End of an Era
have finally 'really' retired from the BBC: since I took early retirement in 1995 I've been doing the same thing (Studio Manager - i.e. sound mixing - for the World Service) a few days a month on a casual basis; now I have decided that it's a good time to call a halt: as it happens few days short of the 46th anniversary of my joining the BBC in 1961.
I spent the first six years as a Technical Operator, working in Bush House Control Room and in recording rooms: then I became a Studio Manager, working on programmes in studios. As the World Service is primarily a news-based organization I naturally worked on transmissions (mostly in foreign languages) which covered the big events - such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Falkands War, the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the attempted coup over USSR president Gorbachev and so on.
In the early years the Cold War was still in progress, so many of our transmissions to Iron Curtain countries were on short wave and were jammed: with increasing liberalization the World Service has been able to use satellite feeds to FM transmitters in the actual countries (recently Russia terminated this, so it's not all sunshine).
But it's not all been News. Though we never did much music recording - and as it was a large department (about 120 people) the glamorous work was spread around - I have made recordings of various, mostly ethnic, groups, including a Ghurka pop group, musicians from Bengal, India, Afghanistan and Romania, as well as a few well-known names including guitarist Paco Peña, and Ian Wallace & Donald Swann.
We didn't get many famous people, though among others I did the studio balance on interviews with explorer Ranulf Fiennes, actor Charlton Heston, and the phone-in with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (as described in a previous post).
World Service in English used to mount full-length plays, but though I did 'spot effects' (like clinking teacups) a couple of times I didn't do the mixing on these. However the language sections used to do drama - usually serialised because of the short time available - and I've worked on episodes of Pride and Prejudice in Bengali, Hamlet in Tamil, and The War of the Worlds and The Mayor of Casterbridge in Arabic, as well as several Polish plays, and also plays in English for Africa (which almost always involved a military coup in a small African country).
The place was always a bit of a madhouse, many of my colleagues being strong and lively personalities: the atmosphere is well described in Chapter Five of the book Radio, a true love story by Libby Purves (who was a Studio Manager for a time). Its been an entertaining 46 years and a lot of fun (and some rows - I've been at loggerheads with the management more than once). And somehow I managed to find the energy to write six books on broadcast comedy while I was still working full time - my BBC contacts made the research much easier than it would have been for an outsider.
So now I'm a genuine retiree: more time to prune the roses, cycle (if only the weather would behave).. and maintain the podcast and this weblog.
Posted by Roger Wilmut October 8th 2007, 0911 AM
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