There’s sometimes a thought that continuity announcers – and their transmission controllers – are somehow ‘winging it’. This comes from the most popular clips of old presentation being ones where something unusual is happening, forcing an announcer to pad for time, or cutting them off mid-sentence, or catching them on the telephone desperately seeking the whereabouts of a piece of film.
But these are the very much the exceptions. Weeks, even months, can go by with not one single thing going wrong – yes, even in the 1950s and 60s. And during those times, 99% of all broadcasting, everything in transmission control and continuity runs like clockwork.
It does so because it’s planned to the exact moment by a team of highly trained, highly talented people working long hours and producing copious amounts of paperwork – even now, in the days of ‘everything’ being on a computer.
The paperwork, and its computerised equivalents, still look something like these documents from 27 July 1968 – ATV London’s last Saturday on air. They are shared with everyone who could possibly need or want to know, since more information leads to better television.
Each day’s transmission schedule for each company is copied to the person responsible for co-ordination of the network at each company or branch. Here, someone in every TX studio in ITV on air that day, from Miss Leidan at STV to Geoffrey Lugg at ABC, gets a copy. The transmitter staff get a copy too; the Independent Television Authority, as the legal broadcaster of ITV at the time, gets one. The people at “ATC” (Associated Television Corporation, ATV London’s parent company) manning the lines from the transmission centre at Foley Street in Marylebone in London to the General Post Office television control suite in the nearby Museum Exchange, the chief engineer next door in the offices at Ogle Street and the duty officer at ITN all get a copy.
Elstree, the beating heart of ATV for nearly all of its life, gets 10 copies; Mr Summers gets a copy to edit down to share with the newspapers and the TVTimes; 24 copies go to head office on Great Cumberland Street, including one for Olive Hennessy, who must be prepared to look back when the inevitable letters from viewers – what was the advert I saw at 9pm on Saturday last? was the racing from Ripon or Richmond? who do I write to if I want to complain about the results of OpNox? – flood in over the next week.
Meanwhile, the output of the ITV companies trundles on, each advert, announcement and even the National Anthem at the end of the day timed to the very second.