Tag Archives: continuity

Old-fashioned British TV, with in-vision announcers & the un-named Mike Hunt

Reginald Bosanquet, alleged drinker and serial libel accuser

I’ve been to a couple of TV events at the National Film Theatre in London over the last couple of days.

At the first one, Spitting Image/Not The Nine O’Clock News and QI producer John Lloyd opined that he had been quite lucky in that he had never been sued – except by legendary newsreader Reginald Bosanquet who, it turned out, made quite a good living from suing people for not-too-high sums if they said he drank too much.

Like John Lloyd, people tended to settle out of court rather than risk the vast costs of any court case (even if Reginald Bosanquet was an epic drinker) so Reggie made a lot of money out of a large number of small settlements.

Yesterday, the NFT event was about TV promotions and presentation (the trailers, the announcers, the branding) – an area I worked in for over 20 years.

Anglia’s much-admired weatherman

I started at Anglia TV in Norwich. It appeared to be a very genteel station. Their weather man Michael Hunt, an amiable moustachioed man, was never introduced – perhaps for an obvious audio reason – as Mike Hunt. But I suspect the obvious reason was never thought-of at Anglia.

From Norwich: Nicholas Parsons with the Quiz of the Weak?

It had a reputation for pulling above its weight. Although a small regional station, Anglia produced major network shows like Tales of the Unexpected (a drama series with big-name stars), Survival (nature films shot worldwide to rival David Attenborough’s on the BBC) and quiz show Sale of the Century hosted by the eternally gentlemanly Nicholas Parsons.

The reality of Anglia was that Tales of the Unexpected was produced in London with non-Anglia crews by Anglia board member Sir John Woolf. His cinema movies included Oliver!, Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.

The award-winning Survival films were made by a unit in London separate from Anglia TV.

Sale of the Century and other game shows were, indeed, made by Anglia in Norwich with Anglia crews, but the prestige drama and natural history programmes were made well away from the Norwich studio complex where most staff seemed to live for their evening and weekend lives in comfortable rural villages while the Anglia bosses seemed to live a slightly old-fashioned life of country house shenanigans and grouse-shooting.

Anglia Television’s quickly old-fashioned knight to remember

The originally classy but quickly rather old-fashioned looking Anglia knight logo eventually had to be updated to a more modern look well after it should have been retired.

I remember the presentation to staff by image/style consultant company Lambie-Nairn in which a believable young man explained how they had come up with a new brand image for the company.

The altered logo – a complex heraldic tradition or a triangle?

They had replaced the old-fashioned knight figure with what was, in effect, a crisp, brightly-coloured triangle like the letter A in Anglia. This had cost (I think) millions and was a good-enough logo but – Ye Gods! – the pseudo-intellectualising spiel that went into explaining how they had come up with this simple triangular design was a master of the marketeers’ art. A heraldic continuation of the Anglia knight’s up-market image seemed to play a large part.

Jesus! I thought. It’s a triangle like the A in Anglia with some other triangles in it – the first thing anyone would come up with!

The highly talented and highly amiable Martin Lambie-Nairn himself – a man I much admire – was on stage at the NFT last night and gave some other background to that re-branding:

“Anglia Television,” he said, “was a very interesting company, a very nice company and we were there getting rid of the knight. We spent a lot of time presenting ideas to the board and there was a kind of detachment in the sort of people we were presenting to on the executive board and the non-executive board. We were presenting to these people and Lord Townshend was Chairman of the Board. We started our presentation and Lord Townshend said: One moment. Where’s John? Someone turned to Lord Townshend and said John Woolf was shooting at Elstree m’Lord….. Oh? Oh! said Lord Townshend. Who owns the shoot at Elstree?”

Martin Lambie-Nairn says he was partly responsible for ending what was eventually seen as the old-fashioned idea of having on-screen announcers on British television – by getting rid of them at the BBC and at ITV stations including Anglia.

When I started as a Continuity Scriptwriter at Anglia – writing scripts for the on-screen announcers – the only facilities were the announcer sitting in his/her booth with no autocue (he/she had to memorise any script you wrote), a slide machine and (if it was not being used for transmission or by a programme) a videotape and telecine machine. Edited trailers were rare. Feature film trailers tended to be single sections chosen from the film and were run unedited off a telecine machine.

Because ITV was a network of independent companies transmitting local programmes, networked programmes, part-networked programmes and local ads (which were sold and might be cancelled up to around 5.00pm every day) the presentation and promotion ‘bits between’ had to fit to the half-second. If you over-ran by one second, you would be cut off; if you under-ran by two seconds, there would be an unsettling gap. Equally, if a live programme over-ran or under-ran there were ‘gap’ problems.

Famous announcer/host David Hamilton: Diddy? Yes he did

Iconic announcer/presenter ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton was at the NFT last night. He was the continuity announcer one evening when, on the live Sunday Night at the London Palladium show, Shirley Bassey decided not to sing a song and the programme under-ran by five minutes, leaving a sudden gap which he had to fill with no warning, no autocue on a locked-off camera with no tape, slide or film back-up and only a copy of the TV Times listings magazine to ad-lib round. Presumably every announcer at every ITV station around the country had the same problem.

David was a promotion scriptwriter at ATV in 1960. He remembered:

“We had a boss who said to me one day: Think about how much people pay for a 30 second ad. You have got 30 seconds to sell our programmes. This is very very important and very valuable time and you must make those scripts pay.

Later in his career, he said, he remembered “one night introducing Crossroads, the long-running soap in which the sets moved more than the actors…”

Crossroads, like all good soap operas, had a central location which allowed new characters and storylines to naturally appear and disappear. In Coronation Street and EastEnders, the pub is central. Crossroads was set in a motel, which allowed new characters to appear and leave naturally.

“That evening,” said David Hamilton, “I read what the continuity writer had scripted for me: Tonight an actor arrives at the Crossroads Motel and I saw I had a second or so left on the clock and I added: Not before time.

“Two minutes later, the phone rang and it was Noele Gordon (star of Crossroads) who said: David, I didn’t like what you said about my programme. I was working for Thames and Crossroads was an ATV programme so I didn’t get too much of a bollocking.

“We weren’t really announcers,” he remembered. “More of an evening host. You became a friend in the home.”

He once got a letter from a woman living alone who explained he was the only person who talked to her during the day.

“People felt there was someone there watching the programmes with them,” he explained. And, because they were in people’s living rooms, they were famous faces.

McDonald Hobley was happier than Larry

McDonald Hobley was one of the early BBC TV announcers and had a very small part in the movie version of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, which was being filmed on the seafront at Blackpool with Laurence Olivier.

“During a break in filming,” David Hamilton remembered, “the two of them were walking along the Golden Mile and a couple of ladies came walking towards them. One of them said: Ey up! Are you McDonald Hobley? He straightened his tie and said I am, indeed. And she looked at Laurence Olivier and asked MacDonald Hobley: Who’s yer friend? Is he anybody?”

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Why loving jigsaws as a child helped me write other people’s autobiographies

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Last night, I was on a panel comprising (in alphabetical order) Ivor Baddiel, currently scriptwriter for the X FactorHelen Lewis-Hasteley, assistant editor of the New Statesman magazine… and Professor Joanna Woodall, art historian at the Courtauld Institute.

We were taking part in the third Storywarp erm eh meeting, conference, shindig? – Whatever it was/is. People talk to an invited audience about structuring ideas. This one was about the difficulties of telling “Other People’s Stories” and took place in the offices of the Made By Many agency in Islington. I am not quite sure what they do either.

I guess I was there because of three things.

I wrote comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, which was compiled from tape-recorded interviews…

I was paid as editor by Random House to advise comedian Janey Godley on how to write her own bestselling autobiography Handstands in the DarkShe had never written for print before…

And I shepherded, cajoled and edited 19 stand-up comedians who contributed short stories to the anthology Sit-Down ComedyQuite a few of them had never written for print before either.

The last of those three was like juggling spaghetti in a high wind, but that is something which has always attracted me.

In preparing for the Storywarp panel, I realised that I had two relevant interests when I was a kid.

The first was that I was really interested in jigsaws.

You can only put together a jigsaw in one way. Later, I got into television production and editing, where there are a million different ways to put the component parts together. In a sense, writing is the same. You can write anything in any way. There is no single ‘right’ way.

The second thing was that, when I was a kid, I wanted to become a good writer. I did not particularly want to see my name in print. It was not an ego-driven thing in that sense. I just wanted to be a ‘good’ writer.

One of the people I admired was George Orwell.

I think George Orwell is an absolutely shit novelist… Nineteen Eighty-Four is a shit novel. The central female character is badly-written; the love scenes are absolute crap. Yet it is a great book, because Orwell is a shit novelist but a great writer.

He is great at communicating what is in his mind and that is what writing is about. Communication between two people. He is a writer of thoughts; he is an essayist; he is a journalist; but he is not really a novelist.

I thought I would quite like to have George Orwell’s technical ability: to be able to write clearly. So, I asked myself, How did he learn to do that?

I reckoned he learned to write simply by doing lots and lots and lots of hack writing: he was a journalist; he worked at the BBC; he worked in Room 101 at Broadcasting House which later became the Future Events Unit.

And I reasoned, perhaps bizarrely, one way to do that was to become what was then called a Continuity Scriptwriter. You wrote for the announcers on television and, to an extent, for the voice-overs on TV trailers.

You had to write for the announcers under tight deadlines and you had to write for the exact duration. There is no point writing a brilliant 35 second piece if it is for a 17 second slot. There were also the tight deadlines. The durations of local ITV continuity spots changed all the time as they sold or did not sell ad spaces and local and/or network programmes over-ran or under-ran.

You might also have two different announcers per day and different announcers each week plus different voice-over performers for the trailers – so you were writing for different voices all the time. They all spoke at different paces, so you had to write in different ways for different speech patterns and different characters.

It was very hack but, with luck, I ended up being able to write anything at the drop of a hat.

I loved jigsaws. I wanted to be a writer. And writing biography or autobiography – “other people’s stories” – is writing using facts and quotes about and from people like a jigsaw putter-togetherer on a grand scale.

But, then, all writing – all creativity – is putting together a jigsaw.

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