Behind the Scenes in Broadcasting

Location : Norwich

Can you just give an outline of what you did at the BBC?

I worked for Radio Norfolk, doing their books, only payments and things, for 13 years and from there I did part time across the road in television, where I did autocue.

You were with BBC Television?

Yes, doing the news bulletins, Look East, and even the late – ten, half past ten, bulletin. They recommended me to Anglia Television and I did a lot of the shows there. I did the Vanessa Show, the This Morning Programme with John Stapleton, Dilemma … there was another entertainment programme with Graham Norton. Several of them at Anglia Televsion. I also did the books for a private television company that filmed Rogue Elephants and animal programmes .. like the Anaconda – very involved films with animals, that particular company. So I had a very wide range of autocue and books – figures.

Where were you when you started in the BBC?

I started at Radio Norfolk first. There, my young boss – he was made redundant but they kept me on – he took me to the private television company as well; he wanted me to work for him. So he waited a year till I was free, because I was eventually made redundant, because television and radio merged together to be in the Forum, so a lot of jobs were doubled up weren't they?

So how old were you when you started?

Oh, forty-one and I worked there for 13 years.

Then you worked in BBC television?


Had you always felt that you would be going into media?

No. It never entered my mind. I had a very serious illness for a year, so I had to stop work and I was looking for some part time work when I was then well enough to go back , so I rang up the BBC just on the off chance and said "Do you have any work?" It was an American lady, who actually rang me last week from New York, we are still in touch. She said, "I have just been allocated the money to take on an assistant." Whatever she said, I said "I can do that, I can do that – why don't you give me a trial for a month and if I don't crack it, then fine?" She said, "I've got other people to interview". We eventually worked it out and I did a month's trial and then I stayed for 13 years. So it was completely out of the blue, just pure chance.

So what did you do before you had the illness?

I was doing secretarial work in several different places. I worked for the hospital secretary in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, when the Queen Mum came down to open the new maternity unit – which is all now finished with, isn't it?

What did you find most exciting about working in the BBC, or in the radio?

Well, the BBC was very exciting, especially the night that John McCarthy was released. People talk about the atmosphere being electric. It was magic because I was up on the same floor as everybody else, not in the gallery where they do the output, but at that point. They kept saying, "He is going to be released". The story was done and I just kept moving it down the running order because I couldn't put it up on the screen until I was told it was happening. But everybody was waiting and I think it was the last item that went out. It was a fantastic atmosphere. You hear about it, but to experience it, it was wonderful really.

So what did you do? Did you do the story?

Yes, we did the story. It went out. It was the last one – we kept moving it down, moving it down.

Was it very different working in the BBC then, what do you think? The environment, colleagues?

It was a very good place to work, the BBC. It didn't apply to me, unfortunately, had I started there years ago I would have used the facility more, but if somebody in Radio Norfolk wanted to try a job in the BBC you would get six months to try it and they'd bring somebody in who'd like to try your job. But you know you can go back to that job. You've got the security going back to it if you don't want to carry on any further. I would have done that, but it was too late in my life to start that then. To be able to do that, knowing that the job that you are doing is safe while you try – it makes you move on and you grow, don't you? I think it's a wonderful thing. The BBC radio side, I mean that was just a joy for me. I was very lucky – I was part-time, obviously, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Do you think it was very different working in radio rather than television?

Well, everybody said that it was. When I first started there they were a little bit, "Oh, you're in television!" sort of thing. But I never found any trouble. People would say, "Oh, you're going across the road!" But nobody treated me any differently. They were brilliant. I don't know if was in their mind, it certainly wasn't in mine, but people never treated me any differently. "Oh, you work across the road." Yeh, enjoying it. It might be that you get that perhaps anywhere. I didn't take it up because it didn't affect me.

So how many people were there in your department?

I worked with one person in my section. I always had a boss. I had four bosses altogether. Three women and a man – or boy, he was then. There were just the two of us. He was responsible for everything and I did all the nuts and bolts.

What is the job about?

He was responsible for over £1 million in money. You had to pay everything in, get everything that was needed for the station, work out all the running costs. It had to be sent to London every week, initially in these great big ledgers. Then all of a sudden this marvellous computer came in. Absolutely basic, but we did it and we sent all the information to London. At the end of the time it was a state-of-the-art computer where you pressed a button and all the information vanished and London got it. It was marvellous, really.

So what other programmes did you come across when you worked there?

At the BBC it was only news. At Anglia I did all sorts of entertainment programmes.

Technology-wise it must have been quite different compared to the past.

Absolutely. My second boss – she was a lovely lady – but she'd worked in television doing autocue years before when it was all typed up and stuck together on a roller. She did it well, because she was slightly laid back, she did it and it didn't stick and she was turning it round for the newscaster to read and it all fell apart.

You mean your boss did that …

Yes, that was in the television side. I don't know where you go from there. They had scripts, I mean there is always the back up with a script. I'd have been mortified if that had been me. But to think that came that far … at Anglia the script came by e-mail, you have to take out all camera instructions, all lighting instructions. All you need is the actual text. But everything was there for everybody, all the VTs. You just took all that out and left yourself with just the text for them to read. You could do that. It was brilliant, you could take it out and all the information you needed for the show. Before you had to type all that up. So technology moved on tremendously.

How did you receive it? Why did you need to type it up?

It came through on e-the mail. When you do autocue you've got the script in front of you. So you take everything out but the text. And you press a button and it is transferred to the little television screen here, plus the bank of screens. You can have 35 screens. Have you ever seen them? Perhaps on the television you might have seen them. Well one of those is for autocue. The information that is in front of me is up in big letters, so many letters to each line, and you then turn a button to make it move at the pace that the newscaster or the presenter could read. Some were fast, some you couldn't keep up with.

What kind of skills did you pick up there, and are there any special memories?

My best memory was working with Terry Waite, the gentleman who was captured in the Lebanon. He did a programme from the library at the Cathedral. That was a wonderful day spent with him. It was quite funny in a way, because we sat having a chat and Ivor and I were trying to get this house. We couldn't sell ours. Three times it had sold but it had fallen through and I was telling him I was a bit stressed about it and I think he had a word with a higher authority, because we had no trouble after speaking to him. He had been praying for us. The last hour of the recording we went right into the top, the roof, of the building that we were in, and the rain hammered, you couldn't hear yourself speak, so they couldn't record. Terry was very generous and said, "Should I come back tomorrow and we'll finish it". And one of the sound men said, "But you might not turn up …" – because he was captured before. He took it all in good part. It was a wonderful moment but he took it like that and everybody fell apart laughing.

You managed to finish?

We did, we waited a bit and it eased off and then we finished and carried on. I shall never forget that moment. It's funny how it stays with you. But it is a special time, isn't it?

Did you come across any problems when you worked in broadcasting, like with the technology?

Well, we did that day, because I hadn't used the outside broadcasting unit before … I hadn't realized that you'd got to charge the batteries. It did get to the point where the autocue wouldn't work and Terry did need it because it was quite involved. The sound men were very good, they actually got it sorted. You do panic – and there were times in the BBC autocue times where you'd be loading the stories ready … you do learn that 10 seconds is a long time – because you can be loading the story and the machine would go slow and the opening music is coming up and it has not been loaded. All of a sudden, somehow, I don't know ever how you got away with it. But it's a machine, what can you do?

It's just a gremlin in the works on occasion. Most of the time it was fine. Because I think to other people going into it … it might have just been an overload, you just don't know, do you? Stewart White, he's a lovely chap to work with. I used to say to him, "If we could record this programme in the morning – the News – we could all go home." He was so efficient at his job he wanted everything absolutely right. He'd be changing the story on his machine as the music was going up. I'd then got to load that, you know, you can't just change a story, it has got to be loaded and all printed up onto the screen. When I saw his fingers going I thought, oh no. Stewart White is the Chief presenter.

Are there people that you learned a lot from, working in TV?

Yes, there is. Although, one day, the first time I started at Anglia I didn't know that the terminology they used was different and it was an entertainment programme rather than factual news. One of the women there – called Lorelei – what a lovely name… she was the vision mixer …. Nobody really spoke to me. They were all involved, engrossed in what they were doing. I thought, I don't know whether I like this. I'd been booked for two days, so you do the two days because it was a contract. So the second day I turned up, and I said to her, "Everybody is a bit engrossed." She said, "Well, none of us have ever done anything like this before." You could easily think they were being a bit off, and all that, but it weren't that at all. They were as worried as I was, really, in their way, all for different reasons. You are under the direction of a Director and he wants certain things on the screen and he will tell her – she's the vision mixer – which one he wants put on the main screen, which is going out. The cameramen have to make sure they are in the right area for the pieces to be picked up for her to sort to give to him. There is a lot going on, there's another chap who does …when you see at the bottom of the screen the man's name – that has got to be typed up and his title all prepared to put into the machine and ready to go up when the director says "I want that now". You have to be sure you have got the right name. It is, very complicated, but because of that it is very interesting.

So Lorelei told you that it was the first time any of them had done that sort of thing?

Yes it was the first time under that director. You could see, because I was worried, only having done news programmes before.

What about the audience? There must be some difference between the audience then and now?

Yes. Like on the Vanessa programme they had audiences – and the entertainment programme they had audiences come in, like you see now on the Trisha show; that has now been axed, hasn't it? The audience would come for the day because we'd record three shows. So they'd bring them out, feed them, water them, and bring them back. Sometimes you'd see in the audience the odd regular. Seen you before…

Did they get anything for coming on the programme?

No, they'd get fed and watered, as I said before, that was all really. But parties used to come by coach just for the day. Well, it was interesting to see how a show was recorded. We didn't have a lot of problems. I know one day at Anglia – I did 13 cookery programmes, we recorded three a week – and as it happened somebody that I knew was in the audience, but I didn't know till after because we recorded this programme with Phil Vickery. We were then ready to wrap and I just said to somebody, "When we started the programme he put on a bowl of chocolate to melt, you see, but when we finished the programme he hadn't used the chocolate." It bothered me. Not one person picked it up… No-one noticed. I sat there and said, "What's he going to do with the chocolate that he's melted? "Who woke you up?" I said, "He told us at the beginning that he'd melted this chocolate and he hadn't used it." So they had to go back and it took another hour. Everyone said, "Why didn't you keep quiet?" You couldn't put the programme out if it weren't right, could you?

You were working in various news etc. How were the working hours, when you joined the BBC? Very busy?

Well, I did the early morning shift on the days I didn't work at Radio Norfolk. You'd go in seven to one. Then in afternoon shift I'd do two till the last bulletin. If there were any changes in the schedule you'd just stay till it was over, but they were very good, they'd send me home in a taxi, so I was safe. Which I thought was excellent.

Did you get breaks?

You could have tea and things as often as you like, there was never any problem. The news would go out in the afternoon every hour, so you'd got to be there to do that bulletin but then towards the end with the five-minute bulletin it became that people could do their own autocue. With the half-hour programme it was different because you need somebody there. But with the five-minute programme I think it was foot operated. You put your foot on it and the words came up so you didn't actually need somebody to do it for you. I don't know. Well, it doesn't seem to be a problem – assuming they are still using it. But to me it is something else for them to think about. You know when you are live on air you don't really want that, do you, you want that dealt with, I think. But not having been back I don't know how they do that now, whether they still cope with it.

Apart from the John McCarthy time, is there anything about news or stories that strikes you as very exciting ?

Not that I can recall specifically. But I do remember there were times, when there was the odd child murder and things like that. It is a terrible thing to say, but you don't remember, it is just part of doing what you do every day.

What about the wages then?

Excellent, excellent, very good. Autocue at Anglia was excellent, very good wages. At the BBC I started for the month on the basic money, and after three months they gave me a 15 percent rise. So they were pleased, so I was glad. Then you got periodic increases. It was very good money compared to the outside marketplace. I used to say to people, "You are very lucky. If you worked in the outside world, you'd know what it was like." In commerce, it is much harder, I found, and a lot less money.

Was there a range? Not specifically yours.

I think I started at about £4 something an hour. I could be wrong. But it must be twenty years ago, that's a long while, I can't remember. But my wages were £7 something I think at the radio station. At Anglia I was paid £8.75 an hour and it finished up at £12, and had I stayed it would have gone up to £16 an hour the next one. I think at the private television company it was £8.75, so I was paid very good money.

Were there a lot of women working in television then?

Yes, all the autocue operators were women. Yes. There is always the opportunity… Had I known years ago I would have tried all the different ones. Well I would because it is so interesting. Even the vision mixing. I didn't even think about a woman doing it, till I saw Lorelei, because they were all male at the BBC. But it was something there they had to be taken on.

Wasn't it unusual though, for women, in broadcasting … various areas?

I don't really know about that. I didn't come across only Lorelei as a vision mixer. Because if you hadn't got somebody you'd contract somebody in from away and they were always men.

So you would have different colleagues coming in, doing different jobs at the station?.

You had someone to direct, somebody with a stopwatch timing every second of the programme – what time you had got to go into the mainstream broadcasting and the time you got back. That was critical, absolutely critical. One person who I did recommend to do it from the radio station tried it for six months then I told her towards the end of that time – go back to radio, you're going to have a breakdown. She couldn't really cope with it, the pressure was so great for her. I went to her retirement party last year and she had stayed in the job that she was happy with. But she had always wanted to try it, she got the opportunity and she realized she couldn't, but her job was there waiting for her, you see. But the other way she could have made a success and she could have then moved on, couldn't she? But it is not a job for everybody. You count the words to make sure everything all fits in. It is very, very involved.

What about the directors or the TV anchors, were they usually men in those days?

No, the BBC News had many women. Penny Bustin was a very good broadcaster, she was one of the important ones, along with Stewart, and Kym Riley. Susy Fowler-Watt you see now regularly.

You said, in the BBC they were all men …

In the vision mixing, yes ….

What do you think are the qualities needed to do that kind of job?

Patience and don't panic! Panicking gets you nowhere. You've got to deal with the situation that arises.

Can you remember anything else going wrong?
Well, as I say, when the autocue wouldn't move when the opening music is coming up and you have got nothing on your screen for them to read. All of a sudden, on one occasion the autocue loaded half way down, it missed the top half completely. Somehow, I called down to the director and said, "Use the script, the autocue is playing up." By the time they got through the first story and you normally had a VT with a bit of picture work and things and by then you got it sorted. So you learned, don't panic because they've got a script. They don't like using it but it's there.

When you worked there were there any places to have lunch, etc?

Oh, the BBC canteen. When I first started it was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And because Radio Norfolk were across the road they used to bring a trolley. The trolley lady. You'd hear over the Tannoy, "Trolley lady", and everybody would vanish from their offices down to the main office and we'd be all round her waiting. Fresh cakes, rolls – they did fresh custard creams with the fruit. She was very good about it – everything was freshly made that day. We couldn't get enough of it.

Was it free?

You paid. It was the normal going prices. You could go over to the canteen and buy what you wanted cake-wise. But it was nice that she came to us because we'd have a little chat round her and a laugh and a joke and it broke the day up, I felt. Because I'd been in since 7 o'clock and she'd come over about 11. You'd get a little bit of little gossip. And the meals in the canteen were superb. The puddings, oh….

When did you stop working, at what age?
I stopped when I was nearly 59, because I was nursing Ivor. I had to stop and look after him for 18 months and then I became ill myself so I then didn't go back.

Because the Anglia work was contract only. They'd contract me for so many days, which I did, and I moved the other jobs around to fit it in. But Radio Norfolk was my staff job, doing the books three mornings a week seven to one and any extra that was needed. So, more often than not, for the autocue, I'd finish at one, have my lunch, and start work at two. I mean, one day – it doesn't bear thinking about – I did radio from seven to one, went across the road to television and started the two o'clock job. I got a phone call from Anglia saying they were doing a programme and had been let down – could I stand in? So I had a word with the lady at television and I said, "Could I just go down and help them out?" "Yes, as long as you're here to do Look East – be back by six." So I had half an hour to get myself sorted. So I went down and did the rehearsals with Anglia – had to walk all the way along Castle Meadow – did the rehearsals, went back and did the television news till 7 o'clock and when that finished went back to Anglia and recorded the programme I'd rehearsed in the day. You'd never believe it, but when I was going down there, there was a man begging and I thought, "Just ask me for money! I'm doing three jobs today, just ask me for money." I would have lost my temper. Whether he saw my face … he never asked me for a halfpenny. I thought, "You can do what I'm doing, you know, work". That weren't a good day, but we got through it and everybody was saved, weren't they? But that was a long day. That was exciting, weren't it? You never knew what was going to happen in the day. I mean, Ivor, he was a police inspector before he did the PRS work, but he said you'd go to work and you never knew what was going to happen in a day with police work, you don't do you. So you never get a chance to get fed up.

Is there anything you'd like to say about the work, stories, or anything you'd like to tell us?

The work itself was absolutely fascinating. Different people, different personalities, and I see people come up on screen now – oh, I worked for them, I worked for them! Jonathan Ross's brother Paul – I did several programmes for him and I'd been booked to do a block of 13 and I could only do 12 because before I got the contract I had booked to go away for a week and he wasn't a happy bunny. Whether it was that, but when I had somebody to do the autocue for, I would put on the camera they had got to look at – "Camera 3", then a bit of script, "Turn to camera 2". So that all helped them with their presentation. And I did that for him and he liked that. And when I got back after my week off he said, "Wherever have you been?" So in his way he wasn't happy that I'd gone away and he'd come to rely on that. A new person coming in didn't do it. But it would have been easy enough to have asked, wouldn't it? It was nice to be missed. He brought me a bottle of champagne when the programmes were over.

That's Jonathan Ross –

Jonathan Ross's brother Paul. He's a very highly educated man. I think he studied the classics at Oxford, Paul.

You said you moved on to several other companies, private ones, to do their books?

Yes, private companies. Imago … I often see that on the air. They did elephants, the anacondas, I think there were tigers, they did lions, they did a whole series of programmes for Discovery Channel and I think for Planet. And the National Geographic.

What kind of thing did you do for them?
I did all the books for them. Under the same boss I worked for at the BBC. Because he moved when he was made redundant and he asked me to go and work with him.

So it was not the autocue?
No, I did all the finance. I looked after the stationery, made sure everything was provided. Everything that he did. Because people had to have, if they were going abroad … you had to sort out the currency, where they were staying, all the insurance. It all had to be paid for and accounted for. Again that was very interesting. They did one big programme, I did see being recorded, on sharks. That was very interesting, a bit frightening, but interesting. Again, it was a different way of doing things, because everything was recorded on site. All outside broadcasting. But they didn't need autocue. They also did a big series on Whipsnade. Have you seen that "Animal Park"? It was similar to that but all about Whipsnade. And we had to again pay the people for doing it, all their expenses, it all had to be accounted for.

Has the BBC changed a lot?

A lot of people now that I was working with are retiring, so they are coming to the end. I don't see them so much. The girls from the BBC do meet for lunch on occasion and they did ask me just before Christmas to go for lunch with all of them, but I had got two other appointments. I was ever so disappointed. I had booked lunch at the Assembly Rooms for that day. That was first, and then my doctor was leaving, they asked me to go to his reception and I couldn't go, and then the Radio Norfolk girls rang up and I couldn't go there either! But we will get together some time this year.

Do people like the radio work more than the television?

Well, you see, I don't know now, because with them being under one roof … it must have changed from that point of view, because they are now in the Forum. Whereas we were two separate buildings.

Can you tell me again where they were before they merged together?

They were at Surrey Street. Surrey Street was the big building and the TV was in a very old house with a great big winding staircase. At Christmas they had a tree going up to the ceiling half way down the landing. It was beautiful. Because it was like an Edwardian or Victorian house. All the rooms had very high ceilings because of that. It was a very elegant place. The television was in the house. I am trying to think of the name of it, that's gone. Radio Norfolk was in Norfolk House, and All Saints Green was where television was. Just further along from Bonds – a very olde worlde house.

So it was a traditional building?

Yes, it really was lovely.

The BBC was wonderful for me, absolutely wonderful. I am glad I had that time in my life.

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