Yesterday, someone asked me if working as a researcher on BBC TV News’ early teletext service CEEFAX was my first job at a TV company.
No. It was my third.
My first was working as a Services Clerk in Central Services at BBC Television Centre.
They looked after the physical maintenance of the building and things like furniture and carpets. Not glamorous.
If people had problems with their radiators or lights or paintwork or phones, desks, windows or rats & mice and much more… In fact, if you had any problem with any of the fabric of the building or the stuff in your office… the central department you contacted was Central Services where two clerks answered the phones and four other people farmed out the problems to the actual people who could sort them out.
I was one of the two clerks who answered the phones.
I think maybe it was no coincidence that Terry Gilliam – who was one of the Monty Python team based at Television Centre at the time – called the rather bureaucratic plumbing/electrical maintenance organisation in his film Brazil Central Services.
I worked in Central Services for one year during which the BBC carpenters, electricians and general maintenance people were (from memory) about 30% understaffed (and they were – possibly not unconnected – about 30% underpaid too). During my time, there was a three-day week and there was an infestation of mice on the third floor. How the little bastards got up there, I don’t know. And I don’t mean the people who phoned in to complain.
It was very busy.
After that first non-programme-making job at the BBC, the high pressure deadlines of programme making were a dawdle in comparison.
People tended to shout at you a lot because things didn’t get done quickly.
I remember justly-famed BBC producer Dennis Main Wilson (Till Death Us Do Part apart many other shows) throwing a fairly-justified strop in the office one day, flouncing out and attempting to slam the door behind him but it had a Briton spring and so closed in slow motion with no noise. At least that one door worked in the building.
One of the things which had to be sorted out was the occasional problem of pigeons and other birds in studios.
The studios at Television Centre had big scene dock doors – like a film studio. They often had to be left open. Birds occasionally got in. Not often, but sometimes. Usually pigeons.
If you had a TV show in the studio, you did not want a bird squawking or flying around or shitting on the performers and set during the recording or – even worse – during a live show.
Studios are big. They have high roofs. It is virtually impossible to get a bird out quickly, if at all.
So what do you do? What did we do?
The answer is we phoned Rentokil, who sent a man round sharpish with a rifle and he shot the bird. He had to be a skilled marksman. Because the roofs of TV studios are covered with tens, perhaps hundreds of lights and there are electric cables everywhere.
For the sake of the nation’s entertainment, many a bird has been shot.
It is, perhaps, one of the less well publicised, yet vital, jobs in television.