Louise Willcox

TV Sound Supervisor (Freelance)

1970: A couple of months after her twelfth birthday, Louise’s father was killed in an industrial accident, leaving her mum looking after four children. Life was a struggle, but with help from relatives, the family’s heads were kept above water. Singing, and playing either guitar or piano with the rest of the family kept Louise sane but, being ‘the only girl’ Louise wasn’t allowed to play in the band, and has had that chip on her shoulder ever since! Her family were huge David Bowie fans and in 1972, Louise’s mum hired a coach to take the family and ten school friends to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour concert at Preston Guild Hall. 40 odd years later, Louise burst into tears over her cereal as the Today programme announced Bowie had died. It was clear that Bowie’s music was part of the grieving family’s coping strategy at that time.

1974-6: Despite seeing a documentary about Abbey Road Studios and knowing – age 13 – that she wanted to mix sound, Louise’s Careers Officer at school was useless. Music and Physics were her two best subjects, but were also mutually exclusive ‘0’ level topics in the streaming system. Louise screwed-up her ‘O’ and ‘A’ level choices – with the possible exception of ‘A’ level Music, but which Louise then failed! (Can get a tune out of anything, but nothing up to grade 8.) After rejecting a UMIST textile design course, she was adrift with no UCAS offers. Grandy (favourite granny) paid for a 32 week ‘crash’ secretarial course in Manchester – speeds of 110/55wpm Pitman shorthand/typing were the result. Such a female stereotype in the mid 1970s and the one thing Louise desperately hadn’t want to do – but money had to be earned.

1977: First job as ‘Clerical Officer’ at Hulme and Moss Side Probation Service– which taught Louise that life hadn’t actually been that bad, after all. A year later and the family needed more money, so she looked for another job. Her mum spotted the ad for a secretarial job at the BBC’s Network Production Centre in Manchester – but for less money! – and told Louise she should go for it. ‘Who knows, you might be able to do sound?’ she said. Prophetic! Louise worked for maintenance and communications department managers, and it was Technical Services Manager, Ron Pearn, hearing her talking to the engineers about mixing her brother’s band, who suggested Louise should apply for the Audio Unit Register. Louise failed the interview the first time around; took an ‘O’ level Physics course and exam in six months, and passed the second. When finally interviewed by six Audio Unit managers, they asked her if she was worried about being outnumbered by men? Louise pointed out she’d been talking to them quite happily, and that she had three brothers and no sisters. Result: Louise was despatched, via A Course 70 at BBC Wood Norton, to BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham, where she became one of two women in an Audio Unit of 53.

1980-2006: Louise worked on The Archers, throughout the whole of her career at Pebble Mill. The network production centre was also the home of English Regions Drama and hosted many multi-camera drama series out of London: Jane Eyre, various Dickens’ series, Andrew Davies’ first TV series A Very Peculiar Practice, as well as home grown Second City Firsts. Louise worked on them all, starting as Fisher boom operator, then gram-op (in studio and in post) and later mixing multi-camera drama –Dizzy Heights children’s drama, with puppets, the most challenging of the lot! Years after multi camera drama ceased to be the norm, Louise was the sound recordist on the first two years of Doctors.

The Audio Unit serviced radio and television shows in studio and on outside broadcasts in the area, plus film and TV post production. Louise worked across all areas, but with the move to single camera drama and the dubbing element in the Audio Unit eventually moved to a dedicated Post Production department, she began to specialise in mixing live shows for her last five years at the BBC. She cut her teeth, as an Audio Supervisor, mixing the regional news ‘opt out’ Midlands Today; after her second child was born in 1990, Louise was promoted to Senior Audio Supervisor – perhaps still the only female appointed to the equivalent of a Television Sound Supervisor role within the BBC. Pebble Mill produced many live ‘daytime’ TV shows, and again, Louise worked across them all. The Really Useful Show studio and OB consumer show ; Housecall, a TV OB make-over show – which was often hilarious. The most challenging and sleep-depriving was The Pebble Mill Show – a nod back to the Pebble Mill At One series, cut 8 years before. A one hour, live show, from midday on BBC One; three live bands per show with celebrity interviews and audience. There was a live and recorded TPMS show on Monday and Tuesday; just the live on Wednesday; then the studio re-set for other shows for the next four days. Re-rig at 0400 Sunday, after the TPMS set was put back in. With low daytime budgets, efficiency was the name of the game. For full credits list see www.dwrassociates.co.uk

Louise was honoured to be asked to join the IPS Executive Committee towards the end of her BBC career, and has been the occasional spear-head of the ‘Bad Sound’ campaign (see IPS Articles), regrettably with meagre success thus far. Her mother is now needing more care, and juggling this with IPS and work commitments has made Louise less useful to the IPS in recent years – though she still cares!

2006 – present: Louise is privileged to be the sound supervisor of choice for Spring/ Autumn/ Winterwatch at the moment, which has also earned her a joint Special Craft BAFTA. Louise is realising that being a ‘pollyfilla’ sound supervisor for different genres of shows is a compliment to her broad CV, but not as good for the bank balance as being a regular. She is also passionate about training, but in the midlands, the opportunities to train new talent are not as great as in the southeast. Two things Louise intends to work at. Any help she can be, please get in touch.