TV canteen 

22 June 2015

For the TV Mirror’s 13 February 1954 edition, Ken Jones paid a visit to the BBC’s Lime Grove and listened in on the conversations in the canteen, capturing a unique slice of television life in the genteel days before the BBC had competition. We reprint his article in full below, with the usual reminder that it is, in places, very much of its time. – Russ J Graham, Editor in chief

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TV Canteen – where the shows are planned over sausage and mash! – by KEN JONES

Specially photographed by TV Mirror

“THERE’S more rehearsing and planning done here than anywhere else in the building,” said producer Michael Westmore as he led me into Lime Grove’s canteen.

A little removed from the main studios is this double-decker building, where over three thousand cooked meals are served a day. It is a busy place. No matter whom you seek (in the TV world) sooner or later they turn up for a meal or snack.

Perhaps you find them like I found Bob Tronson, the Whirligig director. He was working out a new sequence with Joy Laurey (manipulator of Mr. Turnip) whilst his beef and two veg. lay forgotten on his plate.

Mr. Tulip was perched on the table, too, but he looked unconcerned, perhaps because Joy always favours salads and ice-cream, which is served in six different flavours.

Currant buns for Peter

At the chrome-finished self-service counter, artists, technicians, and all the people who make up TV were rubbing shoulders. Peter Brough, with Archie of course, glanced hopefully along the counter, his eyes searching for his favourite currant buns.

“I don’t always have time for a meal you know, and these currant buns go down so well with the coffee,” he said.

Next to him an “Elizabethan” fresh from the Spanish Main jostled Guy Fawkes, in full regalia – plus a sports jacket.

The small square tables, which were constantly filling and emptying, produced a babble of sound which threatened to drown the loudspeaker and its urgent messages – “Mr. Huw Wheldon wanted on the phone please” – “Will Mr. Waldman ring studio…”

Peter Brough summed up the noise in one short sentence: “A friendly atmosphere.”

Tribute was paid to the kindness of the back-room boys and girls – the canteen staff – by Jeanne Heal: “When we had the blind boys and girls up for a programme they served a special meal of steak and ice-cream, to help make them feel happy about the whole thing.”

Miss Heal turned to her tea with a parting shot – “This is the nicest time in the canteen, having a cup of tea with lemon, and a chat with friends.”

It takes a staff of forty, working shifts, to cater for this fifteen hundred strong family, and in her little office behind the scenes Miss Katherine Bishop wrestles with the problem of producing a variety of meals at economic prices.

“But we manage,” said Miss Bishop. “Of course, being a non-proflt making canteen, prices are kept down.”

With a table d’hôte lunch, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, cabbage, mashed potatoes, compote plums and custard at 1s. 7d., her claim is well founded.

Tea is so popular that trolleys are sent round the studios to help cut down the congestion for the morning and afternoon breaks.

Sometimes the canteen takes on an almost dignified atmosphere. “These are hospitality days,” said Miss Bishop. “The only time alcohol is allowed, and then only to guests and hosts. Perhaps a visiting delegation from Paris or America. We try to vary their menu with something special. But we still adhere to a strict budget.”

Fake food as well

Most actors seem to prefer their meals after the tension of a show.

Joyce Grenfell is one of these. “At ordinary times it is all right. But not just before doing a job that requires calm, concentration and quiet. Above all” – she smiles – “I’m not in favour of that sort of strip-lighting. It turns tomatoes khaki and ham mauve. This is not encouraging!”

But if the lighting can change colours, that is nothing to Chef’s skill. When actors eat sandwiches and drink tea on the screen it is the real thing. But, for a banquet lay-out the main array is possibly false, although it is all made in the kitchens.

Miss Bishop nodded. “Props! Poor Chef sometimes has some tricky problems. There was the time when Terry-Thomas, I think it was, wanted a herring. No problem there. But this one had to look like the real thing and be made of jelly.

“Then there was the chicken. The script called for roast chicken and the actors had to eat the drumsticks. Imagine the cost just for one act and all the rehearsals! Chef solved it by making a succulent carcase out of pastry and sticking on two real drumsticks. For once everyone refused breast.”

“Well, I’ll eat my hat! ” I exclaimed, and she responded:

“You can if you like. We specialise in edible brims for bowlers!”


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