Mr Roger Francis
I was born in 1945. I began working at the BBC in 1965, my final year at the BBC was 2014.
How I joined the BBC
In the summer of 1964 having passed my A levels and been offered a place at university I saw an advert placed by the BBC for trainee Technical Operators & Technical Assistants to work in both Radio and Television. In TV Technical Operations covered cameras, sound, lighting and in London,vision control and therefore could lead to the job of cameraman,a job I had been interested in for some years.I applied and received an invitation to an interview at The Langham which in those days was BBC offices and not a hotel. I was interviewed by three or four men in what seemed an enormous office with a large desk. At the end I was asked which service ,Radio or TV, I would like to join should I be successful at the interview. I said TV . The response to this was that TV was unlikely as that service was very popular. After a brief period I received an invitation to join the TV service in January 1965.
Periods at the BBC
1990 until 2012
I was a Lighting & Vision Control Supervisor
on a Continuing contract
We were based
at Based at Television Centre, Spent a lot of time at the Elstree Centre in the BBC Resources department
The Producer Choice period at the beginning of which I felt I had left and during which I realised my ambition..
Main memories of the period
Leaving the BBC,
It felt that I had left the BBC at the start of producer choice when I found myself working for the commercial subsidiary called BBC Resources.
It was drummed into us that our income from now onwards was solely from selling our services to whichever producer, BBC or otherwise wanted to use our services. If we were not successful in selling our services we would close down.
With hindsight most of us, management and staff, were somewhat naive and complacent I think. We assumed that there would be no shortage of producers wanting to work with us. The reality was somewhat different and at times I got the feeling that the only reason we got any work was because of a shortage of studios outside Resources. I think a lot of people were upset by the perceived lack of loyalty by BBC productions to us. In time we realised that BBC productions had enough problems of their own to worry about without considering Resources staff.
We quickly realised that productions usually preferred to work with crews they knew with the result that independents often brought their own crews with them, whilst BBC productions got to like the crews they worked with in outside studios and brought them back with them if and when they used BBC Resources studios again. (Resources staff were not allowed to work outside BBC studios)
The biggest shock to me was finding out some years after Producer Choice started that a lot of new BBC Producers were unaware that the BBC had it���s own studios.
BBC Resources quickly began to ���downsize���, reducing crew levels to the point where were kept more or less in permanent overtime. This made economic sense and unlike pre Producer Choice days when were staffed for the peaks of work load now we had just enough staff for the troughs, bringing in freelances to fill in the gaps.
BBC Resources also decided not to promote anyone for the time being, acting people up when necessary. At the time I was a Lighting and Vision Control Supervisor which was, in effect, three jobs in one. The LVCS was a lighting console operator, vision control supervisor and assistant lighting director all rolled into one.In the ALD role the LVCS was expected to light(at a basic level). With the advent of Producer Choice there was a problem with acting LVCS���s up to Lighting Director because Producers were increasingly deciding on which LD lit their programme. They wanted someone they knew.
I got lucky. I was working on EastEnders at the time. A number of EastEnders regular LDs had gone, taking early retirement. Some other LDs had incurred the disapproval of EastEnders. Some of the EastEnders production team knew me from pre Producer Choice days when I had worked with them on a number of dramas. As a result,as a trial, I was given two blocks of EastEnders to light. I was considered good enough and spent the next ten years lighting, mainly on EastEnders.
Around the year 2000 a new post of Resource Manager was introduced replacing the Studio Resource Manager. The RMs had more responsibilities than the SRM . They were to be the one point of contact for the production from the initial contact to book a facility through to the finished VT. As part of this the RMs negotiated the price and contract. A very sensible idea in theory. A number of SRMs didn���t fancy the new job and left. As a result we got some new people into the RM job who had little or no experience of studio work. This caused a number of problems especially when they decided they had to manage and took decisions on behalf of the craft heads (LDs, Camera Supervisors and Sound Supervisors). This led to a number of conflicts and therefore difficulties. Were we working for the Producer which had always been the case in the past or for the RM? This didn���t always go down well with productions. There were times when productions, sometimes pointedly,didn���t invite the RM to meetings.
Things eventually settled down but I felt even further removed from the ���main��� BBC.
Eventually, in 2002 I was promoted to LD which was nice. However with ongoing cutbacks, in particular the amount of time available, it became increasingly difficult for LDs on EastEnders to be adventurous in their lighting. The time problem particularly affected the LDs as the time they had to set up the lighting was cut significantly. So a lot of the joy and creativity went out of the job.
In 2005 I reached to age of 60 and started receiving my pension. However, I didn���t stop working. Initially, it was because no one had told allocations so I continued to be allocated as as if I was a member of staff. In addition I was still a regular member of the EastEnders lighting team. Since 2005 I have been frequently asked to come into work mainly on EastEnders but until 2012 on some programmes at TV Centre. Since 2012 the work has been confined to EastEnders at Elstree. The Elstree Centre now feels like the Headquarters of BBC TV, replacing TVC.
It was nice to have a phased changeover from full time work to full time retirement.I left feeling saddened by the changes in the work but at the same time quite happy to stop because of the increasing lack of job satisfaction.
My view of Producer Choice
One can debate the pros and cons of Producer Choice but it���s safe to say that the early days of Producer Choice were a little traumatic for BBC Resources and arguably mistakes were made. What were mistakes and what weren't depended on your point of view. For instance I remember a departmental meeting where management were outlining their thoughts for the future and inviting feedback. The staff weren���t happy. It struck me part the way through that though we all appeared to be talking about the same thing we weren���t. The management were concerned about keeping TVC studios open whilst we were worried about our jobs. Though,obviously there was a connection, the studios could be kept open using freelances whilst we could be kept employed working anywhere, not necessarily in TVC.
Up to this point the fairly large number of staff who had already gone had taken early retirement. From now on staff that were made redundant would be looking at working as freelances. Though there were some freelances around working on programmes for Channel 4 and some ex ITV staff had recently joined them it was still very much unknown territory.
The management of BBC Resources were largely successful in making the studios into a profitable business and until the very end the big five studios were busy. However the management were not a success in keeping staff levels maintained. There are a few staff left but not many. Ultimately the Resources management���s efforts have been in vain as the BBC top management decided to depose of most of TVC.
Nowadays most people are freelances of course. Many have been successful earning more than they would have done as staff but many have quite a low income. One big problem is rogue production companies that don���t pay. As one freelancer said to me ���BBC Resources may not pay the best rates and they may be slow to pay but you can be confident you will get paid.���
The biggest casualty of Producer Choice is probably training. In order to reduce costs Resources stopped most training. Greg Dyke reinstated training but with Mark Thomson it ceased again. In what we used to call Tech Ops (Lighting, Cameras and Sound) the industry have been relying on an increasingly older workforce. Everyone knows about it but for everyone ���it���s not their problem���. For individual Producers as long as they can get their favourite team together for the next commission that���s all that matters. Beyond that there may not be a another. For everyone else it���s not seen as in their best interests to train as the person you���re training today might be taking work away from you in the future.
It���s not just formal classroom training that���s gone(such as that provided at Evesham) but the ongoing apprenticeship that you got at the BBC. The opportunity to work with a variety of top practitioners on a wide variety of different types of production. TVC, in the days when everyone was staff was a magnificent University of TV.
A couple of years ago I was talking to someone who is now in top level management at the BBC who was unaware of and shocked at the fact that Resources had done little training, except during the Greg Dykes era, for something like twenty years.
The team work that used to go on is disappearing. Several on exBBC sound assistants have expressed surprise when I���ve told them not to worry about a boom shadow because I would deal with it. They weren���t used to LDs doing that they said. Sound do seem to get a particularly raw deal these days.
In the departments that were the first to disappear such as Design, Make up and Costume we are often seeing problems because of a lack of knowledge and understanding. These people are now coming in to television from working in various non television areas such as the theatre.In the days when we were all staff ,Designers, Art Directors, Make up and Costume would spend a lot of time in the Lighting control room and would co-operate and help each other. Now the LD sometimes gets diverted from Lighting (because he is the only one of the four looking at pictures) sorting out problems that aren���t his.
Ironically, with the BBC telling productions ,both in-house and independent where they are going to be made Producer Choice is more or less dead.
Coinciding with me leaving the BBC has been the build up to the disposal of much of the TV Centre. In later years I didn���t particularly like TVC, much preferring the atmosphere at the Elstree Centre. Nevertheless I think the re development planned for the site is a great mistake.
The BBC needed the money raised to pay for the Broadcasting House extension and later on the moves to Salford. However in none of the figures that I have seen do the costs make sense. The money raised by the redevelopment don���t go anywhere near covering the money spent elsewhere either in the short term nor the long term. Ironically the big studios at TVC were not too affected by the moves as shows like Breakfast didn���t use them.
Anna Mallet, the former Head of Studios and Post Production (which is all thats left of Resources) was told by some that the greatest challenge she faced was to save TC8. Many in the industry regard TC8 as the BBC���s and possibly the UK���s best studio. It���s certainly been very popular with productions.There is a ���Save TC8��� campaign. I suspect though that Anna was powerless to stop the closure.
Three studios will remain. There is an obvious case for keeping TC1 because it is the biggest. However it not as well designed as TC8 and with the 16,000 sq ft stage at the Elstree Film and TV studios and the BBC���s own Elstree Centre studio D would TC1 be a great loss? In addition many believe that TC1 is too big for the majority of programmes. As for TC2 and TC3, the other two studios to be saved, I think few would disagree that they are the worse studios at TVC. If I was going to save just three studios they would be TC6, 7 & 8. There does seem to be a big concern in the industry generally that there will be a shortage of large/medium sized studios in the future with a consequent increase in costs.
Looking at the plan of TVC they are keeping TC!-3, demolishing TC4-8 and then keeping phases 5 and 6. I would have thought that the easiest bits to redevelop would phases 5 & 6. Phases 5 & 6 also look bigger than the part occupied by TC4-8. There must be a logic somewhere.
1965 until 1970
I was a Cameraman
We were based
at Television Centre, Lime Grove, Riverside Studios, Televison Theatre, Golders Green Hippodrome in the Television Technical Operations department
I joined the BBC, was trained and realised my ambition of becoming a TV Cameraman.
Main memories of the period
My first week in the BBC was spent at the Langham with 60 other new recruits attending lectures on safety, conditions of service,admin and the effects of nuclear war on the UK. After the Langham we were sent to Wood Norton,Evesham for three months for classroom training covering cameras,sound,lighting and editing. We were a joint TV/Radio Tech Ops course called TO21. In April 1965 along with my TV colleagues from TO21 I finally arrived at TV Centre. We were put onto the ���Training Pool��� for nine months for on the job training. This training consisting of being attached to a Camera/Sound crew, sometimes on cameras and sometimes sound, under the supervision of the Camera Supervisor or Senior Sound Assistant as appropriate. Sometime during this period we also spent some time with vision control and lighting. Lighting and Vision staff were not recruited directly from outside but always came from cameras ,sound or engineering. Finally after a year the official training period came to an end and we were placed on the ���Reserve Pool��� to await a vacant post. Being on the ���Reserve Pool��� was little different to being on the Training Pool in practice. The theory was that you would gain experience until a post became vacant and whilst waiting a decision would be made jointly between yourself and management as to whether you would become a camera assistant or sound assistant.(in those days the term camera assistant hadn���t been invented in the BBC and they were known as Dolly Operators). In between the Reserve Pool and Dolly Op/Sound Assistant there was Crew Relief (Mainly Cameras or Mainly Sound) and whilst on the Reserve Pool I spent nine months as acting Crew Relief (Mainly Sound) on crew 15.I think the management were hopeing I would grow to love sound. It didn���t work. TO21 and TO22 were recruited for the expected expansion of hours of BBC2 following its creation in 1964. However ,this expansion took a long time to come and the first significant extra programmes were the Open University programmes in 1970. A lot of people from the class of 1965 got fed up and bored with waiting for promotion and left the BBC. The Open University started with it���s own facilities and staff and at long last cameraman posts(at the OU) were advertised. I applied and got one of the jobs. I stayed at the OU for 18 months before returning to TC as a cameraman.
1970 until 1990
I was a Cameraman
on a Continuing contract
We were based
at TVC, Lime Grove, TV Theatre and the Elstree Centre in the Television Technical Operations department
I moved from Cameraman to Vision Operator to Lighting and Vision Control Supervisor and started lighting.
Main memories of the period
The next few years I worked happily as a cameraman at TVC. About 1975 I started to be interested in Lighting. In those days lighting in TVC was done by Technical Managers, there being two on each programme TM1 and TM2. On the big shows the TM1 did the lighting and they would reverse roles for the small shows. Anyone from cameras, vision control, sound or engineering could apply for the job of TM but Vision Supervisors who were the TM’s assistant in the control room obviously had a big advantage. Several of my cameraman colleagues had in recent times had attachments to the job of Vision Operator, which was the first step to being a Vision Supervisor. They had then gone onto taking up the post of VO.
Vision Operator attachments were being advertised again and I decided I had nothing to lose by going for one. In reality though we did have a week with a VO as part of our basic training in 1965 I knew very little about the job but had the impression that it was more of an engineering job than I would have liked. This turned out not to be the case. I was accepted for the attachment and, with hindsight was lucky enough to put with Terry Brett and Andrew Dixon as my trainers. VS’s and VO’s were paired and Terry was the VS and Andrew the VO. They were both excellent trainers.
At the end of the three months attachment I didn’t think that I was any good as a VO. But it seems I was wrong.Terry wrote a good report on me and Head of Lighting made several attempts to get me to apply for a VO job. However, in the summer of 1974 I was sent to Outside Broadcasts, as a cameraman, for a three month summer attachment. I loved it and tried to go again but management wanted to give everyone a go. One of the memorable events of my career occurred during this attachment when I was applauded at Lords. It started to rain heavily and everyone went under cover, except myself on camera 4 and the cameraman on camera 1. We were the last two left out in the rain and were giving the viewer low shots of the rain.. After about half an hour it was decided to abandon coverage and show an old film. The two of us were allowed inside and as we stood up the spectators rose and burst into applause.
About two years later I was working on Play School when Head of Cameras came up to me and said to me that there was another VO vacancy, do you want it? I went for it.
With hindsight I was very lucky in the 1980s and 1990s.
After a few months in the VO job I was paired with Graham Rimmington who I later discovered was one of the best VS’s around. I still didn’t feel very competent ,but again with hindsight, I must I have been reasonably good otherwise Graham wouldn’t have tolerated me. The next few years we were working on top LE and Drama shows with top TM1s. Top of the Pops, Paul Daniel's and many one off specials such as Oliver Newton John. We were also working on single plays mainly with Dennis Channon as LD. Single plays, as far as Drama department were concerned were the prestige shows. Included in these were some of the Shakespeare’s. Working regularly on top LE and Drama was unusual as most people worked on one type of programme only. The only other people that I remember doing this were Ron Green and his camera crew,7. In 1979 I received a commendation for my work on Henry IV and Henry V.
Sometime around 1984 the management decided to abandon the TM job, splitting their activities into Lighting Director and Technical Coordinator. The lighting duties previously undertaken by the TM2 were taken over by the VS whose job was retitled Lighting and Vision Supervisor. This meant that 5 extra LVS’s were needed.Very Exciting. promotion might be on the cards. Unfortunately top BBC management had more or less co -incidentally (or was It?) decided to spilt current affairs away from the main TV operation with their own staff and facilities base at Lime Grove. This was similar to the News Operation. News had always had their own staff and facilities. The Current Affairs management decided to staff their two studios in an identical fashion to the main TVC operation. The 5 new LVS posts were to be at Topical Production Centre as the new operation was called. The LD posts at TPC were taken by ex TM2’s who didn’t want to be Technical Coordinators. ( At about the same time a few TM1s had retired but again the replacement posts were at TPC) Much as I had enjoyed working on the odd current affairs show I didn’t fancy working full time on them. So I stayed as a VO at TVC.
Some time afterwards I was given three months acting LVCS. On one of my first duties in this role I was allocated to Panorama in TC1 ( TPC didn’t have space at Lime Grove for Panorama so we continued to staff it). On duty at 15.00 and as I walked into the control room, Derek Slee, the LD said “Do you want to light this?”. “Yes Please”. So that was the first show I lit. Panorama, at the the time featured the presenter walking from one PBU ( Photo Blow Up) to another. This was known as the Panorama walk and was tricky to light. Because of this it is was a standard exercise on the Lighting Training course. Seven years later I was sent on the Lighting Training course at Evesham and taught how to do it!
During this three month acting I was allocated a 6 part series of “Allo Allo” with Duncan Brown, LD. Each week Duncan gave me a set to light and I learnt a lot from him.
In 1986 I was promoted to LVCS. Graham Rimmington had recently been promoted to LD and I took over some of his shows working with Bill Millar and Duncan Brown. Both of them continued my lighting training and taught me so much. Bill normally did the big LE shows with one big set and an audience. Though Bill planned the whole lot on the pre light he would start one side of the studio and I would start the other side. He would expect me to finish my half at the same time as him. If I was late he would shout out ”Roger, I’m waiting to send the electricians to tea”. Bill was a great believer in looking after his crew and I always did the same in later years. On the first show I did with Bill, a Paul Daniels, I thought I would let Bill get started before I started lighting. I busied myself with some essential paperwork. I didn’t want to let him see me struggle. It didn’t work. There was silence followed by “Roger, I’m waiting to see you set your first lamp.” On dear! What he then did was show me how to easily and quickly light a cyclorama cloth. As it turned out I found that many established LDs struggled with cyc cloths. Bill, as well as being one of the best LDs was a very kind man who nonetheless managed to appear frightening to many. Producers, Directors, Designers and Art Directors would route their questions through me because they were frightened to speak to Bill directly. It helped his image that he knew more than most about all aspects of TV production.
I remember at an outside rehearsal at the North Acton rehearsal rooms Bill was sat, as he usually did, at a desk with the rest of us crowded round looking over his shoulder. I was standing next to John Bishop , the producer, who also happened to be head of LE at the time. He turned to me with a smile and said to me “there’s something wrong here Rog, as the boss shouldn’t I be sitting there?”.
Duncan and Bill complimented each other and I was very lucky to be trained by them. Duncan showed me how to light at the Elstree studios where a very different system of suspending lights in studios was used and also introduced me to location lighting.
T owards the end of the 1980s I started working on single plays once more, this time with Chris Townsend. Chris worked differently on these plays to most other LDs. On most programmes during rehearsal and recording the LVCS would spend the whole time in the control room operating the lighting control desk which on drama meant he was virtually invisible and unknown to the production team. Chris reversed this as he wanted to see the pictures himself and I spent all the time on the studio floor setting lamps as needed. So drama production got to know me quite well.This turned out to be advantage later when I started to light in my own right. My last drama with Chris was the first series of House Of Elliot. Apart from the studio I went out on all of the location shoots, two weeks at a time. I would pre-light one location whilst the main unit was shooting at the previous site.
Apart from EastEnders House Of Elliot was one of the first dramas to use the the same crew in the studio and on location. Again apart from EastEnders and a few childrens department dramas it was the last drama to be shot multi camera in TVC. I ended up as one of a very few LVCS’s to work on location which was of great use to me later on.
In 1989 I was allocated to work on the BBC stand at the “Lifestyle 2000, Tomorrows World” at Olympia exhibition. This involved teaching the public how the technical side of a TV studio worked and then overseeing them play with the equipment.