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And Finally...
Amusing Tales of Time Gone By

An old boy who used to work at ATV's Britalian House (Foley Street) place (now ITC headquarters, but that's another story) tells how the electric clock often used to stop at the top of the hour – and needed a finger to restart it. He swears that the finger was seen in vision more than once.

Another story says that ATV used to set their clock to match the BBC which caused terrible problems one evening when the BBC clock was running slow. Or so they say...

One of our informants works at Central Television in Birmingham and wishes to remain anonymous. That's fine by us, probably wise even.

Anyway, he has been chatting to some of the old-timers who worked at the Alpha Studios (owned jointly by ATV and ABC Television). Normally late shifts are not very popular with staff but the exception can sometimes prove the rule ...

The reason was this, an incident which occurred on a number of occasions around 1961 or 1962. From the transmission area it was possible to look out of the window and see across the street through the window and into the bedroom of an adjacent flat. There was a young lady who lived there with her father but on Friday nights he tended to go out for the night. That was the supposition for on Friday nights it was observed she would be joined in the bedroom by someone who was presumably her boyfriend. They had a regular schedule and could always be seen to 'get down to business' on the rug in front of the fire.

More often than not they would turn off the light in the room but thoughtfully they did leave the television switched on, and by the light of its glow the proceedings could still be observed. by all the telecine and VTR engineers who were peering through the window and trying to see what was going on. The timing of this evening's diversion coincided with the showing of the late night film on ATV and as often as not, this was the programme the couple were watching (or probably not watching very much). This could be proved scientifically by lifting the black level of the film being transmitted and gradually the engineers would raise the black level in an attempt to make the TV screen brighter and hence get a better view in the room.

They had to be quite careful for occasionally when doing this, the equipment in the Post Office circuits between the studios and the transmitters didn't like the increased level and would occasionally drop out, causing a fault and loss of programme for everyone viewing!

Another ex-Alpha Studios worker relates that after the vidicon telecine in use at the time of the previous tale was replaced by a Cintel Mk II flying spot scanner. This had a propensity for catching bits of fluff in the film gate, requiring the operator to give an almighty blow to dislodge it. One night he forgot he was eating an egg sandwich and a small amount of fluff was replaced by multiple fragments of egg sandwich. Six million viewers must have wondered what has materialised on their screens!

He continues that at Alpha a certain programme director of a nervous disposition used to have near heart attacks if he saw anxious-looking technicians attending cameras before a programme was due to go on-air. It was a favourite prank to wheel a large oscilloscope onto the studio floor one minute before programme time – and then hastily remove it!

An LWT staffer recalls the programme 'Ready, Steady, Go!'. Originally the programme went out from Studio 9 in Television House (Kingsway) and when the show moved to Wembley there was some general discontent among the staff who had to move there. No particular grievance could be cited, although the staff did complain about the smell of the cream of London's youth who packed into the studio every Friday. Management's reaction was simple. Before the show they dumped large quantities of air freshener in the studio's ventilation system!

Amusing RSG incident no. 2 concerned James Brown (Soul Brother No. 1, godfather of Soul, etc.). For some reason he refused to emerge from his dressing room. The show was of course live and poor Cathy McGowan was flanneling for all she was worth, trying to disguise the fact the star of the show was nowhere to be seen. Eventually he did come on stage and when asked afterwards if he was suffering from stage fright, he said it was nothing of the sort – he always kept the audience waiting, it was part of the mystique of his stage act!

Folkestone used to have a low-power TV relay station which took its signal from the channel 2 transmitter at Dover. Coincidentally, a somewhat "loud-mouthed" telephone subscriber in the town had an illegal 49MHz high-power cordless telephone and every time he used it, he over-powered the Dover signal on the relay's input and had his colourful conversations broadcast on channel 4!

Do you remember the "colour TV" experiment in 1956? I do! It was carried out by ATV on Saturday, September 8th (according to Practical Television, December 1956) and comprised the letters OXO (apparently intentionally an advertisement, though I don't think this was made clear at the time) with a flicker effect. I for one vividly remember seeing shades of green and mauve, though others apparently saw blue and brown. Do you remember this?

You may also remember the magnifying screens which some people bought to make their 9-inch pictures look bigger, but do you also recall the colour screens advertised by mail order in the daily papers on Saturdays? They were derided by Which? magazine when tested by the Consumers Association but some viewers seemed to love them! They were a piece of transparent plastic film applied over the TV screen, tinted blue at the top, pink in the middle and green at the bottom. They were intended to give a "natural" look to your viewing!

London to Brighton in Four Minutes, made by the BBC Film Unit in 1952, was a favourite of many viewers during the 1950s. In those days one never knew when it would be screened, but it often popped up when there was an unscheduled gap between programmes (those were the days of intermissions and interludes!). Luckily, it has been repeated on BBC-TV several times recently. Apparently the journey on the Brighton Belle was filmed at 2 frames per second (fps). Thus at the normal projection speed of 24fps a speed of 60 mph becomes 720 mph. Some people say there were two versions of this film – can anyone confirm and explain? That is ignoring the subsequent remakes of this classic film.

Incidentally, this film set the pace for several others in the same genre. First came London to Brighton at 900 MPH, which was a colour film sold on the 8mm format by Mountain Films. I guess this was made during the 1960s. British Transport Films made Let's Go to Birmingham (Paddington-Birmingham in five minutes) and more recently Inter City 1250 (Kings Cross-Peterborough at 1250 mph!). Also in recent times, the BBC remade London to Brighton but showed only sections of it, interleaved with the original, classic version.

Even though Yorkshire Television started in the 405-line era, its cameras were 625 lines from the start. When the station opened the cameras were Marconi Mk 7 (four-tube) colour ones, used in monochrome. All tubes were fitted in fact, but a mirror put all the light down the luminance channel. Soon afterwards they started producing programmes in colour, though only a monochrome signal left the studios. Initially the 625-line signal was converted to 405 lines using an on-site converter. With the coming of the public 625-line service the standards converter was moved to Emley Moor (this converter is now in the Bradford museum).

The very last 405-line transmissions from Crystal Palace were very nearly not seen. The VHF transmitter had in fact been shut down early in the evening to round off a "close-down party" being held on the premises. Previously though the senior transmitter manager had issued a written memo that shut-down would definitely take place at the end of programmes. Following a frantic phone call – with much waving of the ‘little piece of paper’ – the station was opened up again, only to close down again a few hours later!

A TV dealer in Weymouth was closing down in about 1965. The old boy told a rather funny story of the good old days. It seems that a customer had moved from the London area, bringing his single-channel TRF set with him and wanted it tuned to the local TX. In Weymouth most people received Rowridge on channel 3 but in parts of the town North Hessary Tor on channel 2 was a better bet. The dealer did the job and returned the set. All was well until the tea-time regional opt-out. By now you will have guessed that the picture was South Today and the sound was Spotlight South-West. Well, he swore it was true.


It is reported that children listening to the BBC's Flowerpot Men on Thursday afternoons are copying the double-talk used by the characters and hold long conversations in the language, thus retarding their education. Miss Freda Lingstrom, head of Children's Television Programmes, has called for a special investigation into the matter.

Practical Television, May 1953.


'Once, Gilbert Harding was chatting with colleagues over drinks in the BBC club when they were joined by a tedious member of the executive staff who proceeded boringly to take over what had been hitherto a pleasant session. 'I'll tell you something,' Harding said to him. 'When I leave the BBC I am going to go around in turn to each person in the Corporation whom I have found odious and tell them exactly what I think of them. But in your case I can't wait. F**k off.'

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