Continuity Suites - Introduction by Barry Taylor

The studio of a 1940s Continuity Suite at 200, Oxford Street.
It was not until the autumn of 1940 that the first continuities were introduced. Until that time all the amplifiers, meters and thus the means of controlling a programme were located in the control room. There the programme source was selected by an engineer whose job it was to control the level and monitor the programme on headphones. The 'balancing' of the programme was performed by an operator (and sometimes the producer) in the studio who ensured that the level from the microphones sounded correct in relation to each other and to inserts, if any, from gramophone records. To make things 'sound' correct was all he could do. He had no programme meter and he was listening to a loudspeaker fed from the output of the control position in the control room where it was quite possible for the control room engineer to unintentionally override his 'balance' decisions. The announcer for the programme was also in the studio or an adjacent announcing room and thus remote from the control room engineer. Some studios, such as news studios, simply had one microphone and nothing else.

This method of operation was an extension of techniques developed at Savoy Hill. Because of the size and cost of amplifiers it made sense to have as few as possible and to locate them in a central control room. The first microphone amplifier at Savoy Hill was 6 feet long, 4 feet high and 2 feet deep! As equipment became more compact and new switching systems were developed there was a growing feeling in the two or three years before the war that there was a better way of doing things. Two incidents helped to reinforce this view.

On 20 January 1936 a programme from a Maida Vale studio was interrupted for an announcement that King George V had died. After the announcement the engineer on duty faded back to the Maida Vale studio where Henry Hall's Dance Band was playing. With hindsight it is difficult to see what else he could do except leave total silence as there was nobody present to make a presentation decision. The Senior Superintendent Engineer, R.T.B. Wynn, took the side of his staff, as he did not believe that decisions like this were an engineering responsibility.

The second incident occurred on 20 May 1937 and was known as 'The Woodrooffe Incident'. As part of the Coronation celebrations there was a Review of the Fleet. The commentator was an ex-naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Woodrooffe, and the commentary was to come from his old ship. He had been rather generously entertained in the wardroom prior to the broadcast and during a pre-transmission test it was noticed that he sounded somewhat 'tired and emotional' and there was concern expressed to Harman Grisewood who was on duty in the Presentation Section that all might not go well with the broadcast. The Presentation office was some distance from the Control Room and before Grisewood could do anything Woodrooffe was on the air with the now legendary remark 'The Fleet's lit up'. Senior engineers, on their own responsibility, faded out the programme.

It became obvious that a duty announcer was needed in close proximity to the control engineer so that immediate decisions could be made that would prevent such incidents happening in the future. It used to be said that to be in possession of a recording of the 'The Fleet's lit up' would lead to summary dismissal. True or not, everyone can hear it these days thanks to a BBC Radio Collection CD '75 years of the BBC' (ZBBC2038CD). Incidentally, the inlay card has incorrectly credited Woodrooffe as a Wing Cmdr.

A new system was worked out in detail. It was intended that control of dynamic range as well as balance would be carried out in a studio's control cubicle and that this would be done without any manual operation in the main control room being required. For transmission there would be an operational room with an adjacent studio where an announcer would be in charge of the presentation and could play fill up music if needed. An engineer would select the sources of programme, fade and mix them as required and 'maintain aural supervision of the sequence of programmes as a whole', in other words maintain the continuity of the output.
war time con
A wartime continuity control position assembled using OBA/8 equipment.

It was intended that this new system would be installed in the extension to BH London that was under construction at the beginning of the war. The war put a stop to that (an extension was eventually opened in 1961) and the first continuity was in fact installed at Abbey Manor near Wood Norton and used by the Empire Service in September 1940. This used OBA/8 equipment that had been designed for Outside Broadcasts but proved to be ideally suited to the rapid assembly of wartime studios. Shortly after this, the emergency BH London control room became impossibly cramped. It had been established in 1939 in a room near the gallery of Studio BA and was used during air raids. Studio BA itself was converted into the wartime control room, ousting PBX which had occupied the studio's gallery at the outbreak of war.

Two continuities were built at the same time along the western wall of the studio, one for the Home Service and the other for the Forces programme (and used after the war by the Third Programme). The equipment was, of course, based on the OBA/8 and looked like the 'bays' (control positions) in the control room itself. Indeed Bay 1 could be and was used as a standby continuity and in this case the announcer would sit in what used to be Studio BA's 'listening room', later renamed S2.

Eventually there were three continuities in BH, for the Home Service, Light Programme and the Third
Home Con 1962
Programme. Light Continuity was one floor up on the Basement and, almost next door, part of Studio B1 was set up so that it could be used as a spare continuity. Bay 1 plus S2 could also still be used, which was easier if Home or Third needed to move in the event of a fault.

On the right is one of the wartime cons re-equipped with Type B faders and more comprehensive control over the studio facilities. The studio has also been updated with facilities to play LPs.

The wartime control room in Studio BA, together with its continuities and studio S2 and S3, finally closed in early 1962. The area was rebuilt to form a new Studio S2 and a new recording channel H2.

Under construction
In late 1961 the new control room in the extension opened with 4 new 'Type B' continuity suites. These are described in detail in the following pages. This early picture, right, shows the studio of what would be the Light Programme's continuity during construction. Note the view of All Souls Church through the left window.

Type D desks (also shown in this section) replaced the Type B around 1970. Later, three maxi cons, rather like the Cardiff example, were installed in two new suites in Egton House for Radio 1 and in Con G, mainly used by Radio 2. Further replacements used desks manufactured by SSL.