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The Gradual Decline

The sure-fire winner and the summer replacement turkey could well describe two late 1970's productions Julie on Sesame Street and Bonkers.Smith and Hemion had just finished shooting Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments in Studio C before immediately moving into studio D for Julie's Sesame Street Special. The Streisand show was probably the finest production to ever come out of Elstree. This kaleidoscope of music and musicians from all around the world was woven together to highlight Ms Streisand's talents. My friend, the late Bill Nuttall, sound directed the show and, apart from his superb musical mixing, his computer sound item before the days of digital computerization is still astounding. For a lesson in sound reproduction watch this show.Next door in D, we were preparing for Julie and a return (this time in force) of Jim Henson's Muppets. Julie interacted very well with the creatures and her guest star PERRY COMO interacted very well with just about everybody. Their twenty minute duet (The Sing Medley) took a day to record. Halfway through, we discovered that Perry's voice level was often drowned even by a delicate Julie. A radio mic was affixed to him (in shot; look out for the transition). Dwight Hemion edited the medley by cutting ten frames here, twenty frames there - all in all about sixty edits. To relay the audio in perfect synch, tape operator Dave Pull had to make the same edits on quarter inch. This was a momentous task. However, Dave knew the medley quite well as he had previously boom operated the sequence. Dave epitomised the strange qualities that television brought out in people in those earlier days. With no previous guidance, Dave and guys like him adapted to a job that provided no training. All the crews had their star boom ops, but like Dave and myself would have found difficulty even getting a reply to a job application in the industry today. Another great boom op was Roy Nilsen, who was previously a merchant seaman. The boom operator trade is in decline owing to the advent of hidden radio mics and the recording of sequences in small chunks.Like many others, EMERGENCY WARD TEN was a live half hour soap that relied upon boom operators keeping out of shot, avoiding boom shadows while keeping the artiste on mic. Often you were tracked from scene to scene with seconds to spare before racking out. I well remember operating a tracking boom on Roy Orbison, who had a notoriously ‘small' voice. I was partially in shot most of the time on the bumpy track from one end of studio C to the other. Director Albert Locke kept shouting ‘boom in' as sound director Bill Nuttall kept retorting ‘keep it there' - you don't make many friends among the camera department with that sort of scenario.Perry Como knew the pitfalls of boom operating from his hit series in the States. He often waited to deliver a line while the boom ‘got there'. During the Sesame Street shoot, Perry brought his grand children up to the control rooms, and his cool easy going manner disguised the fact that he also knew control rooms backwards. The finished show was an obvious winner and it was decided to enter it for the American TV Awards that year. Barbra Streisand's Special was also entered and secretly, I thought it would beat us. Neither got to the finishing post, it was won by a cool, easy going singer who hosted THE PERRY COMO SHOW. Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme did two Specials highlighting the music of George Gershwin and Cole Porter. The Gershwin starred Gene Kelly. One segment was shot in Paris and the concert spot featured a sixty piece orchestra playing live to accompany Steve & Eydie's terrific Gershwin medley which, I gather, was the mainstay of their Vegas act. I have this show on VHS, one of my musical favourites. The Cole Porter follow-up starred Ethel Merman and Bob Hope. The concert spot was similar to the Gershwin but the music was pre-recorded and although Steve & Eydie still sung live it lacked ‘buzz'. Eydie mysteriously lost her voice just before the Cole Porter medley to be performed with Ethel Merman in a clever mock-up of the Dale Carnegie library set thanks to Designer Brian Holgate. Eydie was reluctant to perform but to avoid shoot time loss; she was persuaded to mime her portion of the medley (some eighteen minutes long) Ethel went along with this, singing her bits at normal level. Later that week, Eydie (now just as mysteriously recovered) came into the dubbing suite where we had erected a television monitor for her to watch the medley while she actually sang the mimed parts. To our astonishment, she did the entire medley in one take. Steve & Eydie's microphone technique was first class at all times although my favourite microphone technique singer remains to this day PAUL ANKA. He virtually sound mixed himself.The Muppet season took long summer breaks when all the operators went home to their California pads. Enter the Summer Replacement Show. The American networks had holes to fill and wanted them filled cheaply. No big names, no big writers, just footage. BONKERS was one of the shows that filled this slot and it looked like being a turkey long before Christmas came around. Our odd-ball friend JACK BURNS played the part of the producer of the show. He didn't have a UK acting license so he wore a ‘Lone Ranger' type face mask to avoid recognition! The whole show was crazy. At one point, a volcano used as a backdrop to a production number caught fire. Security rushed on to quell the small blaze while Jack pushed them off, saying ‘don't worry we're heavily insured' this was all ad lib and kept in the show.Muppet director PETER HARRIS kept Jack on a tight rein. American producer Tom Battista (who we secretly thought was definitely Mafia) devised a series of sketches for THE HUDSON BROTHERS to re-enact the Ritz Brother routines. These sketches were heavily laden with sound effects and Tom showed us he knew his onions in that field. Apart from being professional comedians, the Hudson Brothers were also a rock group and they did a series of Concert Spots with an audience. Having brought their backing band over from the US (Tom arranged cheap fares) we had a ball recording the Hudson's with their band. My Aussie number two (at that time) Dave McNally arranged playbacks for the group in sound control after we wrapped for the night. I understand, they went on until the early hours or until the beer ran out.BOB MONKHOUSE was the British contingent. The Hudson's kept calling him ‘monkey'. Bob would scream don't call me monkey and somewhere in his written ravings he would mention the word ball; at this point a wrecking ball swung in and knocked him flying. He once did an ad lib routine discussing house demolishing and the machinery required to achieve this without once mentioning wreck or ball. The Hudson's loved it, and him. Bob told me he enjoyed this series more than any game show he hosted. Our ‘turkey' was turning into a gourmet meal.Bill Hudson was married (then) to Goldie Hawn. She was around most of the time holding her cute, beautiful little baby who later turned into a cute, beautiful big baby called Kate Hudson - now, as big a star as her mum. Mark Hudson fell for one of the dancers (Wendy) and they got married back in Hollywood. The very handsome Brett Hudson largely kept himself to himself concentrating on his guitar (that's his story and he's sticking to it!)Early in the ten part series, Jack Burns went to see EVITA in London and took a liking to Elaine Paige. Apparently, he saw the show a dozen, or more, times paying an arm and a leg to ticket touts. Desperately, he tried to get Elaine into Bonkers but the American sponsors wanted names and Elaine, at that time, didn't fit that bracket. He did finally manage it and Elaine had a big production number that Jack thought might be funny if a dozen doves flew in at the end... Fly in they did and tried to settle on Elaine's hair. She was not best pleased and returned to the serenity of Evita. A terrific fun show for the crews, Bonkers did go out in the UK, whether it ran the full series, I know not. The Jack Burns appearance would have caused an Equity problem. Perhaps somebody can enlighten?The heyday of ATV's productions was not entirely devoted to the US market. HMS Pinafore was a particular highlight. With a fifty piece orchestra the entire Doyle Carte Company pre-recorded the musical items in Studio C. Later that week, the set was constructed and the artistes performed the perennial favourite miming the tracks and performing the dialogue live with impeccable perfection. From a sound perspective, the transition from mimed song to spoken dialogue was perfect. An audience of staunch Gilbert & Sullivan devotees ensured a happy production. On the music record session, a new recruit joined the crew, one Roger Banks (see Peter Pan). Roger watched the recording through the sound control window, conducting and singing along with the lyrics. Hello- hello, I thought, we've got an odd one here. I wasn't wrong. The ATV HMS PINAFORE is available commercially on VHS and DVD...Dusty Springfield came to ATV at the height of her fame. Her avid interest in the audio aspect of the show was evident from the number of hand written notes that she used to send imploring me to dip the strings at bar 12, enhance the choir over her voice level during the coda etc etc. Called to her dressing room once, while being made-up, and with eyes closed, she went through the entire show virtually sound mixing it herself. On the rare occasion when she mimed a track and was uncertain of the exact start point to sing, her out-stretched hand would momentarily come between her mouth and the camera lens, covering any discrepancy. Clever girl was Dusty and a great performer.Once, over-hearing Lulu tell a fellow performer not to worry about the sound, as it was ‘only' television, I felt obligated to pop down on the floor and influence that opinion more in my favour. Lulu was very gracious considering my eavesdropping cheek.Charlie Drake came to ATV from the Beeb in a series called ‘Who Is Sylvia' directed by Shaun O'Riordan. During camera rehearsal Charlie sat in a director's chair with a telephone to both Shaun in the gallery and to me in sound control. As the show was being rehearsed (with a Charlie Drake double) he would give directorial tips to Shaun and often telephone me requesting a sound effect, or similar. ‘I think a clap of thunder would be appropriate here Edward?' (Often he would say ‘ere Hedward' whether in jest, or not, I never figured out). Charlie always called me Edward, and everybody always called him Charles. Many years later, totally out of the blue, he crept into sound control while we were doing a Muppet Show. Apparently, his budgerigar had ceased conversing and Charlie wanted a budgie talking sound track to try and ‘gee' his little birdie up. Still keeping the talent happy we naturally obliged.The Reg Varney series was directed and produced by William G. Stewart. His proud boast was that despite starting from the lowly ranks of a scene shifter he would hitch himself to star to become famous himself. Well, he certainly did that by becoming a star in ‘Fifteen to One' which he devised, and produced. Not to mention earlier producing the massive hit series The Price Is Right with Leslie Crowther. Reg Varney played a mean piano and that facet of his talent was, to him, more important than the comedic angle. After the outside rehearsal, which all the crew heads attended, Reg would corner me and play his two musical items on the old rehearsal room piano, often hitting the wooden bit at the end of the high notes in his enthusiasm. Reg had a perennial smile and a charming manner. Apparently, he is also a very fine artist.Another keen pianist, also more concerned with his musical performance was Dudley Moore. During the ATV Pete n'Dud series his concern over the mixing of his group was paramount. Dudley was a very fine musician and had not a Hollywood career beckoned, his musical talent could easily have propelled him into the book of jazz greats, if not already there. Check out his album ‘A GENUINE DUD'Russ Conway appeared on many ATV shows at Wood Green Empire and Elstree studios. His repertoire appeared to consist of half dozen items usually of ragtime nature. He was extremely popular with the audience. I recollect Russ being very nervous, literally shaking in the wings before emerging on stage to give a flawless performance. Russ was another performer with a winning smile. Obviously Liberace had quite an influence on pianists. Although on reflection, I don't remember Dave Brubeck smiling too much on his Sunday Night at the London Palladium appearance. But, I do remember taking great care to describe the exact placing of the drum microphones to the superb drummer Joe Morello, who was virtually blind. Apart from Buddy Rich, Joe is my absolute favourite drummer.Petula Clark starred in a superb drama/music Special called TRACES OF LOVE. with Paul Jones, David Kernan and the Norman Maen Dancers. Directed by Jon Scoffield, TRACES was shot in several very long sequences almost always in one take. This was a strain for the crew, get it right first time or Jon would exude wrath usually via a withering look or devastating sarcasm. I never had a cross word with Jon and he always allowed me massive latitude in the dubbing suite where I always tried to add a spot of signature tape echo or something ‘unusual'. Superb lighting by Jimmy Boyers allowed booms to roam at will without degrading his plot. Roy Simper's camera crew were, as always, impeccable. Make-up-wise, I don't think Petula has ever looked better thanks to Mary Southgate. Pet's musical director Kenny Clayton, arranged all the music and conducted the Jack Parnell Orchestra and Richard Plumb's set designs were brilliant. One item called for a stripper sequence (Debbie Ryan). After the strip, Petula implores her to consider that she is being exploited and whilst singing ‘Pick Yourself Up' Jon cleverly reversed the strip video-wise, so that Debbie finished up fully dressed. During the shooting of this sequence, the floor (and control rooms) mysteriously filled up with management of the male gender. With Petula singing live, I would normally have her voice tracked enabling mixing later with more finesse with the level being kept down to avoid over modulation. My tape operator ‘forgot' to plug this tracking claiming he was momentarily distracted! Thus, the voice level was a fraction lower than I would have intended and the mix to VTR had to be used on the final product. Guess what musical item they chose for that year's Golden Rose Awards entry? My listing the crewing in detail points the choice of this show as my favourite UK program and my favourite Jon (classy at all times) Scoffield production. I have an off-air copy (1975) still fresh and entertaining apart from the corny commercials in the breaks.Some ten years later, I had lunch with a director at Limehouse Television in Canary Wharf. Alma Cullen joined us and at one point I reminded her of Traces of Love (which she had written). She surprised me by stating that the interpretation of the show (by Jon Scoffield) was, in her opinion, appalling. I think I put her clean off her lunch?After the Muppet Shows finished in 1981, we did a series called STARBURST directed by David C. Hillier (now living in Florida). The stars were always of the highest quality. I recollect a young Michael Barrymore fresh over from Australia doing his comedy routine whilst standing on his head (a challenge for the boom operator). On one show, I was called in the following day because Rita Coolidge was unhappy with the band sound and wanted it remixed. We got the multi-track out and she listened to every track and requested I drop the brass, the reeds and most of the strings. It seemed a bit empty to me, but she left delighted. Always keep the talent happy!During 1982 the amount of productions was beginning to drop off. The writing was on the wall. Elstree ATV Studios were doomed to extinction. It had been ordained ‘from them above' that a television production company had to reside in the area it served. At a celebratory lunch in the ITCA building for the successful first year world sales of The Muppet Show, I was introduced to a certain ‘Lady X' who on being told my job remarked ‘Oh how fascinating, do you make those ‘clippity cloppity' sounds with coconut shells?' Great minds such as that compelled nearly a thousand people to relocate to Nottingham where a new studio was being built. We were all given the option to relocate, all expenses paid. I well remember one gentleman having quite a fight to claim for the removal of several dozen garden gnomes in their exact environ from his emporium in Boreham Wood to his new abode in Nottingham.Having gone through the ATV years from my perspective (and a much potted version it is) it occurs to me that I have ignored so many productions. From the three outside broadcast and four studio crews operating at Elstree I have concentrated on only one, crew 4. The other crews could write up their experiences and fill these pages probably four times over. Even considering crew 4's output, I haven't touched on GEORGE AND THE DRAGON with the hilarious pairing of Sid James and Peggy Mount, the booms operators dream team. Arms dealer HINE played by Barrie Ingham had the boom operators nightmare, a quiet actor in the back of shot with a very loud actor foreground. Barrie was appearing nightly at The Old Vic in two different Shakespeare roles aside from his Hine weekly turn round drama series. He never fluffed his lines and always appeared to be calmly reading a newspaper in outside rehearsal. I also missed out the great fun we had on the TENNESSEE ERNIE FORDSpecial recorded in the sixties. Jack Burns wrote THE SANDY DUNCAN Special starring Gene Kelly - their chemistry was dynamic - I would love to see it now. A nice JULIE ANDREWS Special with a not-so-nice Jackie Gleason. The ANN-MARGET Special highlighting the art works of Andy Warhol. The six TOM JONES SHOWS I was lucky enough to sound direct while Bill Nuttall was having a vacation. After Enge, Tom was a walk in the park!The spoof spy game-show MASTERSPY series starring William Franklyn was devised and written by Ronnie Taylor. A chapter should have been devoted to the NORMAN WISDOM sit-coms and Leslie Crowther's hit multi-series MY GOOD WOMAN again both written by Ronnie Taylor who also devised and wrote an innovative drama series starring CILLA BLACK with six episodes of different stories in the same set. Ronnie's last series was A SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH featuring David Jason.There was also the SANDLER & YOUNG series Two funny Canadians not known here but mega in Canada. The RED SKELTON Show probably not seen in the UK, laden as it was, with American gags. The classic British series THRILLER ran for years while one-off dramas and a cacophony of ad mags, soaps and children's programmes poured out of the studio with almost monotonous regularity - but it all came to an untimely end.Prior to closure, a massive party was organized in Studio C. Jack Parnell's Orchestra played on stage while a variety of people gave speeches lamenting the demise of ATV Lester. The wine and cheese flowed until BILL WARD the ultimate (and fearful) ATV studio boss gave a moving speech that virtually brought the house down. I would later work with Bill in Israel on an Easter Special (see the Freelance life).As the only member of the sound department not to relocate to Nottingham, I had decided to try my hand in the freelance world, perhaps movies? But first, off to Spain for a ten week holiday to wallow in the past and contemplate the murky future over muchos tapas and rich Rioja. And then on to The Freelance Life ...

Steve and Eydie duet in a medley of American standards including "I've Got Music," "Fascinatin Rhythm," "A Foggy Day in Londontown," "Somebody Loves Me," "How Long Has This Been Going On....



Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme in Part 2 of the Gershwin Medley from their 1975 TV program, "Our Love Is Here To Stay."