Pioneer 

11 October 2021 tbs.pm/74257

 

Roy Haywood’s broadcasting CV, although his career in the industry lasted only 12 years, is very impressive. In those years he crammed in more programmes and experiences in television than most would see in a 40 year career. Yet, in 1967, he walked away and left his beloved industry, to start his own company, an ambition he had harboured for many years.

He was born in Birmingham in 1937 and his schooling, by his own admission, was uneventful and as far as qualifications were concerned, not very fruitful. Roy however was a clever lad and, having developed a keen interest in photography and lighting, he began to realise that the possibilities of a career lay at his very doorstep with the creation of Alpha Studios, designed to meet the broadcasting needs of the Midlands for ATV during the week, and for ABC during the weekend.

In 1955 Roy applied many times to join the lighting department at Alpha and had been rejected many times, but kept applying. Finally, a friend of Roy’s was successful and was invited to join Alpha. However, on the day he was meant to begin, his friend was called up as an air force reservist and Roy took the opportunity to drop them another letter. This time he was successful in obtaining an interview and promptly got the job. As his interest lay in lighting, Roy joined the company as a spark, guided and mentored by Freddie Benham, who was the senior lighting director at Alpha.

 

Cameras point at a small set

Drama at Aston

 

Alpha Studios had been created by the speedy conversion of the Astoria Cinema, Aston, into a television centre. When Roy joined as a ‘sparky’ on Freddie Benham’s crew. there were still cement mixers and other builders implements on the studio floor to extend and improve the building, even though these studios were operational and broadcasting live.

Having joined Alpha, Roy expressed an interest in becoming a lighting director but was informed by Freddie that in order to be able to apply for such a post he would have to be head of department in one of three areas – racks, sound or cameras. Thus Roy left the lighting department at Alpha to become a trainee cameraman, and in doing so took a fifty per cent pay cut. His dedication and determination to become a lighting director did not go unnoticed by the management. Roy soon found himself operating a camera with next to no training, but was happy that he was now on a path that would take him towards being a lighting director.

 

A camera points at a man in service uniform lit with a spotlight

More drama at Aston

 

The programme mix in the first few years of the Aston studios was lively and Roy found himself working on such diverse programmes as Lunch Box and full-length plays. Lunch Box, he recalls, was a jolly affair, and Noele Gordon was always friendly but professional. On the occasion of his 21st birthday, Roy himself was made the subject of an interview by Nolly. After the programme she, and her mother who accompanied her, would join the crew for lunch in the canteen above the studio where they would rub shoulders with actors and pop stars of the day. Roy also worked, very occasionally, on the nightly epilogue from Alpha which also went out live, at the somewhat early hour of 10.45pm!

He wasn’t confined to the studios and Roy’s most memorable OB was a live transmission of the first ever heart pacemaker operation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. It was by all accounts a pretty gory affair. Another milestone was reached one day when the BBC hired the main studio to conduct an early experiment in colour television on a drive-in basis. At this time the experiment was conducted on 405 lines – 625 lines were at that time years away.

In 1962, having heard that there was to be a new company appointed to West and North Wales by the ITA, Roy made enquiries to the Chief Engineer, a Mr Daniel (Dick) Rees. He was told in no uncertain terms that there was a requirement that all camera staff should speak Welsh, which at the time seemed rather harsh. Roy accepted this but within a month was contacted again and informed that Wales (West and North) Television (WWN or Teledu Cymru) had failed to find Welsh speaking cameramen and he was asked whether or not he was still interested. He joined several months before the opening of the station on 14 September 1962, and found himself helping to kit out the studios before the launch.

According to Roy, WWN was very well equipped with the latest facilities and a studio large enough to accommodate choirs, harpists, grand pianos and soloists. As Dr Jamie Medhurst points out in his book, Teledu Cymru could not employ professional artistes as they had no agreement with the relevant unions. Having said this, Roy was more than happy and enjoyed his time recording excellent amateur male voice choirs and artistes of which there are many in Wales. One character he remembers in particular was a plucky young floor manager who made quite an impression on Roy. His name was Pennant Roberts, who went on to produce and direct programmes like Softly Softly and The Onedin Line.

 

A man operating an EMI camera with a 'Teledu Cymru' badge on its side

 

WWN staff were drawn from all over the UK and a fellow cameraman at the company was Brian Furness, trained at ABC in Didsbury. Together they decided that cameramen at Teledu Cymru would be ultra smart, and whilst on duty would wear only a suit and tie, to give the station an air of professionalism. So a very proud Roy had his photograph taken on the very first day that WWN began transmissions on the 14 September 1962 standing next to a camera with a Teledu Cymru name plate.

Other personalities who, Roy remembers, began their careers as directors at Teledu Cymru were Iwan Thomas and Ieuan Davies. The former went on to become an announcer at BBC Wales, with his rich distinctive voice. The latter had an illustrious career as a producer/director for TWW, then Harlech and HTV.

WWN had a brief but eventful life, however by the end of May 1963 the writing was on the wall and the station ceased the production of all local programming, becoming reliant on the ITV network for English-language programming and TWW for Welsh – all donated free of charge. This was not an entirely surprising development, however when it actually happened, Roy was on holiday in Spain. He accepted his fate and realised that by now he had a good grounding in camerawork and lighting and was in a position to move on to bigger and better pastures.

 

A man operating an EMI camera

 

Rather than wallow in the demise of WWN, Roy decided it was time for a change and moved, in late 1963, to Southern TV in Southampton. He worked with Southern, first as an assistant lighting director and soon progressed to LD, where he remained until 1967.

He has fond memories of Southern include working with Jack Hargreaves on Out of Town, set in a shed and then seeing the same Jack in the boardroom, as one of the directors of the company. He also remembers working with Michael Bentine and Clive Dunn in a show called After Hours, a forerunner to It’s a Square World, which was very popular on the BBC.

Having always had an ambition to own his own company, Roy left Southern TV in 1967 to start a heating and ventilation company, soon employing 120 people and allowing him to travel the world for the company. Having had a hugely successful career with his own company, I don’t think Roy Haywood regrets his move from television for one moment. However, chatting to Roy I know that his time in the pioneering days of ITV mean a lot to him, and occupy a special place in his heart. Thanks Roy for sharing those years with us.

 

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