A look at ‘Armchair Theatre’ in 1963 from the point-of-view of the Control Suite.
An excerpt from ABC TV in Focus, a book given to potential advertisers in February 1963.
Three arrowheads; three chords; a familiar triangle symbol – and another ABC programme is announced.
It could be Thank Your Lucky Stars, The Sunday Break, ABC At Large, or one of many well known weekend programmes. At 9.35 on Sunday, 17 February, it was Armchair Theatre presenting ‘The Paradise Suite’ another play specially written for ABC and scheduled for screening across the ITV Network; another full scale-television production…
It started with an idea by author Robert Muller. It was acted out-against a set imagined by award-winning designer Voytek – on the floor of Studio 1 at Teddington. It was directed by Philip Saville. And it was the product of a system, a highly refined process, a time-tied progression of skilled technical events; the product of many uncredited experts, and a great deal of modern equipment.
This is an outline of that process, of the technical demands made by every television production, and the specialised way in which they are met by ABC TV.
The point of main activity is the Control Suite. Here, in a fluorescent cockpit of intense concentration, soundproofed against the world outside and set ideally with an eagle’s-nest view of the studio, the centre point is the Director. In front of him is a bank of monitor screens showing every picture source available for his selection. Flanking him him are some of the assistants and controls he will rely upon to link and blend all the elements that make a programme. Each assistant is an expert, in control of equipment
that is the latest the industry has to offer, as advanced as ABC’s development engineers can make it. And each is an integral part of a close-locked team that must do more than co-operate; must think in every dimension and, under the Director, hold the overall effect paramount. To achieve this in the new Teddington block, the operators and equipment have been grouped in the most practical way possible.
Three soundproofed compartments, viewed left to right from the studio, handle Vision, Production and Sound. The first is concerned with lighting and cameras, the second is manned by the Production Assistant, Director, Vision Mixer and Technical Supervisor, and the third by a Sound Mixer and Grams Operator. On ‘transmission’ – the final run-through of a programme for recording or ‘live’ (immediate) transmission – each is responsible for supplying the Director with a set sequence
of elements. These are demanded by the production, or issue from the Director’s interpretation, and are arranged, refined and fixed upon during rehearsal.
Most of these elements originate on the studio floor, through action controlled by the Director via the Floor Manager, and cameras and microphones directed by means of an elaborate intercom or ‘talk-back’ system. Other elements can be woven in from a variety of sources; from film,
tape recordings (video and sound), outside broadcast feeds, gramophone records and other studios. But whatever the source, final control of use must be the Director’s. And in working to achieve this in its simplest form, ABC engineers are pace-setters. Wherever possible, they have designed or adapted picture and sound source equipment for pre-setting, and made selection and operation available by the press of a button in the Control Suite.
This then is the place where programmes are put together; where the Director is king-pin. But between him and the finished product leaving the Control Suite, for recording or transmission, stands the final check of the Technical Supervisor. He has the last adjustment of sound and picture. Like a checker on a factory floor, only his acceptance passes the product as Well Made.