Presentation Presents 

1 September 2001 tbs.pm/1673

Michael Aspel

As BBC Television screens became alive again in 1946, after the dark war years, the BBC initially decided to continue with bow-tied men and beautifully dressed women to link the programmes. These included chief announcer Leslie Mitchell, Sylvia Peters, Mary Malcolm, Peter Hague, Alex Macintosh, Macdonald Hobley and Jacqueline McKenzie. In the early to mid-sixties, Meryl O’Keefe, Valerie Pitts, Valerie Singleton, Judith Chalmers, Sandra Chalmers, June Imray, Maggie Clewes, Corbett Woodall, and Michael Aspel all joined the team.

Immediately after the war, the BBC was still using its studios at Alexandra Palace in North London, but had acquired the former Gainsborough Film Studios in Lime Grove. As the UK film industry went into decline, television expanded, and the BBC needed more studio capacity and gained facilities at the former Ealing Studios, famous for Sir Michael Balcon’s comedies and features.

As if pulling a rabbit out of a hat, a brand new state of the art television centre was being planned for west London. It was partially on the site of the old sports stadium in White City, which had been used for the 1948 Olympic Games.

By 1960, the magnificent new BBC Television Centre was ready for action. The centre consisted of eight broadcast studios, two presentation studios, editing suites, telecine, make-up, costumes, and various technical departments, programme makers, channel administrators, and, of course, BBC Presentation Department, which linked and transmitted the final product.

In-vision continuity announcing disappeared from primetime BBC TV in about 1961, but continued off-peak, and at weekends, until about 1963. It continued to be used for children’s TV until 1965. This was head and shoulders to camera, sat at a desk, as re-introduced in the 1980s by ‘the broom cupboard’ rather than the style of CBBC today.

Two studios were specifically designed for use by presentation announcers, Presentation A and Presentation B, and were located behind the fourth floor back lift at in Television Centre. They were just about large enough to house three cameras each. The BBC Television Service continuity announcers such as Valerie Pitts used these studios to anchor the single channel’s programmes. They were also used to present trailers for forthcoming TV attractions.

Television Centre was a focal point for the single national BBC TV service, but soon after completion the decision was made to launch a second BBC national channel, with Michael Peacock the first Controller of BBC-2. It was decided to split the use of the two studios, so Presentation A was dedicated for use on BBC-1 and Presentation B for BBC-2.

However, the arrangement did not last for very long. The days of the bow-tied male announcer, or his female counterpart in her ball gown, were doomed. The once fledgling Independent Television was growing in audience terms.

Although ITV made serious programming including Rediffusion’s “This Week”, ITV’s schedule was seen as more downmarket and lighthearted than the BBC, with more mass appeal from the likes of the Palladium Shows, Hughie Green and Michael Miles. ITV had the greatest audience share, in spite of the BBC then having two channels. The take-up of BBC-2, which meant buying a 625-line UHF set and a special aerial, was initially slow.

A major policy decision was made within the BBC that TV announcers on BBC-1 or 2 would no longer be seen in vision anymore. A team of announcers was recruited who would announce links and record trailers totally out-of-vision.

When the BBC TV in-vision announcer team was disbanded, Maggie Clewes went to Rediffusion London, Valerie Singleton to the BBC’s Blue Peter and Corbett Woodall and Michael Aspel to the newsroom. Meryl O’Keefe went to work on the BBC World Service, and Valerie Pitts married Sir Georg Solti, the conductor, becomming Lady Solti. June Imray went back to Grampian, and Alex Mackintosh retired, having been there since the early fifties. Macdonald Hobley became a compere on cruise ship concerts.

The two in-vision presentation studios, now no longer needed by BBC TV announcers, were destined for an exciting new role. They were to be used by staff in the department to actually make television programmes for BBC-1 and 2. Little was it known at the time that some of the programmes that the new Presentation (Programmes) Department was to make were to become important icons of British culture in the 60s and 70s.

One simply has to mention (Late Night) Line-up, The Old Grey Whistle Test, The End Of The Pier Show and Rutland Weekend Television. Yet these programmes were made extremely economically, in those small studios A and B, built initially to house the continuity announcers and no more.

Rex Moorfoot was for a long time Head of Presentation and under his direction, Presentation was effectively managed as two divisions. Presentation (Production) carried out all the transmission functions of announcing, trailers, promotions and staffed the Duty Office in Television Centre taking calls from the public while the BBC was on air and passing on opinions raised to senior managers and controllers in a daily “duty log”.

Presentation (Programmes) was the programme making arm of the department, and this arrangement continued until about 1980. Line-up was one its first major successes, transmitted as it was across the week, in various formats, over seven days. The programme covered a wide range of topics including books, theatre, cinema, music and all manner of cultural topics. A key figure behind Line-up was Rowan Ayers, who later was a founding creator of the BBC’s innovative Community Programme Unit. “Open Door” was one of television’s first programmes in which the public had a real say in programme making, aided by the professionals. Out of (Late Night) Line-up grew many programme branches. One such programme was Film Night presented by Tony Bilbow. Tony’s mother Marjorie had a film programme on the original BBC Radio London in the 1970’s too.

Other programmes were “The Book Programme” presented by Robert Robinson, of “Ask The Family” fame. One of the creative team behind this programme and later to head the Presentation Programmes Department was Will Wyatt. Will was eventually Chief Executive of BBC Broadcast, and retired a short while ago. He now has a role with the Royal Television Society, and was made a CBE for services to broadcasting.

One of the most famous shows created out of Line-up was “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, the BBC’s landmark rock show. To mark the recent 30th anniversary, BBC-2 put out a series of nightly retrospective programmes after Newsnight – fronted by the main presenter of Whistle Test, “whispering” Bob Harris. The primary creative force in Presentation Programmes behind Whistle Test was producer Michael Appleton, director Colin Strong (and from time to time Tom Corcoran) and Alma Playler, researcher.

Presentation (Programmes) covered all types of the programme, ranging from “Edition” in 1973 in which Kenneth Allsop reviewed the British press, to programmes on Roman coins presented by Robert Erskine. Children were not forgotten either as, for many years, former newsreader Michael Aspel hosted a children’s request show for BBC-1 called “Ask Aspel”. The young Aspel delighted audiences with clips from their favourite TV shows. The range and variety of programmes were huge as were the production techniques. One very creative team in presentation set about the task of making a number of programmes, using Presentation B and the new CSO technique.

Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) was in its infancy in the 70s. It was a method of placing actors or characters against a blue background and being able to super-impose another picture into the blue space. Producer Ian Kiel and director Andrew Gosling went on to make a host of programmes using this technique, including a special Christmas version of “Alice in Wonderland”. The actors in costume were super-imposed against a variety of drawn backgrounds.

Kiel and Gosling also brought “The End Of The Pier Show”, a Sunday comedy review, to BBC-2 screens in the mid-70s, and two seasons of hit comedy series “Rutland Weekend Television” featuring Eric Idle, one of the original Monty Python team.

Film and television review was not forgotten either, as in 1973 a new film show was launched, produced among others by Barry Brown and Margaret Sharpe – simply called “Film 73” in that year, it was fronted for over twenty five years by Barry Norman. Its most recent presenter is Jonathan Ross, since the former went over to do a film show for Sky television.

It should be said that Presentation (Programmes) was also reactive and flexible in its programme offers to the controllers of BBC-1 and 2. An example of this was a special programme screened on the 15th anniversary of JFK’s Dallas assassination.

Will Wyatt gave the green light to a TV review show called “Did You See…?”, produced by his department. The programme was one of the very few shows on television to discuss and debate TV as a medium, and reviewed the cream of television shows of its era. John Archer produced it. However by the 1980s there were rapid changed in broadcasting, Channel 4 had arrived, and, with the advance of Sky and cable, the face of British television as we knew it from the straight two channel age, was changing.

Presentation, it was decided, would concentrate on announcing and trailers, and so the Presentation (Programmes) division was merged, with documentary features, into a new Network Features Department. “Did You See…?” continued, but eventually came from the same stable as “Crimewatch UK” and “The Sky at Night”.

Presentation A and B studios were demolished a few years ago. What cannot be demolished, though, is the memory of the complete range of programmes that Presentation (Programmes) made in those two quite small studios.

Programmes like “Late Night Line-Up” and “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, important parts of 60s and 70s culture here in Britain, will long be remembered and the film strand, currently “Film 2001”, goes on – and that cannot be a bad thing.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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