People behind programmes – 5 

5 October 2017

“You can’t shout ‘Cut’ and ask them to re-run the Derby.”

Grahame Turner, Thames Television’s Controller of Outside Broadcasts, was a cameraman with both BBC and ITV before becoming a producer and director specialising in outside broadcasts. He has played a leading part in ITV’s coverage of the Tokyo and Mexico Olympics, the 1966 and 1970 World Cups, and many other State and sporting occasions.

To me, the outside broadcast is the most exciting thing in television, because it’s real, it’s alive. Who could forget Geoff Hurst’s winning World Cup hat trick, Jim Peters’ exhaustion in the Commonwealth Games, the first pictures of the astronauts transmitted direct from the Moon? These massive, live, emotional moments are the real essence of television, and it’s hardly surprising that of the ten highest-rating programmes of all time, nine have been outside broadcasts.

Most people associate outside broadcasts only with sport which, of course, is true to a very large extent. But at Thames, particularly since we are a weekday company, we think it’s important to provide wide coverage of non-sporting events too, and we have the biggest OB department in ITV to help us do it. Our experience involves us with all Thames’ other programme-making departments. We contribute to the current affairs output nationally in this week and locally in today; and to light entertainment on shows like danny la rue at the palace and michael bentine at the albert hall, both soon to be seen on ITV. In drama we’re often called in to help with exterior scenes. And our coverage ranges from great State occasions to events like the Royal Film Performance, Miss Great Britain and the Society of Film and Television Arts’ Awards, a marathon of a show produced and directed this year by Steve Minchin.

One regular series we produce both outside and in the studio is drive-in, our family motoring programme. We make the series as an OB production, so the same camera team that road-tests cars and samples cross-Channel ferries handles all the studio items as well. This format has been so successful, largely through the enthusiasm of producer Jim Pople and his team, that we’re now planning to develop the series further when it returns later this year. We would like to be able to do more outside broadcast series, but because airtime is always so scarce there are always more good ideas than one can turn into programmes. So I would naturally welcome the opportunity to broadcast on a second ITV channel.

Meanwhile, daytime television is certainly going to be a boon. There’s so much happening in and around London that we simply haven’t had time to cover in the past: theatre matinees, exhibitions, distinguished visitors, local affairs and so on. Now we’re working on a whole range of new ideas for the autumn. One of the results could be a live one-hour programme featuring a number of different events going on in the Thames area each day. Gardening and fishing are two subjects we are studying very closely at the moment, not only because they interest a vast number of people, but also because they are both subjects which could be demonstrated really well with full outside broadcast facilities. We are also planning to extend our coverage of sport, starting with golf and tennis.

Today, people accept television broadcasts as the normal way of watching big events they might otherwise never see. Our responsibility is to present to them the reality of what is happening, without coming between the viewer and the event, and without hindering the people who have actually come along to watch. The Derby is a good and topical example. It’s the greatest race in the world. There are half a million people there and you’ve got a mile and a half of beautiful grass and that’s your stage. You’ve got to close in on that stage and make the viewer feel as if he’s there. It’s a real challenge. It takes a dozen or more cameras and five commentary points to do it well. And because it’s live you can’t afford to make mistakes. You can’t shout ‘Cut’ and ask them to re-run the Derby.

We cover the Derby meeting exclusively for television audiences around the world. But one of the main criticisms levelled at us is over the number of large sporting events duplicated by ITV and BBC. I share the views of our critics on this, and hope that one day the BBC will agree to our suggestion that they alternate with us on such events. Until then, we feel we must continue to provide the high standard of presentation that leads millions of people to choose ITV.

Grahame Turner, Controller of Outside Broadcasts

Some people say television is killing sport. I don’t think it is. I believe it has actually stimulated interest, turned more people into enthusiasts than could ever be packed into a stadium. Where else but on television can you see at close quarters the intricacies of a football tackle, the tell-tale deflection of the cricket ball as it glances off the bat into the wicket-keeper’s hands? I’m absolutely sure that this kind of detail has enhanced interest in and knowledge of all kinds of sport. And it has been achieved through the expertise of people like those who work for me at Thames. They study the game, they know exactly which picture the viewer needs to see, and they use their television skills to make sure the viewer gets that picture. This is where the cameraman is vitally important, and we have some of the best in the country at Thames. They share with the producers, directors and their teams the tremendous technical difficulties that are peculiar to outside broadcasts.

Most producers can walk into the studio in the morning and everything’s there for them: script, actors, all the facilities and all the technicians they need to keep things running smoothly. And if anything goes wrong with the equipment, the producer and his team are the only people who know about it, because it’s a recording, it’s not live. My producers, on the other hand, can’t have a script beyond the barest outline. And their ‘studio’ is created on the morning of the transmission or, if they’re extremely lucky, the night before. Today it’s at Epsom. Tomorrow it might be Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street, next week the Azteca Stadium.

We’re where it’s happening, and we try to capture the flavour of the moment and make it come alive: for the millions who need to be shown the truth as it happens, or the millions who would like to be there, but can’t.

Grahame Turner, Controller of Outside Broadcasts
Sport – including International, European, Association and League Football, Racing, the Olympics, Boxing, Golf, Tennis, World and European Ice Skating, Professional Wrestling, etc., Drive-In, The British Screen Awards, Danny la Rue at the Palace, Festival Hall Carol Concert, Royal Film Performance, Michael Bentine at the Albert Hall, Mary Chipperfield Circus, State Occasions – including the funeral of HRH the Duke of Windsor, Outside Broadcast contributions to all Thames programme departments.

Your comment

Enter it below