Topics & Tales

Expanding the BBC Plymouth News Unit

As the new area news programmes were establishing themselves the BBC was planning to offer more time to the regions. As the spring of 1962 approached, the minds of the news team at BBC Plymouth were focused on the opportunities of an extended opt-out in a magazine format. A series of broad aims were set out (words taken verbatim from the original memo):  

   ...programme to be modest-but-efficient in mounting. To have a news rhythm and tempo but with broader appeal. It must, above all things else be LOCAL. It must develop its own personality. It must have plenty of gaiety - music, if possible - and sex-appeal   

If, as with our news, the choice is between being dull but smooth, or lively but rough-edged, we must go for the second

A new title name was proving to be difficult to choose. John in Plymouth was keen on Six To Six-Twenty . He liked the rhythm and neutrality. The News Editor in Bristol was not quite so keen but the debate continued until one day the BBC decided to change the transmission duration with an inevitable consequence - back to the drawing board- South West at Six was chosen .  

John Tanton the Area News Editor (ANE) continued to formulate the programme with a team of four coordinators. Don Kerr was Director "South West at Six" planning the daily content, then there were three Production Assistants. Mike Penrose organising the news output, Ruth Lovell in charge of studio production, and Michael Harman organising film direction, location facilities and script writing, in conjunction with the Director. Margherita Trump was the Production Secretary responsible for the programme timings and continued for many years as a key member of the team. 

Peter Crampton the lead presenter

Peter had been at school in Devon but after spending his war service in the navy, took a training opportunity in South Africa where he married and brought up his family. After some freelance broadcasting work in South Africa he returned to Britain taking up a position in Plymouth.

Davis 'Tiger' Smeeton staff reporter

David Smeeton known as 'tiger' to his friends, came to the BBC from the Western Morning News. He had a reputation for his energy and professional old-school approach to journalism. He was promoted to London and went on to become the BBC's first Japan correspondent. Later he covered anti-Vietnam protests and the cold war in Germany. He returned to Plymouth later to take up a position as West of England correspondent retiring in 1994. 

And of course there were a small team composing the magazine and newsreading on-air. The three newsreaders  on-rota were Joe Pengelly, Donald Heighway and David Lucas with freelance journalists Peggy Archer and Robert Forbes. The news film was edited by Geoff Crawford with assistant David Sharp. Two multi-skilled engineers and a studio assistant kept the gallery and studio going and a secretarial team of six supported both the TV and radio teams. 

On-air contributors included; Ross Salmon, Tony Soper (who we met back in the wartime chapter), Alan Gibson, David Mudd (later to join Westward TV), Michael Canney and Anita Davies. In that era, equality of opportunity did not exist and the portrayal of women and attitudes in society can be shocking to modern eyes.

In the Summer of 1962 dummy runs started for the new 20min regional magazine. Still with a working title of Six to Six Twenty, one of these programmes still exists as it was telerecorded on film for review. Some of the content covered may be considered offensive in modern terms.

Sheila Tracy -  relief host for the new programme . Sheila originally from Mullion in Cornwall was an accomplished, classically trained musician. Enjoying Jazz styles she played the trombone with the Ivy Benson band and had previous experience as an announcer with the BBC. Ambitious, she trained to become a 'special' with the London police, and furthered her production training with the BBC.

Dummy Runs went ahead in all the new regions and the results shared and debated. John commented:

  They provoked long and lively discussions...proving among other things that there are as many opinions as people. Some performers loathed in one place were loved in another. Some techniques adored by one newsroom were abhorred by another..... 

By the Autumn of 1962 a confidential memo titled "Action Stations" had been sent out to all staff detailing in meticulous detail how the new programme would be organised and transmitted. John Tanton the area news editor was never one to leave any detail to chance. Everyone knew their duties and responsibilities. Previous memos had been sent out "First Thoughts" in March 1962 and "How we shall do It" in July 1962. South West at Six was due to start on Monday September 17th. With just two cameras in the studio, one telecine machine for filmed items and a tiny studio the opportunity for cock-ups and technical failures was high. Tele-prompt did not exist - that was years away....and only basic tools like caption cards and a pegboard for names on screen were available. A mechanical device for animating the opening programme name was designed and built by an engineer as one of the original directors describes in the video below. About ten freelance cameramen were available for gathering the news and features. The main contracted cameramen were Cliff Somers and Colin Rowe. Most cameramen used clockwork wind-up 16mm film cameras but Cliff and Colin also shared a sound camera owned by the BBC which could record an optical  soundtrack onto the film. 

The Librarian's diary page for the first programme

The video below captures the flavour of the early programmes. NOTE the content includes racist attitudes which were prevalent at the time.

South West at Six evolved seamlessly into Spotlight Southwest in September 1963 - beginning a run which continues to the present day. The librarians diary entry for day one can be seen below. No visual record of the first programme exists, although several films from the era capture the style of those long lost 1960's moments. Hugh Scully was making his mark as a young reporter, equally at ease with serious and more zany features. 

Spotlight Number One

Here is an early film report from Hugh Scully

In the era of the ocean liner Plymouth would welcome many international stars. By disembarking at Millbay docks they could jump on a train and get to London quicker than the ships. saving a day. Our intrepid reporter met Bob Hope who had arrived on the French line Liberté in July 1961.

13TH MARCH 1964 and Sir Alec Douglas-Home arrives at BBC Plymouth after a public meeting in the city

Meeting the two presenters John Pett and Peter Crampton

Moving into its second year, Spotlight was constantly on the look out for ideas. Anniversaries offered an excuse to feature 'best of' items and to ask the audience and critics for feedback. The 500th edition soundtrack was recorded onto 1/4" tape and kept by John, the news editor until his dying day. Perhaps that shows how he remembered that era as a significant time, both for his own career and for BBC Plymouth. Luckily the tape was brought back to Plymouth and transferred to a digital medium for posterity. Here 5PY Heritage has put some pictures to the soundtrack in an attempt to recreate a visual impression. Archive video and film from that time of live transmissions is extremely rare so we are lucky to have anything at all. The Westward archive is also very poor and little if anything remains of Westward Diary the ITV teatime alternative to Spotlight Southwest.  

The local press trailed and commented on the 500th edition. Here is a cutting from The Sunday Independent on 12th September 1965

More Broadcast history from the region - click on the links below

The Channel Islands have a strong link with the southwest region because of its geographical proximity and historically the main radiowave link to the transmission network. Modern Satellite and cable connections have diminished this relationship with only the BBC continuing a managerial link.  

Take a look at a dedicated web page which explores its broadcast history from the turn of the 1950's 

Channel Islands Page

A new popular radio request show began in 1948. Primarily aimed at hospital patients and people recovering at home. It was hosted from the console of a cinema organ at the ABC Cinema at Derry's Cross in Plymouth. It was broadcast for nearly 30yrs, by Dudley Savage. He began his career straight out of school and was promoted as the 'Cornish Boy Organist'. The sound of the Compton Organ was heard throughout the country for nearly 40 years including the time before the war, Dudley having started broadcasting on the BBC national network from 1938. Dudley developed a strong rapport and empathy with his audience, with the programme becoming an important ingredient in BBC Plymouth's output. 

Explore Dudley's broadcast journey in the video below

InView was an early feature TV series from the West region. Two earlier series Westward Ho! and View provided regional opt-out documentaries from 1953 catering for viewers of the Wenvoe, Rowridge, North Hessary Tor and Les Platons transmitters (as they became available). These documentaries still have a resonance today for those interested in local subject matter and social history. 31 episodes were made over a two year season from 1962-1963. John Boorman who went on become a successful Hollywood film director was series producer and directed some of the programmes. Some of the programmes featured southwest locations and two restored examples are shown here:

Granite Man

The Fairground

Albert Pengelly aka Joe was a leading personality and presenter with BBC Plymouth from the 1950's through to the late 1970's. He deserves a special mention for his contribution and leadership in preserving the region's oral history and his interest in the history of recorded music. 

Follow the link to a dedicated web page where you can discover his story.

Joe's Story

With Joe's love of  recorded music there was no surprise when a feature programme 'The Wonder Of The Age' took to the air from BBC Plymouth. 

Plymouth, having a significant history as part of the West region continued with regular 'opt outs' from the national Radio 4 network. With the delay in providing any local radio stations in the region 'Midday Parade' ran from 1970 until 1973 to be replaced by 'Morning Sou'west' from 73' until the start of BBC Radio Devon & Cornwall. 

A short promotional style feature was produced in about 1972 to promote the Midday Parade programme. It was shot on colour film which is interesting as there was no colour television from Plymouth until summer 1974.  

We have seen in the video that the programme had outward looking community based features which engaged with the audience - stealing buzz words from the modern BBC - proving there's nothing new! The following programme provided by the original producer Guy Slatter features Buckfast Abbey. The Abbey had been featured on radio since the days of 5PY in the 1920's.

The team from Morning Sou'West promoting their new programme on a Plymouth parade in 1973

There are always individuals who toil and create in the background and don't perhaps achieve the recognition they deserve. One such unsung hero was Peggy Archer who freelanced from the era of regional radio right through to weekend shifts in the Spotlight newsroom of the 1990's. She had a particular affinity with the artists and writers of the region, and was one of a very few journalists (and the only one from BBC Plymouth) who was trusted by the Elmhirsts of Dartington.  

Before we move on, television history in the southwest would not be complete without that celebrated rabbit Augustus Jeremiah Honeybun born 1961 

For a generation of children and adults Gus was part of their lives and became synonymous with regional television in the southwest. For Westward television it was difficult to make a mark nationally in competition with the big ITV companies but Gus helped forge an unmatched regional identity - perhaps Gus's friend Oscar Puffin over at Channel could share the honours.... 

In some respects Gus recaptured the local mood three decades after the Children's Circle at 5PY. Westward was on the doorstep of the old 5PY prewar site and each had a club full of enthusiastic youngsters. Helping children in hospital spanned the decades as well, 5PY delivered parcels to good causes, the BBC programme 'As Prescribed' helped at the childrens ward at Mount Gould Hospital and Gus carried on the good work.   

When Westward TV lost its franchise, the new company TSW kept on many of the Westward staff, Gus included, so he avoided the dole and continued his starring role for another decade. TSW were ousted by Westcountry TV in 1992 who had no place for an elderly leporidae. Gus found his way back to his family on Dartmoor.

Many,many presenters have helped Gus over the years. Roger Shaw a stalwart member of Westward and Jan Leeming who was to venture into many other media roles, both had their turn.   

But perhaps the team that were most successful in injecting a theatrical vitality to Gus's show were Ian and Judi who can be seen in the video below.......

The 1960's music revolution brought a new energy to the country and the southwest was no exception. In 1961 a new pop show was created by Westward TV - 'Spin Along' which was very innovative at the time as few teenager shows were on British TV. The schedules were dominated by variety acts and the style still harked back to the previous decade. An established director Pat Lumsden created a format which lasted for two seasons 1961/2. 'Spin Along' was a precursor to 'Ready Steady Go', Pat Lumsden later moved to Rediffusion to direct some of RSG shows. There was some controversy at the time as the acts mimed to their music until the Musician's Union stepped in demanding live performances. In 1963 The Beatles made their mark in both Plymouth and Exeter playing the ABC Cinemas. The local TV reporters Stuart Hutchison from Westward and David Lomax from the BBC interviewed the 'Fab 4'.  A Beat Competition was also hosted by Westward. One of the judges was Brian Epstein so the winner had the opportunity to tour with Epstein managed acts - a great opportunity. The competion was won by 'The Rustiks' a band from Paignton in Devon. Alan Freeman remembers 'Spin Along' in a video below.

When the Beatles came to town

Westward's Beats

"Navigating the 'Murky Waters of news" often provokes a public reaction and a consequence for the editorial team. In the sixties when society's attitudes were changing so quickly, topics such as religion and morality often generated a full postbag with the press quick to jump on the bandwagon. Sex & Violence were often grouped together and television drama which portrayed the real world seemed to shock some groups. In the region, blood sports were a hot topic. Westward had filmed an illegal cock fighting event which understandably had provoked outrage. Later in 1965 a Quantock stag hunt featured on Spotlight made the national press. 

Tom Salmon a child of Truro, was deeply rooted in his community. He began his career at the West Briton newspaper and while deputising for his news editor, covered a story for the BBC West Region. His 'voice piece' went down so well that other assignments followed. In 1953 he joined the BBC as regional reporter. Later he became the main host for 'View' the region's documentary series and was a regular contributor for both radio and television. His 'easy' style appealed to the audience and when the first news bulletin came to Plymouth he was a safe choice as newsreader. In 1965 he became the Producer-In-Charge at Plymouth which was re-designated as the Area manager for the BBC. 

Tom in 1961 - Plymouth's first TV newsreader

Tom's Promotion at Plymouth

As BBC Plymouth developed in the 1960's Tom led the station providing mentorship for many people. Angela Rippon has spoken of her appreciation for Tom's advice and guidance during her early career. His scripting skills and poetic vocabulary enhanced many a programme or news report. The words introducing this web site are derived from his writings.

The BBC Plymouth team in the mid 60's. Tom with the management team on the bottom row. 

Tom revisited his hometown of Truro in 1977 and a memorable film was the result

BBC Plymouth gave an opportunity to another aspiring journalist who had applied from Paris for a job opening. Scully was his name and as he was brought up in a services family, young Hugh was well versed with international living from a young age. Having the confidence and the 'gift of the gab' a white lie aided his successful entry into the world of television His old colleague Colin Rowe has a tale to tell with his anecdotes in the video below.

Colin Rowe remembers...

Hugh was master of many styles from the serious political interview to the zany and comedic. He was an enthusiast for classical music with a collection of 10,000 recordings and had once worked for Steinway & Sons, the pre-eminent piano manufacturer. 

Summer Shows and Entertainment

Remembering Hugh

Angela is the most well known and highly regarded of the BBC Plymouth alumnae. Over more than half a century she has forged a remarkable career and unwavering commitment to excellence in broadcasting and public service. Here are a few reminders of her career and regional friendships.

Remembering her early career in conversation with Sophie Raworth

Two buddies together, Angela and Colin Rowe at the BBC Plymouth 2011 reunion party

Colin remembers a cheeky moment

A film was shown at the start of the day's transmissions from Westward. Before the days of all day programming many eager viewers would switch on their telly in the late afternoon in readiness for the entertainment to start. From the early 1970's through to their demise, Westward's branding was bolstered by an memorable film and specially written orchestral music. See one of the versions HERE

...there's no stopping the ambition

In their first two decades, the production teams at both Westward and BBC Plymouth continued to serve the region with news and features which engaged the 400,000 homes served. Westward Diary had extended to a 5-nights a week programme and both were kept on their toes with the local press reviewing the content with educated opinion. The newspapers seemingly were not encumbered by politically fuelled rhetoric. BBC Plymouth was restricted to basic news programming as there were no regional 'opt-out' slots for other locally produced features, although on occasion, exceptions could be made. Westward by contrast were their own masters restricted only by their budget which was never going to be great!  In 1966 the BBC began it's journey to expansion with a lunchtime series of six 15 minute discussion programmes called 'Three's Company'. The next year a 'Plymouth Experiment' was started to produce 30min feature programmes for the local area. A short series of programmes called 'Contact' was also initiated by John Tanton who by this time had taken up a promotion to Bristol. His title was Talks Editor, South & West.  Westward were going 'great guns' with, for example, 'Treasure Hunt' a quiz show hosted by Keith Fordyce, occasional drama and documentary, as well as the usual regular current affairs output. 'Treasure Hunt' was regularly in the top-five programmes watched by southwest viewers. It's a shame that no complete episodes of the long running Treasure Hunt series exist in the archives. Westward had also won an international Emmy for it's production of 'Wyvern at War' an account of the role played by the 43rd Wessex division during the invasion of Europe.       

Westward director Roger Gage receiving the emmy for Wyvern At War  which he produced and directed 

The subjects in the very first BBC area programmes included: Witchcraft in Devon & Cornwall, MP's Forum, Women in Power-Dame Joan Vickers & Lady Sayer, The Arts in the South-West Today, Meet Arthur Negus, Villiers anticipates Chichester, Youth versus Age. These programmes had a good audience despite a late night scheduling slot - proving to the powers-that-be that regional programmes had a place. 

In Summer 1968 John Tanton again beat the drum for the area by formalising a series of thirteen 25 minute area programmes. These were scheduled for the first quarter of 1969 with an early evening slot at 6.15. BBC Plymouth was also able to introduce a continuity suite - one of only two in the country - further strengthening the regional identity. These programmes carried the name 'Peninsula' .     

A big BBC restructuring plan was announced in 1969. This was named " Broadcasting in the Seventies" and for the first time the smaller eight area stations of the English regions had greater autonony and a regional identity. This was to last until the latter years of the 1980's when another BBC reorganisation reversed the policy of more local broadcasting. Here is a recording of the policy for the stations at Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton.

Ian Fell a producer in Plymouth recalls the spirit of the 70's

Suddenly we were able to experiment with all kinds of strands. So we did half-hour dramas, quirky chat shows, ‘access’ programmes, local personalities, sound news feature documentaries of course, and even ‘Brainwave’, our own often humorous version of ‘Tomorrow’s World’ (in which we certainly promoted ‘Alternative Technology’ well before ecological concerns were accepted as mainstream). These strands were brilliant to work on  until Thatcher became PM and financial cutbacks hit us.

On a quiet newsroom shift on a Saturday morning back in 1967 a call was answered from a news stringer on the Scillies - the rest is history, watch the story unfold below.......

A short story with narrative from Keith, Angela and Colin

It was a huge logistical operation for BBC Plymouth with an interested audience worldwide hungry for pictures 

Keith Blackler interviewing Prime Minister Harold Wilson at the RNAS Culdrose emergency government HQ.

The region also aired special radio outside broadcasts an example from Radio 4 below 

In 1982 film makers Laurie Emberson and Jeff Goodman revisited the site to investigate how nature was enveloping the shipwreck. Keith Blackler again wrote a quality script for the BBC Southwest programme.

1967 was one of those years, not content with a major international environmental disaster to cover, Westward and BBC Plymouth had another event to bring to the world's audiences.
After 226 days of sailing Francis Chichester arrived back to Plymouth. He became the first person to solo circumnavigate the world via the great Capes. A crowd of 250,000 gathered to welcome him back. An interesting link describing his voyage can be found HERE

An insight into daily life at Dartmoor prison spoken by inmates and staff. Filmed in 1969/70 this innovative film was part of the BBC Plymouth Peninsula series. Some of the background to the filming is told in the newspaper cutting below. The short film version is shown here, it is not known if the extended version mentioned in the text still exists. 

Cutting from the Sunday Independent 8th February 1970

Regional Radio continued to be an important service while television continued to gain momentum and before Local Radio showed up. A small radio outside broadcast truck was based in Plymouth which serviced BBC West region bookings. These included many regular Radio 4 shows like Gardeners Question Time, Any Questions & Top Of The Form. 



From left to right, Ray Cole sound specialist from BBC Plymouth and Roy Melhuish operational engineer, whose photos have been featured on this website. The replacement for this rather extraordinary camper van style vehicle is shown below. 

BELOW The interior of the early van which includes the trusty BUSH radio also made in Plymouth! n

The Golden Age of regional production

It's a very subjective statement to make but arguably accurate. Both the regional TV broadcasters were able to make varied programmes reflecting the culture and individuality of the region during the 70's and 80's. BBC Plymouth had the transmission slots and resources to make 80 thirty minute TV features per year. Regional BBC radio was active in the community and the introduction of commercial local radio  further added to the rich variety of local content.  By 1985/6 BBC Plymouth was the most successful regional centre in the country if the number of hours of TV 'sold' to national BBC 1 & BBC 2  are the measure. 

The BBC Peninsula team had evolved into a 'General Features' department. They developed programmes in many different genres. The maritime connection was very strong and together with the personal interest and knowledge of reporters, producers and craft practitioners many features were produced across yachting, natural history and environment. Dennis Adams was to lead the team from the late 70's into the mid 80's. He had directed 'Nationwide' in London which led him to have an interest in the human story told in documentary form. He tried to keep away from the clichéd image of the region, broadening the outlook and employing many talented  filmmakers along the way. Juliet May, Jeremy Mills and Howard Perks added their considerable talents to the features output. Later David Pritchard was to take the reins launching Keith Floyd and a new genre 'The celebrity chef'. 

Ever since the 'Plymouth Experiment' in 1967/8 when Plymouth was the first region to try local continuity between programmes, a small studio had been dedicated for 'opting-out' of the sustaining national networks and for news presentation. Two staff were employed (or freelance) to drive the control desk and later journalists would operate the 'self-opt' desk for newsreading. To begin with, only BBC 1 could be interrupted for local inserts but later both analogue networks could be controlled when it was decided to move some regional content onto BBC 2. This lasted until the networks moved to digital routing when BBC2 opts were stopped. 

The final incarnation of a custom self-opt desk for the English regions . Manufactured by Calrec Audio 

It might look a complete mess, but the layout was chosen to be ergonomic and could be used by touch when the presenter was looking at the camera. Around 1990 this was replaced by a  Grassvalley presentation mixer and soon afterwards self-opts and continuity were discontinued altogether.

Presenters viewpoint -Donald Heighway in 1976

Donald from the camera side

A wide angle of the same studio in 1983 with a Spotlight news backing

This studio would be the home to the pres announcer of the day. Donald would take on the role of senior announcer in the 1970's offering training & advice to newcomers. Donald Heighway was very much an academic having spent two years posted to the navy in national service. He learnt Russian and no doubt played a part in operations. Later he read English at Pembroke College, Oxford . He would often be seen with exam papers on the desk as he was an examiner for GCE boards. Sadly he was forced to leave after contracting cancer. Many of his last thoughts were captured in a poetry book entitled "Looking Then, Looking Now" published in 1992. Here is one of his poems:

Into the 1970's and the introduction of colour TV, the time was right for the first major building project at Ingledene. a local building firm had the contract to construct a new block housing a 1500 ft² studio, a smaller presentation studio, scene dock, edit suites, newsroom, galleries and offices. Time has demonstrated its success. In 1991 and again in 2014 more redevelopment took place. The 1991 'infill' project added an expansive newsroom on a new first floor joining the villa with the 1972 TV block.    

Watch the building unfold

Although the new studio was ready by December 1973 the studio did not go on-air in colour until August 1974 due to an industrial dispute which concerned extra payments for technical staff. The very first live colour transmission of Spotlight Southwest on August 5th 1974 is captured in the photo below. The floor manager was Richard Douglas-Green part of the team for many years. 

The studio control gallery L-R: BBC type D sound desk, lighting desk, Camera Controls, BBC Vision Mixer

Plymouth Sound was the trailblazer for commercial radio in the southwest. Launching in May 1975 it quickly established itself in the community becoming one of the most successful stations in the country reaching 63% of homes in the city. On the first day BBC Plymouth simulcast around 4 minutes of the early morning show to demonstrate the new service. Both broadcasters considered themselves complementary. Setting up the station was local businessman Bob Hussell with David Bassett in charge of programming. David was later to leave commercial radio joining the new Radio Devon in 1983. BBC video journalist Richard Latto has been a keen writer on broadcast history, watch his video on the station below:   


Not many entertainment shows could be produced by BBC Plymouth, budgets were tight and facilities limited. Zodiac & Co broke the mould and fell into the entertainment and chat show genre. A graphologist, palm reader & astrologer sought to predict the character of a mystery guest.  It proved to be a great success with viewers. Recorded in front of a studio audience and hosted by Jan Leeming, 10 programmes were made. BBC Plymouth's studio had a stowable purpose made audience rostra  accommodating about 70 people. The fire regulations limited the maximum number of people in the studio to 75. One of the programmes (programme 9) featured a very well known celebrity hot foot from Fawlty Towers.......

The ITV franchise for the southwest (known as area G)  was up for renewal in 1981. Westward having suffered numerous boardroom battles with controversial chairman Peter Cadbury, a change of company was viewed in the industry as very likely. Three bidders were in the game and the battle was covered in this documentary "The Contract and the G-Men" shown next. The  descriptive picture shows Gerry Ewens long serving cameraman from Westward TV.

Below this mast, close to Bolt Head in South Devon was the Regional Seat of Government HQ in the event of national emergency. It was top secret until the end of the cold war in the 1990's. BBC Southwest was granted access in 1979 to film the organisation and war game exercises. The site had always been known to a select few at BBC Plymouth as it contained a BBC radio studio which connected to the Start Point transmitter close by. This would transmit public information in the event of war. One nominated BBC engineer would visit once a year or as required to maintain the studio - perhaps the most bizarre posting on-station as it had to remain secret.

The BBC had an official War Book defining procedures to be followed. In the Southwest region, five BBC staff from Plymouth were required to muster on-site at Bolt Head in the event of a war footing - a combination of journalists including a news editor and engineers. The language used changed during the decades - In the 1960's words like assigned and required were used for staff attendance. Later in less authoritarian times, words like invited were used. The author has recently discovered that conversations between staff who knew of their roles in conflict took place. At least one senior manager at Plymouth mentioned to a colleague that he would refuse to serve in the bunker. . Hardly surprising as most informed people would likely choose family over work in that situation. Families were not allowed in the bunker. For those who chose to go in the bunker Form A had to be filled in which entitled the recipient to £250 ! 

 Don't forget your raincoat  was an official message to the general public on what to do if evacuated - so an apt title for this documentary.

Reynolds, P. (2016) ‘The BBC book of war’, History Today, August, pp. 33–38.

BBC Plymouth news celebrated its 21st in April 1982. Many old friends & staff gathered live in the studio and cut a cake provided by Margaret from the BBC Canteen.

The general features department also celebrated the anniversary by launching a children's competition. Tony Soper  with the winning school. 

Follow a day in the life of BBC Southwest in March 1977

Tony Soper who we met in an earlier chapter, set the scene for natural history features. He regularly contributed to both the day to day output of the station and the features department. A very early programme in the west region series 'Look' is shown below.  

Below; Country Scene in 1982 with Tony and Angela 

The underwater team of Laurie Emberson and Jeff Goodman provided the region with some facinating maritime documentaries as we have seen with the return to the Torrey Canyon. Craig Rich interviewed them on his chat show in 1981 gaining some insights. Watch HERE
It was filmmaker Andrew Cooper however, who gave the southwest region the most insight into our natural world.

Andrew Cooper first appeared on BBC South West Television in 1977 based in Plymouth. At first reporting on wildlife and the environment for the evening news programme ‘Spotlight’.
He then began appearing regularly on the popular regional half hour weekly gardening programme with Don Hoyle. Also on ‘Country Matters’ with Sue King and even the regional ‘Children in Need’ evening hosted by ‘Spotlight’ presenters Chris Denham, Juliet Morris and Jill Dando. Early morning appearances were also made during spring and summer from the BBC garden, Plymouth. As well as broadcasting live linking to the new BBC ‘Breakfast Time’, based at Television Centre in London, with Frank Bough and Selina Scott. Andrew Cooper’s first regional BBC 1 half hour wildlife documentary, ‘A Witness to Change’ that he filmed and presented, featured the most endangered wildlife of the region. The programme was then networked on BBC 2 a few months later. This transmission resulted in a letter being sent by the former head of BBC English Television Regions, Frank Gillard, to the Manager of BBC Plymouth, David Waine. Congratulating the head of Plymouth on the output the letter ended with a note to “keep up the good work and keep Cooper”. Several more wildlife half hour documentaries followed, including a two-part documentary entitled ‘Devon’s Underworld’. This featured the wildlife and geology of the famed Buckfastleigh Caves. These were the first documentaries to be made with cameras and sound being cabled and controlled from an outside broadcast unit, two vehicles equipped as a mobile studio. The first of three new six-part wildlife television series was filmed, produced and presented by Andrew Cooper. The programmes were co-funded by BBC network and its international sales arm, BBC Enterprises, along with BBC books. The first of the popular ‘Secret Nature’ documentary series began production in 1984. The Plymouth production team comprised two film editors, Justin Smith and Rod Thomas, production assistant Judy Thomas and executive producer Dennis Adams. The post production team also included two London based award winning BBC professionals, with music by Elizabeth Parker and sound mixed by John Hale. The first Secret Nature series was transmitted in 1986 in a prime-time slot on BBC2, watched by an impressive size audience. Six episodes featured the wealth of wildlife living on Devon’s farmland. Later that year the first programme was entered into an International Wildlife Film Festival in France. Held in St Malo, the location was readily accessible from Plymouth by ferry. As a finalist Andrew Cooper was invited to attend the last night of the festival. But by the time the jury had voted and all except the top prize had been announced, time was approaching midnight. Apart from a certificate, the Grand Prix award was a large original painting of a Giant Eagle Owl. This was the first major award for the BBC ‘Secret Nature’ television series. But not the end of events that week. 

Andrew Cooper continues the story….On returning home aboard the overnight ferry from Roscoff with my wife and two young children, I was in for another surprise. The next day dawned bright and early as we drove off the ferry, only to join one of three long queues of cars. All were waiting to pass through the customs checks in the port of Plymouth that had yet to open. A smartly suited official was slowly making his way towards us down the line of cars with a clip board. He seemed to be checking car number plates. When he got to us, he asked my name, then requested we leave the queue and move into an empty fourth lane. I assumed we were just starting a new line of cars. The officer then requested that I drive down to the next kiosk with a wave and a “well done, sir”. On arriving at the custom kiosk I was again greeted by a smiling officer who simply waved me through with a “congratulations sir”. Leaving me wondering what was going on. It was not until we arrived at BBC Plymouth, twenty minutes later, that I learnt news of the successful film festival had been included in the BBC Breakfast announcement. Apparently, the news reader had included an unscripted comment, along the lines of, “if port police see a heavily laden car arriving from France this morning, it will not be excess alcohol, just a very large film trophy”.

1986 International Wildlife film Festival, St Malo, France.


An example of Andrew's film making on Dartmoor 'The Beauty Of The Bog' 

Sometimes we can meet people who exude  mastery in their profession. Keith was one. A wordsmith with presentation gravitas and he managed to combine it all with documentary production. His productivity at BBC Plymouth was amazing - Day to day reporting on Spotlight, live newsreading and programme hosting, researching and scripting programmes for the features department, while at the same time organising and producing a monthly 30 minute 'Newswatch' documentary on a topical subject of the moment. When he retired from the BBC staffing costs increased and you can well imagine that several people had to be recruited to fill the gap.

Sometimes the reporting locations demanded  extra skills

.........and an extra pair of shoes and socks

Picture shows Keith with a Newswatch team

It's easy to forget that once upon a time Plymouth boasted the country's biggest television factory. Bush radio had set up shop at Ernesettle in June 1949. With the encouragement of the Board Of Trade a 12 acre site was acquired for the handsome new factory. Originally only making radios it expanded 10 fold over the years. When television production started it had its own broadcast test gear before BBC transmissions could be received in the city. In 1967 the factory started making Britain's first production colour tv's. The CTV 25 was first, followed by a range of screen sizes. Production peaked at 8000 sets per week in 1972 with production at typically 5000 per week during the roll-out of colour TV. The company changed its name to Rank Bush Murphy then to Rank Radio International before forming a joint venture company with Toshiba. Rank would pull out of the venture later and Toshiba closed the factory in 2009 moving investment to Poland.

Postwar development at Ernesettle with the Bush Radio Factory 

An icon from Plymouth - the classic Bush TR82 radio

Below is a compilation of items about the factory

A BBC national news report on cutbacks

In addition to manufacture, the city also had a very successful education and training base for broadcast engineering, educational television and engineering research in communications. At the beginning of the 70's the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) chose the newly designated Plymouth Polytechnic as their residential training centre for engineering. The Polytechnic also became a specialist centre for degrees and diplomas in communication engineering . Starting from the late 60's the Devon Educational Television service was created, led by Bernard Webster. This provided a cable TV service to local primary and secondary schools. A television studio was set up, initially in the basement  of one of the college buildings, later moving to the Polytechnic Hoe Centre (Formally the NAAFI building). Bernard was very ambitious with the studio venture and had funding of £30000  to buy a RCA  video recorder. A broadcast Philips colour studio camera was also purchased as well as other monochrome cameras. The facilities matched those of the BBC for a time. As a new decade approached the practical training courses began to fall away but the Polytechnic continued with research in satellite communications. 

The Education TV Studio in 1968

The Hoe centre IBA training course (courtesy BFI)

Craig acquired celebrity status in the southwest. Master mariner and former head of the school of Maritime Studies at Plymouth Polytechnic he is well qualified to comment on maritime subjects and meteorology. Craig became well known while working for the Sunday Times, calculating that Donald Crowhurst had falsified his logs in the Golden Globe race. At BBC Plymouth the news editor Cyril Wilkinson had come up with the idea that the region needed a weather presenter. Hugh Scully the main presenter for Spotlight Southwest interviewed Craig about a shipping paper he had presented to the EU. Discovering that Craig lectured on meteorology he asked him if he would be interested in the job - and the rest is history. For 25  years, 1978 - 2003 he was part of the furniture at the BBC and continues to pop up on occasion commenting on the people and places he has known. Craig is well liked and respected by BBC colleagues old and new and managed to balance the serious with the fun - a great raconteur but not a great singer as some of the old films show!

The story of Donald Crowhurst and the Teignmouth Electron BBC Plymouth 1979

An affectionate look back at Craig's TV & Radio career

There were many opportunities for engaging conversations with people who had local connections.  'Time Capsule' hosted by Chris Denham sought to bring an intimate glimpse into their journeys, triumphs and insights. Made in 1985 one episode featured Larry Grayson who was living in Torquay at the time. The author remembers him as a charming guest who tapped him on the shoulder, shook the hands of all the studio team and said,  

First rule of television - make friends with the crew

The title sequence is an example of regional ingenuity. The music was composed by one of the staff engineering/operations team. Roger Wiltshire a talented musician and an early adopter of digital audio workstations was commissioned by the producer. The video animation of a spinning video cassette was partially generated mechanically using a contraption constructed with an old car windscreen wiper motor by engineer Alec Collyer. 'Time Capsule' was also an example of the extremely small budgets afforded to regional programmes. Larry's fee on this occasion was £150 . Generally speaking the standard rate for freelance presenters was £300 per recording day and of course they had to do their own research and preparation as well. Studio based productions were usually cheaper as the studio and crew were paid for out of the ongoing news budgets so at zero cost unless overtime was incurred. Canteen and refreshments were paid for at cost from the in-house catering team. There were no in-house makeup or costume people so freelance rates were paid for these. Set construction could be inhouse or bought in. The big set that we have already seen on Zodiac & Co was made at the Plymouth Theatre Royal workshops - very 'green' keeping things local. Post production which could be achieved during the working week and within the scope of staff shifts was free to the features department as well, as they had already been paid for from the operating costs of the news operation. More ambitious film programmes could have extra funding 'borrowed' by the underspend on the cheap studio productions. A benchmark figure for an average 30 minute programme filmed outside may be £3K. Cheap telly indeed.  

Larry Grayson on Time Capsule


A 1980'S fun parody to trail the Spotlight presenting team. This was included in the viewer feedback section of the programme - how things were done before social media!

With a generous underdeveloped green space at the Plymouth studios the producers together with Don Hoyle came up with an idea for a television garden. Don's inspiration and energy did indeed create a lovely space and the series  'According to Hoyle' became an essential watch for gardening enthusiasts throughout the region. With the creation of breakfast television the Plymouth TV garden also became the Breakfast Time Garden with Selina Scott introducing it in 1983 . The southwest's resident wildlife expert Andrew Cooper also made a contribution. Watch the inaugural episode below.   

Don with the crew planning a pond item

Selina introduces Don to the national audience


Bristol born filmmaker John King and his son Simon added an extra palette to the output of the station features department. John had previously worked for the BFBS in Kenya returning to Bristol to report for Points West the local news programme. He moved into production and filmmaking one of his favourite locations being Dartmoor. John  produced a series called Maggie's Moor for Westward television. A drama series about the adventures of a young girl living on Dartmoor in the second world war. His son Simon now awarded an OBE, acted in the series and has become a well known naturalist, presenter and filmmaker, following in his parents footsteps. John made a series called 'Three in the Wild' described in the press release below.  

The style of these films may be a little out of fashion now with their anthropomorphic narrative but they did appeal to audiences of the time.

John and Simon at BBC Plymouth

Three in the Wild - Toran the Pony BBC Plymouth 1984

Thanks to Brenda Wootten the Cornish culture was communicated in song and verse throughout the world. Comfortable  singing in Cornish, Breton or English her voice captured the essence of her homeland. She made several appearances on regional television and Radio Cornwall. In 2017 BBC Radio Cornwall listeners awarded her a blue plaque as Cornwall's best loved music legend. She even guest presented Spotlight Southwest in the 1970's. She made one studio programme at BBC Plymouth which has sadly been lost but a filmed programme called 'Cornwall-The Land That I Love' is offered here in celebration to her memory. 

In the studio of BBC Plymouth 

Brenda as guest compere on Spotlight Southwest

in memory of Brenda Wootton (née Ellery) 1928 -1994

The story of how Keith Floyd was discovered by BBC producer David Pritchard has been well documented in books written by the pair. Suffice to say that it was a love - hate relationship, but isn't that the case with so many creatives? Keith had his challenges and his friends would often despair when he descended into a low mood. The author remembers him well when we propped up the bar at the Maltsters Arms at Tuckenhay in Devon - a pub which he had taken on (that's another story!). It was very sad to see him in a disheveled state.  Another anecdote of the time, David Pritchard  had taken his family to eat at the Maltsters but when he saw the unaffordable prices he and his  family had to leave - and that for the man who had made him what he was. But enough of the negatives. They were a fantastic creative pair and it gave the BBC in Plymouth its most successful programme. It spawned the career of Rick Stein, and the celebrity chef genre was continued when Chris Denham and Colin Rowe left the BBC to form Denham Productions. They continued with David Pritchard as producer when BBC Southwest were forced to curtail production, the general features department was crippled by financial cutbacks. Their legacy is huge and turned cooking into entertainment big time.

director David Pritchard on location with cameraman Richard Elliott 

Soon after the first programme 'Floyd On Fish' was screened in the southwest, and before any commercial contracts were signed a 'cookbook' was printed - simply a few pages of typed recipes. This was given out at the reception at BBC Plymouth. So here it is Floyd's First Cookbook. Click HERE for your copy.

During the first season of 'Floyd on Fish' Keith appeared on an  edition of 'Slade Alive' a live audience show hosted by Chris Slade - a brave production as anything could happen and there was nowhere to hide....

and now for a glimpse behind the scenes........

A drama series is a daunting prospect for any television company, The opportunity for expensive mistakes and the fickle nature of filming and talent can cause plans to go wildly awry. When a minnow in the broadcasting pond tackles a new project their confidence has to be admired. A seed of an idea had taken root at BBC Plymouth. One dark night during the winter of 1980, John King and Kevin Crooks  both television producers  were settling down to hear a yarn that had all the hallmarks of a 'tall story'. They were listening to a story of an old poacher from St Germans in Cornwall. As the tale reached its conclusion, the poacher noticed a hint of disbelief on John's face and without pausing, produced the tangible evidence of an encounter with the forces of darkness!
That was the catalyst for 'Westcountry Tales'. Back at base the BBC in Plymouth broadcast an appeal to viewers for their personal experiences of the inexplicable. The response was overwhelming and within a few days the tally was over 350 letters. They came from all ages and all walks of life and the vast majority were sane, rational and articulate. It took some weeks to sift through the mail. They told of atmospheres, poltergeists and a group which the producer found most interesting, the 'time shift' incidents. Kevin Crooks takes up the story: 

By the summer of 1980 we had assembled our production team. The executive producer was to be John King of 'Doublejay films' with Jenny King assisting. They were to be in co-production with BBC Southwest and I was appointed as BBC Producer along with my production assistant Judy Thomas. The cameraman was Mike Wagen. Film editors were Justin Smith and Rod Thomas. The task facing us was the adaptation of stories that would easily translate to the television screen. Each idea was carefully researched and the original story along with setting notes and suggestions for plot development were handed to a team of professional writers. Next came the shooting script, the result of several weeks work by the film director

David Waine the regional television manager at Plymouth was supportive of the project and mentioned in his oral history interview for the British Entertainment History Project that each episode had cost the Plymouth features department £6000, a crazy small amount! By chance the pilot episode was 'The Visitor'. The finished film ran so closely to the original that the contributor Christine Carter from Cornwall was spooked with its uncanny accuracy. This in spite of the fact that Christine was at no time in touch with the script writer Elizabeth Elliot. The format chosen for the series was narrative drama. It suited the material and heightened the sense of story telling.  

'The Visitor' is available below. Set amidst the towering cliffs of Hartland Point and the strange brooding atmosphere of the rocks and caves near the shoreline. Here, a young wife waits with her child for her husband to return from abroad , her tranquility is shattered by an unexpected visitor. 

Westcountry Tales was contained in two series each with seven episodes and originally transmitted in the southwest region and later networked on BBC 2 until June 1983.

West country tales: Stories of mystery and Suspense (1981). Exeter: Webb & Bower.

Regional radio had been doing a fine job serving the local audiences but at last the 1980's had brought local radio to the peninsula. New studio sites had been chosen in the county cities. Truro has a convenient base at Phoenix Wharf right on the River Truro. Initially Devon had a purpose built studio centre in Walnut Gardens on St David's Hill together with an outpost back  at Plymouth. The Truro base has supported Radio Cornwall throughout its lifetime but Radio Devon has gone through many upheavals. 

Both stations launched on 17th January 1983, the same day as the new BBC Breakfast TV show. Devon's building was not ready in time so they operated from portacabins. Back in Plymouth a studio on the first floor of the house had been refurbished as a satellite for Exeter and Truro.  Devon's new building was completed during the summer of 1983. During this period the team also occupied an end terraced house '65 St David's Hill'. With the Production Office in the sitting room and the Newsroom in the main bedroom upstairs I'm sure they were quite cosy! The engineers occupied the old kitchen at the back with a bonus outside toilet. Watch the official openings below:

The established production staff and freelancers from the regional radio days transferred to the new local radio stations. Chris Blount continued as a founder member of the Radio Cornwall team. Ted Gundry joined the station and over his career carved out a unique niche. His memory is preserved in an oral history archive, link  HERE . In later years some staff most notably  Justin Leigh and Natalie Cornah, moved to television back in Plymouth. Radio Cornwall has been very successful over the years and has engaged the 'Cornish Nation' some would say that it became their 'national broadcaster'. Sadly at the time of writing reorganisation and redundancies have seen listenership fall as the BBC cuts back and homogenizes the local radio output throughout the country. 

The original publicity flyer for Cornwall 

Radio Devon has had more ups and downs than Cornwall. Many accommodation changes have been forced on the station. In the early days the Walnut Gardens building helped cement an individual identity situated as it was in the 'county town' - Devon County Radio was a good marketing message as it stressed the service stretched throughout Devon. North Devon had its own contribution studio and reporter. Plymouth remained a contribution centre for radio, and David Bassett who had moved from Plymouth Sound ILR station hosted an afternoon phone-in show for both counties from an upstairs studio at Ingledene. Capital budgets were big in those days to fit out studios in the BBC style. Plymouth had a budget of around £100K for a single studio and lines provision for the local radio service when it transitioned from regional radio. Nowadays that could be achieved at a fraction of the cost with the advent of 'podcasting' technology. Radio Devon even managed to have a separate opt-out on its city medium wave transmitter during its tenure of a studio next to the Guildhall. Craig Rich who we met in an earlier chapter would go out with a radio car visiting people and places in the city. In its heyday Radio Devon had an excellent leader and manager in Roy Corlett ex Radio Merseyside. He was very much his own man and would  challenge decisions made at the top of the BBC which he viewed as damaging the independence and strength of local radio. He also took leadership amongst other local radio leaders in fighting the corporate BBC who wished to dismantle the local radio organizational structure. By the early 1990's change was on the horizon however, Roy was leaving and Radio Devon was cutting back its resources and ambition. On Graham Brodie's website you can read more about the history HERE.

The original Radio Devon schedule 


There was even a station magazine

The original Devon team 

There was even a station magazine

With the opening of the Topical Production Centre in London and the introduction of breakfast television, Plymouth gained another opportunity to produce content for the region and, as it turned out, for the whole of the country. Very much in a similar vein to the old Nationwide programme the programme editor was looking for opportunities to make use of the regions. Don Hoyle's television garden was introduced by Selina Scott LINKHERE and continued for the season. They incorporated both filmed and live inserts. The most challenging item was a phone-in which relied on a good communications link from London so Don could hear the questions from calls being received at the studio in London. Sadly with the untimely death of Don the inserts only lasted a season. Another major and successful adventure for the national programme was hosting the show from Plymouth. So on April fools day 1983 resources were brought together at Ingledene for nearly three hours of live television. The crew slept overnight upstairs at Ingledene to ensure they were ready for the challenges of the morning. John Neal the technical manager called the troops to muster. Using a specially rigged 'studio' in the conference room Nick Ross and Selina Scott introduced the show. Topical interviews with servicemen who served in the Falklands provided newsworthy content. Plymouth's staff were supplemented by a crew and extra cameras from Cardiff. One hero of the day was sound supervisor Dave Kinrade, one of the engineer/operators from Plymouth who managed to glue the show together for the duration. Breakfast Time also tested out new digital links providing remote teleprompt data. The roof of the building and gardens played their part with Diana Moran the 'Green Goddess' staging her fitness class on the front lawn. A full recording of the programme probably does not exist but below is a clip featuring Plymouth's own Chris Slade on Dartmoor.

Breakfast Time Plymouth with Nick and Selina

Don & Diana an unexpected gardening duo

Fern & Diana on their fitness régime

Plymouth gained some investment from the contributions it was making. It did not have one of the new generation of portable cameras to link with the studio and so London gave Plymouth the budget to buy a new Ikegami HL79 camera and later a Sony BVH 500 portable VT. These were used to make up a kit of parts which the BBC named the 'LRU' short for location recording unit . Sometimes it was thought of as the 'lightweight recording unit'. The author is not so sure after lugging the recorder down a flooded uranium mine in Cornwall. 

Another Breakfast Time contributor was Russell Grant the astrologer who would regularly visit the studio or garden at Plymouth. Here is a summer setting for the signs of the zodiac.

During the summer months maritime stories captured the imagination and added a bit of pizzazz  from the region. During the first year of Breakfast Time there were co-productions between Spotlight and breakfast television following yacht racing stories. In summer '83 Millbay Docks at Plymouth had some of the big guns competing and a live link for Breakfast Time from the deck of Robin Knox-Johnson's boat followed. Later a position at Fort Bovisand was chosen for Spotlight coverage.

The author behind a camera at Fort Bovisand

Back at base Chris Slade had been recruited as lead presenter. The presentation studio was rigged with an extra backdrop for the half-hourly opts. The style was very informal and the backdrop map animated by location text. There were no other sources as the presenter was self-opting with the simplest of controls. Engineer Alec Collyer had devised a pair of switches underneath the handle of the chair. Once they had been armed by a key switch on the main presentation desk, a flick on one switch would change the local transmitter feed  from London to the Plymouth camera and microphone. The other switch controlled a DSK - an industry term for downstream keyer . This inserted the location text on the backdrop. A Station assistant was also on duty for the graphic tasks.

Watch an early news bulletin below

Since these early years the regional opts have evolved and re-invented themselves many, many, times. Nowadays automation assists in the delivery of content with the same number of backroom staff providing a slick and comprehensive bulletin.    

Written from the memories of Andy White 2022

Back in the 1980's there were several collaborations between the BBC in Plymouth and French regional television. A team from FR3 the regional channel of that time came over to film a feature on how the BBC covered their region on the opposite side of the channel. The pubs of Plymouth's Barbican provided extra entente cordiale opportunities after work. The Roscoff to Plymouth ferry operated by Brittany ferries had facilitated many links between the two countries and many people from the British side of the channel had decided to  move to Brittany.  Later the BBC in Plymouth hosted TV crews from Europe covering the various yacht races leaving from Plymouth. The author had to recall some Schoolboy French while video editing news items for the French yachting journalists, challenging but very rewarding!  Nowadays regional television in France can be found on their third network France Télévisions 3 and a strong cultural identity is sustained through Breizh  the Breton language related to Cornish of course but with many more speakers.

In the middle of the 1980's the BBC was under considerable pressure from government. Margaret Thatcher had taken exception to a Panorama documentary, 'Maggie's Militant Tendency'  followed by the 'Real Lives' programme where the opposing sides in Northern Ireland were given a voice. The subsequent withdrawal of the programme under pressure from the government caused a journalists strike. Thatcher was determined to make the BBC commercial but the Peacock committee who were appointed by government recommended to continue with the licence fee. She was also seeking a method to dismiss the Director General of the BBC Alasdair Milne who she viewed as liberal. Although the BBC had received a licence fee increase it had many challenges. The main channel BBC 1 had lost audience share to ITV and programme quality had taken a beating. Disquiet grew in Summer 1985 when cutbacks in the regions were announced. The two feature programmes per week schedule would be reduced to one, and it would be moved to BBC 2. A 'carrot' was offered saying the regions could develop specialist programmes which would be shown to a national audience. The maritime connection in the southwest favoured a bid from Plymouth on that specialisation but it led nowhere. Subsequently the weekly feature programmes would be packaged under a single title. 'Natural Concern' concentrated on environmental issues and the following series 'Close Up' had general current affairs as its brief. Much later this morphed into 'Inside Out' before features programmes were cancelled entirely. There were a few exceptions and extras commissioned directly and independent production companies produced some of the output. The upheaval of the late 1980's led to the formation of two independent southwest companies who took on the work previously done in-house at the BBC and in some instances by TSW the ITV contractor. Denham Productions was created by Chris Denham and Colin Rowe - presenter/journalist from BBC Spotlight and freelance cameraman respectively. TwoFour productions was created by Charles Wace, formally a news producer at BBC Plymouth and Chris Slade a BBC presenter. Denhams' would continue with Floyd and expand the celebrity chef genre with producer David Pritchard. Some other staff left the BBC to join Denhams'. They also developed many other opportunities and produced for TSW. TwoFour had a wider ambition and developed programming for broadcast, corporate and digital services even expanding overseas. They were to become the biggest broadcast media operation in the region, eventually being sold to ITV PLC. With the closure of Westcountry Television locally they host the regional production staff and satellite news gathering for ITV news.

Back in 1985 the mood at the BBC was captured by a producer's letter to a friend of the station, Frank Gillard - once upon a time the boss of the West region and creator of BBC local Radio: 

The Denham Team

L-R Chris Denham, Zyna Gaskell-Brown, Colin Rowe, Jane Walmsley, Mike Foren, Gary Johnson

From the very start of 5PY, music played a key role in communicating the soul of the peninsula. From the syncopated trio of the twenties to the rock bands of the 90's BBC Plymouth, Westward, TSW and the region's radio brought listeners and viewers entertainment. The old drama studios of the BBC brought to national audiences the sound of the military band and the Steinway grand piano was regularly exercised to entertain the region. Folk musicians such as Cyril Tawney and Brenda Wootton brought their own particular magic to the airwaves. Into the eighties the local Sawmills Studio brought several musicians to the TV studio. Al Hodge & his fellow session band members Alan Eden and Dave Quinn made two programmes with BBC Plymouth and played in several more. Not forgetting the 'Bear Tracks' session on Children in Need. Look out for some postings on You Tube in the future....
Plymouth film editor Justin Smith produced two series of the 'Music Quiz' in which local schools competed for the top prize. 'The Music Makers' was a series in which young musicians would be mentored by top musicians with their chosen instrument. Spotlight was not left out in the 'cultural cold' as the following video demonstrates. Enjoy the sound of the big band era. Skylark with Devon Youth Jazz:

The Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra in the mid 1980's

From BBC Spotlight in about 1987 Jill Dando introduces a musical feature on the Japanese Koto.  

As the end of the 1980's beckoned, the technical equipment at Ingledene was looking and feeling very antiquated. Original hardware from the birth of colour TV in Britain soldiered on. Battleship grey was the overriding design motif. After 17 years the time was right for change. The building accommodation was very dated - small spaces and numerous corridors. The news editor made the case for a newsroom fit for a new generation. Mysterious terminals casting a strange green glow from their screens were due to displace the familiar clatter of the journalists typewriters. The world was moving on fast, and BBC Plymouth  had to swim with the tide. A plan was hatched to provide a new infill between the old villa and 1970's studio block. It would mean major disruption for a year or so but the benefits would be huge. Luckily because the TV studio and associated areas were so well designed from the start, only  gallery layout changes were needed to complement new equipment and operational changes. A temporary TV studio was rigged up from the same space as the original TV studio and an old OB unit from BBC Cardiff provided vision and sound production spaces. Some new Sony CCD cameras the DXC 3000 provided pictures from the improvised studio. All the technical preparation was done in-house. BBC studio capital projects managed the project - as it turned out they would soon be shut down - it was the dawn of a new era at the BBC. 'Digital' did not exist as a buzzword or a technical choice. There were only two technologies both analogue, composite or component PAL. The traditional composite route was chosen using Quantel-Link as the vision systems contractor. Calrec Audio from Hebden Bridge would design the sound system, Drake Electronics the communications systems and Strand electric the studio lighting . The staff at Plymouth specified the design in conjunction with the BBC capital projects specialists and contractors. The old Cardiff OB Van provided excellent service for the duration. the Sony camera control units having been installed in the truck. The truck's Neve sound desk was wired to the studio microphones, VT suites and lines. It was a comfortable working environment, cosy but functional. 

The building construction continued apace. Some demolition was necessary removing the ad-hoc extensions which had followed the expansion of broadcasting from the 1950's. Everything was going to plan with some of the local staff trekking off to contractors for acceptance testing before the technical install.
By January 1991 the new facilities were about to open and the project was delivered on time and in budget. Staff had been trained  and production staff were grappling with a new system called Basys. This was the granddaddy of all the newsroom systems that followed and was rumored to have enabled the cable news channel CNN to start. It also introduced electronic messaging between staff, way before the web and smart devices revolutionised the world. One of the BBC Plymouth engineers became so interested in Basys he left to join the company. In the refurbished TV studio remote controlled cameras had been installed. Plymouth became the first site in England to replace cameramen for the daily magazine programme. The technology worked and provided exciting new toys for the production team. A DVE (Digital Video Effects) became available in the gallery for the first time, and Chromakey actually worked. The sound infrastructure  was stereo anticipating the roll-out of the NICAM stereo TV transmitters. The Vision mixer from Grass Valley (an American company) was an extraordinary device as it was reliable and lasted in service for 25 yrs. Chris Rogers and Keith Blackler reported on the developments in the following video. 

The Plymouth entertainment quarter pre-war was very much centred on Derry's clock. Post-war, the ABC cinema survived and found new neighbours with the rebuilt Athenaeum and Westward TV.  No doubt the city planners were delighted to see an icon of the modern age delivered on their blueprint. The old 5PY studio site was shouting distance from the facade of the Westward building. They were a generation apart but spoke with the same vigour to an appreciative audience. By 1992 the franchise had been lost to Westcountry TV who wanted out-of-town industrial accommodation and at the close of 1992 Derry's Cross had lost its voice for good. Below is the last ever live broadcast programme from TSW. 

The old television centre then became vacant and the BBC management from Plymouth even had a look to see if it was practical to relocate BBC Southwest to the site. It was discounted quickly probably because it was too large and costly for the BBC's needs. Following occupancy by a solicitors practice, it was demolished in 2009 and remains a derelict site - a sad ending to a productive past.

A great group photo of the TSW team

Spotlight celebrated the 35th anniversary of local news in 1996 . Margherita Trump the original Plymouth PA came back to time the news......

An extended building, glossy new equipment - it was an auspicious beginning to a new decade. Just as the dust settled, new management began to make their mark. The BBC was determined to reinvent itself and a trickle of change turned into a torrent. At the top of the BBC, the chairman Marmaduke Hussey appointed by Margaret Thatcher, had at the end of the 80's succeeded in dismissing Alasdair Milne the DG. This paved the way for more politically motivated appointments. The Broadcasting Act 1990 also radically changed the outlook and aided the ambitions of media mogul Rupert Murdoch whilst at the same time allowing the regional structure of ITV to be gradually dismantled. In the BBC regions, the old area stations had lost some of their independence in the late 80's with the formation of five English zones. Plymouth became part of South & West. The branding confusion was highlighted by the fact that BBC South & West now had a station called BBC Southwest and two others besides. The new regional & local  management were preaching in a more aggressive and ageist tone. In 1992 Marmaduke Hussey appointed John Birt as Director General. He was later to fall out with Birt and called him "....his greatest mistake". Whilst some of the structural changes at the heart of the BBC may have been justified, their application to the smaller outposts of the BBC were destructive in many ways. Increased bureaucracy and the formation of division amongst staff fuelled conflict and changed behaviours. The area stations of old were not perfect, but existed with a vertically integrated structure encouraging teamwork towards the common purpose of  programme making. The new structure removed the vertical integration and set up a division between journalism and resources under separate management. Resources provided all the technical, operational & services (some freelance contracts excepted) under a 'core contract'. The administration  of this internal contract generated huge amounts of bureaucracy and paperwork . Administration roles were doubled and a new ritual was created. Often at the end of each week the resources office would present an expenses bill for work undertaken outside of contract. This would inevitably cause argument and dispute from news editorial managers. A shouting match would then ensue 'plein air'. The hierarchy promoted was journalism ruled and resources were an unfortunate overhead. Sometimes the resources department would not help itself by devaluing craft expertise. One supervisor said, " Pushing buttons on a graphics machine is much like pushing buttons on a sound desk so we can schedule staff across different roles". An oft presented contemporary quote was," We seek to reduce overheads wherever possible" - hardly conducive to staff motivation. Management consultants arrived on the scene and staff from resources went on 'away days' to expensive hotels and leisure resorts  to " Learn how to serve the customer" . In a pluralistic landscape of many customers and competing service providers that policy may be productive but in Plymouth where one customer 'Regional news and features' had a single in-house service provider - what was the point?

And yet within the sea of change, Spotlight was still bringing in the audiences. TSW were on a equal footing in terms of the regional audience, with the BBC gaining ground over new franchise holder Westcountry TV. Spotlight's presenting duo of Teresa Driscoll and Russell Labey were highly successful. Teresa became the longest serving host in the history of Spotlight and was universally respected for her expertise.

Teresa, Russell and Craig the classy trio

Russell with Madeleine Holt who covered during Teresa's maternity leave

Natalie Cornah joins the trio 

....not forgetting the humour

New correspondents

L-R Carys Edwards Education, Andrew Wood Environment, David Sillito Business&Industry, Sally Mountjoy Health 

Dame Edna comes for tea......

The ever increasing march of technology gave newsgathering a boost with the introduction of satellite news gathering (SNG). New cost effective video links had also been introduced by British Telecom which enabled BBC Plymouth to open bureaux studios at the local radio buildings at Truro, Exeter and an office in the local council building at Barnstaple. The newsgathering 'machine' at the BBC was being well funded from the top. Some national programming during the Birt régime may have suffered, but News & Current affairs was now deemed to be the most important department of the BBC. Plymouth was one of the few regional sites in the UK where a ground based dish could also be installed. By having its own facility the station gained speed and flexibility as it could bypass the need for bookings from London. 

SNG truck UKI-231 at base

SNG Engineer Andy Cox preparing to send from the truck

A trail promoting SNG shown to the region

Andy Smith SNG Operator filming with reporter Julia Peet on Plymouth Hoe

As the decade progressed the culture became more controlling. Spontaneity on-air was feared although Russell in particular was liable to counter this by being a 'loose cannon' on occasion - and the programme all the better for it! A news manager once stated at a post programme meeting, "All ad-libs should be scripted"  and there were other gems like, " there is no place for music in regional news" and "all news should be issue led" . At an open staff meeting a very striking ageist comment was made along the lines of ,"I don't want to employ anyone over the age of 40" . This culture certainly concurs with the experience of Angela Rippon who has since reflected on comments she received from John Birt¹.  

As the new structure of the BBC was revealed named 'Producer Choice', workshops were held to sell the idea to staff across the whole corporation. To this end, every staff member in the UK was scheduled to events at the governors base at Marylebone High Street in London. It must have had a considerable budget as staff from outside London were booked overnight in a quality hotel with expenses for travel and meals provided. Perhaps 200 staff at a time received lectures from managers from board level, motivational videos, and were invited to participate in role play exercises. All typical management consultant fare from that era. Did it achieve any lasting benefit? - who knows, such a thing is impossible to measure. Certainly from this author's experience and conversations with peers it did not change minds. I would refer any readers with an interest, to consult the book 'Uncertain Vision' written by Georgina Born. She succeeds with an Anthropologist's eye to dissect Birt's organisation.      

Into the last quarter of the decade the organisation locally was becoming more frangible. The footsoldiers of the 'Birtist' army became vulnerable as staff raised grievances and several industrial tribunals were due to be heard. There was disquiet on the subject of performance related pay  which was introduced for the first time during the restructuring. Then the s*** hit the fan and two footsoldiers were asked to remain at home. Culture wars Plymouth style had begun. An external task force of managers were brought in to oversee the running of the station and an investigation begun. There was a realisation that to understand the Plymouth issues, every member of staff should be interviewed with a senior HR manager in attendance. A hotel was booked in the centre of Plymouth and every staff member invited there for interview. Over a short period of time grievances were settled before coming to tribunal and local  management altered. Two footsoldiers left and others were moved sideways or promoted in the organisation to dissipate any ongoing problems. A salary bonus was given to some staff to offset any remaining bad feelings and a state of comparative stability was regained.  The consequences of change had hit Plymouth badly, there were victims across all grades.

Managers from the previous era who warned that the new divisions would not work in small regions (and who were dismissed for their heresy) were proved right when the resource division was sub-divided into Production Services England and then removed entirely from the regional structure. John Birt had not visited the southwest outpost of his empire once during his tenure - what conclusion can one draw from this?

A new century and a new leader brought fresh air to the organisation. In stark contrast to his predecessor Greg Dyke visited the southwest within  weeks of his appointment and a new era began.....

Born, G. (2014) Uncertain vision: Birt, dyke and the reinvention of the BBC. London: Vintage.
¹Bootle, E. (2023) Has the BBC learnt from the ageism and sexism of Angela Rippon’s era?, Available at: (Accessed: 01 March 2024).

Online services began at the BBC in 1997. Some newspapers had beaten the BBC at the starting blocks but the BBC had the foresight to develop new media successfully and quickly. This creative trail promoted the regional services. The Spotlight family gather for their regional fans........

Over 60+ Years the television news teams have delivered a daily insight into the comings & goings of our region. Watch decades compressed into an hour below.....

Momentous events warrant adventurous productions and BBC Southwest were at the forefront in covering a rare event when the path of totality passed over parts of the region. BBC Archive have a feature on the event but note there is an error in their text because the path of totality did pass over parts of Devon and Alderney as well, View it HERE  The BBC southwest coverage is featured in the news item below: 

From the 1990's it was known that the BBC were dissatisfied with Ingledene the Broadcasting House of the southwest. Problems with access and up and coming disability legislation encouraged property planners that a move might be the right choice. The old Derry's Cross television centre was reviewed by the BBC in the 90's and rejected so nothing happened until the new century. With a refurbishment due at Ingledene a decision was made to look seriously for a city centre site with good footfall. The view then was the BBC needed to be more visible and be able to offer trendy facilities like an internet café to the community. Finally a short list of two sites were presented for final approval. Sutton Harbour East Quays  and a redevelopment at the base of the Plymouth Civic centre. 

The Civic Centre proposed redevelopment picture 1

The Civic Centre proposed redevelopment picture 2

One of the main selection criteria was the financial stability of the contractor and when both schemes were judged the Sutton Harbour scheme came out on top. In autumn 2006 the finance case was approved and planning began. There was an atmosphere of optimism and a working party of eight BBC southwest staff contributed to the planning process. By spring 2007 the regional manager sent an email to staff, confirming a move to Sutton Harbour, which had a moving in date of September 2010. Ground works commenced on-site and the ceremonial pictures taken.

The Spotlight team doing their duty

The Sutton Road aspect

The proposal was for a mixed development of apartments, retail and the BBC offices. A small underground car park would house a few BBC lease vehicles and the Satellite newsgathering truck would be accommodated off-site. Much to the existing staff's displeasure no on-site staff parking would be available. 

The staff working party visited some other new BBC sites around the country and wrote their reports. then everything went quiet. 

A waterside aspect of the proposal

View from the Walkway

It certainly had visual appeal but then again architects impressions can give a false sense of the real world..... and then came the financial crash. Everything stopped, 2010 came and went. The BBC staff wondered what was happening, Rumours started about the Sutton Harbour Company the landlord, being in financial difficulty. Years came and passed, The BBC staff were in no hurry to leave Ingledene. It seemed strange that from a business point of view a decision had not been made on the continuing viability of the project - it was costing everybody money to do nothing. 

Then apparently a break clause could be agreed and the project was cancelled. In 2013 it was decided to refurbish the existing building, in direct contradiction to the memo of 2006 which said that was not viable. In conclusion the move cancellation has probably saved the BBC money since. Some of the design criteria would now be obsolescent viz Internet café , public access. 

.......and now we finish our journey into the crystal of our past. Times that will never be repeated yet will serve as a gift from the programme makers and society of old. Our future will be different. Our young people no longer watch broadcast television in the same way, if at all. Traditional radio no longer has a monopoly on voices and sounds from afar. Time to embrace change, support public service broadcasting and hope for a rewarding future xx.