Mrs Sylvia Martin
I was born in 1940. I began working at the BBC in 1957, my final year at the BBC was 1964. Whilst at the BBC I was known as Sylvia Allen and Sylvia Longworth.
How I joined the BBC
Radio Times Advert
My first impressions of the BBC
Broad BBC career
The year was 1957 when I joined the BBC, fresh from the Suffolk countryside and never having been away from home before coming to work in London. A bit of a shock, but I settled into the BBC Hostel in Princes Square, Bayswater and started my new job in the script printing department which as I recall was in a building just around the corner from The Langham.
It was a noisy and dirty office, where Roneo and Gestetner duplicating machines constantly spewed out scripts on yellow paper. Duplicating machines were used to create scripts before photocopiers, printers, scanners, etc. came on the scene. Basically, some poor typist, I suspect the producer's secretary, had to sit and type them onto a stencil, which was waxed paper. The stencil was wrapped around the drum of the machine and either someone had to turn a handle as on the manual ones or if you were very lucky you could use an electrical one when a button could be pressed and the drum would automatically turn. It was possible to increase or decrease the speed of the rotating drum but not too fast or the sheets of paper would end up in a heap on the floor. In both cases the scripts would be churned out into a tray and collected for collating. This part was a really long and boring process which involved walking up and down long tables collecting the pages in order and then stapling together. Paper cuts were frequent and very, very painful. No Health and Safety then! I was not sorry to leave this department and move on to something less stressful and interesting.
I moved on to the Ticket Unit on the top floor of The Langham, a rather cold and draughty building and which at night I found a bit threatening. There was talk of ghosts but I never knowingly encountered one. The Unit was run by the formidable Miss Jockel who had been with the Corporation since the year dot, actually the early 1930s I think. I feel we were all a bit afraid of her but she certainly stood me in good stead for my future career.
Members of the public applied in writing for tickets to the various radio and, later, TV recordings which were allocated in order of application date. If too many applied for a particular show they were sent an alternative, quite often for something in which they were not really interested. I think many people sat through a recording of something completely unsuitable. I remember one occasion receiving an irate call from the late Michael Bentine complaining about the type of person we were sending to a recording of Its a Square World. He inferred that they were all members of the WI and the programme meant nothing to them, I am not convinced that this was particularly true but he was very rude. However, Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon from Life with the Lyons, were a delightful couple, always appreciative of the audience and always sent Easter Eggs to the staff in the Ticket Unit.
I had the opportunity to attend recordings of radio shows such as The Goon Show, Life with the Lyons, Round the Horne, etc. These were recorded at The Playhouse, The Paris Theatre and the Aeolian amongst other venues. The recordings usually took some time starting with a warm up by someone from the show and in the case of Beyond the Ken a few rather risque jokes, especially from Kenneth Williams. Staff were able to apply for tickets to recordings but usually they had to take pot luck as many recordings had waiting lists. Studio Managers were in charge of the allocation of seating, liaison with the producers, cast members, etc. I believe the Goon Show was not one of their favourites to oversee.
After about a year, the Ticket Unit left the Langham and moved to Bentinck House in Bolsover Street. A better location although I do recall the office was at the back of the building with no outlook at all.
Also after about a year I was moved to the BBC Hostel in Cavendish Street, I think it was called the Redbourne and it was at this time, 1958, that a large intake of engineers were employed, mainly in Continuity Studios and the Control Room in BH. Many of them became firm friends and some of us often used one of the top floor editing studios in BH to play, very loudly, classical music, etc. I doubt we had permission but things generally at that time were a lot more relaxed at the Beeb.
Yalding House just off Great Portland Street, was used as the BBC Music Library but also had a great canteen in the basement, a favourite haunt for us as was the BH canteen. Egton House, now gone, was home to the news department. Often a few of us went down to Bush House for a meal (good food).
I married one of the sound engineers and continued to work in the Ticket Unit until the birth of our daughter after which I returned to the Personnel Department in Portland Place. Eventually, commuting became difficult and I left in the Barry Taylor mid 60s. I have fond memories of those years and the friends I made.