Lights: at the touch of a button

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An excerpt from ABC TV in Focus, a book given to potential advertisers in February 1963.

Every production needs light. Multi-set programmes like The Avengers and fast-moving shows like Thank Your Lucky Stars need a lot of it. Other, more static sequences, like the studio linking shots for Candid Camera, need less. But every studio programme must have it; under exact control, and in the right place at the right time.

The ‘right place’ means a system designed for speed of setting; a method that will allow a lighting engineer to place the lamp of his choice, at the point in space where he needs it most – with the least amount of effort. Basically two systems are in general use. Motorised barrel suspension and a point telescope system. In planning for the future, ABC decided that the flexibility of the telescope was the most practical, and a grid consisting of parallel slots, formed by steel rails and separated by light-weight metal decking, was installed. The lamps are suspended from this on individual telescopes hanging through the slots and attached to carriages rolling on the steel rails. Maximum manoeuvrability – the quick transference of lamps from one part of the studio to another – is attained by using a suspended trolley to carry complete lamp-telescope-carriage combinations along the lighting gallery, from the open mouth of one slot to either end of another.

A view through the grid. Lights suspended on power-winched telescopes are hung from these parallel rails; can be rolled along the length of them, quickly transferred to other slots twenty inches apart. Thirty-two feet below the studio floor is set for 'The Avengers'.

A view through the grid. Lights suspended on power-winched telescopes are hung from these parallel rails; can be rolled along the length of them, quickly transferred to other slots twenty inches apart. Thirty-two feet below the studio floor is set for ‘The Avengers’.

The lamps themselves are raised and lowered by compressed-air driven winches built into the telescope carriages; leaving final direction of the light to be manipulated by pole from the studio floor. The result? Whereas it takes two or three days to rig lighting on a film set, it takes only two or three hours to rig the complete lighting for a major ABC television production. The slotted grid system is also ideal for carrying monitors, scenery, microphones and speakers, and microphone boom cables.

A cluster of lights hangs over the action; on a special two-tier section of another 'Avengers' set. The power for a production like this could keep a 100-watt bulb burning brightly for three-and-a-half years.

A cluster of lights hangs over the action; on a special two-tier section of another ‘Avengers’ set. The power for a production like this could keep a 100-watt bulb burning brightly for three-and-a-half years.

Power for the lighting, which in a production like the average Armchair Theatre play would keep a television receiver going for four years, is supplied by power points evenly spaced above the grid, and distributed around the studio. For ‘exact control at the right time’, each is connected to a switch on the lighting console and a dimmer on an adjacent control bank. Complete lighting sequences can be set on these and transferred to a lighting ‘memory’ that can hold up to twenty lighting combinations; to be called upon at the press of a button during the run of a production.

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The Avengers

The Avengers is one of the most sophisticated and highly polished thrillers on television.

Its tight plots, realistic action and unique sense of humour have won it large audiences across the national ITV Network. Almost alone among tv thrillers, it is conceived exclusively for a British audience and makes no concessions to the demands of the transatlantic market.

Its success is very largely due to the fact that it is a product of ABC’s Drama Department, and shares with programmes like the science-fiction series Out of This World and the Children’s Serials the experience and talents of Armchair Theatre.

The drama department will shortly be producing a new thriller series Jezebel Ex-UK, set on an ocean liner, for Saturday evenings in the spring and autumn. The Avengers, which is currently being transmitted on Saturday nights, will also return with the autumn schedule.

Two scenes from an Avengers story, The Golden Eggs. Mrs Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) confers hurriedly with fellow-avenger John Steed (Patrick MacNee), and later interrogates a safe-cracker’s widow (Irene Bradshaw) about a missing virus culture. The Avengers is recorded at ABC’s Teddington Studios, near London.

As the intensity of light in any sequence or set must be matched to the lighting in subsequent sequences and on adjacent sets, and plays an important part in the picture seen by the camera and demanded by the camera setting, the lighting and vision controllers share the same area and monitors in ABC studios – and work very closely together. They must devise lighting and camera alignments as a team, and this calls for an exact working knowledge of each other’s equipment. As a result, picture technique at ABC is evolving to a point where one man could finally have control of both facets of the end product.

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