Continental Control Point 

13 May 2023 tbs.pm/79248

 

Cover of Ariel

From Ariel, the house magazine of the BBC, for February 1957

Frequenters of Broadcasting House, London, may have noticed that the room on the ground floor formerly known as ‘Gents Cloak Room’ now bears a new label on its door: ‘Continental Control Point’.

At the rear of the room, in everyone’s view, is a row of picture monitors, In front of these are two rows of control desks, each equipped with keys, indicator lights, controls, telephones, etc. At the side and in corners are several racks of amplifiers and other electronic equipment, eight tape reproducers, loudspeaker, telephone booth, caption scanner, etc. — a complex collection of sound and vision apparatus, and staff.

Pioneered by the BBC

This then is the C.C.P.: the operational centre — ‘nerve centre’ if you like — of the BBC’s link-up with Eurovision. Every Eurovision programme in which the BBC takes part, whether receiving or sending, and of whatever kind — e.g. multilateral, unilateral, bilateral, duplex bilateral and so on—is routed through, and supervised by, the C.C.P. The important point is that every aspect of the programme — i.e. presentation, engineering, vision, sound—is looked after at this central point, a feature that has been pioneered by the BBC and which our continental colleagues are beginning to copy.

Any television control room is complicated, but the C.C.P. is more so than any other in that one is handling not one programme, but, in effect, as many programmes, or channels, as there are countries receiving the transmitted programme. Although the vision will be the same for all, it is usual for each Eurovision participant to install his own-language commentator at the OB location; this may mean as many as six or seven (probably more in the future) sound programme channels to be routed through C.C.P. and forwarded to their respective continental destinations. Indeed, most people concerned with Eurovision will insist that the kind and complexity of the sound arrangements represent a new technique in broadcasting, in many ways more difficult to plan and achieve than their vision counterpart. These complexities apply in the main to programmes outgoing: an incoming programme is a relatively simple matter. Thus a large part of the equipment in the C.C.P. is designed to meet the multifarious requirements of the sound side of the operation.

 

Three men at control desks

The Continental Control Point in operation at Broadcasting House

 

The Vision Signals

The C.C.P. sends and receives pictures to and from the Continent via the cross-Channel terminal and ‘standards converter’ point at Dover. (The ‘standards converter’ is the device that changes the continental 625- or 819-line pictures into pictures working on the British 405-line standard). Apparatus is provided for monitoring the technical quality and for providing special international test patterns and pictures that precede every transmission. An important factor in the control of vision throughout the European network is the International Technical Co-ordination Centre (I.T.C.C.) at Brussels operated by the European Broadcasting Union. Since nearly all Eurovision transmissions pass through Brussels in one direction or another, a comprehensive supervision of the performance of the whole network can be exercised from this central point (located in the roof of the Palais de Justice) which is linked by telephone with our C.C.P. and with the ‘C.C.P.s’ of all the other television organizations taking part.

For an outgoing programme, the vision signals will be derived from the nearby main Switching Centre, also in Broadcasting House. In the case of an incoming proprogramme, they will arrive direct from the Standards Converter at Dover and be ‘checked in’ at the C.C.P. before being forwarded on to the Switching Centre and so to the home network.

Mention has already been made of the sound side of this operation. In practice, even a moderate-scale outgoing transmission could necessitate some twenty Post Office lines into and out of the C.C.P. for programme-carrying or communication. Many of these would come from the OB location; rather more, via the G.P.O. Continental Trunk Exchange (with which C.C.P. is directly connected), to the different countries taking the programme; then also a number of direct lines to strategic points inside the BBC — Lime Grove, Switching Centre, London Control Room, etc.

 

The Eiffel Tower seen on a TV screen

The Paris monitor photographed immediately after the picture of the C.C.P, (above) was taken. The transmission was ‘Report from Paris’ on 5 February.

 

Identifying and Testing

The identifying and testing of so many circuits in the space of about thirty minutes before transmission calls for cool-headed and accurate work and, of course, full co-operation from our correspondents at the opposite ends. Here languages help and most of the staff in C.C.P. speak French at least. In order to make certain that each of the actual programme circuits reaches its correct continental destination, continuous identification announcements are spoken by means of endless magnetic tape recordings—one loop per line. These announcements are made in six languages and repeat themselves every minute: for example, one would hear ‘The BBC Television Service. This is the German commentary line from London… Ici Service Télévision de la BBC. Circuit commentaire en langue allemande à destination de Allemagne en provenance de Londres… Servizio di Televisione della BBC. Questa è la linea da Londra per il commento in tedesco,’ and so on.

 

A tall domed building seen from a park

The Palais de Justice in Brussels where the International Technical Co-ordination Centre is sited

 

Functions of the Presentation Assistant

Among the many control lines in the C.C.P. is a group at the disposal of the Presentation Assistant who, in the case of an outgoing programme, has to be in touch with his opposite numbers at the different receiving points — e.g. Milan, Paris, Cologne, etc.— as well as with Central Control Room, Lime Grove, and the individual commentators at the OB point. In a brief description one can do less than justice to the varied and vital functions of the often harassed P. A. who, in full co-operation with the engineers, contributes importantly to the Eurovision complex.

With all the sound and vision circuits and apparatus once set up and working for a particular transmission, the function of the C.C.P. becomes that of a technical monitoring point telephone exchange and information centre. Commentators may often want to be connected through to their home organizations (or vice versa) while the engineers and P. A. have frequent queries with the ‘C.C.P.s’ abroad, with Brussels, the Post Office, Lime Grove, Switching Centre, Dover, OB point, etc.

The C.C.P. is in operation some four or five days a week and on the engineering side is manned by a small team of European-minded enthusiasts drawn from both Lines Department and Television Outside Broadcasts. In order to ensure smooth and efficient relations with our continental colleagues, exchange visits with Paris, Brussels, etc., are arranged from time to time. Also sometimes one of our engineers is asked to assist with the manning of the I.T.C.C. at Brussels.

Although one type of Eurovision programme has largely figured in this description, the C.C.P. is flexibly laid out to cater for any type of programme in any direction, or even programmes simultaneously in both directions.

 

T. H. Bridgewater was Superintendent Engineer, Television Outside Broadcasts

 

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