AP mast (2K)

DIRECT TELEVISION from ALEXANDRA PALACE

by Arthur Dungate

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Tape tangles

LIBRARY MUSIC

Also called "mood music" these are pieces of music specially composed and recorded for use in films, radio and tv programmes.

We used a lot of "library music" in those days and into the Dubbing Theatre in Lime Grove one morning in 1955 came young De Wolfe (well he was, then!) bringing some new music tapes for us to copy some tracks. "Be very careful with these" he said, "as we haven't cut the disc masters yet".

So I took the roll of tape into the room where the BTR1 was. It was a 15" or 30" tape, not on a spool but on a centre or core, relying on the tightness of the wind to keep it together. But this one wasn't tight enough so as I was about to put it onto the machine, the centre fell out.....

De Wolfe had, just in time, been quickly ushered into another room and engaged in innocent conversation..... The middle of the tape was in a real tangle, and the tape had to be cut to unravel it, then spliced together again and wound back onto the core. We never found out if he ever discovered that his brand new recording now had a splice in it, and probably some creases as well.....

A similar thing once happened earlier on the radio, which I heard about from a friend in BH (Broadcasting House).

BTR2 recorder (7K)This happened to one of the episodes of the Captain Horatio Hornblower serial on the Light Programme, when the centre fell out of the tape. And it was just before transmission too..... The tangled mass of tape was put into a bin and the beginning fed into the tape machine, and it went on air..... Unfortunately (there's always an "unfortunately"), about 15 minutes into the half-hour programme, the tangle became too much to unravel, and the programme suddenly left the air..... Such are the hidden joys of broadcasting.....

And thinking of the BTR tape machines reminds me of an incident that was related to me. When the BTR1 was superceded by the BTR2 tape recorder, Recording Division put in an order for them to re-equip its facilities throughout the BBC.

row of BTR2 (6K)But since in the past, orders from Departments had tended to be halved by the financial people, the order for BTR2s was twice the number actually required.

However, for once, this time the order was not halved, and when all these BTR2 machines were delivered, having nowhere to go, they littered the corridors.

The BTR2 recorders, which superceded the BTR1, both made in England by EMI, became an "industry standard" in the BBC. They were used in studio centres throughout the UK.

It's 15 or else....
The standard speed for tape recordings for transmission was 15ips. So when a 7½ips tape arrived, even though it was of good quality it had to be copied to 15ips before it could be broadcast....

Induction course
While on the subject of sound recordings, I am reminded that shortly after joining the BBC I went on an "induction course" which all new staff took. In this we were given a tour of many of the BBC's London studio centres. The tour took several days, and we met on the first day in Bentinck House in Great Portland Street, London. Our tour leader was Bruce Purslow, a most friendly man who had been EiC at Wood Norton during WW2, and after the war had been seconded to the Foreign Office, and based in Singapore.

When visiting the Maida Vale studios I saw a Philips-Miller* recording channel still operational. This was early in 1953, even though Pawley in his excellent book states that the last channel was returned to Philips in 1950.

The system used 3mm acetate film which was coated with a black layer. A sound track was cut into this layer producing a variable area soundtrack which could immediately be played back by a photocell as in cinema films. Many of the Tommy Handley "ITMA" wartime programmes were recorded on this system.

Marconi-Stille
Marconi-Stille recorder (19K)What I did not see was a Marconi-Stille machine (though I had seen one in operation during my 1949 visit to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation's studios in Berne).
This used steel tapes of 3mm width in large spools weighing 25lbs, providing a recording time of 32 minutes. Vernon Phipps the dubbing mixer at Lime Grove said that if the steel tape broke while it was rewinding, you ran for your life out of the room! He also said that as the three heads, for play, record and erase could be plugged in any order, it was quite possible to get them plugged in the wrong order so that you could be unwittingly erasing the recording just being made....


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First published 1999 Second edition 2002/2003..... Page created by Arthur Dungate