Meanwhile back in TV House
A humorous look at the wonders of Rediffusion’s Wembley Studios for the benefit of the inhabitants of TVH
It is a sobering thought to realise that the majority of the staff working for Associated-Rediffusion at Television House have never been to Wembley. To most of you, snug in your little grey worlds in Kingsway, the Studios are as remote as is Salisbury Plain to the War Office, or the Hippodrome, Ashton-under-Lyne, to Moss Empires; you acknowledge their existence, but are quite willing for them to carry on with whatever it is they do down there, thank you very much.
From Fusion 19, the Associated-Rediffusion house staff magazine, published June 1961
Why, only the other day in the lift, I distinctly overheard a shorthand-typist remark to a sales executive, ‘I suppose they must fetch the elephants and things in at the Aldwych end.’ Well, really!
Obviously, this is a state of affairs which must be remedied without delay. It would be quite impossible, within the confines of a short article such as this, to attempt to explain to the Great Uninformed everything that goes on down at the works, but I can at least try to throw a little much-needed light on some aspects of Wembley life.
The prime reason for the existence of the Wembley Studios is, as the name may suggest, studios. There are at present five operational in the block, namely Studios One, Two and Four, and two lesser stages, Five A and Five B, which for some reason best known to themselves the company prefer to keep rather quiet about.
Immediately you will ask, ‘What about Studio Three, then?’ What indeed! Answers to this interesting poser vary, but I have it on reliable authority, that it was the victim of a successful take-over bid by Telerecording some years ago.
Each studio will very probably house two, or even three, different programmes in a week; for instance, Studio One may be a mass of Ancient Greek pillars and steps for the school-children on a Monday, represent one of those ultracosy, ultra-chummy village shopping haunts on a Tuesday, and by Thursday have taken on an entirely new aspect to support Messrs Lockhart and Baxter as yet another villain is brought to justice. That the geography of each studio can change so completely, so rapidly, and so often has never ceased to amaze me; the story of the Second Palace Guard who popped out of Studio Four to wash his hands, and returned a few moments later to be handed the Key to Box 13, still raises a grim smile in Wembley circles.
I do not intend to deal individually with all the people connected with getting a show on the air studio-wise, nor to mention specific personalities. However, a brief summary may be made under the following headings:
(a) STUDIO-HANDS – they wear buff overalls
(b) WARDROBE – they wear blue overalls
(c) MAKE-UP – they wear pink overalls
(d) TECHNICAL PERSONNEL – they wear surprisingly well
(e) DIRECTORS – they wear out the Floor Manager
(f) FLOOR MANAGERS – they wear out everybody else
All these will I imagine, be self-explanatory, with the exception perhaps of (d) TECHNICAL PERSONNEL. Under this heading are to be found, on the first floor, camera control operators or racks, sound balancers and gramophone operators, and vision mixers or smooth operators. On the ground floor we encounter cameramen or videoperators, and boom operators or microphone operators. All in all, you will note, quite an operation. In addition, hovering somewhere in between the two levels, are the electricians or sparks, on whose work I confess I am completely in the dark.
Naturally in an organisation which employs all the aforementioned, as well as sundry administration staff, cleaners, livestock and actors, food and drink are a major consideration. The canteen at Wembley caters admirably for its variegated clientele, and only rarely comes up with such eccentricities of diet as ‘Faggots Lyonnaise’, ‘Lover and Bacon’, or ‘Place on the Bone’. (Originals may be seen in the Office on request.)
A popular pastime at meal breaks is to play ‘Get the Set Meal for the Set Price’, a highly fascinating game which I admit I am unable to master.
Normally the canteen service is swift and efficient, except of course, on a ‘Hippodrome’ day; then it is by no means unusual to queue for an hour, while a troupe of little Chinese tumblers, a round dozen dancing girls often disturbingly attired, the entire Norrie Paramor orchestra, three inarticulate trampoline experts from Zagreb, and a performing seal, vie with each other to obtain fish and chips, from flushed, rushed but ever well-meaning counterhands.
‘A boilerhouse attendant to Studio Five immediately, please!’ yells the loudspeaker: a reminder that we must get back to work.
As well as the studios from whence live productions originate, there are, scattered throughout the building, a variety of isolated departments, all in their different ways equally important to the smooth running of programmes.
Departments such as telecine, telerecording, maintenance, VTR – it was here that the expression ‘Someone isn’t rolling Ampex’ was first used – schedules and props.
From the last-named one can obtain anything from a signed line-drawing of the Emperor Haile Selassie to a 1 concrete replica of the Taj Mahal by moonlight, but often, funnily enough, not a dining-room chair. That’s, as someone once said, Show Business.
That’s Show Business – a phrase which sums up perfectly all that is Wembley. Enshrined in the vast hulk of, TV House, you might just as well be employed by a company manufacturing chair castors or strained vegetables, as television programmes. (In the interests of free speech I allow this gross exaggeration and travesty of the truth to be printed – Editor, TV House.)
But here at the Studios, things are very different: the smell of the greasepaint – or is it those Faggots Lyonnaise again? – is strong, you rub shoulders with household names: whether you operate a camera or an everlasting hand towel, a boom or a broom, you know from the word ‘Go’ that you’re in Show Business.
Having read so far I am certain that most of you will be eager to drop those typewriters, adding machines and promising clients, that you may find out for yourselves more of what occurs in this throbbing, vital heart of London’s Television.
If this be the case, then my labour has not been wasted: I suggest the Metropolitan Line from Baker Street – there is a fast service of the latest LT rolling stock – to Wembley Park. Turn right outside the station, proceed onwards for some two or three hundred yards, and you will arrive at the main entrance to the Studios. You can’t miss it-it’s right opposite the Wimpy.
About the author
Alan Wallis was writing in 'Fusion' the Associated-Rediffusion and Rediffusion London staff house magazine.