A dream factory 

30 November 2012 tbs.pm/2327

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As a person with a disability, my formative years were not spent chasing a ball or climbing trees. Television acted as my entertainment, educator and also accompaniment as well. From an early age I had always been interested in the inner workings, wanting to know what actually went on to bring a programme to the screen. From an early age I had learned to read through newspapers and the first page which would get my attention was the television listings pages.

So in my sheer almost bravado, I composed a letter to both BBC South and Television South, asking if I could visit their studios, not ever thinking I would get a reply back from either of them. To a 11-year-old child, anything through the post is exciting enough. But from a television station? That increased the excitement ten-fold. As the summer went on and on, having forgot about the two letters, one came through the post addressed to me, but more importantly postmarked ‘TVS – For The Best View in the South’. Having not received anything from BBC South at all, I though it was going to be a straight rejection letter and maybe at pinch they would send me a car sticker. But no, it was a letter to me from TVS’s press officer Simon Theobalds saying they would be delighted to allow me to tour their studios.

Short of visiting Disney World, this was as exciting as it could get, like ten birthdays and Christmases combined together in one day. So after careful negotiations, it was decided my father, my brother Chris and myself would be allowed to tour the studios with Mr Theobalds. One Friday afternoon, as the studios was humming with journalists and performers getting ready to make shows, we ready to go.

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I awoke early that morning with much anticipation and immediately my television went onto ITV, realising in only a few short hours I would at the place broadcasting those programmes I was watching on the screen. We entered the reception, festooned with pictures of all the major stars who worked for TVS looking down at me, at 2pm, and the sight of George Baker as Chief Inspector Wexford, plus Fred Dinenage and Fern Britton, finally told me I had arrived.

The first stop on the tour was a visit to the graphics department, where there were various on screen graphics. Simon explained that all the holding card slides graphics were prepared in advance of broadcast and the Quantel Paintbox was being used to make them. Seeing the possibilities of what it could do excited me, by almost playing with the package and having it explained to all of us, showed that this was the future of television graphics. But they gave me a go at doing one of these slides and after I had done it to the best of my ability, it was up to the designers to turn my childish scribble into something to used.

The newsroom was a hive of journalists, making sure that they go that night’s edition of Coast to Coast went out on time. The clichés of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom or Drop the Dead Donkey were all there, heads down typing away with the occasional shout across to a colleague about one thing or another. It was explained that TVS has invested in technology in 1982 which allowed their Southampton and Maidstone newsrooms to be linked together by computer.

At this time TVS were one of the main providers of light entertainment for the ITV network. It meant that the dream factory was set up for big shows to be produced there at the same time. Though in its infancy, 24-hour television was the new thing and they were catering for that in Late Night Late. The Coast to Coast studio was set up for one of the presenters to interview Michela Strachan, who was appearing to promote a pop single she was about to release, which came as a shock to me seeing she been on TV-am’s Wide Awake Club previously and here she bidding to be number one in the charts. As each take went on, she kept on giving the same answer over and over again, so I got bored. I know, in a place like that, you would say it was impossible but the repetition of the ‘Yes, and I’m hope to do some more!’ can only go so far. I started to play with the belt on my wheelchair as the interviewer was halfway through a very long winded question and with a clunk it dropped to the side. The floor manager, straight away said shouted “Cut!” and “Who did that!” Realising it was me, Mr Theobalds gave me such a withering look that suggested ‘You won’t be doing that again on the tour, will you?’ and I thought ‘Yes… OK…’ in a slightly frightened way.

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The playout of her single came through the studio speakers. The single, by the way, failed to chart, which might say why she’s still presenting programmes about animals with fellow Really Wild Show alumnus Chris Packham. We moved on into the main studio, where a filming of Bobby Davro on the Box underway. We were met by a man with grey hair and glasses. I didn’t have a clue who he was at all. He asked me about what I liked and didn’t like. So I told him, and he seemed to take on board what he was saying. We left the studio wondering who this odd man was. It was only years later I discovered it was Alan Boyd, the man who had launched Blankety Blank and Game for a Laugh and by this stage the managing director of TVS Television. One of the most important people in Light Entertainment history and I had failed to clock who he was!

After a visit to the scene dock and the studio gallery, we moved onto the canteen which was fairly sparse affair in cream and brown where we got something to eat before we all left for home. At the end of the tour I was handed a package of goodies which included a Motormouth T-Shirt, some pens, car stickers and a leaflet, most of which have now gone. But I still hold dear one possession of that day, the actual script and camera script of that afternoon’s news bulletin fresh from the presenter’s hands only a few minutes before.

It may not have been the most exciting news day ever, but it was made special by learning that the dream factory was more then bricks and mortar: it was made of television magic.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Russ J Graham 1 December 2012 at 6:34 pm

Re: the belt on your chair, in about 1991 I visited the original BBC Radio 5 with a party from college, during which the announcer demonstrated how the control desk worked.

He started by locking it, then pulled down the faders for the entire network. He continued to chat about the desk, then said we were off to Radio 2 next door.

I stood in silence as he reached for the lock button on the desk, too awed to stop him as he unlocked it. The network was silenced immediately.

In panic, he and his producer/TC fumbled at the controls until they got the faders back up, then both paused, staring at the telephone on the desk, awaiting it lighting up. After 2 minutes they concluded that “she isn’t in her office” and we moved on.

And thus do I feel I once brought about a BBC national radio station going to dead air for 45 seconds. True story.

Boggenstrovia 6 January 2013 at 2:04 am

Russ, having worked in hospital radio for a couple of years, most people would have said that my whole output was dead air!

But besides that, that look still runs right through

me nearly thirteen years later on and even worse I didn’t recognise Alan Boyd at all. Goodness knows what Mr LF Barfe would say to that with myself knowing so much about light entertainment.

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