A typical newsday at GTV 1957
I was there as Senior Film Editor, with one other editor who had never handled sixteen millimetre film prior to his arrival. In the beginning, Jim Healy was an assistant rather than an editor. However, the work-load was such that within a few months, he became a proficient editor.
In those days, the Australian Government required the payment of duty on all newsfilm stories arriving from abroad. Each morning, a package would be held in the Customs Bond at Essendon Airport after arriving from New York or London from United Press Movietone Television, the newsfilm agency that I had worked for prior to going to Australia. Each story was a separate roll of film, loosely wound without a bobbin.
I was elected to go to the Customs Bond, at about 9am, each morning to go through the package of films while still in bond, and pull out those that I thought might be considered for the day’s news bulletin at GTV. The film I selected was then evaluated for customs duty and I was given an invoice. I then took the selected items back to the studio for the news editors to view. I would choose no more than three or four items out of a box of up to a dozen stories.
I would take the stories I wanted, collect an invoice for the duty, and leave behind the rest of the stories in the box. Those unwanted stories stories would, eventually, be destroyed.
At about 10am, I would get to the Studio in Bendigo Street. I would take out the rolls of film and re-wind them on to a spool, joining them while doing so.
At about 10.30, we would have a screening which would be attended by Jim Healy, Jim Byth, Head of News, Peter Maund, Jim Byth’s assistant, and myself.
Jim and Peter would select the stories they wanted from those I had brought in from Customs. I would also give them a list of those stories that I had not selected, just to let them know if I was making the right choices.
If there had been any news coverage from late the night before, that, too, would be screened. This material would be uncut, so that the journalists, Jim and Peter, would give an indication of what they wanted from the rushes and I would take the story, or stories, away and edit them.
We would then take lunch. In the early days, this could be taken in the old Heinz factory canteen which was the size of a village hall. There, we were offered a selection of sandwiches and tea. A few weeks later, we found a restaurant where we could have a proper meal.
In the afternoon, we would screen rushes from the morning assignments and edit them, gradually building up the whole reel for the early evening bulletin.
Eventually, film shot by GTV’s own cameramen were processed on a machine within the building. In the beginning, we had two cameramen, Peter Hansford and Bill Beams. They were very keen and likeable fellows and could turn in a decent news story.
Later GTV took on Peter Purvis and Bob Lord, both excellent cameramen. Brian Merret joined as a trainee cameraman.
Jim Healy would operate the Houston Fearless developing machine, having had considerable experience of processing in his former career. Later, Ted Lowe, a lad of sixteen at the time, was employed and then taught how to operate the machine. He also became a trainee in the cutting room.
With the machine, which processed the reversal black and white film we used, it was possible to receive a roll of film from the cameraman and hour before broadcast and still get the story into the programme. This time would allow for both processing and editing.
Today, with video tape, fifteen minutes would be enough to edit most stories, but, of course, there would be no processing.
By four in the afternoon, we would know what the news programme was to consist of, including stories that were not yet to hand.
Each edited story would be accompanied by a shot list compiled by the editor of the story. The shot list would describe each scene and, alongside, would show the footage at that point. The footage would be a running measurement, up to that point, from the start of the film.
The journalist, or writer of the commentary, was able to estimate how many words he was able to use for each scene.
In 35mm terms, it was a ratio of three words to two feet, which was converted to be eleven words to three feet for 16mm.
Jim Byth and Peter Maund soon became proficient at writing against film. They were to use the mathematics of the system to “hit” a mark when they wanted. If, within a scene a personality suddenly appeared, we would mark that as a “spot” by showing the exact footage, in brackets, when that personality appeared. This enabled the writer to estimate the number of words to be used in the introduction of the personality so that their name was spoken at the precise moment their image appeared on the screen.
We had gone to all this trouble because of what we had seen on the news presented by the Herald Sun Station HSV7. There, the commentary seemed to have been written by someone who had not seen the film. Quite often the commentary was too long and overran the film. As a result, we were treated to a shot of the newsreader’s head as he pored over the remainder of the commentary. He being totally unaware than the film was finished. There was no Autocue at GTV in those days, it had only just been invented.
This problem never occurred on our watch. Our commentator was always seen, immediately a film story ended, looking straight into the camera, ready for the next story.
There was a further requirement for this system to work. The writers would use two “forward slash” lines to indicate to the newsreader that he should pause until he got the signal to proceed with the next paragraph. Then we had to devise a system whereby the newsreader could be given the signal. This was in the form of a light.
This system had been in use at Movietonews since it began in 1929, so I knew how to set it up and how to use it. Upon arrival at GTV9, and during my early wanderings around the studio, I enquired if there was a cueing system within the vast array of buttons, switches and faders, to be told that there was not. I could not believe that the news service would have the only requirement for a cueing button and light.
A week or so before we commenced broadcasting, I spoke with the chief engineer, Mr. Rodney J. Biddle. He immediately saw the need for the system and he set up a temporary cue light system. This consisted of three domestic light switches on a board with a wire which went off into the studio. On the newsreaders desk was a set of three domestic light bulbs. Two were white and the third one red. The second white bulb was there in case the first one blew. The red light was meant to show the newsreader that he was going too fast. The red light was never used. After a month or so, Mr. Biddle installed a system that looked like it might have been in place when the studio was designed. On the control desk, for Studio 2, were three small buttons, while on the newsreaders desk, there were three pea bulbs.
As the film editor, I had the task of cueing the newsreader because I had edited the film and was familiar with the sequences. I was to cue the newsreader in over eight hundred programmes. That is to say, twice nightly for sixteen months.
On the tenth anniversary of GTV in September 1966 (it was calculated from their Olympic Games transmissions in 1956), Peter Maund, by then News Editor, was interviewed. He said “No one really knew much about this new medium but we quickly learned”.
From whom ?
Well, I knew a good deal about it, having eleven years’ experience with Movietonews behind me and having watched both BBC and ITV news services for several months before leaving for Australia. I had also been responsible for the flow of news stories to the BBC from the early summer of 1955.
It has always been my contention that, without my input, GTV’s news service would have looked remarkably like that of HSV7.
I believed, at that time, that the Australian public, who had only seen news on the newsreels of Movietone and Cinesound would appreciate a service that resembled that of the newsreels.
For that reason, I suggested that each news story should be introduced with a title. GTV had a good title department, headed by Trevor Ling, that could produce a title within minutes. These titles were blue lettering on a black background and were placed on an easel, before a studio camera, and superimposed over the first scene of the news story. The first scene was chosen and included for the purpose of carrying the title.
Another factor which was particular to the period was that almost every story we received was mute. The exception would have been interviews. For this reason, once again copying from the newsreels, we used music background for each story. This music came from discs spun inside the studio control, live. That was a skilled job and, fortunately GTV had some people who had come from radio stations where they were used to spinning discs.
So, as broadcast time approached, we had to have a complete reel of news stories, scripted, scripts copied for the journalists, the newsreader and me. Titles made and ready, in the correct order. Music chosen for each story.
Although, Jim Byth and Peter Maund would have rehearsed their commentaries against the picture in the editing department, on occasion, the newsreader would have no prior knowledge of the film.
Sometimes, our first newsreader Tom Miller, would come up to the news room and read through the commentaries against the picture. He did not always get the chance. He seldom had the time.
In 1957, Tom Miller was a veteran of radio broadcasting, having joined radio station 3XY at its inception in 1935. He had no previous experience at reading a commentary against a picture. From the outset, he was brilliant, never to make a mistake. Tom would later on become the Producer of In Melbourne Tonight.
After a few months, Tom was replaced by Eric Pearce, who became the long serving principal newsreader at GTV.
We all went down to the studio control, wished each other luck and then got on with it.
Tom sat at his newsdesk and introduced the programme, speaking into the main camera. Then we rolled the film and he started to read, starting each paragraph on the light signal and stopping at the end of each marked paragraph. Tom would be wearing a light blue shirt because a white shirt would have caused considerable flare. It is for the same reason that our captions were produced in blue rather than white. On air they both looked white.
At 6.30 pm, we went for supper and then straight back into the cutting room to edit late arriving film and to prepare another reel for the late bulletin which would have been aired around 10pm or 10.30pm. We would go through the whole process again. Usually, about thirty per cent of the later bulletin comprised new material, material that had not been available earlier.
I would leave the studio at about 11pm and drive twenty-five miles home to Mount Eliza.
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