From Patrick Heigham

Memories of Gram operating in the sixties

  I became a Gram Op in order to be able to park. No kidding! In the days before the BBC multi-story, (and I left before the builders’ cleavage had reached puberty), there used to be ample parking at TVC. Behind the scene block, reached from Frithville Gardens, and in front, to the right of the original reception entrance, was a very useful area, open to all and sundry.

However, the extension to TVC, containing TC 6 onwards, encroached upon this ground and so a system of car passes came into force, with a daily quota available to be split between departments. Since there was a shortage of both rehearsal facilities and sound editing rooms (i.e. the galleries), one of the job grades to be allowed a permanent car pass was that of the Gram Op, as we used our cars to attend ‘outside rehearsals’, also to reach edit or recording facilities at BH or even Bush, subsequently bringing the precious tapes safely back to TVC.

So, following John-John Eden-Eadon’s wise advice to apply for Grams Training, I became attached to Bish (Adrian Bishop-Laggett) - well, he was a very nice bloke, anyway! Bish was then pioneering the task of supplying the ‘noises-off’ for Dr. Who, and indeed, the very first story introducing the Daleks!

Shortly after I joined the show, Bish moved on to become a Sound Supervisor, and I was left in charge of a huge library of effects and the job of liasing with Brian Hodgson of the RadioPhonics Workshop at Maida Vale.

From the Tape deck of the Tardis, let me take you on a journey back in time, to tell some of today’s operators:‘How it USED to be done’

Each weekly episode was usually recorded on Fridays, with a midweek visit to the outside rehearsal in some drill hall which could be anywhere from Acton to Wandsworth. Having discussed final ideas with the Director, it was back to TVC for a session in the Gram Library, a quick beer and sarnie in the Club and thence to Lime Grove and Studio R. Studio R was a dedicated sound-only studio, control room and machine room with tie-lines to CAR in both audio and vision. In my time, it was equipped with three or four Leevers-Rich ¼” decks and the most irritating cross plugging matrix panel of multi-pin F & E sockets, which carried both ins and outs simultaneously. How much better were the TVC patch panels using double-enders to connect exactly what you wanted where. Studio R also had its own ‘hermit’ - Jack Timms - an ex-Decca man for whom the BBC had found this niche. He used to work solely in this facility, doing any odd job for which programmes might not have had a dedicated Gram Op.

He liked Wednesdays, for I had exclusive use of Studio R for the afternoon, and he could go home!

My task was normally to prepare and shuffle all the required effects onto various spools for playing in on the night.

I used to try and insist that whichever studio we were in, could have EMI TR90 decks for replay, as these had an amazingly fast start, which made cueing of spot effects synchronised to action, a better possibility.

Leevers-Rich had horrible habits of either wow starting or stretching the tape. I was allowed three tape decks, together with the standard four disk turntables (modified Garrard 301’s with quick start mechanisms), and in the early days when the show was based in Studio D, a six-channel outboard mixer, through which all the effects sources were routed, owing to the woefully inadequate channel facilities of the installed desk.) Somewhere I have some illicit 8mm cine film of the lash-ups we used to construct, including a long atmos tape loop that stretched across the sound gallery and round a cine spool with a pencil spigot!

During the Dalek episodes, all the distinctive voices were usually supplied by Peter Hawkins, and were there a need for multiple Dalek ‘players’ then some dialogue tracks were pre-recorded and played in by yours truly. Therefore I became an Actor, since accurate timing, if not the delivery, was paramount since I was playing opposite real folk in the studio. I remember leaving Debbie Watling, then playing the Doctor’s sidekick, with egg-on-her-face, as I glanced at my script to check the next sequence, and nearly forgot to play in the final reply line to her dialogue!

I normally arranged all effects or music stings of finite duration on the first spool, then split atmospheres and background music between the other two machines. Mostly I had the facility of twin-track decks, but a few pool machines were full-track only, which sometimes caused panic and necessitated a rapid re-think.

If the programme had recording breaks, then music cues running over the join were dubbed on later. The VTR tape was edited by cut and splice, then.

In the very early days, Lime Grove galleries were fitted with 78rpm turntables, with parallel tracking pickups, and old-fashioned steel needles. It being impossible to back track the discs, one had to groove count before the mod of the effect happened, either by counting turns from the run in, or by gently clicking the needle from groove to groove, on pre-hear. If you got it wrong, it was either late, or halfway through! Later, the DRD5, equipped with a stereo stylus that had vertical compliance, allowed the disc to be rotated backwards from the start of the effect and so cued in with a bit of anticipation. This seems to be the mainstay of the exponents of today’s scratching DJ artistry, but let’s face it, chaps, it’s not new!

The time of which I speak was around 1963 - 65, nearly FORTY years ago, we had fun doing it; with wobbly polystyrene sets, we tried hard to create a fantasy, which has since become a cult. What would I have been able to contribute with the use of audio delivery systems off the hard drive of a computer?

Pat Heigham (Tech Ops TVC 1962-68)

Short and sweet from Roger Brunskill...

  Mark Levy (later Lewis,) Senior Cameraman of Crew 6 in the 50's and 60's used to crew up with a view to leaving some people to play Bridge in a rest room we had at LG. Mark could play Bridge and blindfold Chess at the same time by calling out the moves over his shoulder to his opponent sitting in the corner.

In the late fifties on Crew 6 we used to do The Grove Family live in Studio H at Lime Grove. In one episode a donkey appeared as himself. The studio attendant was in charge of this docile beast. During the meal break the donkey's owner turned up and proudly asked "Has he done his job OK?" and in my presence and hearing the studio attendant said "Yes, two lots ".

From Paul Kay

  Braden's Week

  In the early 70s Crew 9 were televising Bradens Week from Studio 7 at TVC. Director was Simon Wadleigh.

During the recording my zoom developed a fault, having a complete mind of its own, zooming in and out and defocusing, I was at the time covering Bernie, and racks shouted down the talkback “Can you cope?” to which I replied “No!”

Bernie was exposing some corruption or mal-administration and had a line like “Councillor Bloggs said ***** *** **** etc”Suddenly an engineer (the late Joe Starrie) shouted “Camera One can’t cope” (The practice was to only wear one headphone, usually over our left ear, the other was loose fitting not over the other ear) the sound leached out over the Studio, and Bernie instead of delivering the rehearsed line said “Councillor Bloggs said Camera One can’t cope!” taking it as a prompt.

This bought the place down, the audience, and especially the Crew were in hysterics. We waited whilst the fault was cleared and recommenced recording.

After the show Bernie was completely mortified, he made a personal apology to me I told him it was a good laugh, and not to worry, there were tears in his eyes, and he asked me to come to hospitality afterwards. I went and he pressed a bottle of BBC Scotch on me, he insisted I took it. There was no need. He was a super professional, quiet and gentle, we were all shocked when he was given the bums rush.

One person on the production team did complain, Yes you are right! but that is another story, however it did me no harm at all, and the crew also benefited.