I was born in 1943.
Whilst at the BBC I was known as Albert Barber.
Trained as a Typographer Designer at Art School. "History of Early Film" Course; University of London "Iconography in Cinema" Course, University of London BBC Directors course in Television and Film Direction (16 week course) Photoshop, In Design, Quark Express and IT courses.
Management courses at BBC History of Canterbury Cathedral course
Albert Barber trained as a Typographer/Designer working on Books for Hamish Hamilton and Shell and as a freelance Graphic Designer and Photographer with a number of credits for Readers Digest Books, Shell Guide to Scotland and Temple Press. On leaving the BBC he is a freelance Director which includes work for BBC and ITV productions. These include: The Bill, Casualty, EastEnders. Heartbeat, and was startup director for Family Affairs and River City. He has also Directed, numerous corporate videos including Royal Mail, Mercury, Tonka Toys and for Espresso Internet Education. In 1977 he Directed a Labour Party Political Broadcast for the successful Labour Party Election. He has lectured at both BBC Evesham, and BBC Television Training at Elstree and Ravensbourne. He occasionally designs for print and is skilled with Quark, In Design, Photoshop and illustrator. He is also a member of BAFTA and the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He qualified as a Canterbury Cathedral Guide in 2012.
How I joined the BBC
Joined through persistent letter writing until someone saw me in appointments. Then they kept you on file if they (presumably) thought you might be a potential employee.
My first impressions of the BBC
It was very exciting to be part of what I had only seen on Television and heard on Radio. To walk around Ealing Film Studios, Lime Grove, Alexandra Palace, Broadcasting House and Television Centre and to be part of all the creativity was electrifying and stimulating.
Broad BBC career
I joined the BBC as a Film assistant in BBC Film Department and quickly moved to Presentation Department making Trailers and Network Directing becoming Promotions Producer. Then I joined Children's Department writing and Directing including PlaySchool and Playaway. As a BBC Producer I devised Think of a Number and Think Again with Johnny Ball winning several International Television awards including a BAFTA Harlequin, Prix Jeunesse, the Asian Broadcasting Union Award and was nominated for the United States Television EMI. Devised and Produced Windmill with Chris Serle which was also Nominated for a BAFTA. Moving to Drama he became first a Producer/Director and then Producer of Grange Hill and also acted as Executive Producer for BBC Independent Programmes. Directed and Produced with writer Sid Waddell, two series of Sloggers, A Childrens' Drama about Cricket, with young actors Ralph Little and Jane Danson. Took early retirement package and worked on The Bill (Cast James McAvoy in his first TV role) Casualty and EastEnders Heartbeat and River City in BBC Scotland.
My training at the BBC
Film Department induction course Film assistant II course Attachment to Presentation Attachment to Childrens' Department Drama Directors course Film and Television (12 weeks) Typing course Quark Express and Computer Graphic Course Management courses
Feelings about the BBC whilst I worked there
Leaving the BBC was something of a feeling of venturing out into the unknown. The closed creative environment of the BBC meant that you just got on with the job of making programmes with only a broad idea of what it cost and where it was going except to feed the box in the corner. Our costing in fact was very good we would know our area and keep pretty well within the budgets we were given. We would be overseen by a manager who would monitor and see that us Producers (and Directors) were not costing too much. This all worked until Producer choice introduced a system of being able to go outside these perimeters which in turn caused departments to compete. This was also beyond the mindset of what we were used to causing us to rethink and join the more aggressive system that destroyed the whole structure of costing at the BBC. When I left the BBC it seemed to me that the Dog was wagging the tail, so to speak, with accountants ordaining what used to be the creative process by year on year cuts and also creative thinking constrained not by the idea but by cost alone. A whole level of accounting bureaucracy began to think that programmes should be made by someone other than the BBC and so a culture of the BBC becoming a publisher rather than a programme maker has become the norm. Even the Presentation or linking and promotions is done by an outside provider. One wonders where the editorial control is now. Outside Broadcasting which was a staple of the BBC is no longer with a National Broacaster's identity in question. Although News (the lesser premier News-gatherer....cost and cheap practices!) and a few other areas produce some good programmes. This self destruct of Inform, Educate, and Entertain ethic within the BBC has widened the debate to why do we have a BBC License fee? So it was with great sadness that I left the BBC behind and made more money but less creativity in the commercial world. Not to say that it wasn't enjoyable working outside the BBC. I seemed to have in the main quite a lot of respect from the people I worked with and me for them. Many people I subsequently worked with had much the same wish to make worthwhile programmes. However there were vestiges of bad practice and old thinking "outside" which I was not happy with. Some of these programmes made by the ITV companies no longer exist so maybe there is some hope that creative thinking moves on but now in a mysterious way where the accountants walketh about ready to devour the unprofitable, despite there still being creativity therein.
Non autobiographical notes and facts BBC about the BBC
Without asking anyone I have compiled the following about total Costing from e-mails received. This is so that a record of this sorry state in the history of the BBC is saved for the future.
This is from Roger Bunce, others follow
"I never objected to carrying obscure units at Henry Wood House - provided they were doing something useful. It was the top-heavy bloody Management I objected to carrying. When the Producer Choice paperwork first appeared, I knew we were doomed when I read the sentence, Corporate Governance will be exempted. While every other part of the Beeb was forced to recover their costs from someone else, the central Management were going to give themselves a free ride! There would be no constraints to stop their numbers, and salaries, expanding exponentially - which they did - carried on the backs of the rest of us. But you've started me thinking about BBC costing policies. One of the great myths about Producer Choice is that, before it was introduced, BBC programmes never knew their true costs. Yet, I remember at least two earlier accounting systems, both of which claimed to identify the true costs of programmes." In the good old days, as Bernie has said, no one worried about internal costs. If the BBC already owned it, you could use it. Johnny Ball recalls that, when he was lacking in inspiration, he'd wander round the scene docks and see what was around. Finding, say, a Victorian chemist's shop, he'd write a sketch set in a Victorian chemist's shop, knowing that the scenery would cost him nothing, and the costumes that went with it were available in the wardrobe store. Once a BBC programme had paid for something, it was the BBC's property, and other BBC programmes could use it at minimal cost. There was no point in paying for the same thing twice. Money going out of the BBC mattered. Money circulating internally didn't. But by the mid-Seventies, a new accounting system had come it. (Did it have a name?) It allocated costs for internal services, which were supposed to equal the cost of the same service on the outside market. It was claimed that the new system could account for everything, down to the last paper clip, and would abolish the distinction between internal and external costing. I only really became involved with it during an attachment to Jackanory in 1976. The budget for each programme was itemised in fine detail. It was broken down into sub-budgets for each of the various services: Wardrobe, Make-Up, Design, etc., both internal and external. (There wasn't actually a column for paper clips!) And it was completely inflexible. The Jackanory budget included a sum for Scenic Projection. But we never used Scenic Projection. When my Designer asked if he could take some money from the Scenic Projection budget to spend on extra scenery, it seemed a sensible idea. But I was told that moving money from one column to another was utterly verboten! Children's programmes prided themselves on never overspending. So, when I was getting close to the limit in one column, I thought I'd better report it. The Producer, seeing that it was only an internal spend, laughed and said, "That's just Mickey Mouse money. You don't have so worry about that." The accountants may have believed that their system had equalised internal and external money, but no one else believed that. Then about 1979 yet another accounting system came in, called "Total Internal Costing". It was announced with a great fanfare, and caused industrial action. Michael Bett was the BBC's Director of Personnel at the time. He seemed to be the prime mover. He was also good at causing industrial action. I was sent on a seminar at about the time it was being introduced, and had to sit through lectures about how wonderful it was going to be. I think I stayed awake. Once again, it was claimed that the new system would account for everything, down to the last paper clip, and would abolish the distinction between internal and external spends. I remember quoting the "Mickey Mouse Money" line to some bureaucrats who were there. They assured me no Producer could ever take that attitude. I doubt that they'd ever met a Producer. In the good old days, it had been the overall cost to the BBC that mattered. The new systems only cared about individual production budgets, and often failed to spot the whole cost to the license payer. E.g. talking to two Producers in the tea bar. They were miserable because their budgets had been cut. Last year they had made a series of twelve programmes. This year they could only afford to make ten. Clearly, this would show as a saving on their individual production budget, but for the BBC as a whole, unless they were planning to show blank screens, someone would have to pay for two extra programmes! And, obviously, once a series is up and running, it would be cheaper to make two more episodes than to mount entirely new programmes from scratch. Another story, for which Bernie may have chapter and verse. The weather charts, in Pres. A, were sheets of steel, to which magnetic symbols could be attached. They had been made on the cheap. For the largest chart, the Atlantic chart, they couldn't afford a large enough single sheet, so two smaller sheets had been joined together, with an ugly weld down the middle. It used to irritate the Weather Men. Then 'The Two Ronnies' (I think) did a spoof Weather Forecast sketch. Having a larger budget for a two minute sketch than Pres had for N years of Weather Forecasts, they made their chart properly: a single sheet, no weld. Enquiries were made as to whether Pres. A could use it once the Two Ronnies had finished with it. In the old days this could have been done with the flash of a project number. But now, despite being an obviously sensible thing to do, and no one having any objections, the costing system made it impossible! Then came Producer Choice, which claimed to do the same things as the previous two systems, but also pretended to be the first one ever to do so. And, it was so successful that, at the end of its first year, millions of pounds had gone missing, and the system couldn't account for them! When Producer Choice was finally abandoned, there was a long article in Ariel, explaining all the reasons why it didn't work. I wrote back, pointing out that all these reasons had been self-evident since the outset, and asking why anyone had ever thought it was a good idea. In reality, of course, Producer Choice was scrapped for a completely different reason. If Producers had still been allowed to Choose where they made their programmes, none of them would have Chosen to go to Salford! Roger Bunce
Put this account somewhere as it does show how stupid an organisation can get in loosing its way and when it had stupid people telling us what was best despite us telling them it wasn't. Their main crimes have never been prosecuted and ought to be. On one change over our costs went up so much that we couldn't understand it. It was at one of the change overs from one system to another. We made the same programmes but were told that they cost too much when we had to pay for the same thing which the BBC had paid for anyway. On the Think of a Number front I remember some Egyptian Pillars that we found in the scene dock. Repainted they were shipped to Bristol and cost just the transport and the paint. We saved a fortune!
I would say we were pretty good at keeping in budget but the subsequent system told us it was all costing too much. We in production were mystified when everything was slowly eroded. I went to one of the early Producer choice seminars and told the instigators that it wouldn't work. They said I had to embrace change. I was angry then and still am. Unfortunately many staff members were like trees in the wind just bending the way they were told. It still doesn't excuse the management changes. This is what we all fought against and lost.
One of the costing systems involved using some new computer software - I think it was called SAP, introduced by a wizzo incoming finance chap who left a year or two later, as they do. Though all supposedly on a computer, it involved printing contracts and signing them for absolutely everything. I was producing PoV at the time, and Jeaane my PA delighted in giving me piles of paper and telling me to sign them all so that she could send them to VT etc.
After a while, there came a week when I was doing other stuff, and I told her to fake my signature, which she then did for a while. The I thought - are we actually doing anything useful here? And told her to stop printing the stuff. I rather expected a rude call from VT or studio planning, but absolutely nothing happened. We didn't send any more, and the programme happily wandered on till Producer Choice got in the way - see earlier story.
I remember getting sheaves of paperwork when signing out a reel of camera tape (or 1/4" tape) from stores.
Seemed pointless to me then.
Speaking of paperwork......
I worked for quite a few years in the 60's on the Black & White Minstrels, and loved all the music. Kept in touch with George Mitchell, who lived not far away, and also the Production Office at TVC, as I had made an unofficial 8mm colour film of the show and borrowed the tapes for the soundtrack and to make cassettes for George. Later, Len Mitchell the floor manager attempted to return the tapes to stores, but since they originated from Lansdowne Studios (another story in itself), there was no BBC originated paperwork and so they were junked. Pity, they could have disappeared into my car boot and no-one would have known, cared or been any the wiser. A bit of audio history lost.
I'm also still in touch with Adrian Kerridge the balance engineer, who tells me that the tapes the BBC received for transmission were copies - no splices, as the show was live and could not risk joins coming apart. The copies were also done backwards to preserve the transients - had not heard that one before!
I do have 15 ips copies for myself, but they were double tracked on a TR90, and there is a bit of crosstalk from the other track in the reverse direction, during quieter sections. Must try using my Nagra IV-S with the other track in antiphase!
Roger's treatise on total costing is a lesson, not only on the subject, but also on the ability of some people to have a cogent memory of matters from many years ago. In theory, I was probably closer to the centres of cost control than he was at the time, but the detail has mostly turned to blancmange.
One thing I can recall and that Roger has got right was on the welded steel sheets for the magnetic weather symbols for which I was mother and father at the time. But the welding of the Atlantic chart was on-site as I recall, as it was otherwise too big to negotiate the access to Pres. A. He's also right that Pres. had no money, so that the £100 to Mark Allen for designing the symbols before he joined Sid Sutton in Graphics dept, where he finalised them, nearly broke the departmental bank. And 40 years later, they still grace the Beeb weather website and the New BH Newsroom.
The penchant for monetising everything at that time turned me into the fall-guy for negotiating the first payment to the Met. Office for weather services. Hitherto, we'd argued that the benefit of publicity to the Met. Office more than outweighed the cost of 3 part-time weathermen who divided their time between TVC and being 'on the bench' at the London Weather Centre in Holborn. I spelt out the case to Rex Moorfoot, H. Pres. Tel. and Robin Scott, then in transition between being C.BBC-2 and Deputy M.D. Television. Both nodded in the right places, so I went in to bat against a mandarin from Treasury Dep't, with Robin in the chair. After about half-an-hour, and winning the case as I'd thought, Robin stepped in with a 'Sorry. Hugh, I don't think we're going to win this one'. Yes, it was a stitch-up! Both the Treasury and BBC management wanted numbers in front of them and the idea of a balanced mutual interest held no appeal. Of course, the sums were small to begin with, £2k I think had been pre-agreed, but what a slippery slope that turned out to be!
Such memories as Roger's need pinning down and writing down. So here's the 'commercial': The Pensioners' Association's Memory Bank project embodies the opportunity to record staff memories in a form that will, we hope, become a permanent record to sit alongside the archived programmes to which they refer. The BBC Historian, Jean Seaton, and DG's Director of Policy & Charter, James Heath, have offered BBCPA their full support, with the methodology being honed by Tony Ageh, Controller of Archive Development for the BBC and David Allen, who chairs the BBCPA sub-group, for which he and George Auckland are the movers and shakers. Members can readily find their way to the relevant members' pages of the web-site at: www.bbcpa.org.uk If this interests you too and you're not yet a member, just Google it, or fill out the form in Prospero. (There, that didn't hurt a bit, did it?).
Meanwhile, Malcolm has taken me to task because he was subsequently involved with the actual payments to the Met. Office and 'total costing' was much later . He's quite right that it was Birt who brought in total costing, but monetising the weather happened in the mid-70s.
Feelings about the BBC today
Film and Television projects, broadcast or otherwise, hide a secret to one of the real reasons for their success in today's media. That is to make big money for big companies. This has its dangers.
Maybe art has always attracted the intention of some individuals to make money. Money has been hand in glove with art for centuries and the reasons have been numerous. Go to any gallery and most struggling artists did not reap any kind of reward during their lifetime, but then their paintings were sold for millions and agents and auction houses did very well out of it. Renaissance art, to the glory of God, had the money to make art and to sponsor it from those who had made money. Without money the art business wouldn't flourish and perhaps the lift to the soul that art gives would only rarely see the light of day. Television and Film production is no different. Most output has a limited lifespan and only a few iconic productions like the real classics are ever screened or sold in great numbers. Looking for some titles from even a few years back is a difficult job with only a few remembered classics available after a couple of decades. The archives still struggle to get funding to give us even a taste of yesterday's viewing. With minimal national funding, at least there are a few programmes and films that are kept for future generations. As the national broadcaster, the BBC does magnificently with what some of the larger commercial players might call too much funding and perhaps, more indignantly, national funding. But the role of the BBC is something they would be hard put to match with over 7 Radio, 6 Television, Terrestrial, Digital, and Internet stations.
I think it was Mrs.Thatcher who opened the flood gates, in a misguided attempt to let the market decide, through greater competition in our Film and Television industry. It was thought that small companies would make money for the little people as the big BBC had too much of it. ITV of course was not highlighted as being quite as bad. Today, you can reach conclusions on this when you see many smaller companies either being swallowed up by bigger ones or desperately trying to keep their heads above water. In a recent article in the Guardian (18th May 2014 "Television moguls jostle to take control of the global audience") showed that many of the small companies are being swallowed up by Rupert Murdoch's Shine, Endemol and ITV. To quote from Mark Sweney's article: Rupert Murdoch's bold attempt to create one of the world's largest TV production businesses is the latest offensive in an increasingly frenetic battle of the media giants to control the hearts, and pockets, of viewers. Murdoch's Shine Group, maker of shows including MasterChef, is set to become part of a $2bn-plus joint venture that includes equity group Apollo Global's Endemol and American Idol maker Core Media. Two words stand out in this battle Control and Pockets. At the end of the article John McVay, chief executive of independent producers' trade body Pact, says the rush of activity from big players like Murdoch is not necessarily the bad thing some observers assume. What people are doing Viacom, Discovery, Murdoch is about positioning in a global TV market and how the UK fits into that," he says. "It doesn't necessarily mean any less competition in the market, in many ways it could mean more. I certainly don't think any of it means the end of the world for the British TV industry. He might say that but then he would, wouldn't he? One thing that we might consider in this flurry of activity is where is the BBC? Did Mrs Thatcher intend to cut off the balls of the corporation, and did she envisage that companies in a global market would gobble up the smaller ones not nationally but globally? On the other hand, does being big does mean that they can take risks in creative ideas, all be it at a cost to our pockets, of course. The danger and the price is the concept of National Identity and the true value for money that the License Fee provides from household pockets that we take for granted. The BBC still echoes the voice of the nation with a voice the people look to for the refection of the nation and it's good value for money. Art and in this case, Film and Television, in any country, survives by creativity and breaking the rules for the country where it is made. It might be called pushing the creative envelope. Each country may appreciate the film or television work of another country and also trade it too, but the values they contain may be shared they are only truly understood in the context of where they originated. So, despite the Global Moguls desire to be global, their desire for even more reach, universality, often means a dilution of National Identity and one of very often bland universal values. This can result in programmes with truly human values being banned altogether which challenges the root of democracy but the pursuit of global domination of the media results in the diminution of national identity and in some cases democracy itself. The BBC and its remit of a National Broadcaster needs protection for its continuing ability to follow its founding belief, as Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC put it; to entertain inform and educate. The BBC needs to be put back on a path of enabling itself to be free to reflect the nation, to be on a path to keep it protected from itself too but it is not yet out of the woods. It should still try to make more programmes of itself and keep its identity, our identity, thus saving itself from just being a publishing house. But to deny its place in the culture of the nation would give us what many see when they visit other countries of the world; a television service that hosts a majority of global players. Often the general programming in other countries that could be considered to represent their National Broadcasting is poor and the imported programming, whilst often of a high order, do not escape from being global and certainly not national. The sceptic's view is that it is manipulating the audience to spend money to view it or associated products. This is often by advertising or clever, barely concealed, creative craft bent so as to make money. Many series are only funded for a second run to make money. "Homeland", whilst having an excellent second series, sometimes made me feel that the actors were struggling to make sense of what had happened to them in the first series, while the producers had an eye to a third series. We should be duty bound to keep a keen eye on what is happening and make our voice known. Saving the BBC from media giants is vital, not just for continuing creativity but to retain a Public Service broadcaster of record and an identity for the Nation, if we loose the true values of the BBC then we loose control of all of our media and it will cost more, much more, than the licence fee.