Chapter Three
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH
Presentation was the Cinderella department of the television service. Its job was to take the channel schedule, as decided by the channel controllers and their planners, and turn this into an operational reality by assembling all the pre-recorded and filmed programmes, checking timings, liaising with live programmes, making and placing the promotions and supervising the transmission. It was the final port of call for BBC programmes before they were handed over to the public, and it was fiercely proud of its role as the controllers' agent. It could be rather hoity-toity about this, as those who serve at the right arm of the powerful often are.
This transmission operation was not where I wanted to work but I had to do a stint as part of my training. I viewed programmes to check that their openings and closings complied in picture, sound and length with the transmission forms. There were no cassettes, so you viewed film on a Steenbeck editing machine or, more luxuriously, in a small viewing theatre. Videotape was two inches wide and was played on the mighty Ampex recording machine: two grey spools on a slab of electronics as tall as a man. These were clustered in a basement area, where the scarce time on them had to be booked. This was an exciting place, the background hum intensified by the whirr of speeding reels, broken by loud stabs of music, laughter or dialogue from the programmes being recorded or edited. Cocky sports producers dashed back and forth between machines, shouting timings and instructions to the operators. Next door drama directors in toggled neckerchiefs would sit frowning as they watched the playback of a new production while the operator yawned. Perky girls with clipboards flirted with the manager in charge in the hope of wangling some extra editing time.
I spent time in the network control suites learning the ropes as the network directors called up the different sources of programmes by telephone and intercom. These suites, at the back of Television Centre between the fourth and fifth floors, were like small air traffic control centres at night: dark, calm, with panels of switches and flashing lights, and smelling of warm electronic machinery and coffee. There was a glow from the array of television screens. These command capsules felt snug, insulated and important.
Will Wyatt 2003