Saying farewell to the BBC television centre in yesterday’s blog, I came across a document which my father seems to have acquired after a brief attachment to BBC News in London in summer 1967 before his return to Dublin and a post as deputy Head of News in RTÉ. The foreword says “going into colour is the greatest opportunity BBC Television News has had for many years”. This was at a time when news broadcasts came from the Alexandra Palace studio. The move to the new quarters at Television Centre at White City did not happen until 1969. Some interesting figures about the building, quoted in a BBC booklet at the time, can be found on a blog by Matt Verrill, Technical Project Manager, BBC Children’s Interactive.
The final news programme to be broadcast from Ally Pally was a late night news on BBC 2 on Friday 19 September 1969 in colour. Over that weekend, sixty-five removal vans transferred the contents of Alexandra Palace across London. BBC Television News resumed operations the next day with a lunchtime bulletin on BBC 1 – in black and white – from Television Centre, where it remained until a week ago (March 18th). Bob Taylor, a retired engineer, described his memories of the operation here. The same article contains an observation which will interest any readers in Northern Ireland. Referring to a colour transmission to America in the NTSC format on the night of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing (July 20th 1969) Bob remarked:-
“I was in charge of the (technical) line-up that night (at Alexandra Palace) and witnessed the excitement of those first steps. As part of a World roundup of reaction for the American networks, we had in our (news) studios various dignitaries including Rev Ian Paisley and another Irish MP of the time Bernadette Devlin. She was very young and a reactionary, but it was interesting that she never answered a question until her minder spoke in her earpiece and told her what to say“.
Unlike Bernadette to be stuck for words! But that was how the BBC man remembers it. He
Back to the Colour Guide. This is how BBC news presenters and reporters were advised to dress to “Look Your Best in Colour”. Starting with MEN, who certainly dominated the television news industry in those days, the GENERAL advice is:-
“Partly because of the size of the screen, partly because of the television system, colours tend to be exaggerated by television. This is particularly true of reds and blues. This means that, in an interview for instance, people wearing quiet colours (women: an natural make-up) are likely to look best. Viewers’ attention will not be distracted and interest will centre on the faces and not on the clothes. CLOTHES: While a dark coloured suit is all right, you will look better in a mid-toned one of any colour. Tweeds are excellent. Very pronounced horizontal striped or checked patterns are liable to produce a strobroscopic effect. Don’t wear a bright shirt; an off-white or pastel-coloured one is best. A quiet tie looks better than a loud one. MAKE-UP: If you can shave shortly before coming to the studio it will lessen the risk of ‘five o’clock shadow’, which looks even worse in colour. If we ask you to use any make-up at all it will be only a small amount to make you look yourself on the screen, to counteract the colour system which tends to exaggerate the features (particularly the mouth and ears) of some people“.
This is the bit I like, but I wonder how often the advice was taken:
“Finally — and no joking — it is better not to have a drink (**it doesn’t specify whether alcoholic or not**) just before transmission — it will heighten your colour noticeably!” The same advice applies for WOMEN. They are told about their CLOTHES:-
“So, wear medium-tone clothes neither very dark nor very light, Beige, tan and grey are particularly good. Avoid large unbroken areas of black or white. Provided that the design is not too pronounced, dresses made of patterned material can look very effective. Smooth, very shiny fabrics, especially in light colours, will not flatter you, and may cause technical difficulties, but fur, wool, cotton, linen, tweed, lace, suede and leather are all good. The rule about very pale colours applies also to stockings. Sequins are likely to reflect light and be distracting. For the same reason do not wear large and bright jewellery. MAKE-UP: Do not use a thick foundation; remember to match your foundation as near as possible to your skin colour. If you DO use a darker foundation ensure that you blend it well down your neck. Use eye shadow sparingly; avoid strong colours. A lipstick in the ‘soft coral’ or ‘brownish’ range is preferable to a blue-pink or red one. In case we DO have to adjust your lip colour please avoid indelible lipsticks“.
So now you know how to look your best on colour television! Sure the likes of Eugene McVeigh or John Coghlan could have told you that immediately they pointed their camera at you. The guide though was intended for studio operations. Out in the field they probably would have added: …..and bring a hairbrush with you! Meanwhile there are a few other BBC News guidelines drawn up by the assistant editors for BBC2 News:-
REPORTING Be very careful of Fleet Street ‘journalese’ — it sounds terrible — and of unfair methods in obtaining stories. We have the BBC reputation to maintain. PERFORMING News doesn’t want television ‘personalities’, but you must have impact….Appearance matters, mostly in a negative way: you should not be uncombed, bristle-chinned, loose-tied, or curiously dressed, because such things distract from our news purpose“.
All this television news history by way of marking an important chapter in family history: my sister Carolyn (senior Press Officer) is taking leave from her colleagues in RTÉ News in Dublin this evening and finishes on Thursday after some 36 years in the organisation. She joined RTÉ a year or two before me, having helped to set up the first BBC office in Dublin where Philip Whitfield was the correspondent. As I mentioned, my father Des Fisher began in 1967 and retired in 1983 when he was Head of Broadcasting Development, having helped to set up RTE2 with the late Dick Hill and Raidio na Gaeltachta. He was interviewed recently by Eileen Dunne for The God Slot on Radio 1 about his memories of covering Vatican II and his hopes for the new Pope. So add his 16 years to my own 31 years from January 1979 to September 2010 and Carolyn’s record and you have a total between us of over 80 years’ contribution to public service broadcasting in Ireland, each if us having appeared on radio and television in some shape or form over that period.
The farewell gathering was well attended and took place at O’Connell’s in Donnybrook (Peter Feeney referred to the time when it was Madigans pub, a favourite watering hole for RTÉ staff). Carolyn’s colleagues in the Communications section did a great deal of organisation along with friends in News and Current Affairs, who put together a video package containing many clips of Carolyn I had not seen before. Thanks to Miriam O’Callaghan who introduced the speakers, including the new Director of News and Current Affairs Kevin Bakhurst and Managing Editor of Current Affairs TV David Nally. It was great to catch up with a number of former newsroom colleagues.