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BBC TELEVISION from ALEXANDRA PALACE

by Arthur Dungate

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Lime Grove demolition

The end of an era

 

(from: The West London Observer, Friday 4th November, 1949)

BBC BUY RANK STUDIOS
VAST TV PRODUCTION CENTRE
AT LIME GROVE

Bigger and better programmes
BY A.T. WEISMAN
 

 

The announcement on Wednesday that the BBC has bought the Rank film studios at Lime Grove, Shepherd's Bush, in order to expand their television service will reinforce the belief held by many people in the film industry that television will, eventually, supercede films as a medium of popular entertainment.

For, whilst film production is dwindling and film studios are compelled to close down or work to very diminished schedules, television is taking great strides forward.

THE SHEPHERD'S BUSH STUDIOS WERE AT ONE TIME PRODUCING A FILM A MONTH, AND Mr SYDNEY BOX HAD ACTUALLY ANNOUNCED A PROGRAMME OF 19 FILMS IN ONE YEAR WHEN THE FILM CRISIS SET IN AND CURTAILED PRODUCTION.

At the moment one can only speculate on the effect the increase in studio facilities will have on television programmes. But one thing is certain: it will mean BETTER programmes and more of them.

At Alexandra Palace, the present transmission-production centre, there are only two studios, both very small, and producers have to work in extremely cramped space.

Ample space

Plays can be rehearsed before television cameras only once, on the morning of the broadcast, and this has inevitably detracted from the smoothness of productions. There are also great limitations in the construction of scenery.

At Shepherd's Bush, with its many and spacious workshops where vast palaces have been pre-fabricated, there will be ample space, and no serious difficulties should be encountered in building any set that may be needed.

There will have to be very few alterations in the general lay-out of the studios.

The most important work will be the installation on each "shooting floor" - and it is planned to have five - of a producer's turret: this is an all-glass control room overlooking the studio, in which the producer sits during transmission, wearing headphones and directing his camera-men (who also have headphones) by means of a microphone before him.

He instructs them when to "track in", when to "pan", at what angle to approach.

Although each camera-man knows in advance roughly what is required of him from the detailed shooting script with which he is supplied, this business of commanding the unit whilst a programme is on the air inevitably makes for a great deal of suspense and tenseness which film-making cannot match.

TV programmes are actually edited whilst in transmission. The producer in his control room can, by the twist of a knob, cut from one camera to the other. Three cameras are usually in use, two lining up on the next scenes whilst the other is transmitting, and vice-versa on a relief basis.

The screens in the control room show the producer the scene that is on the air, and the scene about to go on the air.

 

 

More cameras

Now that studio facilities have been increased, it may well be that more television cameras - say four or five - will be installed; this would make for greater complexity, enable larger productions to be put on and also make rapid "cutting" - changes from one scene to another - possible without confusion.

At Alexandra Palace there is very little space for the camera men to manipulate in, and with cables and wires snaking after the cameras, nothing too complicated can be attempted.

But now that a major film studio has been taken over, it would be possible, in theory, to produce television programmes almost on the same scale as motion pictures.

In some quarters it is thought that Shepherd's Bush might become the first television-film studio.

Much speculation

In recent months there has been much speculation on the advantages of installing television equipment in film studios and making films on television technique.

Alfred Hitchcock's T.M.T. films "Rope" and "Under Capricorn" were attempts at adapting film-making to television methods.

It seems fairly probable that large scale BBC television productions would be recorded on celluloid for future repetition; this would in effect be making films by television methods.

Film producers toying with this idea - it is supposed to slash costs - would then be able to see how it works out in practice.

Both the BBC and the Rank Organisation refuse to add to their joint statement giving the bare outlines of transaction. It is known that Mr Rank is very interested in the possibilities of television-films, television-studios, and television-cinemas.

Extra significance?

Talks have been going on for the past few months between television and film chiefs. It is not impossible that the taking over by the BBC of the Shepherd's Bush Studios has some extra significance such as I have suggested, for only three months ago the BBC refused to buy the same studios.

No official figures are available as to the price paid for the studios. Rumours vary. Some put it as high as 250,000, others at about 100,000.   [The official figure given was 230,000]

Neither figure is spectacular for such immense studios. Many of the films which have been made there have cost more than 250,000, and very few minor productions cost less than 100,000.

To rent studio space costs something like 5,000 a week these days.

The news of the BBC-Rank deal came on the last day of the auction of contents.

With the radio city which is planned at the White City, and the television studios at Lime Grove, Hammersmith will be the greatest broadcasting centre in Europe.

 

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