Working for Auntie 1973 revisited (RIP Michael Dean)

Some time ago I wrote about my short-lived spell in the BBC2 Presentation Programmes Department in 1973, not long after the demise of Late Night Line-Up in 1972. Its predecessor “Line-up” had started out as a kind of early evening trailer when BBC2 first went on the air in 1964 but later that year it morphed into “Late Night Line-Up” featuring “open and candid discussion among invited guests”, transmitted live after the 9.00 p.m. watershed.

In my earlier post I mentioned Michael Dean, whom I got to know post Late Night Line-Up, as a friend and colleague, when I moved over from BBC2 programme directing to BBC1 Presentation Department as a Network Director (AKA Transmission Control and Trailers.) At that time Michael was working for Auntie as a continuity announcer prior to returning to his native New Zealand, and we used to chat and have a laugh or two in the tea room from time to time, often about NZ , whence I had just returned after a six-year stopover. At the time I knew Michael had worked on Late Night Line-Up, but did not fully realise that he had been a celeb as a “highbrow” arts and current affairs presenter and interviewer on the show, along with colleagues such as Denis Tuohy, Joan Bakewell, Tony Bilbow and Philip Jenkinson. Continue reading

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My window faces the south Part 2: John Fowles

If you have read Part One of this memoir, you will remember that my main aim was to move away from routine directing of South Today, working more and more on regional “opt out” features made at BBC South. I will write later about this period, but it’s going to be quite a long job, so in the meantime, here’s a clip from one episode of a programme strand which I created and produced in the early eighties, called “Don’t Fence Me In”. In this edition John Fowles, celebrated author of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and other best sellers, who normally refused to appear on television following some bad experiences, broke cover and gave me an exclusive in his less well-known role as curator of the Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis.

The story was about claims that fossil hunters, both amateur and professional, were a threat to fossil conservation along the Dorset Jurassic Coast and even to the homes of residents on the cliff tops. The interviewer was Michael Jordan:

This story raised a few eyebrows among my NUJ card-carrying journalist colleagues
not for the first time, not because the story itself was momentous, but simply on the grounds that I had somehow persuaded an international celeb to appear on TV. For the record, I didn’t need to persuade him. I just phoned him and he readily agreed on condition that he would not be asked to talk about his books. Continue reading

My window faces the South: Part 1

Coming into the BBC from New Zealand television in 1973, I quickly realised that my training and experience as a TV producer / director there did not fit well into the quasi civil service BBC job hierarchy, so at the time I had no choice but to settle for the assistant producer “rank” when I was hired to work as a network director (transmission controller) at the TV Centre in London, on a series of short-term contracts. The job was a means to an end; I wanted get back to making programmes as soon as possible.

In those days BBC Television didn’t normally hire programme directors. Instead they called them assistant producers. A fairly meaningless title really, as almost everyone on a production assists a producer. Also an insulting title, especially on live programmes, where the split second decisions of the programme director translate instantaneously into actions which dictate what the viewer sees and hears, independently of a producer. Continue reading

Jag älskar Helsingfors

The other day a promotional video praising the virtues of Helsinki appeared unbidden on my Facebook feed. I know not why, but could it just be that their algorithm has noticed that I still have friends in Finland, traceable to the many happy times I spent training TV journalists at the splendid YLE TV centre in Pasila, just a tram ride from downtown Helsinki?

If so, I find this more than a little creepy. And to reinforce my long held anti-Facebook prejudice, I couldn’t get the video to run reliably on this page. You haven’t missed much. So here’s a much better video, evidently shot from a drone, which does a pretty good job of portraying this great city, without a word of voice-over hyperbole, or even worse some trendy presenter mouthing trendy nonsense to camera:

My connection with Finland actually started not in the Finnish capital but in a hotel breakfast room in Montreal, at a conference of public service television training folk called Preput, circa 1993.

Continue reading

Working for Auntie: Huw Wheldon

When the name of Huw Wheldon cropped up in a Today programme piece this morning about the death yesterday of the pioneering art critic John Berger, I realised that I have left out an anecdote from my posts about working for Auntie in the seventies.

It happened soon after I started work in BBC Television Presentation department at the TV Centre in White City in 1973. The office was on the fourth floor, and when I was on the early shift I would take the lift from the main entrance foyer shortly before 8 o’clock, usually in a dazed state after the two hour train and tube journey from mid Kent. One morning I was joined in the lift by a man I vaguely recognised. In the few moments it took to get to my floor, Sir Huw Wheldon, Managing Director BBC Television and legendary broadcaster managed to find out who I was, where I worked and what my job was. Continue reading

Working for Auntie in the seventies (continued)

Previous post: 1973 – 74

A few more incidents and situations come to mind from my relatively short stay in BBC TV presentation department in the mid seventies.

 

 

Disqualified!

I got a surprise when an outside broadcast involving royalty was scheduled to be transmitted during one of my shifts. I haven’t been able to track down what the occasion was, but I remember that I was told that I should leave the control room prior to the broadcast, to be replaced by a colleague. Continue reading

Working for Auntie: BBC, London: 1973 – 1974

Warning: this post contains anecdotes and shameless name dropping………

1973 was not a good year to be in Britain, let alone to return there after six years in New Zealand. Return we did though, with very little money, no home and two lovely kids. My immediate priority was to get a job.

The first bite I got from hawking my CV around was at Scottish television in Glasgow. I had a couple if interviews there, and the company were keen to take me on, but there was a problem with the ACTT union closed shop. No ticket-no-job but no-job-no-ticket. After some negotiation they did offer me a trainee post, which I had to turn down, mainly because we could not afford to live on the trainee salary. Pity really; I liked it there, they seemed a friendly bunch. I recall being introduced to a genial up-and-coming comedy performer by the name of Billy Connelly. Maybe I should have accepted that offer.

At the same time I was trying my luck at the BBC. Continue reading