Bill Rawcliffe

Bill Rawcliffe
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Interview Date(s): 
16 Dec 2016
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Interview with Bill Rawcliffe
Interview notes

BRITISH ENTERTAINMENT HISTORY PROJECT INTERVIEW with BILL RAWCLIFFE Conducted on Friday 16th December 2016 at Shepperton Camera Operator: Nick Gilbey Interviewer: Martin Spence INTERVIEW SUMMARY 00.00 – History Project intro – names, date, location 00.47 - BR self introduction, born Ewell, childhood, school 01.35 - Interest in electronics from 11-12, made crystal sets etc. 02.00 - Repairing neighbours’ radios & TVs while still at school 02.10 - Age 18, bought technical guide, making/installing hi-fi systems, set up own company 03.45 - Started night school re Elec Engineering and Technical Drawing 04.15 - Age 16, working at Walter Instruments 06.03 - Tip-off re job at Mayfair Hotel 06.45 - Working at Mayfair Hotel, put in charge from day one 09.53 - Age 21, didn’t want to do midnight cabaret, started looking around 10.11 - BBC interview, successful but didn’t like ambience 10.55 - Job application for trainee at Iris Productions, friendly interview, job offer the next day 11.59 - Gave notice, started work at Teddington Studios on 1st August 1961, 17 days before 21st birthday 12.40 - BBC felt snooty, less chance of promotion than smaller company 26.58 - (Question re function of Clapometer in Opportunity Knocks) 27.14 - “I think … “ winners chosen by viewers at home. One of the first talent shows, launched careers of Matt Monroe, Pam Ayres, Englebert Humperdink, Tom Jones … 27.56 - We missed out with Russ Abbott … went to BBC after ITV released him. 28.35 - Some artists big-headed - Matt Monroe, Englebert Humperdink - complained about backing tracks. But Cliff Richard polite, respected technicians, “a professional”. 29.21 - (Question: did BR regard his sound decisions as purely technical, or also creative?) 29.54 - You have to judge the ‘togetherness’ of the orchestra and vocals, and have to understand how technical devices can help with this. “A combination of technical skill and musicality got you through”. 31.10 - “Best time of our lives was at Thames TV” 31.21 - (Question re ‘Taskermatic’ mixer) 31.41 - Dramas mainly – difficult to work with two quarter-inch tape machines and three Gram-decks – Sound Supervisor John Tasker had idea of adapting 8-track tapes used for music in cars - one sound effect per track – BR designed console to tie sound changes to Vision Mixer … 33.55 - Prior to that – gunshot effects on Avengers & Callan sounded like wet sock – Engineering Dept made Gunshot Generator for various weapon-types, ricochets etc. – BR improved it with ‘electronic box’ which triggered the gunshot effect from a sound signal on stage. 36.06 - “Our first move into post-dubbing” – we built a dubbing suite – 70s/80s – linked multi-track sound recorder to Umatic programme tape, created separate Music/Effects/Dialogue tracks hence MEDway, synced with timecode. Thus also created separate music/effects track which could be sent abroad for post-dubbing in other languages, so helped international sales. 38.10 - (Question re the demise of Thames TV) 38.34 - “I’ll just go back … “ 2-3 years previously, BR worked on ‘Woodentop’ which became ‘The Bill’ – involved him in location work – that would be of use post-Thames TV. 39.15 - “When the fax came through … I think it was 16th October 91“ – staff felt Thames TV should not have transmitted ‘Death on the Rock’ – we did feel Maggie Thatcher got her own back – one more year of Thames transmission 40.05 - Social group for ‘retired’ Thames staff reduced entry age to 55, but BR felt something needed for those under 55 so started EXTRA – Ex Thames Reunion Association – soon had 100+ members – 1992 published first newsletter, organised coach trips, gatherings – continued for 10.5 years, BR tired of doing all the work 42.03 - After 10 years ARTS removed age barrier, BR negotiated transfer for EXTRA members, most joined – BR made honorary member of ARTS 43.10 - Reprise of ARTS transfer story – co-opted onto ARTS Ctte, Vice-Chair, Chair 44.25 - History of development of ARTS newsletter 48.50 - (Question re BR’s involvement in pensioners’ association) 49.10 - When franchise was lost some staff set up AMTTPS - Association of Members of Thames Television Pension Scheme – Thames Scheme was very good - ended up with Pearson but scheme is still in credit – very lucky but need to keep an eye on things 51.27 - (Question re AMTTPS trustee on pension scheme) 51.39 - AMTTPS keeps a watching brief – put up a candidate for trustee but failed to be appointed 52.28 - (Question re BR’s freelance years after Thames closure) 52.55 - Company got rid of me 5 months before end of transmission – got foot in freelance door before the rush – started own company hiring out sound/lighting/marquees for fetes etc. – took 9 months to get reasonable amount of freelance work – 54.11 - “Just nudging back” - couldn’t work for former employer for 6 months after redundancy, but knew I could get work on ‘The Bill’ after 6 months had elapsed – that provided good work, plus QVC, BBC etc. 54.48 - Freelance market creates pressure to accept every job - ended up working 50-60 hour weeks – also lots of community commitments – “I could tell it was getting me down” – started to cherry pick shows to work on – lucky – work at Teddington and Fremantle – tended to get 13-week series contracts – brought workload down to 30-40 hours, plus own business 56.29 - One series ended in December 2000 – aged 60 – would have retired if still at Thames – decided not to look for more freelance work but just carry on with own business – did that for another 5 years – still has loads of equipment not yet put onto e-bay 57.15 - (Question re moving into freelance market: culture shock?) 57.34 - Often working with former colleagues so that was not such a shock – but it was a shock to be expected to run a strange control room that you’d never seen before – and in later years, working with very inexperienced young freelances who needed teaching on the job – “working with amateurs who didn’t understand the business” 58.56 - (Question: Overall, did you have your ideal career?) 59.08 - “There is no doubt that I’ve been working at my hobby” - Sound – music on all day, ability to mix your own sound – “it’s brilliant” 59.46 - Professional sound system at home – but also still has home-made speakers made from a kit 01.01.23 - (Question: Sound is your passion) 01.01.27 - Yes – but I wince at some drama today. “We had the best of times - an enjoyable life, doing your hobby – brilliant”. 01.01.54 - Careers Master at school said “There’s no future in Sound”. But Physics Master was great. “I owe most of my life to him”. ENDS





Born: 18th August 1940, Ewell, Surrey.



Bill was infected with an enthusiasm for sound and music from the start. He set up a company to install and repair hi-fi systems while still at school.


At age 16, he started his first job at Walter Instruments working on tape-recorders.


At 18 he moved to the Mayfair Hotel where he ran its internal a/v systems.


Aged 20, in quick succession he had interviews with BBC, and with Iris Productions at Teddington Studios. Bill much preferred Iris, who offered him a job the day after the interview. When ITV regulations changed, Iris closed down and Bill’s employment transferred to Thames TV.


He worked in Sound at Teddington Studios for 31 years, progressing from Boom Tracker to Boom Operator, Grams Operator, Crew Chief, and finally Senior Supervisory Sound Engineer. He developed and/or worked on various unique items of sound equipment including the Opportunity Knocks 'Clapometer'; a 'Gunshot Generator'; the 'Taskermatic' console designed to co-ordinate multiple sound sources with the vision mix; the 'Mellotron' sound-effect generator; and the 'MEDWAY' post-dubbing facility.


In 1992 Thames TV lost its franchise and Bill was made redundant in July. He went freelance, combining sound production work on various programmes including The Bill with his own sound and lighting hire company. He retired from TV sound work at 60, and wound up his hire company at 65.


From the time it was known that Thames had lost its franchise, Bill was involved with maintaining social contacts between staff. He set up an association for former employees who were not eligible to join the retired members’ organisation, ran it for ten years, and finally negotiated a merger between the two bodies. And he continues to be active in the Thames pensioners’ association.