David allen

From BBC PA Memories
Jump to: navigation, search

Mr david allen

I was born in 1939. I began working at the BBC in 1969, my final year at the BBC was 2002.


Harrow Weald Country Grammar School, Balliol College Oxford (Natural Sciences)

Previous Jobs

Head of Science at Beaumont College, Windsor (1962-1966) and Head of Science at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (1966-1968)

How I joined the BBC

In 1968 I was living in Lancashire running a school science department. I went to see my brother in law (Iain Johnstone) read the news on ITV. Sitting in the gallery watching the live ITN programmes going out (I remember seeing Reginald Bosanquet's toupe being adjusted between items) it all seemed rather exciting and I was hooked. One morning Iain rang to say there was an ad. in The Listener for assistant producers 'with a committed interest in education'. So I applied, was interviewed by Donald Grattan at 5 Portland Place and got the job. This in spite of not making a very convincing case for making Chemistry interesting on TV. I didn't take the job up for a while because of seeing people through Oxbridge entrance but joined in January 1969.

My first impressions of the BBC

Apart from the leaking fish tank in 5 PP other first impressions of the BBC were before I joined. My future mentor Senior Producer JamesMcCloy encouraged me before moving back to London to go to watch Look North, the regional TV news opt-out presented by Stuart Hall at the BBC's Manchester Piccadilly studio. James had said in reply to my letter to Mr McCloy: 'Dear David, it's all christian names at the BBC'. James set me to work with Michael Garrod on 'Know How' a live sunday programme for engineers. I remember staying up all night to make sure a massive lathe was installed in TC2 during the overnight set and light. The presenter was Arthur Garratt.

Broad BBC career

Produced and directed TV programmes on educational subjects - ranging from medicine to consumer affairs, disability, child care, pedagogics, and computing (I edited and was series producer for the various BBC Micro Computer series, including MicroLive). Later I worked on interactive multimedia and then for Production Modernisation - where new broadcasting techniques (such as the Virtual Studio) brought me in contact with BBC R&D. There we developed a lot of new cost-saving technologies (lightweight kit, dish-free radio cameras and so on).

My training at the BBC

When I arrived as a tyro assistant producer our exec producer James McCloy would book the TV studio at BH and some lines and we'd go down and take it in turns to direct, present, operate a camera, etc. The BH studio had I think three cameras and a pokey little gallery and was not much used in the mornings. Then we'd go back to Villiers House and view the results on a dreadful early VCR. About three months in, I was sent on a 10 week directing course at Woodstock Grove where we had a full set of lectures a day and directing sessions in TVC studios. We would be given drama sequences, LE, music, talks and other things to direct and the results would be tele-recorded and played in and shredded. During lunch breaks, tea breaks and any other spare time we had to produce a 1/2 hour multicamera programme with a cash budget of ��100. This would just pay for a few graphics, a presenter and so on. Fabulous training. My programme was called "50 years Underground" , was presented by Arthur Garrett and recorded at Riverside 1. The course ended with two weeks working with film - and again, an personal exercise was needed. Filming tended to be around Walpole Park and I chose a scene from Zoo Story (uninspired - two people talking on a park bench).

Non autobiographical notes and facts BBC about the BBC

Budgeting in the early 1970s consisted of 'above' and 'below' the line costs. Below the line meant allocated resources and didn't feel like real money. Above the line included T&D, artists and - crucially - film stock. At ��100 for a 10 minute roll it meant you really had to watch the shooting ratio. That had enormous advantages when it came to editing - far fewer rushes to plough through.

Periods at the BBC

1969 until 1986

I was an Assistant Producer/producer on a Full time permanent staff contract.

We were based at Villiers House in the Further Education then Continuing Education TV department., at that time run by Donald Grattan, John Cain, Sheila Innes.

Assistant producer, then producer, and senior producer within Further Education Department (later Continuing Education Department TV..

My main mentors for the period were

James McCloy (Senior Producer 1969-)

I worked on the following programmes during this time at the BBC:

Micro Live

That's the Way the Money Goes

The presenter was Brian Redhead and the series was produced in association with the Consumers Association (publishers of 'Which'

The Education Programme

I worked as an Assistant Producer on The Education Programme.

Early Years at School

I worked as a Producer on Early Years at School.

16 Plus

The Electronic Office

Measurement in Education

Making the Most of the Micro

The Computer Programme

The Silicon Factor

Computers in Control

That's the Way the Money Goes

Know How

From 1969 I worked as an Assistant Producer on Know How.

Medicine Today

From 1970 I worked as an Assistant Producer on Medicine Today.

I See What You Mean

From 1975 until 1976 I worked as a Producer/director on I See What You Mean. This was a groundbreaking series - the first to address deafness and maybe the first series to address the needs of a disability group. Subsequent series (still running) include See Hear!

It was aimed at those who become post lingually deafened - i.e., not those born deaf but who became deaf. Those born deaf - whose culture, needs and methods of communication are quite different to those of us who go deaf in later life - were not addressed by this series.

The series was aimed at better communication and included elementary lessons on clear speaking and on lip-reading. We simulated a variety of hearing losses so that those living with deaf people could understand the limited sounds they could hear.

The series was subtitled after recording, using the technology of the time. This involved a punched paper tape triggered by cut points in the recording and the subtitles were superimposed as part of the as-transmitted programme. The BBC was, however, subtitling some recorded output using closed subtitling over the Ceefax system, similar to the 'line21' system in the USA.

However, in the last two programmes, which were presented by Jack Ashley the MP for Stoke he explored new technologies being tried out for him for following debates in the House of Commons. These included the use of a 'Palentype' machine (as used in court rooms). Palentype operators type a phonetic code and he thought he could learn to read this himself. He also suggested that the system could perhaps be used for live TV programmes by the Ceefax closed subtitling system. The argument was that if you were very deaf (and Jack was totally deaf), anything was better than nothing if you were trying to follow, say, a news story.

The live subtitling experiment However, a bold experiment was carried out at BBC Broadcasting House with the help of BBC Engineering Designs Department and BBC Research to carry these ideas forward to produce something better.

Jack sat with a TV monitor in a BH basement room. A news programme was played in and a palentype operator watched it alongside Jack, sending live phonetic code by telephone link to Loughborough where a recently developed university computer system translated the phonetic code into written English. This was sent down the line to TV centre and put on the ceefax system and this was then displayed in a small box at the bottom of the picture. The delay was acceptable and so was the comprehensibility of the text coming back. The experiemnt was so successful that the Director of Engineering, James Redmond, presented it to the Institute of Electrical Engineers. It eventually became a working system and was notably used for the royal wedding in 1981.

However, although the deaf community found it very helpful, BBC management decided that live subtitling was not good enough in accuracy and the system was shelved for a while until re-introduced as a permanent feature of the provision for disability access. Nowadays of course, live subtitling of news is a permanent feature of the output and Palentype operators have given way to speaker-dependent voice recognition systems.

Awards: Live subtitling experiments led to recognition at the Institute of Electrical Engineers when James Redmond presented these in 1976

Notable people from this programme: Jack Ashley (Later Lord Ashley of Stoke)

Other People's Children

From 1976 I worked as a Producer on Other People's Children. For some unknown reason a series of 19 x15 minute programmes aimed at childminders. The series saw the launch of the National Childminders Association and covered the practicalities of running a child care service as well as child development issues.

Notable people from this programme: Had the dubious distinction of having Jimmy Savile present the first programme. The major presenters were Brian Redhead and Mavis Nicholson

Managing the Micro

From 1980 I worked as a Producer/director on Managing the Micro. A stop-gap series of five programmes which in a sense was sandwiched between The Silicon Factor (made for a general audience) and the Computer Literacy Project 'proper'. It dealt with how service and manufacturing businesses could make use of microelectronics in products, processes and offices. It was presented by Brian Redhead.

Making the Most of the Micro - Live

From 1983 I worked as a Series Producer/Editor on Making the Most of the Micro - Live.

1979 until 1987

I was a Series Editor.

We were based at Villiers House in the Continuing Education (TV) department., at that time run by Sheila Innes.

This was a major BBC Education Project consisting of a preliminary report (sponsored by the Manpower Services Commission, about 140 hours of TV - in 8 or more TV series, the BBC Microcomputer, The Computer Book, National Extension College 100 hour BASIC, and BBC software..

Main memories of the period

Initial Research

1979 until 1979

Making a series about consumer law. In association with the Consumers Association - Which?. Including comedy/drama sketches illustrating consumer dilemmas..

Main memories of the period

Working with leading actors in cameo roles. Gave Nikki Henson his first TV job. Roy Kinnear, John Bird and others were great to work with. Specific memory is making a film about how the small claims court works. Got a retired judge to role play situations cantred would some dodgy building work. The amazing thing was showing the film at 5 PP to the Lord Chancellor (Elwyn Jones). His response was: "That's fascinating. I've always wondered what goes on in a small claims court'.

1987 -



I was a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus from about 1990-2003 and was chairman for ten of those years. The Chorus is one of the most successful - if not the most successful - amateur choruses in the country. It is the mainstay of the Proms - often performing in up to 6 proms a year, including the Last Night. My memories of this period are mixed. It was a period of intense rehearsals, committee meetings and fabulous concerts.