Paradise Lost Part IV – Central House 

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The new main reception area was decorated with the new Central company’s rainbow colours with woodwork and doors painted a dark blue. The walls sported a cream and beige effect. The two colours remind one of both the Central and ATV screen idents, perhaps that was the intention?

The new 1982 ‘side entrance’ reception area on Broad Street had never really been utilised by ATV, though they did take a lease on the street level building in the late 1970s.

Exterior of Central House in 1982

By October 1981 the building was undergoing the changes needed to become the Head office for the new company. A link bridge was constructed between the pre-existing ATV studio complex and the new adjacent Central House.

It was around this time that a contract was placed with construction engineers Austen UK to undertake a full refurbishment of the building and to redevelop the disused exhibition hall part of the complex.

Conversion of Central house was a huge feat in it’s own right. A new second floor had to be constructed to accommodate the executive offices relocating from Elstree – architects soon realised there was only just enough height to enable this.

Central House in 1937
Central House in 1937. View larger version image

The original Broad Street building began its life with laying of foundation stone in 1926, beginning the construction of a hall for the Freemasons of Warwickshire. It was used as a Masonic hall until 1939 and within a matter of days of World War 2 breaking out, the hall was acquired by the government for ‘war duties’ and used by the Ministry of Food and also by The War Office for Army Recruitment.

The Ministry of Food continued using the building until the end of food rationing in the 1950s – when the building became vacant. In the 1960s it became home to the Birmingham School of Engineering.

Let us look at some of the facilities provided:

Central House Reception Area

Central House's reception and foyer, seen in 1983

Officially opened in early 1983 by the then Home Secretary Mr William Whitelaw, this provided access from Broad Street directly to the new Executive Offices and conference areas.

Central House itself

The exterior of Central House

This contained the Executive, Personnel, Accounts and administration offices along with a large telephone exchange. This was linked via a new glazed over bridge to the existing studio block and canteen.

Floor plan of Central House in 1996

The graphics department also had an office in this area.

Canteen Area & Guest Flat

Central House canteen seen in 1999
The canteen seen in 1999

There were two dining areas served by one main kitchen. The main canteen overlooked Central Square and Suffolk Street via large triangular windows – thought to be a very futuristic looking design in 1970!

The second dining area was tucked away from the main canteen, which was only used for Executive and guest dining and more intimate conferences.

On the top floor of the building was a self contained guest flat, which provided sleeping accommodation, with a full fitted bedroom suite, shower, double bed, wardrobe and drawers.

Exhibition Hall area

This area was built along with the Hotel and Studio complex in 1968 but never properly occupied until 1982.

ATV however did use small sections to house the ATV Network staff sports and social club bar & clubroom.

The construction drawings from 1968 show the area as nothing more than a concrete shell with a link to the adjoining hotel but no direct link to the main studios.

This area was originally constructed with the intention of using it as a conference hall, accompanied by a large theatre and two large cinemas.

The move from the old facilities took place over a number of phases, co-ordinated between 1969 and 1971 by a specially formed ‘in-house’ committee.

Some administration units and the regional film library remained at the original Edmund Street offices until at least 1971.

Exterior elevation of Central House in 1982
Exterior elevation of Central House in 1982. View larger version image

It wasn’t until July 1982 that this area was totally redeveloped and equipped for television use. ATV Midlands (now Central) were forced to relocate operations from the Borehamwood complex in Hertfordshire; however construction of the proposed new studio centre in Nottingham was not due for completion until late 1983.

Initial planning for the refurbishment work took place during early 1982. As noted earlier, architects and engineers were the experienced Austen Company who had been responsible for construction of various major television studios in the USA.

The entire area was equipped with Film editing facilities, a new newsroom, music studio, additional offices and space to house the documentary department. There were production offices for Spitting Image, Crossroads and of course the regional programming.

Main entrance at Central Square

Also included in the original building were five small shop units and a large Tavern. Over time these were occupied with retail outlets and various nightclubs and bars.

Ground Floor Exhibition Area

This area could be jointly accessed via a connecting door from the adjoining hotel, other links provided from the main reception area in Central Square and a passage constructed from the main studio block.

Until 1982 this area was just an undeveloped concrete shell.

Ground floor plan of the exhibition hall, as seen in 1996

After building work this area was home to various production offices, a brand new recording studio which later become Studio N for Central news and the lower portion of the new Film and Reference library.

Also within this area was a practice band room and the Sports & Social Club bar. One portion became an underground car park to house the Film and ENG unit cars. Access to this underground car park was via two entrances – a short ramp at the side of Central house (in Broad St) or from Bridge Street, at the rear of the complex – running behind the bank and registry office.

First Floor Exhibition Area

This area developed from July 1982 and contained the upper portion of the Library.

The extra facilities were intended to replace those soon to be vacated at Borehamwood and also provide extra production office space – as up until then various news and production offices were still multi site located around Birmingham.

Exhibition hall floor plan of the first floor, as seen in 1996

As of 1982 there were around 20 Film editing suites in use, a separate newsroom (News up until then had shared Studio 3 with Tiswas), a small 16mm viewing theatre, the graphics department and two machine rooms (MCR1 and MCR2) which provided recording and ‘play out’ facilities for Central News itself.

This area was redeveloped in 1990 to include a separate continuity studio (as used for Central Jobfinder), a News Fax area, a dedicated news graphics department, equipment rooms, 3 Beta Edit suites, Studio N (News Studio – the former Music Studio) and a small coffee bar.

Many of the 16mm cutting rooms became additional offices – housing the likes of Roger Cook, Gary Newbon and various documentary and news producers. Also included were three large bedroom suites for visiting guests or overnight presenter/reporter use these were located near the front of the building.

Central's Election 90 studio

In later years, a separate studio was added at the end of the Newsroom, used for recording interviews and regional and local Election Night coverage.

Graphics Department

The graphics department had previously been located in Central House.

On my examination of the premises I was amazed to see that the final revisions to the Central ‘cake style’ idents were on display – albeit in a cardboard box.

In an age where screen electronics were more primitive than today, these ‘cake shaped’ idents had been produced (without colour) from just about every type of material – glass, plastic, metal, wood, latex rubber, stone, plastic flowers, and even a 4ft x 4ft neon sign version.

The graphics workshop in Central House

Evidently these had been shot in the smaller studio located within the Graphics department, which contained a 35mm rostrum camera. The colours and captions would have been added at a later stage.

The Graphics Department was complete with a Quantel Harry, Digital Picture Compositor and Quantel DLS-6001 Digital library system with a removable hard drive.

This was patchable to machines located within MCR2 – – which housed 2 45U 19in racks.

These racks contained:

  • Tektronix 520 PAL Vectorscope,
  • Seltech Sync-auto Carrier Phase monitor
  • Tektronix TSG-271 PAL test pattern generator
  • VT Clock mainframe
  • Digital Video encoder
  • Two PBX 3001a Electronic cue dot generators
  • and various custom power supplies, mains filters and video distribution amplifiers.

In one corner was a ‘Hot-Foil’ press and card guillotine.

The Hot-Foil press was mainly used for the production of ‘End-Cap’ production credits – by ‘embossing’ an image onto card via the use of heat transfer. A full in depth look at this process is discussed elsewhere on the Transdiffusion website.

Machine Room 1 (MCR 1)

Also patchable to MCR2, this area contained the VT machines which could be used for recording pieces from the news studio or recording items from the graphics department.

This suite had the facility to either play or record on to C format or U matic tape.

This area contained:

  • Sony BVH-3100 1″ C Format reel-to-reel VTR machine
  • Sony BVU-950p U Matic, SP VTR
  • Sony VO-5800ps U Matic SP VTR
  • Central custom built Ident clock and VT auto start panel.

Continuity Studio

This area was set behind the control room that served this studio and the News Studio.

It was no more than about 12 x 6 metres and was virtually empty when we arrived.

All that remained was:

  • 4 way Camera Distribution Panel
  • Mains Distribution Panel
  • 10m twin track curtain rail, with black backdrop.

These were was added during the late 1980s, as part of a refurbishment project.

Control Room

The news control room in Central House

The main rack contained:

  • Central custom-built Q dot generator rack.
  • Two Philips LDK 4210/02 Pulse Generator.
  • Central Dynamics 32 x 5 way Video Switch Panel.
  • 7 22 x 2 way Video Patch Panels and U links
  • 3 30 x 2 way Video Patch Panels and U links
  • Central On Air/Rehearsal Logic Control unit
  • Sony BVC-10P Betacart 4 machine- fitted with 4BVW-95 video cassette players and 4 tape selection units

Other Equipment was:

  • Studer A-810 ΒΌ 2 track Reel-To-Reel Audio tape recorder fitted with varispeed control and centre track time-code.
  • Neve 24-4-2-1 Audio Mixing Console.

Each of the four News Edit Suites, all located behind the News Studio were equipped in a similar fashion and dedicated to news items. These were equipped with:

News Edit 1:

  • Sony BVBP-11 Barcode Printer and Writer (Used to Library news items)
  • Sony BVU-800P U Matic VTR

News Edits 2, 3 and 4 were each equipped with:

  • Sony BVU-820P U Matic Editing VTR
  • Sony BE-600 Editing Control Unit
  • Soundcraft 200-BE 8-4-2 Sound Mixing Desk

To complement this arrangement, there were a further three Beta Edit suites, News Facilities & Equipment Room and a dedicated Graphics department.

The News Facilities & Equipment Room contained equipment to support the operating requirements of the News Department.

The area contained:

  • Marconi MR-2B 1 C Format Reel-to-Reel VTR Machine and Monitor Bridge.
  • Rank Cinetel GAD-12061 35mm Slide Scanner
  • Sony BVU-800P U Matic VTR Machine
  • Processing equipment was spread across 11 19in Racks (apart from the various in-house power supply units) containing:
  • Sangamo Bulletin Timer
  • PBX-3001A Electronic Cue Dot Generator
  • Aston 4 Video Character Generator
  • Quantel Digital Paintbox System and 8 Floppy Drive and Mainframe
  • Chyron Super Scribe Character Generator and Digitising Board
  • Cox 350 VTR Clock Mainframe
  • Quantel DLS-6001 Digital Library Mainframe
  • Sony CCV M3P Camera Remote Control and Monitor.
  • Each of the Beta Edit suites was equipped in a similar fashion – these included;
  • Sony BVH-2180PS 1 Reel-To-Reel VTR Machine
  • Marconi MR2B 1 Reel-To-Reel VTR Machine
  • Sony BVU 800P U Matic VTR Machine
  • Soundcraft 200-BE 16:4:2 Sound Mixing Desk
  • GVG Vision Mixer and Component Video Switcher
  • Paltex 4/8 4 Machine Editing System Mainframe

The News Department could operate in stand alone mode. The only facility it didn’t have in house was for film transfer – this service was provided on the top floor.

By the early 1990s, the building underwent further refurbishment of both main transmission areas on the 4th floor and the Exhibition Hall area, mainly to provide for new technology.

As part of these refurbishments a Graphics Workshop was constructed along with converting the Music Studio and Band room areas into a new dedicated studio for Central News and also addition of a further continuity studio.

   

Roddy Buxton

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