Presenting BILL WARD in his sensational production JUGGLING with the STARS 

20 March 2023

That expert eye has seen many TV shows to success. And though Bill Ward’s working life is a race against the studio clock, there’s always time for fun.



TV Mirror cover

From TV Mirror for 8 January 1955

… and this is how he does it


TV’S team of star jugglers are this week taking a short breath after five months of hectic work. Next week they plunge into preparations for one of the top events of the TV year.

The team: Bill Ward, Assistant Head of Light Entertainment; Frank Beale and John Street, studio managers; Christina Stanley and Patricia Molloy, secretaries.

The programmes they have handled since August: The opening show at the Radio Exhibition at Earls Court; the Avril Angers series Dear Dotty; the Mantovani programme; Vic Oliver’s This Is Show Business; Emney Enterprises, the Bob Hope American TV Show; and Mr. Pastry’s Spicy Life. The next big assignment: Arthur Askey’s new TV series Before Your Very Eyes.

They have been putting on a new star show every week. And to have three series going more or less at the same time is a real juggling feat, calling for clear minds and close co-ordination.

Typical of the way they avoid confusion is Bill’s order that every time anyone comes into his office to see him about the show, the first thing they give is a code sign — “Emney No. 6″ or “Vic Oliver No. 3“ followed by whatever it is they have to say.

Without knowing Bill you might find it hard to spot him in the studio during rehearsal. You’d be well advised not to look for a brash and dominant personality; might easily miss that stocky, balding figure mingling with the cameramen, artists and technicians. But when the time for action comes there’s no mistaking the quiet authority of Bill Ward, the juggler with the stars. He’s the Man Who Knows It All — and in the column below we invite you to meet him and look back with him over a crowded career. SHIRLEY LONG



Bill Ward

Bill Ward

THERE aren’t many jobs in the TV studio that Bill Ward, senior variety producer, whose shoulders are as broad as his responsibilities, can’t do. Plymouth-born Bill — his full names are Ivor William, but he prefers the nickname — has done just about all the studio jobs that there are — except lighting.

And because he’s been through the mill in TV and radio work he commands respect from everyone taking part, including the cameramen—for he has been one, too.

Despite years in London he has never lost the West Country accent he had when he started as an engineer’s assistant at the Plymouth station twenty-two years ago.

After being the youngest of the BBC’s engineers he was transferred to Alexandra Palace with the birth of the television service in 1936. Ten years later he was made a studio manager and was virtually in the producer’s chair the day “Ally Pally” re-opened after the war.

Since those stirring post-war days there are many now-famous TV producers who are grateful to him for the “know-how” he has given them — for his work has included looking after newcomers in this field. Those he took under his wing include Kenneth Carter, Bill Lyon-Shaw, Gil Calder, Leslie Jackson, Dicky Leeman, Barney Colehan, Ronnie Taylor and Duncan Wood.

“Two royal occasions stand out in my mind,” Bill Ward told me. “The time I had just thirty-eight hours to produce Serenade, following the death of King George VI, and the happier time, last winter, when I was in charge of For Your Pleasure, the programme in honour of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Lime Grove.”

Some of the biggest stars have been produced by him in memorable TV series. For instance, Arthur Askey, in the first series of Before Your Very Eyes. “Arthur is a wonderful person to work with. He co-operates all the time. We had great fun during that run,” said B.W.

“There was the time we threw a pail of water over him. It started when Arthur threw an empty pail off the set. Someone filled it and flung it back. And from then on we worked out a gimmick for each show — but always one Arthur didn’t know about. We made them surprises because it’s at such moments that Arthur’s reactions are so good. Had we told him what to expect he couldn’t have made them so spontaneous.

“Another time tea was thrown at him, but the final gag in the series Arthur suggested himself. No tricks were played on him all through the show, and at the end he thanked the boys profusely. Then he got the lot — flour, water, everything they could lay their hands on.

“We had the same sort of fun with Terry-Thomas in How Do You View? In one sketch we used a fruit machine. Everybody played with it for two days before the show. It worked perfectly — until Terry started to use it before the cameras. I didn’t know what he would do. He shook it, lifted it up bodily, dropped it … and then, of all things, he hit the jackpot and the floor was strewn with coins. It couldn’t have been better if we’d arranged it.

“When the studio boys get to know a star there’s plenty of friendly gagging between them. In one scene Terry had to rush in and pick up a knapsack. When he tried to lift it at dress rehearsal he found it unusually heavy. He pulled, tugged, got it halfway up and was quite breathless. Then he found why. The boys had placed four stage weights in it.

“We had so much fun in the studio during transmission of that series, that although it started with eight stage hands, by the final show I only had two active ones. The others were laughing so much they had to stay behind scenes holding handkerchiefs to their mouths.

“One of our gimmicks is still kept up by Terry. We used a carnation crossed with a cigarette-holder as background in the title. Terry had a pad printed from this, and now, when asked for his autograph, writes it on the top page which he tears off to give away. It is his motif — and he repeated it last year on his Christmas cards.

“He did the same with the Laughing Cavalier picture we used. That was a reproduction of the famous painting, but the face in it bore a remarkable likeness to T-T.”

That series led indirectly to the later Friends and Neighbours, for apart from having the same scriptwriters — Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell —it starred Benny Lee, Peter Butterworth, Avril Angers and Janet Brown, the foursome who all appeared in How Do You View? — though at different times.

“Since the number of big stars who can spare the time to be on TV regularly is limited, the idea was to weld the up-and-coming ones into a team,” explained Bill.

Battle of words

Another happy series for him was Vic Oliver Introduces, forerunner of This Is Show Business, which he originated. “Vic is another artist who is great to work with. If need be he’ll stay up all night to talk over points cropping up in the next programme.

“For that series he and I deliberately held loud arguments in the studio. We wanted to see how other people reacted to various moods and ideas, so I hit on the idea of a slanging match. We shouted. We argued.

“I would be the TV man who knew nothing about the stage, and Vic the musician learning about TV! It worked well. Before long people were approaching Vic rather fearfully to ask if he thought I would be all right that day!”

But the thing Bill Ward likes most about every show he produces is the help he gets from the studio staff. It comes from a sense of respect for the man who knows the job as well as they do.

The story is told about a young cameraman, new to the Ward technique, who insisted a certain panning shot couldn’t be done. After two attempts he made the mistake of saying, “If you think it can be done that way, you’d better come down and do it.”

Bill Ward did. WILLIAM EVANS


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