Terry Humphries 

1 January 2002 tbs.pm/2277

Terry Humphries has been a television cameraman since the late 1950s, working for Granada, TWW and HTV before turning freelance in 1989.

Programmes he has been involved with are Coronation Street, TWW’s Land of Song, Discs a Go-Go and their final programme All Good Things. He also worked on Harlech’s Opening Gala Show, a number of Geraint Evans operas and productions for S4C.

Terry Humphries: I started at the BBC in September of 1957 at Lime Grove as a probationary technical operator and we were on probation for two years and at the end of that you became either a cameraman or a sound technician or whatever …. The accent at the BBC at the time was very much toward sound rather than television.

Rory Clark: Presumably you’d completed the BBC’s training course at Evesham?

Yes, but it didn’t teach me much about operating under studio conditions. The BBC ran a very feudal system in those days. The senior cameraman did camera one on a show, the number two did number two and so on, which was rather awkward for directors who had to script their show so that camera one did all the main work instead of, as we did in ITV, number our cameras from left to right – one, two, three. But it took you a long time to get any sort of grounding in camera work. I think that part of my education started with Granada, where you were almost flung in at the deep end – you failed or you succeeded depending on your reaction time … how long you had on a shot before you had to clear for the next – it was a very stressful situation but you thrived on it.

So you moved to Granada, were you frustrated at the BBC?

I think it was the lure of the money actually, at Granada! If I remember, at that time as a probationary technical operator I think I was on £565 per annum. I went to Granada as an assistant cameraman and that immediately leapt to £840. By the time I left Granada two years later, I’d been promoted and that went up to £1050.

What position were you at then?

What they called “grade B cameraman”. The way that it worked was that you had the senior cameraman, the next one down was grade A, next one down to that was grade B and below that was assistant and trainee. So the senior cameraman was on about £1300, something like that.

While at Granada, I did the pilot programme for Coronation Street – Florizel Street as it was going to be called, but that was changed, I think, after the first pilot run. When the series started proper, we did one live and one recorded in a day and a half.

So you broadcast the live episode and then went immediately on to record the second?

Yes but the second was recorded “as live”. In those days you couldn’t stop the tape, because editing was crude in the extreme. You would have to cut the tape, which was very heavily frowned upon by the money men.

Did you ever see any of the Granada bigwigs?

Sidney Bernstein would come round occasionally. I remember one occasion, he threatened the commissionaire in reception with the sack if he didn’t switch off the television which was showing BBC at the time!

Is it true that Granada’s studios were numbered non-consecutively – 2, 4, 6, etc.? The implication being that they had more studios than they actually did have?

I don’t know if that was the intention but yes they were – studio 2, 4 and 6, followed, later on by 8 and 12. What happened to 10 I don’t know, I think 10 was a scene dock or something like that!

What prompted your move to TWW?

Well, my parents lived in Cardiff and at that time I thought – cheaper to live at home and funnily enough I was talking to Peter Adamson, who played Len Fairclough in Coronation Street about it and he said “go for it” because he’d worked in Weston Super mare rep. and had watched TWW and said “yes – great company to work for”, so on his advice I took it and within a couple of weeks of arriving at TWW, wish I hadn’t bothered!

The whole approach was different. TWW was much more laid back and parochial, basically, whereas Granada was bordering on London glitz. As a cameraman you feel you want to do the things which extend you and you want to be part of – drama for example – to get into a person’s character virtually by your own efforts and try and enhance visually what they are doing to some extent. Those opportunities were much less at TWW.

What was Lord Derby’s approach at TWW?

Not a hands-on person, particularly, though a much loved boss. He was proud of the station, proud of the people who worked for him … a very nice person indeed and it showed when TWW finally lost the contract, at the party afterwards he was in tears. And that wasn’t just the loss of the money – his baby had gone.

Tell us about some of the programmes you worked on at TWW

I suppose the big, prestige programme that they did was Land of Song. That was good to work on, basically because that was live and to be honest how they managed to pack so much into what was a relatively a small studio … we had a full orchestra in there and all the sets as well, plus a Mole Richardson crane and two pedestal cameras … it was exceedingly well worked out by the set designers Alan Pleese and John Hickson between them. They used to work wonders, I thought.

Did TWW do much for the network?

Only the odd outside broadcast. We did after a few years a couple of plays – Eynon Evans’ “The Organ Blower” always sticks in my memory! But they were few and far between. I think it was David Boisseau who directed those. But I think we only did about three. It was very disappointing from that point of view.

The one programme that deserved to be networked was Discs a Gogo – which was Chris Mercer’s brainchild. That was fun to work on – it was the visual side of dance which gave it so much energy and drive, it looked good. Presented by Kent Walton. I think some of the minors took it, Tyne Tees for one.

Of course, the companies were far more autonomous then, producing much more original, local programming

Yes. I went down on loan on one occasion to Westward Television and did their pop programme which was fronted by Alan Freeman – not as good as ours!

What was it like at Westward?

Well it was a smaller studio for a start! What horrified them was when I went down there I was employing the same sort of tactics that I used as a cameraman at TWW. With the dancers, we’d go ploughing in with the camera during rehearsal and this one lad who was helping me out with the cable said “you can’t do that, you’re going to hurt somebody”, I said “if I hit them now, they’re not going to be there on transmission are they?” and he shut up at that!

One of the major debacles of ITV in the 60s was the bankruptcy of WWN

When they went, that suddenly put the onus on us at TWW to pick up the loose ends and our programming suddenly rocketed. We weren’t known in the areas covered by WWN, the North Wales strip in particular, so we took our flagship programmes (LAUGHS) Mrs and Mrs and Sion a Sian up and we went from town to town, waving the flag as it were.

You actually made the programmes in those areas?

Yes. We’d do a programme in the afternoon in Welsh – Sion a Sian – and in the evening we’d do the English Mr and Mrs with Alan Taylor of course and I think that worked quite well.

So there was a big increase in production?

It was huge. I think from a productivity point of view, cameramen at TWW were responsible for more hours of programming than any other cameramen in the entire network. Pontcanna [TWW’s studios] – invariably you would have two sets in the studio, one for the afternoon Welsh language programme and another set for the evening – say Sports Preview, In the News, or Here Today. As a result of this extra programming we had to do half of the Here Today programmes from Bristol. Then eventually, studio three came into operation when they built the new master control room.

Two sets in the one studio – presumably the programmes wouldn’t both be taking place simultaneously?

Oh no, couldn’t happen – you only had the one vision mixing bank! Though we were doing one of the first broadcasts John Williams the guitarist ever did and he’s sitting on a stool and the idea is, he’s in darkness and the light will come up on the stool and we’d track in on him.

I’d got the opening shot, the director said, right – cue the music and cue the lights … they didn’t come on. So I start the track, the music is going, I’ve got to do something! I can’t see a darn thing. What had happened was that the lighting director has inadvertently brought up the wrong light – on the Sport’s Preview set across the studio – there was a lovely light on the dart board and nothing on the guitarist!

Another memorable programme was in 1966 – I was on top of the Severn Bridge when they opened it, on the Bristol side tower, on the top crosspiece – 450 feet up

Presumably that was film?

No, that was live, it was the Queen opening the bridge. I did something which, if the director had asked me to do it, I’d have said get lost – I actually found myself standing on the tripod legs to get as much down-tilt as possible on it. We used an interesting lens, what they call a Dyna lens which was an adaptor which fitted on the front of the camera and if there was a high wind, it cut out the movement – it was a floating, gyroscopically controlled element.

Very odd – you did a pan and the picture sort of caught up with you afterwards! The amazing thing was on the day of the OB, we’d hired this at great expense and it was probably one of the calmest days of the year, there wasn’t a breath of air!

Having helped WWN so much during their financial difficulties, TWW must have felt indemnified against loosing the franchise in 1967

It was great surprise to everybody when we learned we’d lost the franchise. Disbelief, basically. I seem to remember we were staying at the Ivy Bush in Camarthern doing the Urdd Eisteddfod and Wales controller Wyn Roberts and Owen Griffiths, one of the directors, got rather inebriated shall we say and for some reason or another they were doing handstands in the foyer, I didn’t quite understand this, all I remember is that there was loose change all over the foyer!

Once the takeover had gone through the atmosphere changed. Just the approach by HTV – they referred to us as “you people on the shop floor” as though it was Dagenham or Longbridge or somewhere like that; that was never the way that TWW worked – TWW was a family.

At HTV there was only one person who was on our side, I feel, that was Wynford Vaughn-Thomas, who used to pass us the occasional bottle of scotch.

HTV Wales’ first programme controller

Yes, he was a nice feller, a broadcaster, not an accountant. Before with TWW people would bend over backwards to get a programme on the air but when you were faced with the sort of attitude that HTV appeared to have, people became, basically bolshie.

What had changed?

The management at TWW were largely showbusiness people and HTV came in with people from chromium-plating works and managers of this, that and the other which had got absolutely nothing to do with television or the entertainment industry at all.

Though there were a lot of big showbiz names connected with Harlech’s franchise proposal

There were the Burtons, Stanley Baker – all the big names but as it turned out they did precious little for the company, in terms of input.

It looked good on paper, but when you came to the finished product I didn’t find any of the things they did terribly impressive.

What about Lord Harlech?

Didn’t see as much of him as we did of Derby. He was an amiable sort of character – as a figurehead, more or less.

Did you work on Harlech’s gala opening night show?

(LAUGHS) I did yes, yes. It was a bit of a disaster. They were doing an insert from Man of La Manche and I think they managed to put out take one and take two. I don’t remember much about it, except that I wasn’t very impressed! It was mostly inserts, too, with a little studio stuff but mainly pre-recorded material.

There were good things that came with HTV though – the influence of Sir Geraint Evans for example in terms of the musical side and he was a nice person to work with. He liked to take in his budding starlets as it were and ground them properly …

Colour came to HTV in April 1970, what sort of equipment were you using then?

We started off with EMI 2001 cameras but then we were, I think, the first company in the country to utilise the Marconi MkVIII when that came out and that was quite a nice little camera to play with.

Some people didn’t like it because the lens was offset to one side and you got all sorts of strange theories about pivoting around fulcrum points and what have you but you just look through the viewfinder and …

Get used to it?

Absolutely, yeah, you don’t think about where the lens is.

Interesting you say that you liked the Marconi cameras, I’ve heard they were difficult to set up and weren’t particularly reliable.

We had an engineer at HTV whose sole purpose in life it seemed to be, was to sort out the problems that we had with the Marconis, tragically he died and a lot of people say it was the cameras that killed him!

He did dedicate his all to these cameras. From an operator’s point of view they were good, they were light compared to the 2001 which was an enormous, great gargantuan thing – they took four people to lift them, rigging those on an outside broadcast was sheer hell.

Were there any productions from the early years of HTV which stand out?

(LONG PAUSE) I’m trying hard to think, to be honest!

The were a typical regional company in that they were efficient enough day to day but like TWW, never really got much of a chance on the network

No… well, I get the feeling that there wasn’t a strong enough effort made by HTV to network the stuff, particularly that coming out of Wales, maybe we didn’t sell ourselves as well as we might have done … I think probably some of the most dramatic things we did were in the field of opera which coming from me is rather odd, because I’m not an opera buff.

When did you finish at HTV?

I went freelance in 1989. It was a question of seeing the writing on the wall. I thought get out and get yourself established as a freelance before they kick you out.

By the late 80s HTV were diversifying into art, hotels and leisure.

Yes, so it was evident then that it was a quest for money rather than an involvement in an art form, as it were.

It was probably Margaret Thatcher that spread this attitude. She was horrified to be turning up on various occasions to be confronted by film crews of umpteen people and she thought nobody was doing anything and that everything was vastly over-crewed, not realising of course, that everybody had done their job or was about to do a job.

Nobody thought to ask her why she needed 27 advisers in her entourage. I think that’s probably it and the money men came in more and more, accountants took over.

It’s sad to see what ITV’s become – something which could be so creative and diverse, to see it destroyed…

Cost of everything and the value of nothing. A great shame.

You Say

1 response to this article

Harriet Mercer 19 August 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thank you Terry, for your kind words remembering my Father.

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