Today, it's scheduled for demolition, but when Roddy Buxton visited it, back in 1997, the old ATV Centre in Birmingham's Broad Street had just been used for broadcasting for the last time. Roddy's task was to help a colleague examine and inventory the equipment prior to its auctioning off - and help him remove any items he bought. Roddy was also able to acquire some other items himself.
In this extensive article, Roddy takes us round the ATV/Central studio headquarters, opened by Princess Alexandra in 1970 as the most advanced television production facility in Europe. He also catalogues the equipment in each room - and where possible describes how the room would have been in both ATV and Central days.
The 1990s saw many changes in the face of ITV, firstly beginning in 1990, with the abolition of the IBA removing what proper regulation the channel had. Along with this, the way ITV franchises were awarded also changed, which proved quite a controversial move on the part of the then-Conservative Government.
In the old system, the IBA looked at each franchise application very carefully, and then awarded licences to companies who met certain criteria. These criteria included financial stability, having a studio base in the region it was to serve, and not having too much of a monopoly. The applicant also had to provide an outline of the companys plans for network and regional programme output in the coming years. This ensured that the viewer was provided with a good balance of quality, varied entertainment.
Under the new system, however, franchises were auctioned off in a 'highest bidder wins' affair, without really taking into account the viewer or any of the previous IBA criteria.
From the 1990 auction four ITV contractors were lost. TV-AM, the breakfast franchise-holder, lost to GMTV; TVS (who replaced Southern in 1982) was replaced by Meridian; TSW (who replaced Westward in 1981) was replaced by Westcountry; and most controversial of all was the loss of Thames Television, a major contributor to the ITV network for over 25 years, which was then replaced by Carlton Television.
This was only the beginning: some ITV companies were given the green light to merge - Yorkshire and Tyne Tees being one of the first to take advantage of this opportunity.
Also early on in the 1990s, Central Television was floated on the stock market, with Carlton having something like a 40% share. I am told Carlton had also applied for the midlands franchise during the 1980 renewal round against ATV but were unsuccessful.
In 1994, Central Television was taken over fully by Carlton, and from day one, it was apparent major changes in Birmingham were only round the corner - literally.
Not far from the Central TV base at Broad Street in Birmingham, Carlton had acquired land on Gas Street to construct a modern digital studio. It was evident from the size of the land acquired that the new studio would only be a fraction of the size of the complex it was set to replace. The new studio began construction around 1994, and alarm bells began to ring at the Broad Street studios - it was a possibility that job losses were also lurking around the corner too.
By the end of 1995, facilities were slowly being wound down at Broad Street, some production work and staff had been transferred to the Lenton Lane studios in Nottingham, and other staff had either taken retirement or been laid off.
It was around this time, with the new studio on Gas Street just about complete and ready to go into service, that many of the staff were then told the fate of the Broad Street base and their jobs.
At the end of August 1997, Central News-West broadcast a feature about the closure of the Broad Street studios and stated that from the following Monday, the building would be open for viewing from 9am, and an auction would be taking place on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
I was contacted by a friend, who runs a small television production company - ironically based at the Giltbrook Studios in Nottingham, Central TV's first East Midlands base between 1982 and 1983. Which, due to industrial action didn't actually transmit any East Midlands news at all! More on all that another time...
At the time I had progressed up the ladder from the re-branded ABC cinema circuit projection room to a more challenging post of Engineer for the Odeon circuit of cinemas, and was just about to suffer the same fate as the staff at Central (as Odeon were also cutting back due to what turned out to be the first of two mergers).
I was asked by my friend to visit the Broad St studios to assist with viewing the equipment, and then help remove any gear that had been purchased.
Show me the way in¦.
Before I continue with my notes on the technical areas within the building, I will give you a rough idea of the layout of the complex, as it should help explain things further on.
There were actually four entrances to the building (there may have been others, but these were the only four main entrances I managed to find).
The first, located on Broad Street, gave access via a reception area, to the offices, executive areas and also canteen block.
The second, located in Central Square (opposite Suffolk Street), was the main entrance to an area called the Exhibition Hall and also was used as an audience entrance to the Studio Block and News areas.
The third entrance, on Bridge Street, accessed via a ramp, gave access to a loading bay, which served the main studio block.
And the fourth entrance, also on Bridge Street, was a technical staff entrance, and also a lower loading and storage bay for parking OB vehicles. For Tiswas viewers it was this entrance that was used in the opening titles, where we see Mr Chris Tarrant leaping naked out of a postage sack!
Please also bear in mind that the building layout, and any equipment, had undergone a few changes since 1970, so the equipment listed in this article is what was installed as of 1997.
It was interesting to see how little had actually changed in 27 years the changes only really serving to accommodate newer technology.
Building Technical Facts
ATV Centre was a custom built television studio complex, built to ITA specification, and also specifically designed to provide facilities for every aspect of television production.
The flooring was constructed using thick tiles built on a rostrum frame work, so that the tiles could be removed to access the warren of under floor voids carrying cable trays between Studio, Control Rooms and VTR areas. This idea ensured that additional circuits, tie lines, signal cables could be added with ease to virtually just about anywhere in the building.
The fire alarm system was fitted by AFA Minerva - who later became Thorn Security.
The system operated as a two stage system. The bells would pulse to alert staff if a smoke detector had operated, and if a glass was broken, the bells would ring continuously, alerting staff to evacuate.
The studio control room areas didn't have any bells - just two flashing lights, one red (marked Fire) and another blue (marked Bomb Alert) - only areas such as workshops and offices had them.
I am not entirely sure what the fire-drill was for Networked output during a total evacuation: my assumption is that Network Control was perhaps handed over to either Granada, Yorkshire or perhaps Thames. Or maybe the test-card¦sadly I couldnt find Fire Action instructions.
The studio doors were of a new design (in 1970), using special closers, which controlled the speed of the opening and closing the doors, to cut down the noise. So anyone could enter the Studio without disturbing filming.
Main Offices, Canteen & Dining, Conference suite and Flat
The reception area was decorated with the Central rainbow colours as a border, the bottom half of the walls and woodwork painted in a Navy Blue. The top half of the walls were painted in a cream/beige colour. The two colours reminded me of both Central and ATV idents, perhaps that was the intention?
This scheme was used throughout the entire complex.
I was quite surprised to discover that every single item in the complex had been lotted for auction, and it seemed as if the staff had just locked all the doors on the previous Friday and walked away.
To be able to get round all of the items was a mammoth task - but it isnt everyday you get the chance to be let loose un-supervised in a television complex is it? So it had to be done!
The Broad Street reception is in the older part of the complex: it looks as if it was built around the 1930s, with its Art-Deco style frontage- a complete contrast to the concrete development of the adjoining studio and canteen block! This area contained the press office; other main offices, a telephone exchange and a corridor had been built on the rear, to give access to the newer Studio and Canteen Block.
There were two dining areas, served by one main kitchen, the main canteen over looked Central Square and Suffolk Street, via large triangular windows- perhaps thought to be futuristic looking in 1970.
The second dining area was tucked away from the main canteen, which was only used for Executive dining and conferences.
On the top floor of the building was a flat, which provided sleeping accommodation, with a full fitted bedroom suite, en-suite shower, double bed, wardrobe and drawers. I am not entirely sure when this was used, and who by.
Exhibition Hall Ground Floor
This area could be accessed from the adjoining Studio and Office block via a set of stairs. This area also was the main Audience Reception and Entrance. The entrance area was located in Central Square and was part of the newer concrete development opened in 1970.
Also, sandwiched between the studio and canteen block, is the Plaza Hotel and an NCP Multi-story car park, the latter now closed awaiting demolition; the hotel is still in operation and is also one of Birmingham's finest.
In the same area, but without access to the public, was the main Library which would have contained stills and also ENG material on Film and Tape. By the time we had arrived, this area was pretty much empty, as the contents of the library had since been re-located and some bits even thrown in a skip - more on that later on!
This area also contained the production offices for such programmes as Spitting Image, Crossroads ,Schools and Regional programmes also an office for the Presentation Graphics department.
In ATV days, there was also a recording studio and a film vault; these areas were later converted to a newsroom for Central News.
Opposite this studio were two machine rooms (MCR1 and MCR2), which provided recording and play out facilities for Central News.
I was amazed to see that the final revisions to the Central Cake style idents were on display - in a cardboard box.
The cake idents had been produced (with no colours) from every type of material - glass, plastic, Metal, wood, latex rubber, stone, plastic flowers, even a 4ft x 4ft neon sign version.
Evidently these had been shot in a smaller studio located within the Graphics department, which contained a rostrum camera. The colours and captions would have been added at a much 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 - Machine Room two - 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.
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.
Exhibition Hall 1st Floor
The first floor of this Exhibition area contained the News offices, News Studio, a continuity studio, 3 Beta Edit suites, a Sound Booth, two equipment rooms, a dedicated Graphics Department and Newsfax room (for newswires etc) and a coffee bar.
During the early days, many of the Beta Edit suites would have been 16mm cutting rooms.
The news studio (known as Studio N) was where Central News-west came from. The continuity studio was hardly used, apart from on the odd occasion for items such as Jobfinder.
This area was set behind the control room that served this studio and also the News Studio.
The studio was no more than about 12 x 6 metres in size, 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.
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.
Studer A-810 ¼ 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 were 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 Edit 2:
Sony BVU-820P U Matic Editing VTR
Sony BE-600 Editing Control Unit
Soundcraft 200-BE 8-4-2 Sound Mixing Desk
News Edit 3 & 4:
As News Edit 2
To complement this setup, 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 requirements of the News Dept.
This 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 Dept could operate off its own back, the only facility it didn't have was for film transfer - this service was provided up on the top floor.
Studio Block Ground Floor Workshops, Storage, Loading bay, Preview Theatres
Also known as the basement, this area ran parallel to Bridge Street, contained a lower loading bay and indoor parking area - mainly used for OB trucks - an area to prepare equipment for use on location, a scenery store, a general stores, a woodwork shop, a 16mm dubbing theatre and a dual 16mm/35mm preview theatre served by one centralised projection suite.
The latter was of particular interest to me, particularly as at the time I was employed in cinema projection.
Upon entering the projection room, I noticed there must (at some point) have been two 16mm dubbing theatres - this was evident by the spare projection portholes located at one end of the room. There were marks on the floor that indicated that at some point in time, some kind of substantial projection equipment must have stood there.
You have to remember that back in the building's heyday of the 1970s, much of the material on television was sourced from film. Daily news material was shot on Super 16mm reversal stock, using fast lenses, so crews could shoot as and when, and not really have to worry about having perfect lighting conditions.
You'd see much more 35mm at a TV station back then, mainly for commercials, idents/presentation material (of the stop-frame cardboard cut out variety!), a feature film, or some big budget lavish drama produced by ITC.
When the ATV subsidiary ITC was formed, Lew Grade discovered that 35mm film was the currency for selling programmes abroad - it was compatible with any 35mm telecine system - and so could be converted to whatever standard/video tape system a station used.
The preview theatre at Broad Street was very well decorated, and was pretty much a cinema, with proper cinema seating, Dolby surround, and curtains over the screen. This would have been used for previews of programmes, and also when entertaining other TV executives with a view to them purchasing ATV or Central programmes.
The projection suite for this area consisted of 2 x Zeiss Ernemann dual 16/35mm projectors, fitted with optical and magnetic sound heads and a Xenosel 1600, Xenon 1600watt, arc lamp. These machines were fitted in 1970, and had been kept in fantastic condition: they ran as quiet as if they had just rolled off the production line.
To complement this, the theatre was fitted with a Dolby Laboratories Cinema Surround processor - to me it looked like one of the early models, so could have perhaps been installed around 1981/82. It had been upgraded to a CP55: this would have been from around 1984 onwards.
The original Dolby unit would have only given a Left, Centre and Right channel behind the screen and also featured the trademark noise reduction system (that reduces noise and hiss from the soundtrack). The CP55 upgrade gave the main theatre, a Left, Centre, Right channel behind the screen, and also a mono surround channel through speakers mounted around the audience.
Both styles of processor could run any type of film soundtrack (Stereo/Mono), Variable Area, Variable Density and also Magnetic. The processor was separate to the dubbing facility.
In addition, on the ceiling of the Theatre, was a Sony VPR video projector, which was connected to a small patch bay, so any VTR machine with either a composite or component output could be connected to it.
The 16mm theatre was less luxurious than the former, was also much smaller, and really only gave room for a few of the production staff, mixing desk and audio equipment!
In the Projection room, this theatre was fitted with a Philips LCB0016/14 16mm projector, fitted with optical sound head, sep-mag follower, and a 700w Xenon lamp. Again, this machine was in very good condition, and one of the more rarer Philips machines made in the early 1970s - exclusively designed for use by the television & film production industry.
Also on the ground floor was the woodwork shop - this enabled scenery to be constructed in house and had access to the studio block on the floor above, via either the loading bay / ramp or via a scenic lift. I found the whole environment at the studio to be very much like that at a Repertory Theatre, where everything is done in house.
This floor also contained the House Maintenance workshop, and also a full photographic facility, including a lab and dark room for processing photographic film & slides, and a facility for processing 16mm news film. The latter area was a casualty of the many cutbacks at Central in the 1990s.
Studio Block 2nd Floor Main production Studios, Dressing Rooms, Makeup, Wardrobe
This is where it all happened!
This was the area which contained the main studios, a Medical centre, dressing rooms and wardrobe department. Audience access to this area came via a corridor taking you back towards a staircase the Exhibition Hall and reception area to Central Square. The corridor also led you to the canteen and executive offices at Central House.
Pictures of Central productions and idents also covered the reception area & corridor to the studios. In the centre of the reception was a large glass display cabinet which contained a brass and glass constructed Central globe and mid-1990s style ITV ident in a 3D weather vane style model.
There were 3½ main production studios at ATV Centre.
Studio 1, being the largest, was complete with 200 capacity tiered audience seating, 320 lighting circuits, 8 camera points and additional floor space that could be added, via rolling back a concertina door to Studio 1A. This studio was perhaps best known for use for Golden Shot, New Faces, early editions of Bullseye and Family Fortunes.
Studio 2 had 160 Lighting Circuits, was the next size down. It didn't have any audience facilities, and was used for Crossroads.
Studio 3, the smallest of the main production areas, best known for its use with Tiswas and ATV Today.
After seeing video clips of programmes produced at ATV Centre, I was amazed to see how little in the studio areas themselves had actually changed. There was some wear and tear but the areas had been very well looked after and kept as they had looked in 1970.
Studios 2 and 3 were both served by their own Scenery and Equipment run, which led into the main loading area - accessed from the ramp on Bridge Street. Studio 1 had access to the loading bay via the rear of Studio 1a.
In total there were 24 dressing rooms, 1 make-up/hairdressing room and a medical centre also located on this floor.
The Wardrobe department - still equipped with costumes - ran parallel to Studio 1, and had not apparently been touched. Everything you could see was on sale - even the carpets!
Also on sale in these areas were much of the non-fixed, loose technical equipment - such as lighting equipment, stands, cables and camera equipment.
10 Hitachi SK110-AE 3-tube colour cameras, fitted with Zoom lenses, and a viewfinder and preset box, mounted on gas pedestals were on display for sale, and also perhaps the last remaining EMI early colour camera - complete with ATV badge on the side! This was all on display in Studio 1.
In Studio 2, rigging hardware, such as drapes, curtain tracks, stands, monitor trolleys, jibs and booms were on display.
Studio 3 contained much of the remaining lighting equipment and electrical hardware.
Studio Block 3rd Floor Studio Control Rooms
This contained the Studio Production Galleries, located off one long corridor. Also on this floor was a small presentation studio - Studio 4 - which was once used for News Bulletins.
The Presentation Studio was in later years moved upstairs. I am told this was a controversial move at Central particularly with the Electricians' Union. As a result, pan-regional in-vision announcements had to come from Studio 5 in Nottingham and out-of-vision links came from Studio P (on the 4th floor) in Birmingham.
Also on the 3rd Floor was the Newsroom, offices for Sport and Regional programming - these were relocated to the Exhibition Hall area in around 1985.
Studio 4 must only have been about 10 x 5metres in size, and had been stripped, apart from the lighting grid, Strand Tempus dimmer racks and 18m U-shaped curtain track with a black drape. The studio also had its own small control room - patchable to the central VTR and main transmission areas located on the 4th Floor.
Studio 1 control rooms were separated into three areas: Sound, Vision and Production Control, evidence of Central's intention to keep up with the times when it comes to technology was apparent throughout the building - particularly here.
Central Dynamics 4800 vision mixer.
Cox 450kb VT Clock
Seltech PT 26 Production Timer
48way talkback panel.
Central Dynamics 24:5-switch panel
DTL Production Controller.
DTL Lighting Control Desk with two 320 x 10way Pin Matrix boards.
Neve 48:4:1 Mixing Desk
Dolby SP series Noise Reduction Unit
Studer A820MCH 24track 2 audio tape recorder and meter bridge
90 x 48 microphone patch panel.
Studio 2 was much smaller studio, but equipped in a similar fashion to Studio 1. The outboard sound control also included electronic telephone ringers - an electronic device that can ring a telephone by the press of a button, also producing ringing styles of different countries.
Neve 8:2:1 Mixing Desk
2 x Studer A810 ¼ 2 track rreel-to-reel tape machines, with centre track time code.
System 2600 3 channel Tape synchroniser
Marconi Telephone Ringer c/w Power Supply
Studer Telephone Hybrid Ringer
Dolby SP Series Noise reduction unit.
IT Stereo Cart Player
AKG BX-20E Reverberation Unit
All outboard effects and power supply units were housed in one 19in x 36U Rack.
Again equipped in a similar fashion as to the other main production studios.
Cox 450 VT Clock / Keyboard
Aston 4 Mainframe and Keyboard
Central Dynamics CD-1080 Vision Mixer
A DTL 20 Channel Lighting Controller, c/w 160 x 10way matrix.
A 2 Channel 16A Follow spot Dimmer
2 x Central Dynamics 24:5 Camera Switch Panels
The smallest of the main production areas - no Phantom Flan Flingers or even a chance of getting buckets of baked beans thrown over you from the Tiswas team.
I remember watching Tiswas avidly on cold damp Saturday mornings; the whole studio appeared to be much larger that it actually was. Having seen clips of the programme recently, it must have been very cramped in there.
For the auction, Studio 3 was used for the display of Lighting equipment, mostly location equipment and its associated cables.
It was interesting to note how much ATV equipment was still in use - especially lighting wise.
Many of the 5kW Fresnels and 5kW Twisters all had ATV logos sprayed on to them.
Again, this studio was equipped in a similar fashion to the other main production areas:
Marconi Telephone Ringer
IPK Time code Balance/Unbalance unit
2 x Neve 6 x 2 Camera Switch panels
60 x 32 Microphone Matrix
DTL 20 channel Lighting control desk
Evertz PT26 Production Timer
Cox 450-KB VT Clock
Central Dynamics 480-KB 3-layer vision mixer
Just a quick(ish) note on the lighting:
Lighting equipment was what we were there to view. I noticed the computerised Lighting desks fitted in all the main production studios were actually Rank Strand Galaxy 2 control desks- badged up as DTL (the installation company). The Galaxy range of control desks was designed initially for use in television - though many were fitted in theatres during the late 1970s.
I estimate that the Galaxy 2 desks were fitted sometime between 1979 and 1986. The desks fitted previously would have been the Rank Strand MMS desks - the first computerised desks that could save memories. Strand, BBC and ATV designed these desks jointly in the late 1960s.
The lighting dimmer racks for the main studios were the Rank Strand JT range - these were the original racks as fitted in 1970. Many are still in use in older TV studios and theatres today. They were designed and built to last!
Again these dimmers were perhaps the first kind to utilise Electronic Dimming, using silicon rectifiers and were also modular, so you could add/remove extra circuits as required - you could even allocate channels to be able to handle loads of 5kWw, 2.5kW, Inductive loads (lights with transformers in) and also dim fluorescent fittings.
At ATV Centre all studios control room were fitted with a pin matrix patch panel - this enabled the lighting engineer to patch sets of lights on to one fader - for instance, all of the red lamps on one, all of the blues on another etc. Also by inserting different pins, you could select which load to run each dimmer at - longer pins for 5kW, and shorter pins for 2.5kW.
Lantern wise, technology hadn't really advanced since 1970. Central were still using (in many places) 5kWFresnel lamps, 5kW flood lamps - many of which were brand new as of 1970. This is usually the case for equipment fitted on to pantographs - the lanterns often stay in service for as long as the bulbs are still available.
Studio Block 4th Floor Telecine, VTR edit suites, Main Transmission and Continuity
This area was the nerve centre of the building, providing facilities for anything to do with VTR & Transmission. The 4th floor had been considerably redeveloped since the 1970s.
As you come up the main staircase, on your right you have two VT Edit suites, a Post Production Edit and Sound Edit suite, further along is the Film Transfer suite, behind that is the Sound Archive. This area had its own dedicated machine room
VT Edit Machine Room
Sony DVR-18p D2 Digital Editing VTR
Sony DVR-10p D2 Digital Editing VTR
Sony BVH-3100 PS 1 C Format Reel-to-Reel VTR Machine
Paltex 56601000 Edit control Mainframe
Ace Perriot Graphics Chroma Keyer
Central jobfinder interface unit
Avitel TGE 2040 EBU/SMPTE Timecode generator
PPF Edit Sound Studio
24:5:2 Sound Mixing Desk, c/w Neve 83046 Compressor Limiters
Studer A820 2 24 track Reel-To-Reel tape recorder
Studer A810 ¼ 2 Track Reel-To-Reel Tape Recorder
Sony CDP-3000 CD Player and Remote control
Formula Sound 4-channel Audio Mixer
Adams Smith 2600 Synchroniser
Sony BVU-850p U Matic Editing VTR
PPF Edit Control
Cox 650 VTR Clock
Evertz PT26 Production Timer
Formula sound 8:1 Audio Mixing Desk
Paltex Elan 4/12 Editing Controller
Ebekas Cox T8 Composite Vision mixer
VT Edit Suite 1
Nagra TC ¼ Reel-To-Reel 2 track, time code recorder
Aston Caption Character Generator
GVG Streamline Effects Controller
Paltex Edit controller
Amek ESM-32 Audio Mixer edit controller
Probel 24:3 Routing switcher
Amek 12:2 Audio Mixer
VT Edit Suite 2
As VT edit one apart from a Quantel DLS-6001 Digital Library system
This area had undergone a recent upgrade. The new telecine equipment was fitted with a digital scene programmer, cue dot detector, film cleaner and auto colour balancing.
This type of equipment was a far cry from the Flying Spot machines that would have been used by ATV in the early 1970s- which were little more than cinema projectors with the lens and lamp assemblies replaced with a scanning beam and photocell.
Rank Cinetel Mk 3 digiscan, 16/35mm telecine and 35mm slide head mount.
Rank Cinetel Ferrit 16/35mm Magnetic Film recorder
Sony BVH-3100PS 1 C Format VTR
Sony BVT-800PS U Matic digital time base corrector
Sony V0-9600P U Matic SP VTR
Visual Apparatus Room
I was amazed to see how much ATV in-house equipment was still in commission in this area: much of the rack mounted Power Supply units, phase switchers had been designed and built in house by ATV. As of my visit in 1997, this area just seemed to contain Test & Calibration equipment. It appears that this area was used for the calibration of camera and vision equipment used in the downstairs studios.
The machine room could be patched to record the output from any of the main studio areas or even transmitted output via this area.
Main Transmission Areas
In the ATV days, the transmission and presentation areas were where the VT edit and Film transfer areas now stood.This floor was totally redeveloped in around the early 1990s, and the Presentation areas were then moved to the opposite end of the floor.
As of 1997, the presentation department consisted of an in-vision continuity studio - known as Studio P - which was then used for in-vision links for Children's ITV. Opposite was the voice-over booth known internally as The Crate, used for the main continuity.
This area also had two dedicated VTR machine rooms - one being the LMS suite and the other being the TAR machine room. Between them, these areas provided facilities for transmitting programmes as well as adverts and presentation/promotional material for regional and network transmission.
In the early days, the Presentation Director was often responsible for short local news bulletins, and so bulletins were often broadcast from the Presentation Studio - with news items played out on U matic machines. There was no automation: these machines were staffed by VT engineers.
I can remember lunchtime bulletins on ATV having short news items played in from Telecine - having more recently seen a recording of a day's output (including presentation), the film cue dots were scratched on to the film towards the end of each item!
Next door to the MCR or Master Control Room was TAR or the Technical Apparatus Room. This was the area responsible for line switching incoming/outgoing signals for the ITV Network and also other incoming feeds and outgoing sends to regional transmitters.
IN ATV's time the digital slide scanner wouldn't yet have been invented: there would have been a 35mm slide scanner, a caption camera and perhaps a Telecine machine. The graphics department made most of the slides by hand!
The LMS suite was the main machine room for transmitted output. As of 1997, this was fitted out with two state of the art Sony DVC cart machines - between them having the capacity to hold a total of 1600 D2 digital cartridge tapes, ranging from 32minute to 90minute in running time.
Sony DVC 1000s Library Management System.
This was fitted complete with 6 x D2 composite digital VTR recorders, Cart Controller, An NWS-1850 News Network Station controller, and the capability of taking 1000 x 32minute D2 cassettes.
Sony DVC 600m Library Management System.
This was fitted with 5 x D2 composite VTR Recorders, Cart Controller, NWS-1850 News Network Station Controller and a capability of taking 600 x 90minute D2 cassettes.
Sony DVR-18p D2 Digital Editing VTR
Sony BVH-2180ps/04 1 C Format Reel-To-Reel VTR
Sony DVR-20p D2 Digital Editing VTR
TAR Machine Room
ATV custom Station Timecode Synchroniser, master clock and analogue clock panel.
3 x Central custom Ducker mixer panels.
TVS custom Redphone system line interface
Aston Wallet General Purpose Stills Store
Quantel DLS-6001 Digital Library system mainframe fitted with Fujitsu M-2294N 354 M6 Hard Disk
Aston 4 Video Character Generator Mainframe
Probel Video and Audio routing Matrix
Aston TD10 Mk 2, Teletext Decoder
AVG Electronics 1006-522-402 Teletext Unit
Philips LDK-4210/01 Sync Pulse Generator.
TAR Control Room
Aston Adlog Modem
Aston Adlog Enhancer
Aston Adlog Decoder
Aston VITS Indent Encoder
Probel 20:10 and 16:8 Video Routing Switch Panel
Seltech SCH-710p Sync Sub Carrier Phase Monitor
Rintoul Electronics 730 Palert Colour Sync Verifier
Central custom News Facilities routing switch.
MCR Control Room
Sony LVA-8000p Component Laser Video Disk player
Audio Developments AD145 4:2 portable audio mixer
Vinten Remote Camera Control Panel
Central custom flexi cart 12 x 1 control panel
DTL 16:4 Routing Switch Panel
Sony RM-9000RP Programmable Remote Controller
Probel 24 x 2 Switch panel
Sony BVP-5p 3 CCD Camera fitted with remote head.
Rank Strand 24way Tempus lighting control panel
Blue Upholstered Armchair
3 x Cyclorama Cloths
That elusive 5th Floor...
I am informed that there was also a 5th Floor at the complex. It basically consisted of a small block above the 4th floor which housed the Central travel department. This is one area I didn't actually visit while at the site
That famous Bridge Street skip
While at the auction, I noticed a couple of skips had been placed on Bridge Street as workmen were clearing out areas within the building. Much of the rubbish in one skip was damaged furniture. The other skip caught my eye - it included film cans, bobbins and bits of film.
I asked one of the workmen if I could take a bit of junk film for testing my 16mm projector. Much of the tins were either rusty, dented, had no labels and were full of just blank film or sep-mag.
In the bottom of the skip was a small cardboard box, with some 35mm Slides, a roll of 16mm film and some bits of 35mm film- wound on to a plastic bobbin.
I assumed all this was scrap, so checked again with the workmen if I could take it - and he and his supervisor agreed.
Once I got the box home I inspected the film and slides - it was quite a lucky find;
1 x 35mm ATV Colour Zoom Ident.
2 x 16mm ATV Colour Zoom Idents
1 x 16mm ATV Network Colour Production endcap- circa 1975
1 x 16mm ATV Colour Production endcap circa 1970
1 x 35mm Slide Central Globe circa 1982
1 x 35mm Slide Central Globe circa 1984
1 x 35mm Slide Central News Globe circa 1982
1 x 35mm Slide Central News Globe circa 1984
1 x 35mm Slide Central globe, no caption, circa 1982.
To me that was worth much more to me than anything else!
A final comment
Many people are amazed when they discover what this building contained. When the studio was opened in March 1970, it was perhaps the most up to date for colour broadcasting within the ITV Network. The building was constructed with the idea that just about every facility required for television production, transmission and archiving was readily available under one roof.
I think this idea remained until around the mid 1990s, when shareholders then governed ITV companies and the buzzword was profit instead of quality. As a result, many facilities were cut back, and by the late 1990s such facilities were provided by outside contractors. Film Transfer was a casualty of this along with location lighting and power for large productions such as Peak Practice.
From the exterior, the building lacked character, and just would have simply blended into the early 1970s bleak concrete Birmingham skyline, but inside, it was full of television memories: it was amazing to see how many had turned up to the auction to simply just have a look round.
While wandering around the main transmission area (and a few other technical areas) I noticed that there was quite an atmosphere within the building during its final months. This was evident from the sarcastic cartoons posted on the notice boards around the areas. Some far too libellous to be printed here!
It's now a full decade since ATV Centre broadcast its final programmes and closed its doors, the building is still standing empty. I am informed that some Bar and Pub chains have viewed the building, with an idea of converting the premises to an entertainment complex, but these plans were apparently shelved due to the great expense involved.
I noticed that the adjoining NCP Car Park has now been closed, fenced off, left to decay, and is little more than a concrete eyesore. The fate of this area is obvious as the bulldozers of Birmingham City Planners creep closer, but how far up Bridge Street will the bulldozers reach? Only time will tell.
I began writing this article way back in 1998 and only got halfway through it, and due to work commitments, never got round to fully finishing it until 2006! However, I'd like to thank the following for providing me with facts, information and assistance with this article - back then and also in more recent times!
Wesley Smith Central News-South - For his valued inside knowledge on everything to do with ATV Centre.
Kif Bowden-Smith, Transdiffusion Archive - For inspiring me to finish this article 8 years later!
Jason Robertson, Sub-TV - For the many long-winded emails we exchanged reminiscing about the good old ATV days between 1999 and 2002!
Andrew James , Sound Recordist Southern, ATV/Central (1970 1990) - For the long technical discussions while removing equipment from ATV Centre and re-installing at Giltbrook in 1997.
Rick Wilde, Chief Projectionist Savoy Cinema, Nottingham - For the technical facts about the use of film on television and for letting me use editing facilities at his cinema to rummage through the bits of film from that legendary skip.
Peter Davies & David Grace - For helping me carry half a ton of lighting equipment up Bridge Street and also for the assistance with removing 2 x 35mm projectors from the basement.
• The Crossroads Appreciation Society toured ATV Centre in 2005 and you can see what they found in this three-part video on YouTube.