Ten Things from this week #16: Pictures from the Archive
Editor, About the BBC Blog
In this week's Ten Things I wanted to share a personal selection of photographs I've found from the BBC’s picture library – a resource staff use when sourcing pictures for online or TV productions.
Like the internet, for anyone with a fascination with cult TV or the history of the BBC, the picture library can be a perilous place to visit. You may be browsing for one subject and end up inadvertently stumbling on something quite different and – potentially – even more engaging.
What follows reflects just one of many journeys I've made through that picture library over the past few months, in many ways a crumb-trail of some personally exciting discoveries.
NB - For the sake of authenticity, I've made a point of maintaining the colour bias as it appears on the original database rather than correcting it to an approximation of contemporaneous colours.
1. AUBREY SINGER
This blog post is also inspired by the book Inside BBC Television: A Year Behind the Camera. Published in 1983, the book was intended to mark the 50th anniversary of BBC Television. In the foreword to the book, Aubrey Singer (pictured below in 1968), then managing director of BBC Television:
“Nothing like this has ever been published before: we have never submitted ourselves to such a searching examination by camera.”
It seems incredible now that there was a time when showing the BBC behind the scenes was something unusual. The book features a collection of photographs from 51 high profile programmes and events transmitted between 1982 and 1983 including the visit of Pope John Paul II to the UK, Young Musician of the Year, Breakfast Time and the Two Ronnies Christmas Show.
2. ARTHUR LOWE ON LOCATION WITH DADS ARMY
Inspired by the final chapter in the Inside BBC Television book – a chapter entitled “BBC Catering” – a search on the BBC Picture Library using the same chapter title as a search term returned this candid shot of actor Arthur Lowe, on location during filming for Dad's Army.
There is a physical sensation experienced when finding shots like this on the picture library – and this illustrates that point perfectly. First, is the very real sense that a picture taken from behind the scenes instantly transports you away from the image TV viewers are used to seeing – that of Lowe playing Captain Mannering or Clive Dunn in his role of the hapless Jonesy. In this shot, we’re seeing a sort-of-familiar face, in costume juxtaposed with contemporaneous elements lke the bus in the background or the 'GB' sticker on the van to the left of the shot. There's also an air of shabby 'glamour' to the sight too.
But its Lowe's stare straight into camera which turns this into a delicious snapshot of entertainment production history. Why he's holding the bottle of milk in that way, I'm not entirely sure – like any good story, this picture asks more questions than it answers.
Finding such pictures often produces a gasp – an indication there's something engaging about them.
3. EUROVISION UK VOTING JURY 1963
Similarly, this photograph of the UK voting jury watching the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest hosted at BBC Television Centre makes my heart race just a little faster than normal.
Eurovision in 1963 was a great opportunity for the BBC to spotlight the corporation’s newest home – Television Centre – Europe’s largest purpose built suite of television studios. As a Eurovision fan myself, the picture also throws light on an aspect of the event rarely seen 'in-vision' and proves to me at least that Eurovision was quite the glamorous affair it appeared on screen when I watched it as a kid.
4. JOHN HUMPHRYS AND JOHN SIMPSON
Next, a suggestion from Media Centre editor Ben Murray who also searches for pictures in the database - a relaxed photograph featuring newsreaders and reporters John Humphrys and John Simpson on the set of the Nine O’Clock News in the early 1980s.
It's difficult to determine whether the reason for the photograph was initially promotional or just a shot to finish the film. But the unusual angle on the set and the sight of relaxed smiles on the faces of the subjects is arresting in its own way.
5. NEWLY BUILT BBC NEWSROOM AT TELEVISION CENTRE
The BBC is currently in the final throes of moving out of Television Centre. BBC World News moved to New Broadcasting House last week. The main domestic bulletins will be the last to vacate the purpose built newsroom at Television Centre in the coming months.
So, with that in mind, the sight of the newly constructed newsroom before anyone had moved in at all, is a breathtaking – if a slightly blue – sight.
6. LIME GROVE FILM DESPATCH
My mind started along the lines of previous BBC 'moves' and the photographic records the organisation made to document similar moments of transition.
Lime Grove film despatch
This shot of 'film despatch' at Lime Grove Studios (the BBC bought the Gaumont Film Studios in Lime Grove, West London in 1949 as a base for TV production while Television Centre was being planned and constructed) has recognisable elements – the TV, the trolley in the background and the phone - but note the lack of a computer. Also look out for the massive film cases and ledger, and the row of lever arch files. Makes me pause to consider when I last saw any of these elements in the past year.
7. CAROLYN PICKLES AS 'BLUEBELL'
Next a personal favourite and a throwback to my youth. Bluebell was a Saturday teatime drama series documenting the life of dance captain Margaret Kelly Leibovici and founder of the troupe of Bluebell dancing girls she established before the Second World War. The series was broadcast in 1986.
I remember watching the first run of the series initially by accident. By the time the series was repeated however, it had obviously left its mark as I was desperate to commit to videotape. That videotape still remains somewhere in my attic to this day. This production shot of Pickles in the lead role.
8. MONTY PYTHON 'SALAD DAYS' PRODUCTION SHOT
I can think of a handful of Monty Python scenes which are still guaranteed to see me descend into fits of laughter. The Spanish Inquisition ('Poke her with the soft cushion, Cardinal!') is one and for sheer joy of silliness the Fish-Slapping Dance can make me shake uncontrollably just thinking about it. So too, the 'Salad Days' sketch featuring Edwardian gentry relishing the opportunity of playing tennis until things go quite horrifically wrong.
This shot taken from behind the group shows the entire team on location and proves there wasn't much available in terms of budget. The shot is fairly unspectacular in terms of detail. Instead, it offers an entirely different angle on one of many iconic scenes. There's a voyeuristic element to this – almost a sense that this is as close as the photographer was allowed or even dare get. A cheeky glimpse on the production of iconic comedy.
9. THE TRIPODS PRODUCTION SHOT
Hot on the heels of Monty Python and Bluebell, my stroll around the BBC Picture Library saw me searching around for dramas I watched as a kid. Here, a Doctor Who substitute: The Tripods. This 13 part series science fiction high budget apocalyptic story based on the The Tripods books by John Christopher and featured a richly produced and menacing signature tune by Ken Freeman.
I would need to watch the series again to recall exactly who the characters in The Tripods were who feature in this production shot. But what draws my eye in this shot is the carefully designed outfits juxtaposed by the casual laid back stance of the cast members.
10. JULIA SMITH AND VERITY LAMBERT ON THE ELDORADO SET
The picture library can on occasions act as a fantastic research tool, not only documenting the passage of time in shots of those who feature in front of the camera, but also the production staff too. This shot of producer Julia Smith talking to the cast of the expat soap opera Eldorado also features Verity Lambert (on the right in sunglasses) who was executive producer on the ultimately doomed series.
In BBC history terms, Lambert's reputation was sealed by her work producing the first series of Doctor Who. But it's often easy to forget that production staff continue to work on other projects long after their often most written about accomplishment.
The picture library is littered with shots of Verity from her early days at the BBC right up to the comedy series Love Soup which broadcast in 2005. Clicking through all of them can at times feel a little like flicking through somebody else's photo album, resulting in the perception that you actually know the person who features in the picture as though they were part of the family.
If there are pictures from BBC TV programmes you'd like to see featured in the Ten Things post, please get in touch leaving a comment below.
Jon Jacob is Editor of the About the BBC Blog