pye ‘Main Fleet Scanners’, here’s a picture of OB Sound Assistant Keith Gunn threading up the Philips tape desk in one of the scanners at the BBC base, Kendall Avenue and it shows just how well finished internally the MCR vehicles were.
As there wasn’t enough space to operate a tape deck sitting near the Sound Supervisor inside the main production compartment, his tape deck, a Philips EL3503 ‘Pro 50’ model is in a pull out draw in the front section, where he has the production vision monitors behind him here. The Philips Pro range were one of the few small professional tape decks suitable for use like this at that time and this BBC version, a twin-track model, has it’s two amplifier units in 19″ racks just above the tape deck. This Philips, which would have 7 1/2 and 15ips tape speeds, had logic control and could be started remotely by the Sound Supervisor if required and is capable of recording and playing 10 1/2″ NAB spool tapes, as shown on the deck here. The lever directly in front of Keith’s hand could be set to move the tape forward so that it was very close to the pinch wheel, which helped give an instant start on playback and the fast wind/rewind could also be adjusted in speed with the knob on the far left.

Keith wrote a great piece about setting up the ‘comms’ on an OB in the February 2021 Newsletter on the MCR21 website.[17]

1966 – Football Commentaries galore: The ATV International Commentary ‘Coach’

In 1966 Pye supplied ATV with a vehicle for coping with the large number of foreign commentators covering the 1966 World Cup, with selected matches broadcast via satellite to countries on other continents.
A website covering the ITV side of the coverage tells us that: “In Britain, the BBC and ITV’s coverage of the tournament was more comprehensive than ever before, a full camera crew covered every match and the two channels shared the same pictures, although not all were shown live as many games kicked-off simultaneously including the Quarter-finals. Frustratingly, the tournament was held just one year before colour television was launched in Britain on BBC2, but the final was at least broadcast on the higher definition 625-line channel as well as being shown on the 405-line services on BBC1 and ITV.”[18]

The vehicle was based on a ‘coach’ chassis, so was called the ‘Commentary Coach’ of course. It had rows of small commentary mixing units, 4 mixers in each row and when I worked occasionally in the coach in the mid to late 1970’s, we coped with two or sometimes three commentators with one sound guy. At the front was a main control desk and a couple of large TV monitors. Each mixer wore a headset with boom mic, similar to those used by the commentators and had only two sources to mix, the ‘Clean International FX’ that came from the main scanner and the local commentator.

Roger Allsop and Graham Walbrin and Charles Fernley (hidden) of LWT mixing International commentaries inside the ATV commentary vehicle at Arsenal’s football ground.
Photo: David Taylor

Above I’m coping with a Turkish and a German speaking Swiss commentator, whilst Graham Walbrin, Charles Fearnley (hidden) and Roger Allsop are busy with the others and these commentators were rigged ‘up on the boat’, as we called the commentary position built high up at each football ground, at the end of some multicore cables with their own commentary units driving their headsets.
The simple Pye germanium transistor mixers could cope with a pair of commentators at each position, but we only have one on each mixer at this Arsenal match. Looking at this shot, I see that I could select to hear just my commentator, the ‘guide commentary’ with the FX, or just FX. The ‘guide’ was the LWT commentator in this case. I could ‘call’ the commentator and talk to him via my headset and when he switched to talk back to me, his mic was muted ‘to air’. I have a ‘High’ and a Lo’ mic gain and three rotary faders.
Alas with no limiters on our outputs, the only excitement I remember in undertaking this occasional job was at various points in a match when, for instance my Turkish guy would scream ‘Bu Bir Hedef! whilst my German speaking Swiss guy would scream ‘Est Ist Ein Ziel!’ at the same moment, and the PPM’s would hit 7, or if you were lucky 6 and a half……and another goal had been scored. We always hoped the ‘outgoing lines’ could accept a bit more than +8dBm.

A closer view of the mixer

The PPM has a set of ‘set zero’, ‘sensitivity’ and ‘meter dim light’ controls.
These mixers were the same basically the same circuit design as the small 4 channel transistor mixer, pictured below that was often seen in use by UK broadcasters as an ‘ancilliary mixer’. The first stage of the mic amp used a single transistor in fact and the broadcast spec PPM was the most complicated circuitry inside! I remember using one of these mixers on my first ‘video location drama’ and two to record a choir with a ‘stereo pair’.

The common little Pye 4 Channel transistorised mixer with PPM from the early ’60’s. This was designated Type 84-3803.

Dave Langridge was ex-ATV sound and recalled the commentary vehicle when he was a Sound Supervisor at ITN and suggested using it to provide multiple live translations on a series of EBU topical programmes originating from ITN also in the late ’70s. ITN were so pleased with his idea …..they seconded him to organise the whole complicated series.

The story of the Pye OB units and their sound desks is continued in Part Two HERE.
(Part Three details the Pye Studio consoles, both valve and transistor -when I’ve finished it!)

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Credits and References:

Much of the information and photographs have kindly come from Richard Ellis who edited and wrote much of the book “The Pye TVT Story”.
Richard may still have a source for obtaining copies of this book. If you use my ‘contact’ page, I will be pleased to forward his contact details.

[1] More information on old cameras like these from the excellent TV Camera Museum website:
[2] Richard Ellis-The Pye TVT Story, Page 315.
[3] A .pdf brochure for the Pye MkI is available on the TV Camera Museum website: https://www.tvcameramuseum.org/pye/mk1/c481l4brochure.pdf
[4] For a great description of all the BBC OB’s built by Pye, and including superb set of photos, visit the TV OB History website:
http://www.tvobhistory.co.uk/bbc-mcrs—b–w.html

(It also explains where MCR4 and 5 and the other ‘missing MCR numbers’ were built ).
Many thanks to them for the information I have used here.
[5] The Richard Ellis book ‘The Pye TVT Story’ Page 296 states: “As the vehicle had not been accepted by the BBC, Pye were asked to supply a crew to operate the equipment in Paris. This was done by Reg Thompson’s Demonstration department. (Ken Stapleton, Pat, one of the few girl technicians, Bunny Warren, Peter Bennet and Charlie Parsons formed the basis of this team. Ken and Pat married at a later date). Les Germany also accompanied the team. The plan was to drive MCR 12 to Paris accompanied by a support vehicle carrying derig cables, camera cables, spares, tools etc. The MCR was driven by Joe Bentley together with Don Jackson and the support vehicle by Bunny Warren together with Charlie Parsons.”
The photographs, the video and the statement below from Page 301 of the book, prove that the Pye ‘Demonstration OB Unit’ was in use for much of the broadcast in Paris and all had to be live in 1952 of course.
“A similar unit was used for demonstration and, crewed by Pye personnel, was used to provide some of the programmes from Paris during the first BBC/RTF exchange week in 1952”.
[6] The Richard Ellis book says the MCR 17 went into Riverside Studios , but the TV OB History site says Lime Grove.
[7] Article about this ABC unit on the website: https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2008/08/19/2340229.htm#
and also the National Museum of Australia: http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/10202
[8] https://www.facebook.com/pg/PyeTvt/posts/
[9] A great piece from: The ITV Story-TeleVault website: http://itvstory.televault.rocks/tag/granville-theatre
[10] The Transdiffusion website has a comprehensive report of these stories, plus photos of the Pye built Granada Travelling Eye, along with it’s Links vehicle: the https://www.transdiffusion.org/2017/04/04/reporting-by-television
[11] Scottish Television’s first Hogmanay can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEL9YHJgIRk
[12] It’s often claimed that the American engineer Tom Dowd was the first to incorporate ‘linear faders’ in a console, which would have been in his ‘Atlantic’ years, as he introduced the 8-Track in 1958 to the recording studio. Are ‘quadrant faders’ considered ‘linear’….well I think anything that you didn’t ‘rotate’ makes it..
[13] ‘The Pye TVT Story’ Page 330
[14] Brian Summers details of the MCR 21 audio mixer are at : http://mcr21.org.uk/sound-mixing-in-mcr21/
[15] Regarding the duplicated Power Supplies and the back-up Batteries, Ex-BBC Sound Supervisor Alan Taylor pointed out: “There were massive lead acid batteries on slide out trays in lockers beneath the sound area and if power failed, the entire sound installation reverted to battery operation and could keep going for a few hours.  Of course if somebody were using something like a favourite compressor as outboard equipment, it would be mains powered and you would lose any signal passing through it.  Therefore on Grade One events, such as Royal occasions you would do well to avoid using outboard gear. The ‘No AC’ indicator revealed that it had changed over to battery power ( there were other subtle clues that the power had failed  – the monitors would have gone off, the director would be screaming and all the phone lines would start ringing ).”
[16] Details of the BBC Optical PPM from: R&D Report 1954-14-A new programme meter.pdf
[17] Keith Gunn and Ken Osbourn wrote about sound work in the mid ’60’s in the February 2021 Newsletter. Go to the MCR21.org.uk website and search for the newsletters.
[18] See http://carousel.royalwebhosting.net/itv/WorldCup66.html for more details of the World Cup of 1966.


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