His Job is – Good Pictures 

18 March 2024 tbs.pm/80684


Meet RONALD ROBINSON, a Senior Vision Engineer at Lime Grove


Cover of TV Mirror

From TV Mirror dated 10 July 1954

ONE of the BBC men whom viewers seldom hear about is the senior vision engineer in charge of one of the apparatus rooms at Lime Grove.

“Apparatus room” sounds impressive, and it is certainly a very important place, for without it — and the “back room boys” who work there — you would not have the technically excellent TV service you enjoy today.

Since before the war, when I was working at Alexandra Palace, I had always been mystified by what went on in one of these rooms. The other day I had a talk with Ronald Robinson, one of the senior vision engineers at Lime Grove and asked him to explain to me in simple language what his job meant.

“There is one apparatus room for each studio,” he explained. “In it — among other things — is a camera control unit which can adjust the electrical focus of any camera in the studio for the purpose of improving the televised picture.

“I have four or five other engineers working with me, and I am responsible for the quality of the pictures emanating from the studio. I’m in charge of four cameras, a film projecting channel and the monitors — small television screens used in the studio itself which enable the producer, the studio manager and the artists to see exactly what is being televised.”

“You also do necessary repairs and adjustments?” I asked.

“More or less,” Ronald Robinson replied. “Of course, if there is a major fault in, say, one of the cameras, we can’t repair it on the spot. It has to be ‘sent to hospital’ — in other words, the Maintenance Department.

Top-speed repairs

“But if trouble occurs in apparatus that can’t be moved, then I send for the maintenance engineers and get them to service it on the spot.

“The film projecting channel is used for film sequences which are often mingled with ‘live’ scenes from the studio itself.”

During the actual transmission, Ronald Robinson has to see that the pictures match each other perfectly when a producer wants to cut or fade from one camera to another.

If there is a breakdown while a programme is on the air, he will know at once, and then has to get really busy.

He must find out the actual cause of the breakdown, and when it is found he has to inform the Presentation Department — who are responsible for the actual order of the programmes arranged for that day.


Ronald Robinson

Ronald Robinson


The producer has to be told the exact position; how long it will take to effect the repairs and put the programme on the air again. Then it is up to the producer and the Presentation staff to decide what they will do to fill the gap.

The duty announcer will tell viewers about the breakdown and after that you will see an interval film or listen to gramophone records.

While you sit impatiently at home, grumbling about “another breakdown” (though you must admit they are more rare these days) Ronald Robinson and his men are working at top speed until they are able to say that everything is in order again.

Part of his job includes the care and maintenance of many thousands of valves. If the picture disappears, the cause may be one or more of these valves. I asked him how on earth he could tell which one might be responsible.

“That’s not easy to answer,” he replied. “But I suppose it’s the sort of thing that can only be learnt by experience.”

Well, it’s quite a job, isn’t it? And it is because he is such a quiet, unassuming man, and has such a knowledge of his job, that he is successful in coping with the weight of his responsibility.

It’s his hobby, too

That also applies to the engineers on his staff. They are the sort of people who don’t get rattled when difficulties arise. They just carry on until the job is successfully done.

Ronald Robinson lives at Harrow, in Middlesex. He goes to and from Lime Grove by tube railway. As he works on the shift system, he is able to spend whole days at home. This makes up for the late hours of his working days.

His hobbies are all forms of woodwork, such as making furniture, and carving; and television. And he is able to make his own set.

He joined the sound side of the BBC in 1939, where he worked in the operational and maintenance department of the London control room at Broadcasting House. Not long afterwards he left to become a radar mechanic in the RAF, at the beginning of the War. He was demobilised in 1945, and returned once more to the BBC.

It was not until 1949 that he joined the television staff at Alexandra Palace. He has now been at Lime Grove for the last three years.

A man looks through a device

Michael Leeston Smith

It must be most satisfying for him to be working at something that is not only his job, but also one of his hobbies.



… But Good Pictures Begin in the Studio


… and here you see lighting supervisor Michael Leeston Smith using a gadget which ensures that the pictures sent from the studio to the apparatus room (described above) are well lit.

But what do we mean by “well lit”? Too much light will cause dazzle; too little will result in gloom and lack of detail. The job of the lighting supervisor is to see that an all-over illumination is provided which will give you one of those pleasing pictures made up of a good range of tones. What is more, the same picture quality must be obtained from all parts of the scene.

Can the human eye judge this? It can, but the “exposure photometer” seen in the picture is used as a check. It actually measures the amount of light and indicates exactly what lens adjustment should be made on the camera for best results.


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