On the other hand the BBC was offering me a job as a Probationary Technical Operator (PTO) in London with only 14 weeks of residential course in a pleasant location (only two return tickets in the 14 weeks though in those days) and they were going to pay me twice as much as C&W. My monthly gross salary was £44-11-8 (£44.58) giving an average take-home pay of just over £41 after tax and National Insurance. To put this in perspective, my monthly season ticket only cost £4-15-0 (£4.75) which today would not buy me an off-peak return even though I live nearer London.
So 31 August 1959 at 0915 found me sitting in BH reception where I had been told to report at 0930. It was soon very obvious that quite a number of people had been told to report at 0930 and there was one chap I was sure I had met before. Indeed we had; it was at the all-day appointment board in London for the C&W job (which consisted of three interviews, an O-level maths exam, which we all completed one hour early, and a medical) that I first met the late Mel House. He too had been offered a job with C&W but had turned it down for the same reasons that I did.
We were met promptly at 0930 and escorted round endless corridors and staircases to meet various people, to be shown where 'The Office' was and all the other confusing things that take up Day 1 of all induction courses. The most useful thing we were given was four pages of duplicated foolscap. Reading this on the train going home explained some of the things we had been told that day. The first page makes interesting reading over 40 years later, as many of the London Station premises and studios no longer exist and at the time BH Extension was still being built:
INTRODUCTION TO LONDON STATIONI haven't a clue what the Civil Defence form was all about as I never received one nor for that matter did any of us receive headphones, towel and locker and key. I don't think there were any spare lockers and I never did understand why towels would have been issued anyway - perhaps Douglas Adams might have known.
This document has been produced for the information and guidance of new entries to London Station.
London Station consists of Control Rooms, Studios, recording and reproducing channels, in the following premises:
Broadcasting House, Maida Vale, 1 & 1a Portland Place, 3 Portland Place, 5 Portland Place, Egton House, The Langham, 27 Marylebone Road, Methodist Mission, Rothwell House, Western House, Cavendish Mansions; Aeolian Hall, The Paris, 201 Piccadilly, The Camden, The Grafton, The Farringdon, The Playhouse, Jubilee Chapel, The Stronghold.All listening equipment comprising headphones, loudspeakers, receivers, radiograms and record-players and all television viewing facilities in studios, conference rooms, and offices, together with roof aerials, coaxial cables, ring main feeds and associated equipment in Duchess Street, Yalding House and all the above premises is E.i.C. London's responsibility.
As a member of Engineering Division, it is your duty to ensure that all equipment is maintained in good working order. Any complaints received from producers, studio managers, or the occupants of offices regarding faulty equipment should be treated in a business-like manner; if the fault cannot be dealt with by you on the spot it should be reported immediately to T.O.M. who will take the necessary action. In this connection, it should be remembered that heating, lighting, ventilation and water supplies are engineering responsibilities, and that complaints relating to these services should be accepted and passed to T.O.M. who will inform the appropriate section.
London Station Staff are interchangeable between any of the manned premises.
ROUTINE FOR NEW ARRIVALS
Report to Administrative Assistant to E.i.C. London, Room 736 B.H. for:
Issue of National Insurance Benefit FormVisit Mr. Moody, Room 310 Cavendish Mansions, for issue of:
Issue of Civil Defence Form
Issue of Allowances Statement (when appropriate)
Completion of Staff History Sheet.
Locker and Key
Safety Regulations Handbook
and to read and sign safety regulations applicable to London Station.
On the other three pages there was information about leave and how to request it and the procedure to follow if you were off sick. Under "General Information" new arrivals were told among other things that:
Staff are not permitted to leave their place of work without the permission of their local Supervisor, he will arrange reliefs for meals and other purposes.The document was signed H.W.D. Drury for Engineer in Charge and dated 2 March 1959.
Engineering staff are not permitted to take alcoholic drinks into Control Rooms, Continuity Suites, or Studios or any other area under the jurisdiction of E.i.C. London.
Reading newspapers or periodicals whilst on duty is strictly forbidden.
(The EiC London Station at this time was F.C. ('Charlie') Brooker who, when he was one of the instructors at what was then known as the BBC Engineering School (Wood Norton), had written the excellent and eminently readable wartime Engineering Division Training Manual - 1942.)
There are a few things that stick in my mind from the one-week induction course:
- Being shown the Control Room by 'Pop' Eldred and standing on the balcony
looking at the chrome handles on the 'bays' which seemed to stretch to
- A fire safety lecture where a 'fire-storm' was demonstrated using what
looked like 12-inch diameter iced cake made from candles. The outer ring
of candles was lit and in no time all the candles were all alight as the
updraught pulled the flames in.
- We walked round to, I think, Cavendish Mews South where an OB recording unit was located to have a look at portable Presto disc recorders and to be warned how inflammable swarf is. A small handful was placed in the middle of the mews and lit with a match. A few flames and a large puff of white smoke was the result.
I suppose it only seemed amazing because this was in the days before domestic subscriber trunk dialling let alone international dialling. Indeed the telephone exchange in Hemel Hempstead, where I lived at the time, was a manual exchange called Boxmoor where to make a call you lifted the receiver and waited for the operator to say 'Number please'. 40 years later I can dial New Zealand and, within 20 seconds, speak to my sister for the same price as a BT peak-time local call - but even that is no longer amazing.
It was difficult to get an overall understanding of the control room as there was no guide or handbook to refer to; you could ask two people the same question and often get two different answers. Perhaps this was not really surprising. Equipment had been added on over the years as necessary and of course the place was well past its 'best before' date. I did have a suspicion that only a handful of people would really know what to do in an emergency.
One thing that was a surprise was that everyone was on first name terms. The BBC was unusual in this respect; 40 years ago in large organisations the supervisors and managers were called "sir" and the staff were addressed by surname only, preceded by "Mrs" or "Miss" for female staff. My father found it hard to believe that I addressed senior people by their first name, as did many of my uncles!!
And so two interesting weeks passed - lots of sitting at Bays but also trailing in Continuity and Studio Testing. Every studio had to be checked every 48 hours and the TD/7s lined up. Extraordinary as it may seem now it was not