Working in presentation 

20 June 2017

From Working in Television published by The Bodley Head in 1965

Type of Work: We take for granted the smooth running of the television transmission, the fact that programme follows programme with no perceptible pause, even when they come from different parts of the country or even from different parts of the world; that on ITV advertisements are inserted at exactly the right point; that as a programme fades the announcer immediately appears in vision to tell us about a forthcoming production, and that if a programme under-runs a short film is shown. We take all this for granted, not realising perhaps that smooth continuity, in the BBC and in each of the ITV Companies, is the result of the coordinating work of a department known as Presentation. The activities of Presentation are centred on a network control room, where operators select and integrate all output into a single, smooth transmission. At the BBC, these operators are known as Presentation Production Assistants, and in the ITV Companies as Assistant Transmission Controllers. At one time this was a strictly male preserve, but now there are several women doing this work.

An important aspect of the work of a presentation department is Promotion, a method of publicising programmes on the air. This can take many forms; a trailer with commentary, a caption (a printed or hand-lettered statement shown on the screen), a statement by the announcer, or an interview between the announcer and an artist appearing in a forthcoming production. The studio direction of any promotion ‘spots’ in which the announcer appears, is a further responsibility of the BBC’s presentation production assistant or ITV’s assistant transmission controller.

Presentation has other responsibilities. The whole operation clearly needs the most careful advance planning. At the BBC there is the production of ‘filler’ films to be used if the network fails, of short regular programmes, such as ‘Points of View’, which relate to the content of BBC programmes, the actual making of trailers and the production of weather forecasts. At the BBC there is also a duty office which deals with viewers’ telephoned comments and enquiries. A large staff is involved, apart from the presentation production assistants or assistant transmission controllers, but I shall not be going into details about these other posts because, as for instance in the case of Presentation Editors at the BBC, or their opposite numbers, Transmission Controllers, in ITV, there are too few vacancies to constitute a possible field of employment.

Announcers also come under Presentation, but I am covering their job separately (see below).


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Other television careers


PRODUCTION: The director and his two assistants in the control room above the studio

PRODUCTION: A production secretary times a programme in a BBC control gallery

DESIGN: A scenic artists’ studio at BBC Television Centre

Presentation Production Assistant (ITV: Assistant Transmission Controller)


Personal Qualities Necessary: Presentation production assistants need to have both artistic and technical abilities. They must be alert and clear-headed, for much of their work on network control is conducted in an atmosphere of high pressure activity, with programme material coming in from all directions. In the BBC an error could cause important programme material to be missed, and in ITV there is an additional hazard, for a small error, such as a late signal for advertisements to be inserted, could lose the company business worth thousands of pounds. Another important quality is the ability to make instant decisions: this exercise in judgement is perhaps more necessary at the BBC than in an ITV Company, for in the latter, because of the commercials, it is necessary only to work to the clock. In the BBC, the presentation production assistant may decide to allow an important programme to over-run, and cut out some promotion which was to follow.

How to Become a Presentation Production Assistant: There is no prescribed path to this job, and in both BBC and ITV holders of the post come from a variety of backgrounds. At the BBC, some of the presentation production assistants, both men and women, started their careers in the Corporation in sound broadcasting, mostly in studio management. In the ITV Companies, some of the men have technical backgrounds, and some of the women have been secretaries to directors (known in ITV as production assistants).

Prospects of Employment: There are a limited number of vacancies, but these are difficult jobs, calling for unusual combinations of qualities and abilities, so there is always a need for the right kind of young man or woman.


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Other television careers


DESIGN: ATV’s Elstree Studio Centre

MAKE-UP: A make-up assistant at work

MAKE-UP: Re-dressing wigs in the postiche room

The Presentation Production Assistant at Work: Working in network control, the production assistant sits at a selection panel faced with a battery of monitor sets: one shows the current programme; in another the announcer is poised waiting to make the closing announcement; a third shows a rehearsal in the news studio; in a fourth can be seen the films which are to be inserted at the appropriate moment; and in another the forthcoming programme, which may be an outside broadcast. All this output must be co-ordinated by the presentation production assistant or assistant transmission controller.

‘By pressing the relevant buttons on our selection panel, one assistant transmission controller told me, ‘we can, in sequence, fade out a programme, run-off a series of commercials, bring on the announcer, signal to an operator in another control room to introduce appropriate background music and then fade into another programme. We have always to be on the alert for a programme which might under run. We have to fill this with material that is interesting to viewers, but flexible enough to be shortened or lengthened as required. To fill this gap, we might signal to the announcer to begin speaking, and cue the caption operator to be ready with a sequence of transparency slides, or we might decide to insert a short film.’

In ITV, where each company inserts its own advertisements in breaks in programmes, timing must be to an accuracy of better than plus or minus one second. There is more flexibility in the BBC’s timing, but even so, with regional networking, a great deal of exact dovetailing is necessary, so the presentation production assistants must be highly accurate with their timing.

When they are not working on network control, the production assistants, and their opposite numbers in ITV, are equally busy. They preview films and recordings, checking that every foot is available and up to standard, they check the second-to-second account of the day’s transmission, and they direct the short interludes between programmes in which the announcer and other artists appear.

Salaries: BBC Presentation Production Assistant – £1,570 to £2,020 per annum. ITV Transmission Controller/Programme Officer – £1,254 up


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Other television careers


COSTUME: Designing and fitting an artist’s costume at Rediffusion

COSTUME: Hidden behind the hats is a dresser from the BBC Make-up and Wardrobe Department

CASTING AND ACTING: Another of ATV’s popular Sergeant Cork productions



Type of Work: There are so few openings for announcers that in one sense this particular job merits only a brief paragraph. However, as both the BBC and the programme companies are always on the look-out for new talent in this field, I am going into it in a little detail.

The BBC employs two kinds of announcers for their television service, those who appear in vision, who are always women, and those whom we only hear, who are always men. The former are known as Vision Announcers, the latter as Sound Announcers. Most of the programme companies use only vision announcers, who may be men or women. Besides their announcing duties, BBC vision announcers prepare their own material; in the ITV Companies they usually put scripts that have been written for them into their own words. All vision announcers are occasionally called upon to conduct interviews. BBC sound announcers (television) write their own scripts and perform certain studio duties such as operating captions, playing records, etc.


Vision Announcers

Personal Qualities Necessary: The most important attribute of an announcer, I was told, is ‘the ability to communicate in a way that is acceptable to viewers’. Now what does this imply? It means having an appearance that men and women of all ages find agreeable. It means a voice that is pleasant and speech that is unaffected and clear. It means a manner that is friendly yet reserved. A facility with words is of course necessary, even for those announcers who do not compile their own scripts. The reason for this is that it is sometimes necessary for the announcer to ad lib fluently and appropriately if something unexpected happens. Coupled with this, of course, is presence of mind: the announcer must never panic.

How to Become an Announcer: It is not possible to train yourself in any way to become an announcer. Becoming an announcer, you see, is not the culmination of a career: it is just part of one. The viewing public likes a change of face periodically, and for this reason all announcers are on short term contract.

The BBC and ITV Companies are swamped with applications for the post of announcer throughout the year, and the first selection for audition, I was told at the BBC, is always on the basis of experience. One of the most useful backgrounds is journalism. This gives the requisite facility with words and the ability to conduct an interview. In addition announcers come from the theatre, the teaching profession and sound radio: the list, in fact, is endless. At the audition, it emerges whether or not the candidates have the necessary personal qualities. I must emphasise that you cannot become an announcer on the strength of winning a beauty contest; as I hope I have made clear, appearance is important, but it is by no means the most important qualification.


Miss Meryl O’Keeffe


The Vision Announcer at Work: BBC announcer Meryl O’Keeffe bears out all I have written about the necessary personal qualities, and her experience is particularly appropriate to her present occupation. She has always worked in broadcasting, beginning her career in radio in South Africa, where she gained excellent all-round experience, announcing, editing, commentating, and even acting as disc jockey. She then came to this country and joined the BBC on the production staff of ‘Woman’s Hour’. This was followed by a year working on women’s programmes at Rediffusion. When Southern Television started operations she became one of their first three announcers, and says that working in a small company gives very valuable experience: announcers are given a far wider variety of duties to perform than in a large organisation. In 1963 she was invited to join BBC Television.

Miss O’Keeffe explained something of her work to me; ‘As we compile our own scripts at the BBC, we have to know what is going on in the world, else we might make some terrible gaffes, so every morning I comb through one newspaper and read quickly through another. When I am on duty I start work in the Television Centre at about two in the afternoon, preparing my script for the evening’s transmission. I am told at what times I shall be on the air, exactly how many minutes will be allocated to me, down to the last second, and am given a general indication of what I have to say either about that evening’s programmes, or forthcoming attractions. I then have to get hold of the necessary information, often from producers, the Reference Library and so on, and then write a script in a form that is accurate, arresting and has a personal slant. Sometimes we have to compress a great deal of information into a thirty-second spot. All this takes the major part of the afternoon. At about six o’clock I go to the make-up studio and change, and at 7.30 I am on the air. From that time, however few the occasions that I appear, I must be on the alert in case something unexpected happens and I have to fill in or perhaps explain a last minute change. This can be frustrating, but it’s fatal to let one’s attention slip.’

I asked her if she enjoyed being a celebrity. She considered. ‘Yes, I do. After all, it’s part of the job.’


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Other television careers


FILMING: On location with Rediffusion’s ‘No Hiding Place’

TELEVISION NEWS: Kenneth Kendall discusses a News script with the Duty Editor

TELEVISION NEWS: What the BBC Newsreader sees when he is on the air

Sound Announcers: When only the voice is involved it has been found that men project more authority than women, and this is why this province is exclusively a male one. Sound announcers compile their own scripts, and as the voice alone is used, the words must make an immediate impact. Often they write and speak the commentaries for trailers promoting future programmes, and this requires considerable writing ability. Again, these announcers come from a variety of backgrounds: some have been actors, some have worked in sound radio, many have worked in Forces and Colonial broadcasting, and others have been journalists.

Salaries and Fees: Announcers are usually engaged on short term contracts, and each negotiates his or her own terms of payment.


Other television careers


ENGINEERS: ATV camera crews at work

ENGINEERS: The sound engineer matches the sound track to the pictures

INTERVIEWERS AND COMMENTATORS: Richard Dimbleby talks to Mr Harold Wilson in the ‘Panorama’ studios


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