AP mast (2K)

DIRECT TELEVISION from ALEXANDRA PALACE

by Arthur Dungate

.

BBC Club and Party Films


The original vision transmitter for the E.M.I. high definition system, built in 1936 was housed in a large room on the ground floor at the front of the building. The transmitter had a peak-white output power of 17KW operating on (for those days) a very high frequency of 45 MHz.

AP vision transmitter (7K)

There was an interesting anomaly here. Whereas in BBC Engineering, all the sound transmitters were in the Transmitter section, the AP transmitters were still in the Television section. It wasn't until shortly before the move to Crystal Palace that the AP transmitters were re-assigned to the Transmitter section.

AP vision transmitter (7K)

When the Crystal Palace transmitter, situated on high ground towards the south of London took over from the old AP transmitter in 1956, the old equipment was removed and the now empty vision transmitter room was turned into a clubroom and bar for the BBC Club. At AP this was the "No. 9 Group".

It was becoming a tradition at AP that the BBC Club would put on a Xmas Party at AP each year for the staff, and it was also becoming a tradition that a special party film was made and shown to staff at that time (those who were still awake).

AP in snow (7K)
Farky (4K)

W.Farquharson-Small was at one time producer of the first film review programme on tv called "Current Release", and its signature tune was Champagne March, by Geoffrey Henman. W.Farquharson-Small, or "Farky" as we used to call him, was now with News Division, and he made the first few party films (ostensibly for inebriated viewers).

One of them started with this lady announcer -

Now, before we go on with the transmission, here is an announcement -

announcer (4K)

"The BBC wish to correct a statement which has been appearing in a number of popular national newspapers to the effect that the Corporation has abandoned direct competition with Independent television. The Corporation has chosen, after careful consideration, to broadcast between the hours of midnight and 8am, partly for technical reasons, but mostly out of consideration for its viewers, who owing to a clerical error have been represented as 28% of the viewing public, but are in fact 28 in number, and all night workers".

I could say -
A prospect of the future Channel Five perhaps?
(But that would be unkind - so I won't).

Farky also roped in the newsreaders -

Richard Baker (5K)
Richard Baker
(the midnight news in bed)
Kenneth Kendall (6K)
Kenneth Kendal
(Continuity announcer)
'Madam' Richard Baker (4K)
Richard Baker - again
(in drag)

In the sequence of Richard Baker in drag he was miming to an old record of Florence Foster Jenkins. She was an American lady who thought she could sing, but was notoriously always excruciatingly out of tune.....

One of the sequences was a spoof "man from outer space" who's rocketship was assisted to land by a homing beacon radiated from the AP mast --
with unfortunate consequences.

rocketship arrives (4K)

Childrens Party Films

Party film title (5K)

'Father Xmas' (5K)

kids at party (4K)

For some reason or other, "Farky" stopped doing these films, and I made the next two, - but for the children of BBC staff at their Xmas Party held during the afternoon in the old vision transmitter room (now the Club room). Having a 16mm laboratory "in house" (the "Soup Kitchen") gave me the idea to try and shoot sequences of the children having tea, and being interviewed by "Father Xmas". He was actually the studio lighting man (we had to have him - or we didn't get any lights.....).

cake (4K) kids at party (5K)

These children are grown up now, and most likely have children of their own.....

kids at party (4K)

Michael Aspel and son (3K)

girl at party (3K)

John Colomb was the dubbing mixer at this time and was always enthusiastic for such projects. He even appeared in the film (see below).

Les Collins' 16mm film printer (4K)

Having shot the film, and had it developed, and printed - a colleague (Les Collins) in the Dubbing Theatre had made a "home-built" printer which I made extensive use of - we'd put a soundtrack on it and show it at the party so they could see themselves on the screen before they went home. In these days of videotape, this would be simple, but in those days it was quite a feat to accomplish.

The soundtrack was on a separate 16mm magnetic film. We could do this because we had in the Preview Theatres Bell & Howell 16mm mag/optical projectors which had been modified to run double-headed.

Bert Foote, cameraman (4K)

John Colomb in corridor (4K)

Tom Barnes, projectionist (4K)

In the middle of the film we were going to insert a previously completed "comedy" sequence, purporting to show "how the film was made". John and I had a lot of fun making this.

Using stop motion, fast motion and double-speed sound we had people going along corridors without their feet moving, the film being 'developed' in buckets, cut with the editor's foot, and of course when the finished film arrived at the projector, it had to fall out all over the floor. I then cut to a white screen.....

On the actual showing at the end of the party, four people went out at this point, believing the film had actually broken.....

film on floor (4K)
hat sequence (4K)

JColomb & ADungate (3K)

JC & AD (3K)
movie logo (3K)

We did a lot of takes for the hat-changing sequence (above right) and with each take the "business" developed. This was in 1962, and later, in the mid-1980s when a lot of reels of Charlie Chaplin's out-takes were discovered (and made into a series of three television programmes), I was intrigued to find that unknowingly we had done it the same way as Chaplin had all those years ago.

I ended the comedy sequence with three of the dubbing theatre staff miming to "Jingle Bells", their voices played at double speed. I had wanted the three tv newsreaders to do this but when asked, they were not interested. After the finished film was shown, they regretted not taking part....

During this time I started to make a film about what really went on in Television News. The provisional title was - "No News Is Good News", and the subject - a typical day at AP during the news era (and that meant it would have been a comedy - or even a farce!), but I never finished it..... Now where did I put the script......

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