Dave Marshall 

2 June 2005 tbs.pm/2283

Dave Marshall recalls the lot of a relief announcer in the 70s and 80s

STV's offices and studio complex

I don’t really recall how I got the job. After all, it was around thirty years ago, but I do have a vague recollection of my very enthusiastic agent at the time telling me that he had arranged for me to meet the person responsible for continuity at STV with a view to me becoming a relief announcer on their station serving Central Scotland.

It was in November 1973 that I gave up a “real job” in the world of sales to join the fledgling Radio Clyde. Following the radio station launch on 31st December 1973, as weekday Breakfast Show presenter on a show finishing at 9am, my agent reckoned I could be available to cover daytime continuity shifts at STV. After all, it was only a short hop across the city from Radio Clyde’s central Glasgow studio complex in the 70’s and it was an opportunity not to be missed. In those days, announcer vision spots were scheduled around four times a day including, of course, the friendly and reassuring closedown sequence when “we hoped you enjoyed our programmes today and you will join us again in the morning at 9.30am”.

The downside of breakfast broadcasting on radio was I had to get up at 4.30am. This was a fact my enthusiastic agent overlooked when he assured the powers that be at STV that covering late shifts wouldn’t be a problem. Clearly he’d forgotten that a live vision closedown at twenty to one in the morning would mean I would arrive home at around twenty past one to rise again three hours later! I suspect he didn’t watch much television.

That said, it was great fun and, in fairness to my much-maligned agent, as a relative newcomer to the professional broadcasting business, there was no better way to raise my profile.

My colleagues at STV couldn’t have been more different from the team back at Radio Clyde. Setting aside the age differences it became clear that most people working in front of the camera, out with news and sport, came from a theatrical background. This was all a bit strange to us “radio people”. It became apparent that the arrival of commercial radio across the UK in 1973/1974 spawned a whole new generation of “entertainers” and 30 odd years later, it’s still the case that many of the television stars of today launched their careers through presentation work on local radio.

Day one of any job is, they say, always the worst and although I’d been shown the continuity studio before and met the transmission controllers I’d be working with, the subject of a pre-shift visit to the make-up department had never been mentioned. That said, a short time after starting in continuity, the decision was taken that make up would be available for self-application in a room adjacent to the continuity studio. Basically it comprised a couple of powder puffs and some “taking off” cream. I don’t recall any instructions being given re the application of same and it was certainly equipment I had never used before! I recall too that my light blue Safari Suit (remember them?) raised a few eyebrows!I remember taking over from fellow announcer, the late Clem Ashby, to start my first late shift (16.30 Saturday till 00.40 Sunday closedown). I arrived early enough, I thought, to apply the aforementioned makeup and check over the short scripts I would require to read to match the local advert slides as they appeared on screen.

STV Clock

Clem (usually sporting a bow tie and a tweed jacket) greeted me and took little time to tell me that, in future, if I found myself following his early Saturday shift I would have to ensure that I arrived early, and should expect to take over at 4.00pm – not 4.30pm as shown on the rota.

Clem indicated that he always checked his Pools coupon on a Saturday afternoon, and for that reason he required to be free of duties by just after four. To my recollection the football results didn’t come through till around ten to five. I have to assume he wished to do his checking in the privacy of his own home! But I never argued and always arrived early for Clem.

Other colleagues included the late Scottish comedian Rikki Fulton’s wife. They were together for 37 years and sadly the lady I remember as glamorous continuity announcer Kate Mathieson also passed away in April 2005. I remember Kate as a very quiet, private person who spoke very little of her life outside the studio.

Scottish News Headlines caption

I recall an old mate from my radio days, Jack McLaughlin (best remembered in Scotland on radio as ‘The Laird ‘o Coocaddens’), describing a TV announcer’s job as “long periods of boredom interspersed with short periods of panic!” I think Jack got it spot on. I reminded Jack of his comment when we met recently during dinner at the home of another former STV announcer, Tony Currie. It’s hard to talk about radio or television in Scotland without some reference to Tony! From a schoolboy radio station in his parents home nearly fifty years ago to being the first voice heard on Radio Clyde on launch day in 1973, Tony has done it all. A regular staff announcer at STV for many years, Tony can still be heard regularly on BBC Radio Scotland reading news and continuity.

To an outsider, a job where you get to watch TV all day and get paid for it must be akin to working in a sweetie-shop. Perhaps it should have been, but I could never really concentrate on watching the programmes for thinking about my next vision spot or link – albeit sometimes I wouldn’t be required to be on air for an hour or more.

The highlight of a continuity announcer’s day, of course, came with the arrival of the “in vision” spot. The opportunity to be seen by the Scottish Television audience regularly disappeared and re-appeared as various senior members of staff changed their minds regularly about the merits or otherwise of announcers being in vision.

In those days before continuity Autocue, and far from confident about memorising my link, I decided to devise my own way of ensuring that I would perform faultlessly during my allocated one minute forty three seconds in front of the camera. To make this possible I required a glass ashtray, a sheet or two of A4 paper and a felt-tip pen. By writing my script on the sheet of paper, leaving a two-inch margin at the top, I was able to fold the paper at the top margin. By placing the sheet of paper against the front of the continuity camera with the script next to the lens I was able to read my link looking straight at the camera and be sure the piece of paper would be held in place by the heavy glass ashtray resting on the two inch margin folded to bet on top of the camera. I knew all those hours spent watching Blue Peter would pay off one day!

The longest breaks from being on-air came during movies, usually at the weekend, and I recall a rare balmy Saturday night in July when our duty transmission controllers next door, in charge of mixing the network programmes, adverts, and continuity suggested that I open the door to the roof of the building and allow such fresh air as there was in Glasgow that night to waft into the room. A short stroll around the rooftop would provide me with a little exercise and the relative silence would allow me to gather my thoughts prior to addressing the nation with the customary “Hope you enjoyed our Saturday film, thanks for watching and don’t forget to switch of your television” message.

I became somewhat alarmed when the quiet of a Saturday evening (hard to believe, I know, in Glasgow) was broken by strange sounds, which appeared to be coming from a doorway in a lane down below. Within a few minutes I had alerted my colleagues who joined me on the roof. Some loud shouting followed from down below and quickly we identified that our assistance was not required.

It became apparent that one of Glasgow’s ladies of the night was entertaining a client in the doorway off the lane and the said gentleman was not best pleased at having his enjoyment spoiled by a rooftop audience.

It certainly provided us with a few laughs and better entertainment than the old movie we were showing on telly that night!

On a more serious note, albeit I was covering irregular shifts as a relief continuity announcer, it was often the case that I was required to work on holidays to allow the regulars a day off. So it was that I was on evening duty on bank holiday Monday 5th of May 1980.

Iranian embassy seige

Six days earlier, the siege of the Iranian Embassy in London grabbed the headlines when six armed Iranians overpowered police constable Trevor Lock of the Diplomatic Protection Squad who was standing guard outside the Embassy. After a six-day stand off, the world watched on television as, at 7.23pm, peak-viewing time on that holiday Monday, the SAS stormed the building in an effort to release the 26 hostages held inside. The final drama unfolded in front of millions of viewers as TV cameras relayed the pictures live and the regular schedules were set aside for 23 incredible minutes on that Bank Holiday Monday in 1980.

It was one continuity announcer’s shift at STV I’ll never forget and at a £33 shift fee Scottish Television certainly got their money’s worth from me that night.

STV endcap

Your comment

Enter it below