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  MCR21 PROJECT

NEWSLETTER

FEBRUARY  2021
 
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This is a bumper edition of the Newsletter. I did ask quite a few people to contribute and they all came up 'Trumps'. Of couse there is an update of the MCR21 Project but also much more. I hope you find it interesting.
Nick Gilbey - Editor
A NEW CHAPTER

MCR21 MOVES TO ITS NEW HOME

Two weeks ago MCR21 left Chiltern Automotive under its own steam, heading for its new home near Bracknell. Here work will start - fitting out the interior and putting the finishing touches to the bodywork.
Brian installs the headlights before the journey
MCR21
MCR21 leaves Chiltern Automotive
MCR21 in its new home
A Brian Summers production using his phone
WATCH THE VIDEO
ITS NOT JUST ABOUT PICTURES

A look at how the live sound was broadcast from MCR21
      

The sound desk installed in MCR21 was made by Pye Ltd.from modules in their new 'Broadcast Audio Equipment' range. The idea behind this was that simple or complex installations could be made up by combining a number of standard units selected from the module range.
A full sound system, programme and talkback, to the BBC’s requirements was made up for MCR21, complete with amplifiers, PPM’s, Faders, power supplies, reserve battery supply, tone generators and a telephone system with ring generators.

This compact installation was built into two desk units that form part of the overall production desk fitted transversely across the vehicle. These were in theory 'portable', in the sense that they could be removed and operated away from the vehicle if the programme required that.

The sound mixer had 20 input channels, each having its own plug-in amplifier module with gain control and input level switching. These channels were divided into three groups - green, blue and red, which could operate independently, perhaps feeding a PA system or foldback, or they could be mixed again at the master faders for a combined output. Of note is the lack of equalisation, the mixer has a flat frequency response. 
Brian Summers

 

DEALING WITH THE LINES

WORKING ON MCR21 AS A SOUND ASSISTANT
by Ken Osbourn
PART 1  THE BBC - A LIFE FOR ME
As a small child I recall looking with great curiosity through the front grill of the family valve radio. The glow from the valves lit the variable capacitor, and the interleaving metal plates when moved by the dial on the front changed the radio station.  How could this possibly be? Where were the people that I could hear?
My family lived in Manchester, and my father explained that the programme came from the BBC in Piccadilly, next to Woolworths.  My interpretation as a child was that to get to the BBC you had to go into Woolworths where a door behind the counter  led to the BBC!  I always wanted to work for the BBC, and this must have been the cause.
My first application was rejected, sadly, but soon the imminent opening of BBC2 caused a letter to arrive asking if I was still interested and offering me a job.  So, in January 1965 I came down to London and the Television Centre where I spent just over 2 years attached to a crew working at TVC, Riverside, the Television Theatre, and Lime Grove.
In 1967 I went on a summer attachment to Outside Broadcasts and was offered a permanent job there, later that year. On my first day I was taken to the scanner hall by Reg Lewis and introduced to my first OB Unit, which was MCR 21. Ron Smith was the acting SA1 and Barry Chaston the SA2. MCR 21 did a lot of racing coverage in the days when the 'remote cameras' at the start were processed and selected close to the start and then sent to the Main Site, often by Radio Link.
I remember Ian Leiper, as my SA1, patiently explaining the terminology on the tailboard (TB;MCTB; CTB; ETB; Outside Source); and, of course, 'The Lines', that most important communicational aspect of all Outside Broadcasts.

 
Ken Osbourn - Shortly after joining the BBC
Part 2 DEALING WITH THE LINES
As an SA2 on MCR 21, my very first task of the day at an OB would be to “get the lines on” before the EM even had chance to ask, “Is the DEL on yet?”
Communication today is so easy in comparison. I can pick up my cell phone, and within reason speak to anyone in the world.  Not so in the 1960’s when I first joined Television Outside Broadcasts.
In the middle of some muddy field in a remote part of the country - a racecourse, or even Downing Street - that link with the outside world would appear in the form of a black rectangular box, the 'BT' or 'Block Termination', which was about  8”x 4” at the end of a black inflexible cable of around  3/8” in diameter. Removing the cover would reveal a termination panel where the “pairs” in the black cable would have been connected by “Postie”, the man from the Post Office Service.
MCR 21 had its own set of 'tails', a loom of male XLR cables to open ends as a means of connecting to the circuits on the BT, and Postie would have left a little white label explaining the use of the 14 pairs that were available.
Pair 14 was always the DEL (Direct Exchange Line).  All haste was made to get this one on first, and plug the appropriate XLR into the socket marked 'DEL' on the tailboard which would connect the line to the phone system in the scanner. MCR 21 had two phones, one in the Production area and one on the maintenance area behind the racks. A call to the operator at Kendal Avenue, the OB Base, followed by a return call, would establish that everything was working and that the number was correct.
A simple OB needed three control lines - an Engineering or ENG line, a production or PROD line, a Switching Centre or SWITCHING/SWC line.  There would possibly be two other controls without 'ringers' for Talk-Back to and from the OB, and most importantly, a MUSIC LINE of higher quality to carry the audio output from the OB.
After I had connected the tails to the BT by screwdriver, my next task would be to test the lines. Sitting in front of the EM’s panel, on the extreme left, the three control lines would have been connected to the panel at the top with the little round windows. The usual plan would be to arrange Line 1 as ENG, Line 2 as PROD and Line 3 as SWC.
Tests would commence with me ringing down the ENG line using the red button on the panel, and talking to 'Postie' at the local GPO exchange. A requested ring back would flip a yellow disk on that control line - PROD and SWC would follow.  The Music line was plugged to line 15 at the extreme right to separate it from the Control Lines. This would then be checked by sending 1KHz tone.
'Postie' would then pass the lines on to the local switching centre (BBC Manchester/ Birmingham/ Cardiff etc) and the process would be repeated.  The purpose of the SWC control line was to accompany the vision circuit which would go down a separate route, and so this circuit would remain here. The rest were passed on using permanent circuits to London Broadcasting House.  Of course, the ultimate destination was the Television Centre (TVC), but for historic reasons the lines did not go there directly and went first to BH Control room.
At BH, more extensive tests were carried out on the Music Circuit. 1KHz tone would be sent, followed by breaking  to identify.  Then a 'frequency run' sending spot frequencies (the unit was under the sound desk - quite low down, I seem to remember). The operator in BH, often a lady (AB or Apple Blossom perhaps), would listen to and monitor the result on a PPM.  All was well if everything was 'flat' i.e., all the spot frequencies originating  from the OB were received with no attenuation at BH. Tone at +10db would check for overload distortion.  A termination, to measure the amount of noise on the circuit was achieved by fading out the main fader on the desk with the desk connected to the Music line. At TVC (Central Apparatus Room or CAR) each circuit would be checked again, and the Music line identified with Tone.
CAR would then route the lines to either the appropriate studio or VT Suite, and checks carried out again.  In the case of, say, Grandstand, the PROD line would be routed directly to the phone in front of the PA.
For most of the time, everything went smoothly, and that, in the main part, would be because a Comms (Communications Department) Engineer had already checked out the circuits before MCR 21 had arrived.  He would have originated a sweep of audio tones from the OB and the operator in BH would have equalized the line to produce a flat response. Odd faults would occur.  Perhaps a ring down one control line would drop all the other ringers, for instance.
I nearly forgot!  When you disconnected the tails at the end of an OB, you had to remember to loop the lines so that any tests could be carried out remotely!
Ken Osbourn 

 
A TYPICAL DAY FOR A SOUND CHAP ON A MCR21 OB

ASCOT - HORSERACING - MID 1964
by Keith Gunn
Keith working inside MCR21. - 1964
Walking up from the car park we see the scanner parked where it usually is on an area of tarmac between some of the jumble of old brick buildings behind the Ascot grandstand. The camera van, fortunately, is parked nearby, but we grab some sound items to start the rig as the camera crew may ask the riggers to drive it over to the grandstand to take the cameras there.
The riggers were in yesterday, driving the scanner, camera van and articulated cable tender to the site and rigging camera and mic cables to the various locations in the grandstand, by the side of the course, and unsaddling enclosure. Radio links have arrived too, and are setting up a mast to get pictures back from the camera in the centre of the course – it’s perhaps ½ mile away. They may also be the means by which the vision circuit gets back to London.
We open the back door of MCR21 with our issue TX98 key. (I can still hear the sound of the door, with its big chrome latching bar, opening - and feel the aluminium fold-down steps)
The riggers have not yet got the power cable connected, so we get on with connecting up the communications. In the camera van is a loom of cables – xlrs on one end and ‘tails’ (bare wires) on the other. We find where the Post Office engineer has left the BT (block, terminal) and get the screwdriver and side cutters out from our ‘first line maintenance’ tool kit.
The Post Office chap would have left a tie-on label, or a bit of fag packet, with the numbers on the BT the circuits were routed to. We usually checked that the DEL (direct exchange phone line) was live by feeling for the ringing 50 volts with our fingers.
The circuits would be, for a basic OB, an outgoing music circuit – a copper pair equalised for losses on the way back to the exchange – and production and engineering control lines. For more exciting OBs there might be a reserve music etc. Sometimes radio links would be involved to get the music circuit(s) back to civilisation. In 1964 vision was black and white, and sound mono. National TV stereo broadcasting didn’t arrive until mid 1991, by the way.
While one of the two-man sound crew plus me, as sound /camera person gets on with connecting up the BT the other two start to take equipment to the locations where we need mics and talkback etc. The new grandstand (as it was then – it’s since been rebuilt, again!) has sound and camera cables built in and these (I think) terminate near the scanner parking position. The Sound Supervisor plugs up a loom of XLR to XLR cables connecting the scanner to the sockets in the box on the wall, and the scanner end of the BT loom.
At this time there were, I think, three people designated as Sound Supervisors on the crew schedules, in a pool and not attached to any one unit, but the senior person on the crew usually worked as the mixer/supervisor on each OB, with a 'Sound Supervisor' scheduled for more complex programmes, especially music shows.
At some stage (possibly 1965? - more research needed, as my memory is lacking here) the daily supervision of OB sound became the job of Sound Supervisors only, with the sound assistants on each scanner being designated as SA1 and SA2 (plus, possibly, a sound trainee). I assume the promotion of some, and the relegation of others at this transition must have caused a deal of acrimony. (supposition, as I can’t remember conversations about this)
In 1964 I was a camera/sound trainee. All of the 'Technical Operator' recruits around at that time were rota’d, apart from time at the BBC training college in Evesham, for six months (correct duration?) to each section – until such time as they saw the light and opted to work in one discipline or the other.
Back to the sound rig –
The unsaddling enclosure - where we hear proud owners slapping the flanks of winning horses. It gets a robust 4035 with a windshield, slung from a nearby low roof.
 
On a course-side camera there’s a Labor MD82 gun mic mounted on an aluminium bar clamped to the top rails of the camera.
 
There’s one XLR microphone connection on the camera which we can pick up in the scanner, or a mic cable may have been run in with the camera cable.
 
A (very important) crowd FX 4035 mic somewhere in the front of the grandstand, dangled from the top of the grandstand camera position.
 
Interview position (sometimes a feature of the programme). Near the course rails, in front of the grandstand. A 4037 ‘Stick Mic’ with a foam windshield and a talkback box with long-lead headphones (or ‘cans’), or production talkback can accessed by plugging into the nearby camera.

 
The commentary position, in the top of the grandstand, is rigged with two lip mics. These are the original BBC-designed ones in a wooden box with an equaliser which has a three-position Kellogg key - giving varying bass EQ. The lip mic slides into an aluminium harness which fits over the shoulders of the commentator. He can then be hands-free while looking through the (army surplus) racing binoculars on their heavy stand.
This photo, from a BBC web page, shows a lip mic which has been modified to remove the equaliser from circuit. Ours were always connected, but we couldn’t decide which equalisation was best, so we left the switch in the mid-position.
         Lip Mike                                                       Baron Box
There’s also a ‘lazy’ mic - a switched 4032.

And a Baron box, cleverly providing, down one mic cable, a production talkback + programme sound mix (the scanner provides, on request, either local programme or radio check TV sound) to the commentator as a mix with the PTB. The commentator can press a key to cue/attract the attention of the producer and then talk to them on the phone handset. There’s also an occasionally used ‘cue sound’ button which lights an indicator of the sound desk.
 
 
Sound effects and crowd noise.
The sound of horses hooves for the races came largely from a ¼” tape, which ran for 30 minutes.
Occasionally, with some sound supervisors, an FX mic might be rigged near a jump (particularly a water jump) near the grandstand – and therefore a reasonably short cable run. Fortunately, the idea of putting an FX mic for one jump, because it was nearby, was eventually found to be a not very good idea – with a sudden cacophony of sound interrupting the gentle taped sound FX. I can’t remember exactly, but think the tape was looped from a disc of stampeding buffalo. But that may be fake news. 
For the transmission the commentator picked up from the continuity announcer and effectively linked the transmission together. The sound mix would consist of commentary plus grandstand crowd noise, with subtle ¼” horses’ hooves added. The tape machine could be started remotely from the sound desk. The sound desk had no built-in equalisation on its channels, but this was less of a problem than we might imagine today. Equalisation, had it been available, would probably have been used to remove excess bass (wind noise and generally muddiness). It helped that the FX mics used were mostly omni-directional, and therefore much less prone to wind noise. There was, I guess, a gentler feel to the programmes, and voices did not need to be equalised to cut through a high level of background FX, which would be a requirement of today’s style of programme. Mixing was, I suppose, relatively undemanding.
At the end of the rig we test out the commentary position mics and check that talkback and lazy talkback are working.
We go to find a suitable location for lunch.
After lunch we are due on air fairly soon. One of us goes to the commentary position to make sure all is well as transmission starts. The supervisor is at the sound desk and the other sound assistant is on the bench seat at the back of the scanner. He’s ready to start and rewind the ¼” tape machine and help with any problems.
He also, because it’s turned out to be a jolly hot day, has an extra task. In preparation he makes up some loops of white camera tape and inserts them into the airconditioning louvres just above the rear door. Sure enough, after we’ve been on the air for an hour or so, one of the cameramen reports to racks "I think we’ve lost talkback". The sound assistant dives down between the EM and the Sound Supervisor and pulls out the Production Talkback Distribution amplifier and slots in the spare. He then hangs the hot amplifier, whose transistors have gone into thermal runaway, under the cool-ish flow of aircon air.
Worn out by the workload, he goes to see if the riggers are making tea yet.
 
Keith Gunn January 2021
Photos of old microphones and Post Office equipment from

http://xaudia.com/
https://martinmitchellsmicrophones.wordpress.com/
https://www.britishtelephones.com/
used by permission
 

 
Brian Summers has written a postscript about the relationship between the GPO and BBC OBs. As an aside to the talk of lines and 'DELs', in the 1960s, when the BBC required a telephone in a scanner that could be connected to the GPO network, you could not just get one from Tesco. It had to be an official GPO phone and 'installed' by a GPO engineer and a rental paid for it! I imagine the GPO considered a scanner to be some sort of movable house. The wire between the scanner and the BT wall box must have caused some rule-following manager concern, as that bit wasn't theirs and they were paranoid about protecting the system. 
 
COLLECTING, COLLECTORS AND COLLECTIONS

A PERSONAL VIEW BY JOHN TRENOUTH
FORMER CURATOR AT THE SCIENCE AND MEDIA MUSEUM, BRADFORD
1 is a find, 2 is a pair, 3 is a collection – or so the saying goes and according to Wikipedia “collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloguing, displaying, storing, and maintaining items that are of interest to an individual collector”. Having met many collectors and collections during my career, the one word that is missing from that definition is passion. Whether it is stamps, beermats or railway locomotives collectors collect with a passion and in recent years have overtaken many National Museums as custodians of the nation’s industrial heritage. There are several reasons for this but most of them come back to funding cuts to those institutions originally charged with this role.
One major problem is that of storage, this happens to most of us who collect, and our collections often grow to exceed our ability to safely store it, so we must re-evaluate the importance of each item we have and decide what to do with those at the bottom of the list. Often this is the time to pass those objects on, but instead sometimes they are relegated to a damp and insecure garden shed and start their inevitable rapid decline
If this scenario strikes a chord with you, spare a thought for a National Museum. Their difference is that once they have accepted an object into their collection, they have an obligation by Act of Parliament to store, conserve (and where possible exhibit and research) it - literally forever. The cost of providing secure and suitable storage facilities for an ever-growing reserve collection (i.e. objects not on public display) is huge and blows a big hole in their annual budget. The knock-on effect of this is that less funding is available for museums to undertake many of their traditional roles.
Fortunately for radio and television historic technology there are several splendid groups of enthusiasts around the country who have rallied round to preserve, restore, exhibit and explain this part of our National Heritage. Many of them have put together world-class collections of their own and work tirelessly to save this history from the scrapheap.
However, it would be wrong to overlook the outstanding collection held by the Science Museum Group, so here’s some background to that collection, bearing in mind that my knowledge of it only goes up to 2007.
In 1987 I was appointed as the Science Museum’s Senior Curator of Television, a new post that had not existed before. Based at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford my appointment led on from work I had done the previous year for their two new television galleries and one of my first tasks was to discover the extent of the existing television collection. Prior to my arrival, as there was no separate television collection, television related objects had been collected across several collections in South Kensington, the bulk of them being in the ‘Radio Communications’, ‘Telecommunications’ and ‘Electronic Components’ collections. In total there were 227 objects. There had been a flurry of collecting at Bradford on the run up to the first television galleries opening, but most of this had been targeted at display items such as domestic television sets for the proposed galleries. These objects (approximately 30 of them) were the first to be acquired for the new ‘Television” collection.
Over the next 20 years the collection would grow to over 2500 objects, although an initial search on the Science Museum database will yield a lower number as some acquisitions (such as the Thames Television Camera Collection) may appear under a single inventory entry even though there were several hundred individual items within that collection. In recent years there has also been some attempt to reduce the amount of duplication and spare parts because of the pressure on storage.
So, what sort of things are in the collection?
Starting with those original pre-1987 acquisitions in South Kensington some of my favourites from this group are:
The oldest piece of television technology is Llewellyn B Atkinson’s scanning drum from his ‘Telectroscope’ dating from the 1880s. Then there is a quantity of Baird’s equipment, the ‘original apparatus’ from 1925, televisors, mirror drums and his ‘telechrome tube’. From the same era, we have C F Jenkins ‘Prismatic ring” – an early mechanical scanning device from the USA. There is a complete Emitron television camera chain and the final stage of the Alexandra Palace television transmitter plus one of Philo Farnsworths ‘Image Dissector’ tubes
Highlights from the post-1987 collection are many & varied, I was lucky to be able to negotiate the acquisition of some notable individual items as well as several particularly important pre-existing collections. In 1987 there was the Radio Rentals collection (Rediffusion & Doric television receivers) and the IBA collection following the closure of its television gallery in Brompton Road London. Around this time, we also acquired CMCR10 from the BBC. This Outside Broadcast truck was built by Pye in 1970 and was subsequently fitted with four EMI 2001 cameras. This was followed in 1992 by the Thames camera collection, a wonderful collection of 80 broadcast cameras with a lot of spares and accessories. The following year saw the acquisition of the Sony Industrial TV collection and over the next few years major acquisitions included the Donald Fleming collection of over 80 historic American television receivers, 20,000 original UK television commercials from the ITV association (these were handed over to the BFI for safe keeping after I left the museum) and the EMI Heritage collection. Following my retirement from the museum I worked for the BBC to catalogue their extensive historic technology collection and was closely involved in the decision to hand it over to the museum for safe-keeping.
John Trenouth

 
IS IT AN OUTSIDE BROADCAST UNIT?

MAKING TV DRAMA USING OUTSIDE BROADCAST UNITS
NICK GILBEY LOOKS AT THE HISTORY
Is there a connection?
On the left is Monoculus
An ATV OB unit used to shoot TV drama in the 1960s
The introduction of lightweight electronic cameras in the 1970s made shooting drama on location became much more feasible.  On the right is Robin Sutherland operating a portable camera from the LPU, A BBC OB unit, which was used to shoot TV drama up until 1990
From the 1950s to the 1980s, the vast majority of UK television drama was produced in studios equipped with electronic cameras, with exterior inserts shot on film. This was a practical solution, which became accepted by the broadcast television industry and the viewing public. But it was never satisfactory. The 16mm film certainly had the definition but, despite the efforts of the telecine operators, film could never match the crisp steadiness of the electronic cameras. The difference became even more noticeable when colour television arrived in the late sixties.  The solution was not wholly a technical one. Television companies, and later, the BBC, decided to produce the inserts using their OB units. Special OB units were produced or adapted for this purpose and, in the 1970s, whole drama productions started to be made on location using electronic cameras operated by OB crews - using OB units. This was became more feasible with introduction of lightweight broadcast cameras. What follows are some of the recollections of the people who worked on these pioneering television dramas.
Pat Jessup, a floor manager at ATV in the 1960s, recalls a special ATV OB unit. 'OB 4 was a Pye unit but with just two cameras and initially acted as a remote camera unit for OBs like racing. In the early 1960s it was converted into ATV's Monoculus unit with substantial reconfiguring of the internal layout.

This was a single camera unit for recording inserts for studio drama productions. It was equipped with an onboard generator so could record on the move. The single camera was a Pye Mk 5 image orthicon, the unit had an Ampex VR1000 2" VTR and a basic audio mixer. It was often usual for the unit to be powered up before leaving base in the morning so that the equipment could be warmed up, ready to use immediately on arrival at the location. There was a camera mount alongside the driver so that the camera could be carried there whilst on the move. At the end of a day's shooting it was not unusual for the Production Assistant to travel back with the VTR operator and review the rushes, whilst returning to base.

As ATV rarely used film inserts for drama, the unit was kept very busy, often on the road for six days a week. Among the programmes on which it was used were The Plane Makers and the Power Game (on which I worked) and Front Page Story, Emergency Ward 10, Virgin of the Secret Service and others.

The unit was still used on occasion as a remote unit on sports OBs.

 
THE FIRST LMCR - THE BBC"S FIRST DEDICATED OB DRAMA UNIT
Below the Photo shows the KCR40 camera with its 'vulnerable'
'back-pack' on the ground
Dave LeBreton explains how this unit came into being

 
In the seventies, I was working in the BBC’s Studio Capital Projects Dept and had been involved with the acceptance testing of broadcast colour cameras for some time, frequently with my friend and opposite number in the Television Service, John Warner.  (We had worked together in the sixties in Riverside studios).
 
In late 1972, John Warner and I were dispatched to the Bosch Fernseh factory in Darmstadt to take a look at a prototype KCR40. We had a discussion with their development team, explored the capabilities of the camera in their demonstration studio and brought home a two inch tape both of the camera output, and, using a KCU 40 studio camera, some footage of me rather awkwardly hand-holding the KCR.
 
This was judged to be a success, a finance case was raised and I prepared a contract for two KCR40 systems.  We returned to Darmstadt in late April 1973 to carry out tests in their very well-equipped acceptance area.
 
These cameras were destined for the experimental LMCR and were later installed in its successor, the LPU. Several further KCR40 systems were purchased, including two for CMCR 15, which, confusingly, also became known as the LMCR.
 
In our first visit, we expressed some concern that the extensive weight saving measures might have resulted in a camera requiring more care than is usually possible in an Outside Broadcast environment.  Post retirement and pre-covid, I used to meet up weekly with a group of ex-BBC OB engineers, who, knowing of my association with the KCR 40s, took every opportunity to regale me (in a good-natured way – I think) with stories of the problems it caused.  However, they did admit that the extended after-hours maintenance was good for the overtime payments.  Part of the trouble was the fact that the backpack spent most of its time on the ground, on the end of a long head to backpack cable.  If forgotten, the backpack could be dragged along when tracking, and the bottom of the backpack was a largely open ventilation grille with the power board immediately above, which caused havoc if it ended up in a puddle.  However, some of the criticisms levelled at the KCR 40 resulted from their being deployed as add-on cameras to other types of production where the limitations of the small lenses were evident.
The majority of the electronics  of the  KCR 40 were housed in the LMCR. The very portable camera head was connected to the back-pack then onwards to the LMCR using a multi-core cable
The VTR Truck
The LMCR did not carry a videotape recorder, so a 2" VTR needed to be installed in a separate vehicle. Perry Mitchell, a BBC vision engineer at the time, remembers how the first BBC drama recording unit was put together.
 'I can speak with much more authority about the VTR truck because I built it with a hand from the BBC Equipment Dept. It had a ridiculous ‘Capital Budget’ of £1000 but a more generous ‘Maintenance Budget’. It was built using the original truck housing the first ever UK mobile VTR (MVTR1), with an Ampex VR 1000. That had gone but it still had the full height rack cabinet. We inherited a brand new RCA TR-61, which was destined for NI, but for some reason they couldn’t use it for a couple of years. I spent the whole capital budget on the installation of a used air conditioner from Shepherds Bush Market! The truck, which was rescued from the redundant vehicle pound at Kendal Avenue, was surprisingly reliable; it had a petrol engine which was unusual.
The VTR truck worked very well with the drama unit. It was very roomy and thus was able to house all the ‘onlookers’ that drama inevitably gathers. I had a very interesting (and lucrative) year or so working mostly on Z Cars and then The Survivors.
The drama unit was originally conceived to replace 16mm film, but evolved to produce 100% mobile video production. I remember doing an experimental drama  a year or two earlier with a VR3000 portable VTR and a ‘minicam’ truck. It was required to duplicate an entire script written for a film shoot. At one point we had the camera rigged in the back of a Cortina Estate with the back door removed and the operator hanging out to get a wide enough shot of the two occupants in the front. The camera signal was then RF sent to the truck (with me recording) which followed the car around locations. It worked OK technically but the only reference to the outside world for the crew in the truck was the camera pictures and when mobile the resultant delay caused horrible nausea!
The big issue for the drama unit was the size of the operation. It took at least an hour to get set up. I remember one scene in particular from Z Cars where we shot what was a few seconds of action in a pub and it took all afternoon! The designer was waxing lyrical about how authentic it looked on the pictures! The scripts were modified to minimise location moves, but make the most of those used.'
The success of the LMCR, and the 'cobbled-together' MVTR unit,  led to the design and construction of a purpose built drama unit, the London Production Unit - LPU. ( occasionally the LPU covered sporting and other events).
The LPU on location for BBC's long running children's series  Grange Hill
LPU Interior.
Ace cameraman - Robin Sutherland, learns to fly on the LPU
 
In the late 1970s the two KCR40 cameras, in the LPU, were replaced by three Sony 330 cameras. Brian Summers recalls the Sony 330 at the BBC in the 1980s
'This camera was a major step forward in camera design. Fully self-contained, 12volts in – PAL video out! Introduced in 1980 it was widely used in outside broadcasts both for live work and location recording. It could be operated as stand alone with either a local VTR maybe a 1” VPR5 or a radio transmitter link back to the OB unit. You could also use it with a base station with either multi-core cable or with triax adaptor units.  I worked with these Sony cameras around 1986 and remember their reliability and stability of registration - switch on and go! '

 
Shooting Grange Hill on Dartmoor. Robin on camera 1 - Selwyn Cox is standing  on the edge of a rock with the second camera. Selwyn was on the original crew of MCR21 back in 1964. He was also an experienced rock climber.
Robin recalls his time working on the LPU
Early in the 1970s the BBC did start shooting drama using a main OB scanner and EMI 2001 cameras.  Robin’s  first experience, working  on location drama, was  on  The Recruiting Officer, shot at Laycock Abbey and around Wiltshire. ‘We had a ten week shoot. I had done three years in studios, before moving to OBs, so I knew about shooting drama, but moving those heavy cameras around on location, and getting movement in the shots, made it really hard work. It needed lightweight gear to be able to put the camera on tracks and move things around more easily.’
EMI 2001 cameras being used on the period drama shoot

By the time the LPU arrived, working practices had changed considerably. Robin ‘It was pioneering stuff – a sea-change from our traditional fare of covering events and sport. It was taking over the work that was traditionally done on 16mm film. For a studio drama, any outdoor shots were done on film and it never matched.’ Robin became camera supervisor on the LPU in the 1980s, by that the LPU had become very popular with the BBC’s drama producers having successfully shot many series completely on location, including  the Mayor of Casterbridge, The Lives and Lives of a She Devil and Blott on the Landscape. ‘The big advantage we had over film was that the LPU combined lightweight decent quality cameras in a relatively small vehicle. All you needed was the scanner (LPU) and the camera/ grips van and with those you could record using single or multi-camera – that’s why it lasted so long with children’s drama. You could virtually come out at the end of a week with an edited episode of Grange Hill. All the shots were graded – multi-camera shooting with matched pictures  - and you could review your tape instantly. It was a very cost effective and time effective way of shooting things. It did have great advantages and it did bring us, who worked in OBs, the opportunities to learn a whole load of new skills, shooting drama. Personally, and for those who had gone to OBs via studios, all the same principles of shooting drama applied – eye-lines, crossing the line, matching shots, all the things that make drama look good. When I first went to OBs  I was working with big cameras on sport and events, so when this, shooting drama, came in we thought it was great. Top professionals on the production side of the BBC expect good standards. If you couldn’t hack it then they wouldn’t come back to OBs again. They would go somewhere else. They were our customers if you like. I always remember Mike Winser ( one of the first cameramen to work on the LPU) saying that when he started on the She Devils with Philip Saville - who was alright, but a very hard taskmaster, very demanding - on the first week of the shoot they did unbelievable complicated things. They got through them and Philip was happy with it. Mike said to Philip ‘You started us off at the deep end.’ Philip replied ‘I wanted to see what you blokes could do.’
 
The BBC’s drama department kept on increasing their demands. Robin recalls the production he worked on back in the 1980s. 'When planning the series Shadow of the Noose, this was to be a studio production shot at Television Centre with exteriors shot using the LPU.  The series always ended each episode with a lengthy courtroom sequence. The original plan was to shoot these scenes in the studio. It was a large set, which would have to be taken down after shooting each episode and reconstructed the set at a later date ready for the next episode.  The producers turned to the LPU. However, after doing some tests, the production team did not like the colour rendition produced by the Sony 330 cameras, which were now installed in the LPU. At that time BBC OB’s had just bought two LDK90s for the new sports unit. Before that came into operation, these cameras temporarily replaced the Sony 330s in the LPU. The courtroom was built, not in the studio, but installed in a warehouse for the duration of the shoot. The LPU was used to shoot the majority of the eight episodes, with only a few of the interiors being shot at Television Centre.

 
The two LDK 90s were installed in the LPU for the duration of the shoot during 1987 - Brian Summers describes the camera.
Robin continued to work on the LPU which was used considerably by the production team of Grange Hill . The interiors of Grange Hill were shot in an unused studio at Elstree with the LPU being parked outside linked to its three cameras but there was a lot of location work around London and further afield. Robin and the LPU spent two weeks on Dartmoor for the schools summer trip.
Robin shooting an episode of Grange Hill using a Sony 330 which looks more
like a film camera with a matte box and monocular viewfinder
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO ONE OF THESE
SPECIAL OB UNITS?
MONOCULUS IN ITS AFTERLIFE
 
When Monoculus was demobbed, several members of the British Amateur television Club (BATC) took the opportunity to acquire it. This was back in the early 1970s. Joe Rose G3STO was a leading light in this group helped by Alan Watson and Alan Pratt. Joe's objective was to use Monoculus to promote amateur television, think of amateur radio but with pictures. It made it first amateur appearance in 1971 at the RSGB VHF convention with 4 Pye Mk3 Image Orthicon camera installed.
 
Over the next few years more equipment was installed as it became available including a rather nice EMI vision mixer with an effects bank. All this was valve equipment with heat, power and maintenance problems. Joe was a GPO telephone engineer and he worked with great enthusiasm to a very high standard on Monoculus and other projects.
 
I was drawn into the 'Gang' well more of a volunteer really, and helped with showing the van and cameras at the Leicester Radio Rally. Monoculus had a 2 inch Quad, an RCA VR1000c, this is quite a large item both in size and complexity. I spent ages trying to get it to work properly, there was a rack unit called an 'Intersync Framing Unit' that controlled the run up of the servo amplifiers and motors.  It's worth mentioning these servo amplifiers, 'easy peasy these days', but back then they were large valve units with 2 KT88s output valves in each one. 
 
Sadly Monoculus developed engine problems and a decision was made to transfer the equipment to a new (second-hand) van and as that was a time before our preservation instincts flowered, Monoculus and much of its equipment was lost but fortunately the cameras survived.
 
Brian Summers   
Inside Joe Rose's Monoculus
LO21 TRAVELS NORTH

I received these photos of LO21 from Chris Wyatt showing that MCR21, in its colour days as  LO21,  did venture further north than Watford Gap for one of its last transmissions in November 1976
Chris recalls. 'Just read your article in BBC PA re MCR 21 and I thought you might be interested in the somewhat grainy pictures I have of the 1975 opening of first North sea oil pipeline.  I was a young TA on the starter for the radio link at Grangemouth, along with engineer Bill O’Kanes. As it was a grade one, we had an OP6 at the starter as well. I think it was Dennis Becket. Kenneth Roy was presenter at Grangemouth.
By this time I reckon LO21 had a couple of EMI 2001 cameras  - certainly looks like them under the rain covers.'
 
We had MCR27 (Like MCR21 - one of the 10 PYE built OB units) in Scotland fitted with PC60’s  -it did a drive in ( in tunnel ) to studio B for reporting Scotland, except when it was away for football - usually Wednesdays and Saturdays, when we moved two of studio A Emi’s through to B.  Studio A then dropped to 3-camera operation - one being the operational spare.'
SWAINS LANE
The Broadcast Television Technology Trust, the organisation behind the MCR21 Project, are now owners and guardians of the cable end apparatus at Swains Lane. The cable ends belonged to BT, but the installation belonged to the BBC. The transfer of ownership was complicated, so a big thank you to David from Connected Earth, Dave Shawyer - BT - and Mike Steed, Andy Stuart and Pantelis Pagonis - BBC
In the last newsletter, Philip Upton wrote about his time working on BBC radio links. The article received much praise from readers. Philip did say that he believed that it was the RAF who set up Swains Lane. While it is true that the RAF used Swains Lane during the war,
Norman Green pointed out that the BBC erected a wooden mast and installed a OB unit receiver at Swains Lane about 18 months after the BBC started television transmissions from Alexandra Palace. It was found necessary to have a separate receiving point some distance away from the Alexandra Palace transmitter aerials as the signal from these were causing interference to the original OB receiving aerial which was mounted on the Alexandra Palace mast.
Also, in last newsletter, I said that the photo above was an ATV unit covering Princess Margaret's wedding in 1960. I knew it was a royal wedding, as I had read Dicky Howett's very informative book on the developments of broadcast television, but I got the wrong wedding. Dicky took the photo on his Yashica Mat 120 roll film camera in 1963. It was Princess Alexandra's wedding. And I didn't credit Dicky for the photo - apologies Dicky.
Dicky's book is available frm Kelly Publishers or from Amazon

VOLUNTEERING
Paul Sweetland has joined our team of volunteers. Paul is developing a system, which will drive the LCD flat-screen display monitors that will be installed in MCR21, in front of the original  Pye CRT monitors. The system is built using Raspberry Pi 4s. The system lets the short video clips loop, giving a continuous output and keeping the five screens in sync.
 
Paul with the system - feeding the five monitors.
Below watch the system in action.
DISPLAY MOCK-UP
We do need help in many ways. So if you have some spare time, please get in touch. There are lots of tasks people can do from their homes - we are looking for someone to run our Facebook page.
Paul Read continues his series of videos showing the process of restoring MCR21's Pye monitors.
PAUL'S VIDEO 5

YOUR SUPPORT
Our Treasurer, Jeremy Owen, has set up an agreement with Amazon so that we receive a small percentage (0.5%) on all purchases. It would be good for us if you could consider joining the scheme

More information here
AMAZON SMILE
We would welcome supporters of the MCR21 to become a

Friend of the MCR21 Project

by setting up a monthly standing order of £5 £10 £15 or £20

As well as receiving our quarterly newsletter, Friends will also get regular progress reports and invitations
to our operational and launch days.
Please do contact us
for our bank details

brian@mcr21.org.uk  - nick@mcr21.org.uk
or telephone Nick 07831 219957


If you would kindly be willing be make a single donation, the button below will take you to our donation page
DONATE


Thank you to Brian Summers, Ken Osbourn, Keith Gunn, John Trenouth, Pat Jessup, Perry Mitchell, Dave LeBreton, Robin Sutherland, James Thorpe, Andrew Brown, Chris Wyatt, Norman Green, Dicky Howett, Paul Sweet, Paul Read, Jeremy Owen and Sheila Gilbey for the articles, information, help and photos.
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MCR21 · The Abbots House · The Street · Charmouth, Dorset DT6 6QF · United Kingdom

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