A Producer’s Panics 

16 January 2023 tbs.pm/76603

 

TV Mirror cover

From TV Mirror for 27 August 1955

CERTAINLY have cause to remember my baptism in Television Outside Broadcasts. I only hope that the viewers who saw my first two attempts at producing Sports Magazine were so new to their sets that the failed to notice the disasters that befell me.

My first nightmare happened at the Roehampton Club in London. I had better explain that the series of Sports Magazine programmes, which have now been replaced by Sportsview, were half-hour affairs made up of two or three sporting items together with some topical interviews. For my first programme I decided to cover golf and croquet.

In learning television production technique, one of the basic principles drummed into the novice is that he should never find it necessary to point a camera at the sun. Naturally enough, therefore, my first enquiry on visiting Roehampton was about the position of the setting sun, as my programme was to be televised at 8.15 p.m. in midsummer.

Sunny view

The gardener on duty duly indicated to me where in his estimation the sun set, and on this information I planned the position of my cameras. What I failed to realise was that the gardener normally went home at about half-past-six and the position of the sun when he last saw it on leaving the ground was vastly different from its position two hours later.

When we came to the transmission little did we realise what was in store as the sun was sitting benignly behind a cloud, but lo and behold, at the beginning of the croquet sequence out it came and the cameraman who was preparing for some delectable pictures of croquet bails speeding over the green turf suddenly saw in his viewfinder nothing but the flaming ball of the setting sun.

The result was disastrous — the complex game of croquet was made doubly so for the viewers as the camera couldn’t look at the play! And only my newness in the job saved me from being sent straight back to Sound broadcasting.

Brainwave needed

However, my disasters were not to end there. On the next occasion a few weeks later the programme was being televised from a field in North London, and consisted of an exhibition of baseball and some interviews. The programme was scheduled to begin at 8.15 p.m. and the sun was scheduled to set at 8.30 p.m. (normally we can televise for at least half an hour after sunset in midsummer). Normally, I repeat; I hadn’t bargained for the exception to the rule.

Imagine my jitters when as early as eight o’clock heavy thunder clouds obscured the sun. Darkness began to fall prematurely, and my programme looked like tottering, too. What could be done? I quickly changed the order of items so as to get the benefit of what light there was for the demonstration of baseball which covered a large area. At 8.15 p.m. the pictures though poor were not too bad. But at 8.30 things looked pretty gloomy. Something had to be done if our interviews, which formed the second part of the programme, were going to be seen at all.

A brainwave was needed, and thank heavens was forthcoming. Some cars parked in the area were hurriedly moved to a position opposite to where Jack Crump was standing and the headlights turned on. These headlamps provided just enough light for our cameras to operate, and Jack Crump was at last able to see who he was interviewing — Gordon Pirie. The programme finished and I was practically finished as well.

The morning of Friday, 13 August, 1954, will always remain a ghastly memory for me. It happened during the final Test between England and Pakistan. I was due at the Oval to produce the morning’s session of cricket. The transmission began at midday and I left the office, twenty minutes away by car, at 11.30 a.m. I hadn’t gone a mile before the car spluttered, gasped and gave up. There was I in the middle of the road desperately pressing the starter, minutes floating by and no signs of the car reviving.

As there was a garage near at hand I decided to risk getting help instead of deserting the vehicle and hailing a taxi. As luck would have it the car, touched by the magic hand of the mechanic, came to life, and with fifteen minutes to go I set off on the few remaining traffic-ridden miles to the Oval.

I realised I was now cutting it fine, but with luck I estimated my arrival time at five minutes to twelve. My calculation was correct, but that wasn’t the end of it. The car park I normally used was full. There were too many police around for me to abandon the car, so I decided my only hope was to park in a side road I knew some 300 yards from the ground.

My watch ticked on: three minutes to twelve it said. My head was in a whirl, what were those millions of viewers going to see and hear at midday? I reached the side road and sure enough found a space between two ‘No Parking’ notices, but there was certainly no time to shift them to the other side of the road. To add insult to injury a shower of rain started as I ejected myself from the car.

 

Three cricketers celebrate

Pakistan’s joy at winning the fourth test at the Oval last August. But there was no joy in the Oval OB for Anthony Craxton

 

Gangway!

Before I could say ‘Eric Robinson’ the shower became a downpour and then a tropical storm. I ran for dear life clutching the scripts for the day. Never have I seen such a torrent of water; cars had stopped in their tracks so heavy was the cloudburst.

At last those ‘golden’ gates of the Oval confronted me: the watch said eleven fifty-nine. With luck I could just make it. But no — ‘not on your nelly,’ as they say, for there, firmly wedged in the turnstile entrances to the ground, were a few lucky members of the enormous crowd that was a moment or two before awaiting entrance to the ground.

Nothing daunted, more in desperation than hope I gradually prised my way through the now indignant shelterers. Luckily I am rather lanky and bony and rather than be spiked by my jagged frame they gradually gave way.

I ran headlong down the passageway to our Control Room, wondering with every lurch what on earth was going out on the air. As I entered the Control Room the clock stared me in the face. One minute to twelve it said. “Thank goodness for BBC time,” I muttered, for once my watch was fast. The rain had now let up and we went on the air.

For three glorious minutes we showed the viewers a sight they are very unlikely to see again — the Oval ground was almost entirely submerged.

There on the perimeter was a mangle, used for wicket drying operations, barely visible above the water. A pity, I could have used it myself!

 

Antony Craxton 23 April 1918 – 21 June 1999

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