Pete Simpkin

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Pete Simpkin

I began working at the BBC in 1962

How I joined the BBC

Applied by post

My first impressions of the BBC


Broad BBC career

Began as an Engineer at BBC South, Southampton. After 10 years transferred to Local Radio at Pebble Mill

My training at the BBC

Standard Engineering courses at ETD Evesham. Later various production attachments and day traing sessions.

Periods at the BBC

1962 until 1970

I was an Engineer.

We were based at Southampton in the Regional Engineering department., at that time run by Ken Nicholas.

Engineer during the early years of Sub-Regional TV..

Main memories of the period

There is a whole area of tech ops that so far is not featured....the story of those of us in the Regional and sub regional studios in the 60s and 70s. Although we were not strictly Tech Ops (we were actually engineers) we had the job of not only keeping these little studios running but also operating everything from studio cameras and sound to telecine and film processing by way of Radio studios and OBs! In Southampton we were based in what had been bedrooms of the old South Western Hotel.

When the BBC decided to develop area local TV news in the early 60s we were appointed to turn the Marconi broadcast vidicon cameras.... from locked off unattended operation into fully movable production cameras. Their lighting requirements were great and we had to learn focussing, tracking, and quiet lens swinging among other things. With two cameras in one studio and the third in another (radio) studio it made for exciting operating conditions. The very nature of a news operation meant things were often done with minimal rehearsal although setting and lighting were often possible in the late afternoon. The Marconi cameras were self contained with a waveform monitor and 'racks' controls built in to the camera body although these functions were remoted to relieve the cameramen of that additional duty!

The lower levels of lighting for the locked off situation had to be greatly increased as directors required not only presenters but also cameras to move about - albeit in the confined space of what had been a hotel bedroom! The Engineer in charge obtained a zoon Angineux fixed speed remote controlled device that could be mounted on the camera needing the removal of the turret so this had to be booked in advance! Sound, racks, production gallery and telecine all shared one adjacent room next door euphemistically called 'the gallery'. There was no VT or Telerecording available so everything was live.

On one occasion my camera caught fire and the newsreader was amazed to see the fireblanket routine being carried out in front of him as he read the news whilst the other camera was pushed into position in front of him and the main presenter hurried across to the radio studio across the corridor! On another occasion I was attacked by a raven which had been brought in by a 'White Witch' for an interview on hallo'een! Swinging even small cameras from set to captions and back was quite an art and coordination by the operators and the directors who did their own mixing was paramount.

We later moved to a larger studio downstairs and were equipped with state of the art EMI vidicons, still with lens turrets but motorised lens change - but although we now had three cameras in the same studio we only had two cameramen available which offered a whole new set of challenges and possibilities of disasters! A front projection device was added to camera one normally used for the presenters so the cameraman had slide changing and background picture brightness to add to the job, often including 'hot',live slide changes! These were among the happiest days I spent during my early career and it was something I missed when I moved on to Production in Birmingham.

My main mentors for the period were

Sid Gore, Arthur Brooks, Peter Salkeld