These are the Plane Makers 

13 October 2016

From the TVTimes published 21 April 1963.

In an imposing link office in Associated Television’s studio at Elstree, a preoccupied man sits behind a desk. He has never been on television, but from his desk, with clockwork efficiency, he runs an army of technical experts who make possible a programme enjoyed by millions every Monday night.

He is 36-year-old Rex Firkin,[1] overall producer of The Plane Makers.[2]

Firkin is happy to talk volubly and at length about television in general and his particular series. As overall producer he controls every stage of production and is ultimately responsible for budgeting the series and all major policy decisions.

To help him, he has two pretty girls — Jacky Stoller,[3] production assistant, and Joan Thorn, production secretary.

Firkin has been responsible for such programmes as Emergency – Ward 10,[4] Probation Officer,[5] Deadline Midnight,[6] Call Oxbridge 2000[7] and Harpers West One.[8]

He is particularly excited about The Plane Makers because it has broken new territory and will, in his opinion, set a trend for future serials.

Each week’s episode is a play within itself, with a largely different cast, a different writer, and an altering production team

The fact that each week’s episode is a play within itself, with a largely different cast, a different writer, and an altering production team, results, said Firkin, “in raising the whole conception into a serious creative project.”

As an added boost, the show is screened live, unlike most series. “This gives the cast and production team a feeling of urgency which brings out the very best,” added Firkin.

The show was screened first on February 4, but the idea for the series was conceived seven months earlier. The present series is due to end in the last week in May.

“Top flight writers are at a premium.” said Firkin. “By offering them one or two episodes we can hire them, whereas they probably wouldn’t be interested in a whole series.” Writers of the calibre of Richard Harris[9] and Bob Holies[10] prove his point.

“Top flight writers are at a premium. By offering them one or two episodes we can hire them, whereas they probably wouldn’t be interested in a whole series”

Before a script is considered ready it will have been gone over in detail by the script editing team of John Whitney[11] and Geoffrey Bellman,[12] Firkin and the director for the week.

Team work is something in which Firkin believes fervently. “Too often.” he said, “people in television work in their own tight little circles. To produce a really creative atmosphere everyone must work together and be aware of what is going on around them.”

Three weeks before the show is screened, Barry Ford,[13] of ATV’s casting department in London, starts hunting for actors. He prepares a list which is then shown to Firkin and the director for approval.

Back at Elstree, designer Vic Symons[14] is planning his sets. His problems are to make a comparatively small television studio look like a vast aircraft factory floor.

A fortnight before the show is aired, the actors assemble for their first read through. This is a day of turmoil for the production teams, who have THREE shows on the floor: one starting, one in its second week of rehearsal, and one being transmitted that day.

Although the programme is live, about 10 per cent of each show is actually exteriors

At this rehearsal the production team meets for the first time.

During the first week of rehearsals, the No. 1 cameraman and the lighting director will work out approximate camera angles and lighting for the sets, and the wardrobe department will take measurements.

Sound mixer Pete Lodge also will have started work on his sound effects and background noises — all those whirring machines we see on the screen aren’t making any noise at all. What we hear is recorded at Handley Page.[15]

And outside broadcast planner Ross Compton will have “taped” the exterior shots. For although the programme is live, about 10 per cent of each show is actually exteriors.

At 8.30 a.m. on the day before the show, camera rehearsals start. The sets go up and the electricians start rigging the lights. By 4.30 p.m., everything is ready for the rehearsals which may go on until late in the evening.

On transmission day rehearsals begin in the morning and run straight into the afternoon dress rehearsals. At 7.30 p.m. final checks are made on the technical side, and at 8 p.m. the show goes on.

An hour later it is over and the actors can celebrate. But the production team are already worrying about the next show.

  1. Rex Firkin (3 July 1926 – 7 December 2014) started his career at ATV in 1955. He moved to LWT in 1970 where he was responsible for Upstairs Downstairs.
  2. The Plane Makers was created by Wilfred Greatorex for ATV and ran from 1963 to 1965, when it was retitled The Power Game, which ran from 1965 to 1969, ending when the show’s leading actor, Patrick Wymark, died suddenly in 1970.
  3. Later a television and film producer, with credits including YTV’s Hadleigh and Raffles and SelecTV’s Pie in the Sky.
  4. Medical soap opera running 1957 to 1967.
  5. Drama serial, 1959 to 1962.
  6. Newspaper drama series, 1960 to 1961.
  7. Emergency – Ward 10 spin off, 1961 to 1962.
  8. Soap opera set in a department store, 1961 to 1963.
  9. Prolific television writer, born 1934. Later credits include ABC’s Redcap and The Avengers, Rediffusion’s No Hiding Place, Thames’s Hazell, the BBC’s Shoestring and the comedy film and TV series Outside Edge.
  10. Robert Holles (1926 – 1999), a television playwright with plays performed in the Armchair Theatre, Drama ’66 [etc], Play for Today and Play of the Week strands.
  11. Born 1930. Another talented and prolific television writer, creator of Harpers West One, Danger UXB and The Informer.
  12. 1914-2001. Later co-creator, with John Whitney, of Harpers West One and The Informer.
  13. A casting director at ATV and later Central for his entire career.
  14. 1933-2014. Later production designer on programmes as varied as The Jewel in the Crown and The Price Is Right.
  15. Aircraft manufacturers based in Cricklewood.

    Notes by Russ J Graham

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