Looking back at a typical day working on Top of the Pops


Graham Reed TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online

A few weeks ago I was watching television and caught a bit of 'Top of the Pops ' from 1984, and I thought, 'Was this one of the programmes I worked on? ' I was privileged enough to be a staff cameraman at the BBC for 20 years, during that time I was able to work on many great shows: Only Fools and Horses, Blue Peter and Two Ronnies to name but a few.

Watching TOTP led me to consider how many new entrants into the broadcasting industry would have the talent or skills to work on these types of programs today? But are these skills still required in the broadcasting industry or are they dead or very limited like coppicing, woodcarving or thatching?

Music shows are still being produced but is there the training for the operators of the future? I was told that the crew of 'Strictly Come Dancing, has been same crew for 10 years, so no chance of training there.

So how did a typical, Top of the Pops ' studio go?

The crew arrived in the studio at 9:30 to begin the rig, there were mainly three camera cranes, a Nike ', a 'Mole ' and a 'Heron ', I remember using many types of cameras but finishing with Thompsons.

The Nike was a battery operated crane, for quietness, it was constantly being charged from the mains. It had a crew of four, a tracker, two people on the arm and the cameraman on the front, it could accelerate very quickly and move very fast probably by about 10 miles an hour.

The 'Mole ' was made by Mole Richardson it had a three main crew, a tracker, arm swinger, and the cameraman. It was powered from 110 V DC supply, it could track quite fast and with the column pumped up it could reach to quite a height.

The 'Heron ' was an incredible piece of kit built by Vinton with a crew of two and was powered by a three phase supply. All the drive mechanism and craning was hydraulic and it could track forward backwards and sideways. The camera operator used his feet to operate the crane and rotated the camera so it was panning, zooming, focusing, craning all at the same time!

On the show there was also a ped and a handheld camera. The rigging usually took around 45 minutes as all the cameras were kept in the camera store beside the studio, the cranes were delivered beforehand by the mechanics who maintained this equipment.

We started rehearsals at 10:30 and the production assistant (PA) would give each crane and camera a set of cards on which were the shot numbers and shot descriptions for all the musical numbers. The director who, on the previous day, had worked out the shot numbers, description, shot length, in bars and beats by listening to each musical track. He had also prepared a camera plan so the cameras knew where they were starting from around each stage.

We then rehearsed each track whilst the backing track was being played, the PA would do a bar count and shot call as the vision mixer from the script did the cuts.

After each run through the director would leave most of the sorting out for the camera crew to do. This relied on a great team effort of the crew to make all the shots and all the cuts work. Looking at viewfinder mix was essential to see how the cut between shots worked.

Having spent a few minutes between ourselves organising the framing and the moves in order to make the cuts work well and to avoid seeing other cameras in shot, we would run the number again. We might rehearse each number three or four times before moving on to the next one.

We then worked through to about 13.00 for lunch. After lunch they recorded the chart rundown as purely a 'voice over ' so the camera and sound crew used to have a leisurely lunch, often in the bar!

About 16.00 we would have a dress run either with just stand-ins miming or the actual band themselves.

At 18.00 we would go to supper, back at 19:00. From 19.00 to 19.30 there were notes for the crew and line-up for cameras and record VT as it was in the basement!

If we were lucky we would finish recording around 20.15, then do the de-rig which took about 30 minutes and if all went well be in the BBC Club for a beer by 20.45. The director usually put some money behind the bar for the crew!

I remember quite a few times the show was live which made the whole production far more stressful but very exciting!

Of course now with lightweight cameras the days of tracking with these particular cranes is over but is it concerning that there are many people now working in the broadcast industries who have not the skills to work on this type of production, indeed how many camera and vision mixing people can actually do bar counts? And are PA 's being trained who can do bar counts, timings and shot call all at the same time, a great skill! A dying skill like coppicing?


Tags: iss114 | top of the pops | totp | ittp | Graham Reed
Contributing Author Graham Reed

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Interviews
  • Training and education within the broadcast industry

    Training and education within the broadcast industry


Related Shows
  • ITTP at BVE 2016

    ITTP at BVE 2016


Articles
AI in Media and Entertainment
David Candler Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term appearing everywhere these days. What is happening in media and entertainment (M&E) that makes the industry ripe for AI? In other words, why does the M&E industry need AI?
Tags: iss134 | AI | wazee | David Candler
Contributing Author David Candler Click to read or download PDF
An Obituary to Timecode
Bruce Devlin - new A stoic and persistent character that stubbornly refused to change with the times, Timecode has finally passed on, but no-one has noticed. A long-lasting industry veteran, Timecode was brought into this world at an uncertain date in the late 1960s due to the needs of analogue tape workflows and the demand for synchronisation between audio and video devices. A joint activity between SMPTE and the EBU led to the work on Time and Control codes starting its journey to standardisation in the early 1970s.
Tags: iss134 | timecode | smpte | ebu | edit | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new Click to read
Giving Welsh sport a global audience
Adam Amor From the Ospreys Rugby Union team, to the Football Association of Wales, as well as national cycling, swimming and boxing coverage, Port Talbot based Buffoon Film and Media has been heavily involved in putting Welsh sports on the world stage.
Tags: iss134 | blackmagic | atem | buffoon | micro studio camera | Adam Amor
Contributing Author Adam Amor Click to read or download PDF
Keeping it remotely real
Reuben Such Everyone wants to do more with less. Always have, although it could be argued that doing more with more is something to aspire to, not many have that luxury. So let’s stick with the prevailing winds of doing more with less, and not just doing more, but doing it remotely, particularly in terms of production. Remote production, in particular, is getting a lot of attention in the field these days, but not so much in terms of the remote operation of fixed studios.
Tags: iss134 | remote control | IPE | IDS | Reuben Such
Contributing Author Reuben Such Click to read or download PDF
Accelerated Workflows with eGPU
Mike Griggs From the UK’s National Trust to magazine publishers to manufacturers, digital content creator Mike Griggs has a wide and varied portfolio of clients for whom he creates 3D art, motion graphics and multimedia exhibits. A typical day might involve sampling birdsong near Virginia Woolf’s country estate or creating 3D animations for VR. To keep on top of these demands, Griggs wanted to take the full power of the GPU computing revolution on the road.
Tags: iss134 | sonnet | egpu | amd | post production | editing | Mike Griggs
Contributing Author Mike Griggs Click to read or download PDF