Politics will soon come in out of the cold
6 Jun 2016 1 comment. tbs.pm/9085
From the TVTimes for 3-9 April 1976.
For ITN’s political staff, a new Westminster studio will mean the end of fraught, deadline-beating drives through London’s traffic to the West End studios of ITN House.
An end, also, to the chilly, late-night outside broadcasts from the roadside opposite the Houses of Parliament.
The long-awaited studio is now being completed in a room in the Norman Shaw North Building on the Embankment, a place much better known as New Scotland Yard in the days when it housed the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. Now it’s mainly offices.
It is a modestly sized studio, only about the size of a sitting-room, but will provide space for one correspondent to report and another to interview an M.P. during a news bulletin.
The studio equipment will be remote-controlled from ITN House. A reporter will let himself in and switch on the room lights, then make a direct line telephone call to ITN House, alerting the engineers in the control room. They’ll switch on the television lights and operate the remote-control camera. Pictures and sound will be fed into ITN House by landlines.
Five men work regularly at ITN’s desk in the Commons’ Press Gallery: political editor Julian Haviland, correspondents Glyn Mathias and David Rose, Granada Television reporter David Kemp and Nigel Maslin for Thames Television.
Without the studio ITN’s men at Westminster have nail-biting difficulties. To be sure of reaching the ITN headquarters in Wells Street, off Oxford Street, in time for the 5.50p.m. news bulletin, they have to leave the House by cab or hire car soon after 5p.m. With the studio they will have a 5min. walk.
Julian Haviland says: “The difficulty has been that, like all reporters, you never want to leave the scene until the last possible moment, and when you do, there is always a fear that something will happen while you are away. Things do happen unexpectedly in the House — there is never a time when you can be away knowing for certain that nothing will happen.”
For News at Ten, timing is even more crucial. Haviland says: “One has to be in the House until the end of a debate because, very often, the last minutes of the last speech of the day yield the news. Debates normally end at 10p.m., after which there may be a division. It takes about 15 minutes for the House to vote, so the result will be known about 10.15, halfway through News at Ten. Sometimes, though, there are two votes, one on an Opposition amendment and then one on the main Government policy point, and the second result will be known just as News at Ten goes off the air.”
To include these results, ITN have often sent their Outside Broadcast unit to Westminster. It is housed on a Range Rover chassis with an extended wheelbase, and carries three hand-held video cameras, a videotape recorder, sound and vision mixing equipment and microwave link facilities to ITN House.
Reports have usually been broadcast from behind the railings of Westminster Abbey, opposite the St. Stephen’s entrance to the Commons — the one used by the public. This way, a correspondent could be on the screen within five minutes of leaving a debate, but bad weather could make it an unpleasant task. Glyn Mathias says: “I have a particularly unhappy memory of reporting a debate, some months ago, when the temperature was below zero and the O.B. unit were white-faced and shivering.” With the opening of the studio, the O.B. unit will be released for other assignments.
The advantages of the Westminster studio go beyond the comfort and peace of mind of the staff. Reporters often want to interview M.P.s before the cameras and politicians, particularly Ministers, are even less happy than the journalists about leaving the House for any length of time. But they can reach the Norman Shaw North Building within minutes, most of the way by a public pedestrian underpass beneath Bridge Street, coming out on the Embankment.
The studio will also be an asset to ITV’s regional companies, who frequently want to interview local M.P.s on regional topics for the 6p.m. local news programmes. Many of these interviews have in the past been recorded at ITN House; soon the regional companies will also be able to use the Westminster studio. And if a big story breaks, the O.B. unit can be sent to provide additional cameras for use in conjunction with the one in the studio.
The BBC, which has had a Westminster studio for some years in College Mews, near the Abbey, will become a neighbour of ITN in the Norman Shaw North Building. Independent Radio News also has a studio there.
Parliament still jibs at allowing television cameras into the House, but coverage of its activities will be much improved by the nearness of the new studios.