TV Wizardry – In and Out of the Studios 

6 February 2023


Cover of Television & Radio 1984

From Television & Radio 1984

For the viewer it is often only when something goes wrong that he or she catches an impression of the complexity and sophistication of the enormous amount of high-technology equipment that goes into ITV programme-making. Yet behind the scenes 1982-83 has witnessed the culmination of the most intensive and extensive programme of expansion and modernisation of ITV studio, OB and news-gathering technology since the coming of colour in 1969 — the latest complex 1-inch videotape machines with ‘intelligent’ computer editing facilities; the latest ‘digital’ units that can manipulate pictures to create effects undreamed of a few years ago; cameras that call on the miracle microprocessor chips to help the cameramen; new telecines that provide ever better reproduction from film. The new presentation and master control centre for Channel 4 in central London; the new north London centre for TV-am; the TVS studio centre in Maidstone; Central’s new studio centre for the East Midlands; the new £14 million [£50m now, allowing for inflation – Ed] HTV centre just outside Cardiff; extensive refurbishing of studios and technical areas by Anglia, LWT, Tyne Tees, Yorkshire TV and virtually every other programme company. Then there has been the rapid expansion of independent production houses resulting from Channel 4, with its unique policy for British TV of ‘buying in’ virtually all of its programmes to encourage the independent programme makers.

During 19B2-B3 ITN completed its change-over to electronic news-gathering with some 20 ENG equipments used by 29 crews. A show-piece demonstration of its versatility came when ITN, in conjunction with LWT, scored another ‘first’ in TV news by providing extremely clear ‘live’ pictures of Mrs Thatcher from inside her official Daimler during the 19B3 General Election — the signal from the LWT camera was first picked up in a special ITN links vehicle, beamed up to an Augusta Bell 109 helicopter over London, and then relayed to LWT’s South Bank centre for transmission to ITN and thence to viewers all over the country.

Ulster Television has become the first ITV company — and one of the first broadcasters in Europe — to adopt on a year’s experimental basis one of the new lightweight ‘Betacam’ portable one-unit colour camera-recorders with ½-inch tape. Until very recently, even for ENG, European and American broadcasters have used separate videotape recorders with ¾-inch tape, which although compact are too big and heavy to become part of the actual shoulder-carried camera assembly. During 1982-B3, a number of Japanese, European and American manufacturers have developed ‘one-piece’ camera/recorders, with ½-inch and ¼-inch tape, using ‘component-coding’ techniques similar to those developed by the IBA for the MAC satellite transmission systems. These appear to be extremely promising, but unfortunately with four different non-compatible tape ‘formats’. Most broadcasters are waiting to see what happens — Ulster Television has opted to go ahead with the Sony system.


Interior of the Today South West studio

The £4½m. [£16m today – Ed] expansion and re-equipment of TSW’s Plymouth studios provides two new studios, increased scenery construction and storage areas, and improved accommodation for support activities such as design, graphics and planning. [TSW]




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