Bill Tucker at the BBC
When I joined the Television Service in 1951 at Alexandra Palace there were still a few people who had worked there before the war when the service started in 1936. The BBC had conducted trials between John Logie Baird’s system in Studio B Alexandra Palace and the E.M.I. system in Studio A. The Baird system consisted of a film camera (17.5mm - split 35mm) where the film, after being exposed was developed, washed, fixed and then dried in a continuous motion and then scanned - this became the television signal. Because it took some minutes it was possible for the artists to appear and watch the last few minutes of their performance as it was transmitted. Needless to say it was a large and cumbersome machine, no wonder E.M.I prevailed ! But it could alternatively have a commercial film print inserted and used as a telecine machine.
The E.M.I Emitron television camera was much more practical but was not suitable to view a standard intermittent motion film projector. It was not until the Pye Vidicon some years later that that would become possible. In the meantime the only option was the pre war built German film projector, a Mechau. It consisted of horizontal feed and take-up spools with a system of mirrors on a drum. Light was shone through a continuously moving film, the mirror movement compensating for the film movement. The output was an optical dissolve from one film frame to the next and could be pointed at the Emitron camera. I believe that the BBC had at least one of these Mechau projectors before the war and had ordered several more. They were eventually found crated up and addressed to “BBC London” by Allied Forces liberating Europe
After a successful interview, a letter arrived and told me to report to Alexandra Palace on Monday 3rd December 1951. It was only when I turned up that it was explained I would be working an AP shift pattern and didn’t need to turn up again until Wednesday that week. The AP shift, named after Alexandra Palace came about because of the introduction of the Sunday Play. As with almost all television programmes it was Live and therefore had to be rehearsed on the Saturday. It was also repeated on the following Thursday all of which required the same crew. A different crew completed the play for the next week to allow the first crew an off duty weekend. The other days were filled in to create a 7 day working fortnight which covered each day of the week spread over 2 weeks, each day being 12 hours duty to cover the hours of television transmission and rehearsal time.
I began my career in Studios with a year in Sound, setting up microphones and directing booms and then a year with Cameras. This was initially hard work pushing dollies around the studio floor but I progressed to operating cameras. In those days the viewfinders were optical ground glass with a separate lens that tracked the main camera lens. The image however was upside down and back to front which meant you had to be careful to pan the camera in the correct direction while looking through the viewfinder.
At the end of my second year at the BBC I completed TA course No.7 during September to November 1953 at the BBCs training establishment at Wood Norton near Evesham. After which at my annual review I was asked what I wanted to do. I decided an engineering roll to be infinitely more interesting but was told there were only opportunities in CAR and Telecine. The BBC chose to place me in the later where I spent the next 2 years before completing my C – course also at Evesham. Coincidently as I began in Telecine the BBC moved its Telecine operation from Alexandra Palace to Lime Grove and so I moved as well. My starting wage when I first began was £6.19s.0d per week rising to £755 per annum in December 1953 after my TA course.
Lime Grove circa 1955
35mm inverted Mechau Central Control Room 1
The 35mm inverted Mechau telerecording assembly.
The picture display unit is on the left and, behind it, are
the vision amplifier and power supplies
Central Control Room No 1
Mechau TK
Flying spot Mechau Telecine