Southern Television Project Updates

Click on the image to view the poster.

Click on the image to view the poster.

Earlier this summer, I presented a poster at an event heralding the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership, which is funding and supporting PhD students in all fields of the Arts and Humanities in six universities across Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. The initiative was keen to have perspectives from students who work with industry partners, so I chose to design my poster around the methodological implications of archiving and researching at the same time. It’s also a neat visual illustration of the Southern Television collection itself, and the work I do in my PhD.

I also recently contributed a blog to the Industrial Approaches to Media (IAM) training initiative website. This initiative is led by my peers in the  Culture, Film and Media department of the University of Nottingham, and I am impressed with the learning resource they’ve created, and I am so happy I could contribute in some small way.

IAM offers perspectives from academics and media professionals to help guide students and researchers wanting to engage with the media industries. It covers best practice for interviewing media professionals,  arguments for more historical research, and opinions about the benefits of industry research.

I (naturally) take a historical approach and blog about archiving the media industries. Because the Southern Television collection is a broad set of internal company documents, it took me some time to figure out how to best approach it as an archive of industry or business, rather than a disparate set of documents relating to a bunch of television programmes.

While the third year of PhD research has proven challenging and tough, I have been enjoying these moments when I’ve been able to step back and consider my role as an archivist and as a researcher.

Television History: Reconstruction as Research Method

Methodologically, I fancy myself a historian (actually, I fancy myself an archivist in extended training, but that’s by the by). By aligning myself with history, and particularly archival history, I suggest that I look at evidence contemporary to the topic at hand in order to learn more about that topic. Of course, like most doctoral candidates, I employ a compound methodology as befits the questions I’m asking. But still, when explaining to people what I do with my time, the answer is ‘considering television artefacts’. If I wanted to incorporate my professional archivist training, I might also add ‘considering how to organise these television artefacts so that others can consider them, too.’

toothandclaw

The artefacts I’m looking at are mostly in the form of documents. It is a recurring gripe of mine that, even among historians, any artefact that isn’t a television programme is seen as secondary evidence. As most moving image historians know, for varying reasons historical moving images are often lost, destroyed, decayed or – in the case of early broadcasting – never recorded in the first place. So, a historian, upon finding that the television programme they want to study is not available, might either turn to other sources (such as documentation) or give up. The television programme is the gold-standard artefact of television history. Without it, they can use other resources, but the resultant research might be seen as supplementary or secondary – i.e. less good.

Recently, though, I have noticed a seemingly more radical approach to television history, one that recalls episodes of 999 rather than any Media Studies lecture I’ve ever attended. More and more researchers are seeking to reconstruct aspects of television history, as best they can, using the most appropriate tools at their disposal.

For instance, one of the highlights of last year’s Spaces of Television conference was a presentation by Dr Andrew Ireland about the experiment at the heart of his PhD thesis. In this experiment, Ireland used the script from Tooth and Claw, a 2006 story of Doctor Who. He then found actors who resembled David Tennant and Billie Piper and a crew at his university, and set about re-enacting the episode. However, instead of remaking it shot for shot, he instead kitted out a television studio so that it mimicked the constraints of shooting Doctor Who in the 1960s. He then proceeded to re-enact the beginning ofTooth and Claw as a 20 minute instalment of an as-live, multi-camera studio drama. From Ireland’s perspective, the aim was not to reconstruct an old studio drama (he doesn’t use the word ‘reconstruct’ precisely because he has created a new thing), but to reconstruct the process of making one.

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Another example: in my ‘Kine Weekly’ blog a couple of weeks back, I linked to a tweet by Dave Jeffrey. He has evidently been making a 3d computer model of the old Westward Television studio building. By his own admission, it seems that this was merely a handy vessel for him to practice using Blender – an open-source computer graphics software doodah. These visualisations are obviously only digital facsimiles of the original layout of the building, but they also have the potential to be extremely helpful to anyone wanting to gain a greater understanding of how Westward was physically laid out.

Speaking of studios, there is also the Facebook group Pebble Mill, that crowdsources the history of the Pebble Mill Studios by inviting interactions from those who used to work there. The project has been running for a while now, overseen by Vanessa Jackson. Now, interviews are a known source of historical evidence, but I think this is different. Rather than creating oral histories, Vanessa posts pictures and other artefacts she finds from the studio, and asks for help contextualising the artefacts. Responders will comment, confirming who that person is or what that machine was for. They will often – unprompted, yet certainly welcome – offer their reminiscences and anecdotes from their time at Pebble Mill. It is not a reconstruction, strictly speaking, but it certainly goes some way toward reconstructing the everyday life and operations of Pebble Mill, in a manner that is organic and true to the nature of working life, where no one person knows everything.

I’m glad to have come across such a wide range of innovative historical research methods that use archival evidence as I try to unpick exactly how to describe my own. Despite the fact that the methodology is a tiny proportion of my PhD thesis, it is probably the part I have redrafted the most. I am certainly inspired to be bolder in my presentation of documents as a source of primary research, and I have already skewed my topic toward mapping out the policies, infrastructures and operations that underpinned Southern Television – i.e. things that can be in some way reconstructed from documentation – more than their programmes. My methodology is far from unique, too, and it is nowhere near as inventive as the examples listed here. Nevertheless, I think researchers are still too willing to give up on certain areas of television history, because the programmes haven’t survived or the creatives involved are not available. So much of television has been created through systems, processes, structures and infrastructures that evolved over time. Reconstructing these peculiar contexts and visualising them are just as important as watching the programmes.

Lastly, I should say that my ponderings on this matter were inspired by a little exchange I had with my dad on Twitter.

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Watch This: An affectionate look back at Southern Television programmes from 1958 to 1979

Watch This

This is a programme celebrating the first 21 years of Southern Television. According to the description it was first broadcast on the 28 December 1979, not long before the company lost its franchise. The video has been stitched together from various sources, though the exact provenance is unknown.

There are lots of interesting tidbits to be scoured here, not just the programme itself but the advertisements, idents and some news, giving context to the broadcast. The programme covers some of the early period of Southern’s operations that is poorly documented elsewhere, including clips from the rehearsals for the company’s opening night variety programme Southern Rhapsody (that programme is, I believe, lost).

Lots of recognisable people and programmes are represented. The most sticking omission to me is the lack of countryside programmes that were important to Southern. Maybe the company wanted to focus on the more national facing stuff.

In other Southern project news, I will be discussing Freewheelers and associated stuff at the ‘Spaces of Television’ conference in just a couple of weeks.

Also, looks like the site of the old Southern Television Centre in Northam is to be repurposed into flats.

Southern Television Memoranda

memosSTVproject

Something that has surprised me about the Southern Television collection is the sheer amount of memos it contains. For one thing, most of the memos (that have survived this far) are between executives, producers and programme directors who worked in the same building. I assumed that in the time before email everyone talked to each other all the time – if not in person, at least by phone. I assumed wrong.

While it is impossible to quantify the exact proportion of phone calls to memoranda, I would argue that written communications were preferred by many at Southern Television. Often conflicts and resolutions are documented entirely in the collection, with incoming memoranda stapled neatly to the carbon copied responses. While there are occasional allusions to discussions that had occurred in person or over the phone, those conversations were often continued in memos and letters.

madmenswitchboard

In fact, telecommunication was often discouraged and letters were encouraged because paper was (and, arguably, still is) cheaper. Just as naive proponents of paperless offices nowadays are sadly misled in their faith in the supposed indestructible and cost-free nature of online communications, so too were mid-19th century office dwellers enticed by the immediacy and convenience of the telephone. However, higher-up Southern employees, who were privy to the company’s expenditure, were wise to the costs of using the telephone, even though the company no longer needed to employ manual switchboard operators.

Here are some memos that were circulated in 1964 about excessive phone usage at Southern Television (name of sender redacted):

I know that telephoning oils the wheels of machinery very effectively but there are many times when a letter would do as well – and quite apart from the increase in the traffic this new S T D method of payment is brutal.

[NB. ‘STD’ refers to subscriber trunk dialling – i.e. using a direct line with no need for an operator to connect you.]

[I]t will be noted that more telephone calls than ever are being made.  […] The above are numbers of trunk calls made through the main switchboard and they take no account of the considerable usage mainly from incoming calls of the News Division lines.

Of course, television being a dynamic and fast-paced world (even in the days of two channels!), telecommunications facilitated the fast response to breaking local news, and documentation often occurred after the fact. I’m beginning to turn my attention to the news magazine programme Day by Day, and the lack of documented communications is frustrating. I am grateful that so many memos exist elsewhere in the collection for me to analyse.

I would also suggest that memos were used for reasons other than watching the pennies. Of course, memos are still used in offices today because they are useful for certain tasks. They are used to circulate information to several employees at once. They are used to confirm decisions and to document actions. Now email and BBS’s have usurped memos as the communication-of-choice, but their functions are very similar; it is only the medium that has changed.

Moreover, the beauty of memos and letters for historians is that you can pore over the language and make inferences from how the content was communicated. A polite but formal memo usually suggests that the information contained is difficult or sensitive: for instance, budgetary concerns would be relayed with a distant yet firm tone, in order to emphasise the severity of the situation without inviting argument. On the other hand, memos were also used to make jokes and exchange pleasantries. There are times when I think the memo I’m reading is so unnecessarily long that it is evidence of procrastination, and some memos contain hilarious doodles and practical jokes:

mytypewriter

The guarded nature of written communications always invites interpretation, whether digital or physical. Of course, over-thinking language is also an occupation that comes naturally to postgraduate students.

Putting Hundreds of Thousands of Documents in Order

boxes-STVproject

I’ve mentioned once or twice that the Southern Television document collection at the BFI is huge. Or at least it’s huge to me, with my grand total experience of one company document archive.

While I’ve had experience of cataloguing, to date it’s mostly been a case of data entry: inspecting material, barcoding it, entering it in following the guidelines set by the archive. I’ve had to ‘attach’ element files to collection files, but I was mostly focused on the element at hand. Naturally, any cataloguing effort involves detailing metadata, contextual information, preservation status, physical condition, and collection structure. However, this is the first time that I have catalogued hierarchically and attempted to structure an entire archive of shtuff.

boxesboxes

Imagine you have boxes full of company documents. They have been kept sorta haphazardly. The company had several administrators who all kept different filing systems. The Accountant has their ledgers lined up chronologically, but the Programme Director kept things together alphabetically by project title, and the Company Secretary kept all their memos to all their departments (stapled to any replies) but the Executive Director would shove whatever was on his desk into a big box file marked with the dreaded word ‘MISC’.

Your job is to organise that stuff in such a way that facilitates the finding of things for research or conservation purposes. HOWEVER, your organisation of the documents should also reflect their original structure in all its higgledy piggledy glory.

That’s where a hierarchy comes in. So far the neatest description I’ve found is on the Tate website:

Most archives are catalogued as collections, in a hierarchical structure, with a top-level record describing the whole collection, second level records covering specific groups of material (e.g. correspondence) and further levels providing more detail within those groups.

Top-level is easy enough: it’s the collection as a whole. After that though, it’s difficult to know how 20 years worth of documents should be ordered. Should administrative docs go first? Finance? Programming documents? Programme documents (note: there is a difference between ‘programmes’ and ‘programming’)? It’s a scary thought that less than two years from now others will be reliant on the structure I’m implementing to – y’know – find things, and far better and more experienced archivists are actually deferring to my opinions on structure because I’m the only person whose job it is to know this particular collection back to front. It’s a much bigger responsibility than I was expecting.

Yeah. Hundreds of thousands of documents. Bear with me.

The Letterheads of Southern Television’s Press Office

letterheads-STVproject

I had a fun time digging through Southern Television’s press releases recently. My aim was to figure out which local programmes and TV specials were deemed significant enough to alert the local media to ahead of broadcast. It would be easy to lose oneself in production documents and scripts, but it can be difficult to gains a sense of perspective. Which of these shows were representing the Southern Television brand? What were the flagships, the standouts? Press releases can be that missing link between source material and interpretation.

At least, that was the idea, but instead I got distracted by letterheads. Seeing as letterhead design is outside the scope of the thesis, I guess there’s no harm in sharing them here.

1959

letterhead1959

There was only release I could find from Southern’s first couple of years of broadcast, and it is lovely to see some development in the company’s compass logo.

1961

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There were a couple of letterheads used fairly interchangeably in the early sixties; maybe they had different functions or belonged to different departments (this one appears to be strictly for programming announcements).

1962

letterhead1962

My least favourite – the simplicity of the Southern logo (which is beautiful IMHO) sits uneasily alongside the big, bold, reversed-colour type of ‘Press Service’.

1965

letterhead1965

You can see the branding change from Southern Television to Southern Independent Television.

1974

letterhead1974

The not-so-subtle change to incorporate the start of colour broadcasting on Southern.

1980

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Stark, simple, no-nonsense, even the superfluous ‘independent’ has been shafted. I like how the proclamation of COLOUR has been replace with a functional disclaimer: ‘All programmes in colour except those marked (M).’

Sorry for the bad phone pics, I’ll swap them for better ones once I get the chance.

Southern Television, in Colour!

I am tempted to name my PhD thesis ‘Southern Television: the Monochrome Years.’

It all began with the need to carve a thesis topic from hundreds of boxes of Southern Television documents. It is nigh on impossible to condense over two decades of company history into one book; like Goldilocks, a good student has to figure out a topic whose scope is ‘just right.’ I could’ve stratified my sample of documents by genre (say, children’s TV), by topic (such as technological innovations) or by person (for instance, a case study of Jack Hargreaves).

Had I done that, however, I would have missed out on the fun of my current methodology – AKA: making it up as I go along.

OK, that’s a little unfair. I initially capped my research to the years preceding Southern TV’s switch to colour for practical reasons – pouf! 900 boxes of evidence magically becomes 300 boxes of evidence! However, I soon realised that this seemingly arbitrary distinction between regional-telly-in-black-and-white and regional-telly-in-colour has more to it; the available evidence is entirely different. The Southern Television document collection contains thousands of production documents and scripts, but only really from the 1970s. Documents pertaining to the black and white years are far more fragmentary and behind-the-scenes in nature: memos, minutes, letters, policies, etc.

Therefore, my thesis deals with those topics that can be explored satisfactorily through those documents. I’ve eschewed discussions of form and content in favour of tech specs, policy changes and the early development of key shows.

Frankly, this is more fun than endlessly rewatching crappy video copies of the same three programmes from 1974 (or whatever). I’d also argue that from an archival/historical perspective, this approach relies more on hard evidence than subjective interpretation. But mostly, it’s just more enjoyable.

However, I felt a little bereft while procrastinating over press clippings from the day Southern Television switched to colour, on Saturday 13th December, 1969. I may just have to include these as a postscript, should my meandering mess of a thesis ever proves to be publishable.

Robert Lilmay, ‘Approach of a New Decade and Southern Goes Over to Colour’, Basingstoke Gazette, 12 Dec 1969, p. 35

Southern Independent Television will sign off from the Sixties and greet the next decade in a manner appropriate to the exciting age in which we live – and reach a landmark in its 13-year history which which can seemingly never be equalled. For this month Southern goes over to colour.

‘Southern Goes Over to Colour’, Portsmouth Evening News, 13 Dec 1969, p. 3

Today is Southern Television’s C (for colour) day. At a cost of £2 1/2 m. a new complex of studios in Southampton was geared to transmit colour at 10 a.m. this morning.

WM Hill, ‘From the Weekend’, Southern Evening Echo, 15 Dec 1969, p. 3

Colour is beauty plus detail equalling reality.

‘Southern Joins the Colour Set’, Kent Evening Post, 15 Dec 1969, p. 3

The completion of colour transmitter installation work at the Rowridge, Isle of Wight, and Dover stations, means that Southern Television joins ATV, Granada, London Weekend Television, Thames Television, Yorkshire Television and Independent Television News in colour programming on the ITA network.

‘Colour Evens the Score in a Clash Between New Rivals’, Southern Evening Echo, 13 Dec 1969, p. 3

It’s a full colour weekend after all. With Southern Television’s official “C-day” comes surprise news that BBC-1 is swinging on the rainbow, too. / The news is a genuine surprise because BBC engineering men have been gloomily saying for weeks that they were lagging behind at the Rowridge (IoW) transmitter.

WM Hill, ‘Colour with a Bang’,  Southern Evening Echo, 12 Dec 1969, p.3

Southern Television has burst into colour… almost literally. […] At 10 a.m. tomorrow there are the three home-grown programmes – “Wheel of Fortune”; “Out of Town” and “Houseparty”, just to start the new era. First Southern face on the colour scene will be that of their chief announcer Brian Nissen and the familiar Southern symbol will appear on a background of cobalt blue.

‘Black Start for Colour T.V.’, Kentish Observer, 16 Dec 1969

Colour television is here. On Saturday Southern I.T.V. started regular transmission in colour, but many were disappointed. […] For, despite the colossal deposit required – £60-£90 according to size – on colour sets, there is a desperate shortage.

‘Southern and STV Colour’, The Stage: Television Today, 18 Dec 1969, p. 9

With the introduction of colour on Southern and STV last Saturday, there are now 30 million people within range of an ITA 625-line UHF colour transmitter.

Gosh, it was a brave new televisual world! I may have to begin a sequel: ‘Southern Television: The Polychromatic Years’!

Watch This: Jack Hargreaves

This will not be the first post on dear Jack Hargreaves. The more I learn about this prolific figurehead of Southern Television, the more excited I get about writing about him. Best remembered for presenting Out of Town and How for Southern, and then Old Country for Channel 4 in the 1980s, Hargreaves was also an Executive Producer at Southern who heavily influenced the shape of regional and children’s output across the ITV network.

Thankfully, Jack Hargreaves’ stepson, Simon Baddeley, has put a lot of effort into disseminating Jack’s surviving work on the internet. Naturally, moving images from the period I’m studying (~ 1958-1968) have been scarce on the ground. However, this past week Simon has announced that the Jack Hargreaves collection at the South West Film and Television Archive has been moved to secure storage in Birmingham. I doubt it will be accessible to researchers like me anytime soon, but it’s good to know that there are folks who are taking care of this material.

Here are just a few videos from Simon’s vimeo stream that provide a bit of meta-commentary on archiving a television personality as beloved as Jack.

Jack Hargreaves ~ moving the collection from Plymouth to Birmingham

A tribute to Jack Hargreaves O.B.E

Jack Hargreaves – the invention of the camera

 

Archive Activities this April

When you are a researcher, sometimes you only know it’s a bank holiday weekend because the library or archive you need is closed…

In stark contrast to the general schedule of a first-year PhD student (one part reading journals to two parts reading Game of Thrones), this month has been full of fun and exhausting research and networking trips. This week alone I’ve gone from Nottingham to London to Portsmouth to Leicester to Berkhamsted to London again. Next week (hopefully) I’ll be reporting from my first trip to the National Archives at Kew. Later on there is a long-overdue trip scheduled at the ITA/IBA Archive in Bournemouth. It being the holidays (or so I’m told), I also hope to unwind at two of Britain’s archival film festivals: the British Silent Film Festival, this year to be held in Cambridge, and Bradford’s Widescreen Weekend. There is also a chapter to be finished off, and a new one to begin, but heck – that’s what trains are for!

To recap, this week has mostly been about networking at the Southern Broadcasting History Group and My First Conference (!) at the CATH Centre at De Montfort University.

I found out more about all sorts of interesting film and TV historical research projects:

The Channel 4 and British Film Culture project, funded by the AHRC and comprising several different avenues of enquiry and no fewer than three doctoral theses.

The History of Television for Women in Britain project, again funded by the AHRC. In particular I found out about Hazel Collie’s work gathering interviews/reminiscences from women about what they watched (spoilers: Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go feature highly).

The Spaces of Television, yet another TV history project funded by the AHRC. I had a fun time listening to Ben Lamb explain how ‘live’ studio editing of the 1960s was not as dull and stilted as it is often perceived. However, I was glad he brought examples from his case study of Special Branch, because I’ve never seen it and it looks like oh so much fun.

– Dr Helen Wheatley’s fab early findings about the emergence of colour television in the late 1960s. While she understandably focused on the critical and audience reception of colour technology, I was naturally sidetracked by the nerdy stuff about additive colour and cathode rays. Also, I learned a neat tip – instead of quoting long extracts of interviews yourself in presentations, get a voice actor to record them and play the audio clips at strategic intervals – it’s like watching Points of View live!

I was also surprised at the amount of new archival film and TV resources that were being presented. I’ve obviously entered a field that is furthering collaborations between archives and researchers, which is A Good Thing:

– Check out pebblemill.org and favourite its Facebook group (do it now!). A range of artefacts pertaining to the seminal Birmingham television studio BBC Pebble Mill are presented online, and then supplementary info is gathered through comments from those who used to work there, arguably crowdsourcing a new historical resource.

– The British Film and Video Council (BUFVC) is a non-profit organisation that finds ways for education establishments to use film and video in their teaching and research. They have a boggling array of resources and records about film, TV and radio. With the help of the AHRC and Royal Holloway University, there is now a ‘Federated Search Environment‘ (i.e. big search bar) that allows integrated browsing of all the disparate resources at once, so researchers don’t miss out on crucial information.

– If you haven’t been sucked into the time drain that is EUscreen, then set aside an hour or twelve. I’ve been obsessed since last November.

Have a Happy Easter exploring the archives!

Research Diary: Wessex Film and Sound Archive

After last week’s rant, here’s a small and serene update on the Southern Television PhD research project. I had a nice jaunt to see the small but illuminating collection of documents from Southern that are held at the Wessex Film and Sound Archive in Winchester.

It was nice to see Wessex – a regional film archive I had yet to experience. Of the regional film archives, Wessex is the only one operated by the local council (mostly they are independent charities or owned by universities) and, like the East Anglian Film Archive, it is housed in the same building as the local Records Office. The atmosphere is pleasant and welcoming, and I’m thankful to David Lee and the staff for having me along for a few hours’ reading. Even if you do not have reason to visit it yourself, do check out some streamed clips from their holdings covering central Southern England.

Afraid I can’t show much from my trip – permissions and all that jazz. Winchester is as pleasant as I expected. Next time I’ll take my camera along and see what other archival-filmy delights Hampshire has to offer.

For now, though, the dreaded Annual Review looms large at Uni (yep, I know, it was only yesterday I arrived…). Can’t promise I’ll be around much in the next couple of weeks, though in between studying I have been teaching myself code (ha!) with a view toward redesigning the ol’ blog, and planning a regular schedule of updates and features.

The future’s bright, the future’s, er, in the archives!

*PS. Speaking of rants, check out Eric‘s super polemic on the digital dark age for the Toronto Star.

*PPS. Ferdy, the Siren, This Island Rod et al. have begun pushing this year’s For the Love of Film Preservation blogathon. 13-18 May 2012 is gonna be a Hitchcock marathon – get it in your diaries!