Calling ALL Europe 

29 January 2018

…it’s a long day before the News at Ten

From the TVTimes London for 9-15 December 1967

Television has its own “Common Market” and it includes most countries in Europe. Every day of the week they link up to offer the best items on their news schedules through the Eurovision news exchange.

Pictures seen on television of, say, a plane crash in Spain, the Pope in Rome, or a Moscow parade are frequently brought to Britain by way of Eurovision.

The official name is the European Broadcasting Union, which was set up in 1950. It now has 24 members and 40 associates in 29 countries. It serves an estimated 40 million homes.

Most people as they watch the News at Ten from Independent Television News do not realise that the process of bringing in some of the pictures they are watching started 12 hours earlier.

At 10.15 a.m. nearly all the countries in Europe hook up for a morning conference. A recorded message announces: “This is the programme conference in Brussels, EBU.” Brussels is the technical nerve centre of the operation.

Details of the stories — or expected stories — will have been telephoned or telexed to Eurovision’s administrative head quarters in Geneva during the night or early in the morning.

Despite the complexity of the operation the conference is on a friendly informal basis with everyone on first-name terms. But it helps to be able to speak at least three languages.

There is also the jargon — French Television is ORTF Paris, the German state-run television network is ARD Hamburg and the independent German network is ZDF Mainz. These abbreviations are similar to ITN, or BBC London.

A usual message would run “ARD offer demonstrations at political meeting addressed by National Democratic Party leader Von Thadden. Is there any interest?” Then the networks who think they might like that story for their news bulletins give their names.

At the ITN end 21-year-old Helen Armitage. the Foreign News Editor’s secretary, who speaks three languages as well as English, makes a shorthand note of all the stories being offered by other networks, including the length of the film and whether it is silent or with sound.

The nerve centre of Europe’s television news service – the monitors’ bay in Brussels.

Helen also notes all the stories offered by UPITN — ITN’s associated news film agency. It syndicates all ITN’s own material. Cameramen all over the world are shooting stories for ITN that could be offered to all the members of Eurovision.

ITN’s foreign news editor, Dutch-born Hans Verhoeven checks through the day’s list. He notes all the stories being offered at the 10.15 conference but usually does not firmly indicate which ones ITN might want until after the editor, Sir Geoffrey Cox, has held his morning news conference to discuss the day’s news. The usual deadline for acceptance is 12.45 p.m.

The final phase of the day’s operation gets under way at 3.45 p.m. when the European television networks hook up on the audio circuit to provide one another with dope sheets — a brief outline of the story to be transmitted — and a detailed shot list including the length in seconds of each shot.

At four o’clock up comes the Eurovision identity card on ITN’s monitor sets — it is similar to the ones seen on British television before programmes start — then the day’s film stories are run with a short gap between each of them to allow some stations to drop out, and to let others join in.

Before each film there is a brief identity card of the originating point to let everyone know it is coming from Italy (RAI) or Spain (TVE) or wherever it may be.

All the stations record the news stories they want for their news bulletins by tele-recording them or using videotape. Later, these stories may be edited and a commentary written.

The story may also include some “natural sound,” that is to say the actual sound of the event. When all the stories have been transmitted this is the official end of the day, but if a big news story breaks, all the television networks are called by a “hot line” telephone as well as by telex, and within minutes of a story arriving at any Eurovision point in Europe, it can be transmitted to everyone.

Eurovision is also used by some members to speed up the arrival of stories. If, for example, ITN wanted a film from Vietnam for News at Ten, but it was impossible to get it to London in time, they might be able to fly it into Rome, from where it would be sent by Eurovision to London.

The cost of a Eurovision News Exchange item can vary, depending on the number of networks that take part in the hook-up. The actual film stories are free, but the cost of each day’s transmission operation is divided between the participants on a complicated sliding scale that takes into account the estimated number of sets serviced by the networks taking the item, as well as how many networks want it.

Eurovision’s opposite number behind the Iron Curtain is called Intervision and the two organisations are joining to provide each other with news stories.

At the time of the death of Indian Prime Minister Shastri in January, 1966, a record hook up transmitted pictures thousands of miles by land line from Tashkent in Russia to London.

An example of foreign coverage by UPITN happened during the recent anti-British riots in Hong Kong. As soon as the cameraman had shot his film, he put it on the first plane to London. Then he cabled the UPITN offices to let them know what plane the film was on and when it would be arriving at Heathrow Airport. He would also give a very brief outline of the story.

It may take the film two days or more to reach London, but the day before it is expected UPITN telexes Geneva and offers the story. When the film arrives they then confirm the offer.

For the technicians the main problem is how best to link all the different stations — for Eurovision does not own the lines it uses. Some of them are used to transmit programmes.


And there is the problem of different line standards. Most of Europe is on 625 lines and ITN goes out on 405, and, no doubt the advent of colour will also bring a few more problems for the “back-room boys.”

In the New Year the Eurovision News Exchange will take place twice a day instead of once a day as at present, and there is also talk of a Eurovision satellite that would enable any member to send a story to another member whenever he wanted.

All this promises that ITN will be able to offer an even more up-to-the-minute news service with pictures of an event soon after it happens.

You Say

1 response to this article

Alan Keeling 24 February 2018 at 3:40 pm

Studying the array of TV monitor screens in the top photo, two of the monitors near left of picture are displaying Pye’s Test Card G, whilst the rest display the EBU test pattern.

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