A sound supervisor in BBC Radio outside broadcasts. Always known as “Kutsch”, Harold was the IBS’s first Fellow, appointed in 1983. This is his own story.
After being discharged from the RAF on medical grounds in February 1943, I returned to my pre-service employers (an insurance firm) for a while and then changed my occupation for a period in an estate agent’s office. My brother, who worked in the BBC electrical department, arranged for me to have an interview with the BBC with the idea of getting into a technical department. I was accepted and sent on a course to Maida Vale where I was in a class consisting mainly of 18 year olds who I think already had some experience of control room work and at that stage, I didn’t even know what a double-ender was, so I felt very ignorant. Worse still, the instructor found my explanation of how the gain of an OBA/8 changed, implied that the potentiometer was connected to the programme meter by a piece of Meccano! I think the date must have been around 1944. After the course, I was detailed to work in London Control Room, initially learning to control programmes through the various bays around the control room. However, because I had been trained in the RAF as a wireless operator, part of my control room duties utilised this skill and I was put to work operating a 250watt transmitter, remotely control1ed from a place on the balcony of London Control Room and which was used to reply to or contact war correspondents like Chester Wilmot and Richard Dimbleby who would send in their reports to be recorded for subsequent transmission. I would acknowledge their contributions using telegraphy.
The working hours, particularly the night shift didn’t agree with me and due to ill health, my doctor thought that I should resign. I offered my resignation but management said they didn’t like people having to resign and would I like to try working for Radio Outside Broadcasts. This I did and my health very soon righted itself. In fact, I 1oved the job as I did right up to the end of my career. Very early on, because of my musical interests, I was balancing the dance bands of those early days such as Carroll Gibbons from the Savoy Hotel – Sidney Lipton from the Grosvenor Hotel – Edmundo Ros from his club in Regent’s Street – Eric Winstone from Butlins in Bognor and other bands that I cannot now remember. Eric Winstone and Edmundo Ros both used to have 13 week commitments for Saturday night broadcasts. Because I had very good rapport with the Butlins management, they built me a special ‘mobile’ control room about 12 feet square, doubly insulated and mounted on wheels. On Friday nights, they would wheel this room out onto the ballroom floor from where I could reach the stage with multicables. In those days, before we had really small portable echo devices, I used to improvise echo, using a double input tape recorder and a loop of tape, held in position throughout the transmission by a tin of Servisol acting as a pulley. After a transmission, the Winstone bandsmen would cram into my little control room to listen to their efforts which I used to record on my home made tape recorder!
In the days before TV took over broadcasting the Royal variety shows, Radio Outside Broadcasts would cover this event and I used to do a visual mix of artists performing on the stage, feeding my output to senior colleagues — like ‘Taffy’ Wilcox and Don Eustace who would be controlling the pit orchestra from a control area on the ground floor of the theatre. My operating position was in a box opposite the Queen’s box and because I found the ambient noise in the theatre made balancing on headphones sometimes a little difficult, I thought I would make use of a telephone acoustic hood into which I fitted two loudspeakers. I mounted this contraption on an STM/16 microphone stand and did a couple of shows like this. My friend and senior, Taffy Wilcox, said I was a publicity seeker, sitting opposite the Queen in this manner!
I am afraid that I cannot recall events in chronological order because I discarded a 1ot of plans and diaries about 10 years ago. However on one memorable occasion, again early on in O.B’s, I was sent with another senior colleague, Scottie Dack, on a secret mission to Dover. Neither of us knew the reason until a few hours later after arrival in Dover. The assignment turned out to be covering the arrival of the first hovercraft and to see this machine riding the waves and then smoothly running onto the beach was indeed something.
I, among many other engineers, worked on both VE and VJ celebrations. I think I can claim that I worked on almost every type of outside broadcast including ‘Workers’ Playtime’, broadcasts or recordings of theatre shows, horse racing (including Royal Ascot), religious services, choral evensong, 3 weeks in Rome working on the 1960 Olympics, many theatre organ broadcasts, the Opening of Parliament etc. Thinking about theatre organ shows, Sandy Macpherson was the BBC resident organist and I worked in the home of the BBC theatre organ which was situated in a disused chapel in Hoxton. I thought I would play a trick on Sandy and I set up a lip microphone over a rank of clarinet pipes in the organ chamber. The lip was to try and exclude some of the loud noise of hissing air and the mechanical noise of shutters operating. I fed the output of the lip to a talk-back loudspeaker, situated a few feet behind Sandy’s console and introduced this extra dimension whilst he was playing. When explained to him what 1 had done, he liked the effect so much that on several occasions after that, we would introduce this effect on live transmissions.
I worked for nine consecutive years on broadcasts from Cambridge of the Carols and Lessons, taking over from Don Eustace after he died and being responsible for the transmissions for about five years. Other programmes I was in charge of included a couple of VIP funeral services from Windsor Chapel, the wedding of Princess Anne and the wedding of Princess Diana, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the Queen Mother’s 80th Birthday. Princess Anne’s wedding was the first ceremonial broadcast to be transmitted in stereo. I also assisted on Princess Margaret’s wedding.
I was sent to Bayreuth for a month to record Wagner’s Ring. Also to France to record Dirk Bogarde reading his first book, a Postillion Struck by Lightning. There, we worked in a makeshift studio at his home and the acoustic was not really BBC standard. David Coe and I were sent to Brussels to record some church services and 1 was sent to Singapore to record church services for the troops. Singapore was a very difficult assignment for me. The humidity was dreadful and I was working alone. When having fitted the equipment and about to start recording, torrential rain made this intention impossible because the church had no glass in the windows and the noise was terrific. When the rain had ceased, there was another snag – we were plagued by noise from crickets for quite a while.
With Keith Carter, I went to Rome and the Vatican City to make various recordings including a commentator describing the scene of the thousands worshipping in the square that Easter day. Another Easter I was in Jerusalem working alone in a makeshift control room. About 10 minutes before transmission, I found I had lost contact with BH. By sheer good fortune, a young lady came into my control area, saying she was a BBC employee and as she was there on holiday, was there anything she could do to help. I asked her if she would try and trace back the XLR cables that fed my output to the Israeli control room. Within a few minutes she was back, having found the disconnection and having reconnected the XLR cables for me.
Another incident occurred whilst broadcasting a Commonwealth service from Westminster Abbey in the presence of the Queen. My normal procedure for picking up the choir was to have two C24 microphones suspended over the choir, about 20 feet apart and held in position, to stop them moving or turning, by a piece of BBC twine. This system I had used on many occasions and I always informed the Precentor and those in the choir that the person carrying the cross when processing to and from the choir stalls must be very careful to avoid the string. Almost at the end of this live transmission, we heard a tremendous sound of banging and loud footsteps. The cross bearer had caught the said string, resulting in the choir coming to a standstill. He then had to pull the microphones and string down to almost floor level to disentangle the chaos. The Queen was only a few feet from this incident. I understood that she told the Precentor later, that God moves in mysterious ways. Fortunately, I did not get into trouble.
I have broadcast or recorded quite a number of Royal Banquets with the assistance of Peter Hunt and Andy Dennison, from Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Holyrood House. I have been responsible for the transmission of Enthronement ceremonies for two Archbishops in Canterbury Cathedral assisted by several other OB members and in particular I would like to pay tribute to Alan Wilson, who worked with me on many occasions and whose dedication to duty was such, that he would use his initiative and mechanical skill to fabricate fitments for mounting microphones where no such anchorage existed and ensuring the positioning of microphones as I had planned. There were of course other events like the Cenotaph Service, the Remembrance Service from the Albert Hall, the Royal tattoo etc.
Julian Walther and I were doing a ‘Today’ programme from a cross channel ferry. We had to rig during the night whilst the ferry was travelling to and fro across the channel. The sea was rough and the ferry wasn’t fitted with stabilisers resulting in myself feeling very seasick and taking on a green facial hue. Julian Walther, being a bit of a sailor, didn’t suffer like this but a TV crew who were using their apparatus to transmit my output, thought it all very funny. Although still feeling unwell the show went OK.
Ironically, the TV engineers and some of the ferry’s crew didn’t look all that well themselves that morning. Similarly, I was doing another ‘Today’ programme from the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes. Fitting up for the programme went well enough and we (John White and myself) were taken back to land in the Captain’s barge, a very satisfying sea trip. However, early next morning, the sea was very rough and the crew wouldn’t allow us to be in the open air, confining us to the cabin below. By the time we had berthed alongside the Hermes, I was green again and feeling very seasick but once again, the show went without a hitch. Some time after this, I think the Hermes was sent to the Falklands war zone.
Talking about the sea, I was assigned to go on the Canberra for a ten day cruise and cover a dance band recording of a band on board. This time, on my own, it was hard work having to rig up the microphones and run cables each night for the band’s performance because the entertainment people didn’t want any gear showing in the daytime. I had done a preview of the ship’s layout and had been given a room, that although very small and which had to hold quite a considerable amount of gear, was within a multicable distance from the stage. Having boarded the vessel and supervised the loading of the apparatus, I was put out to find that I had to wait a couple of days (whilst actually sailing) for the apparatus to be delivered to my small control room. Nevertheless, I rigged the apparatus and made some tests only to experience nasty noises when using the spring echo fitted to the music desk. When I had previewed the ship, no engines were being used but once they had started up, there was considerable vibration in the room, resulting in the spring making clanging noises. I thought about the problem and decided to remove the spring unit from the desk and suspend it freely with some string. Fortunately, this reduced the vibration trouble to an acceptable level.
Something that has just come to mind takes me back to my schooldays. My best friend at school and almost constant companion after school hours, was David House. As soon as we had passed our eighteenth birthdays, we decided to volunteer for military service. He joined the army and I joined the RAF. Although we met up again a couple of times after enlisting, imagine my surprise when working on the Opening of Parliament many years later, to find David House had risen to the rank of Lt.General, retired and been knighted and was currently the Black Rod that I now had to collaborate with.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to all the engineers in my department during my long spell with Radio O.B.s – engineers like Graham Everitt, Julian Walther, David Coe, Phil Older, Peter Hunt and in fact every engineer, who like me, enjoyed the sort of career we were engaged upon and worked very hard to achieve high standards. I would also like it to be known that a lot of the satisfaction that I derived from my work was due to Alistair McLachlan, who was in charge of OB bookings and who assigned me to the very interesting jobs he thought I could cope with. Producers too, were very gracious to me. There was Robert Hudson (Head of Outside Broadcasts) who did major commentaries; the Revd. Kennedy Bell who produced many choral evensongs, Revd.Hubert Hoskins who produced many religious services, Chris Rees for whom I did a lot of work. Anthony Craxton, the TV producer would always make a special point of thanking me when radio and TV did a simultaneous transmission. There was also John Haslam from O.B. management, who produced the Festival Of Nine Lessons and Carols and was the producer on important ceremonial broadcasts.