Michael Aldridge

Family name: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
15 Sep 1997

Horizontal tabs


Interviewer  0:00  
This is an interview with Mike Aldridge and is the property of the History Project for BECTU.  The date today is the 15th of September 1997. And, Mike,can I ask you where and when you were born?

Michael Aldridge  0:20  
I was born in 1941 in East London and spent all my early and formative years in East London.  I went through the normal educational system and finally ended up in Ilford County High.

Interviewer  0:41  
Okay, and what kind of schooling did you receive?

Michael Aldridge  0:44  
 It was a grammar school education.  

Interviewer  0:53  
And all that entails.

Michael Aldridge  0:53  
Yes, and all that entails, really. It was a grammar school education. Unfortunately, I dipped out of the educational system at the age of 15 with the opportunity of joining a film laboratory. I was interested in photography. I was interested in photography at school and the film laboratory seemed to be a very good way in which I could keep my interest in photography. Didn't exactly work, but at least it gave me a good training.  I started in the print room in the laboratory and for two years did all the various crafts within the laboratory, neg developing, printing, step printing, optical printing, finally ending up in the camera department where we did pack shots and titling. I got interested in camera work and wanted to go to live action. I joined Film Producers Guild and did animation for about eight or nine months and then had the chance to go to Merton Park Studios where I stayed for just over a year as a clapper loader.

Michael Aldridge  2:02  
The industry then, the film industry that was, became very difficult in the early '60s and I joined Anglia Television, where I spent nearly a year at Norwich on a contract. That contract ran out and I joined the BBC in 1962 as a holiday relief cameraman - as an assistant cameraman.

Interviewer  2:24  
Okay, where were you living? How did you get to and from work?

Michael Aldridge  2:30  
Well, I was living initially in East London and, of course, working in West London, although, being an assistant cameraman, it wasn't like a nine-to-five every day. You'd go in Monday, and you'd come back again on Friday in a lot of cases. So I was driving across London, which in those days wasn't too bad a journey. It was taking about an hour and ten minutes. I finally ended up in a flat in Regent's Park and commuted from there but it wasn't a normal commuting situation. It was you'd go in and you'd spend four or five days away at a time or even longer. So, it was an easy commute, only to be furthered when in fact, you became part of a camera team. You then got the experience, but you'd had all the background to start with.

Interviewer  3:16  
Do you think that the production techniques changed from the time you started to the time you became qualified within the BBC, taking on a senior position?

Michael Aldridge  3:27  
Yes, they did. Well, I worked mainly in news and current affairs in The Grove when I started with the BBC. I didn't spend much time at Ealing, it was mainly at The Grove. And then from The Grove, I went to Bristol and joined their film unit, which although it did quite a lot of natural history work, I didn't get involved in that too much. I was much more on the local news and current affairs programmes. So that the main area of change was that the production team, I mean the technicians, always were fairly skilled in their craft, but so were the production team and the directors.  Particularly if you worked on programmes like Tonight and 24 Hours or Panorama, you work with some very experienced production people, both reporters and directors. I don't think the same is today. I think far more it is the technicians that are training the directors. Is that true?

Interviewer  4:35  
Yes. I think there are cases where that applies, certainly. So you worked overseas, didn't you?

Michael Aldridge  4:44  
I spent many, many years overseas, all told.

Interviewer  4:47  
Where roughly?

Michael Aldridge  4:48  
Oh, I did quite a lot of work in Africa, The Far East, Europe, most of Europe, but mainly in Africa. I spent nearly two years all told in Africa, instance of anything like three months to six months at a time.

Interviewer  5:06  
So you worked on long location trips. Which ones specifically strike you?

Michael Aldridge  5:14  
Yes, I did two series. I did a Panorama out in Cambodia, well in Northern Thailand and Cambodia.   I did a series of programmes from Bristol, which were with Johnny Morris. We did two of those. In Africa I did quite a lot of the backup work for the Natural History programmes, working with, well David Attenborough was one that I did two series with, not as the wildlife photographer but doing all the links with them. Gerald Durrell was another one, I did links with him out in Africa. We were the crew that did all the links while the naturalists spent weeks up a tree.

Interviewer  6:04  
What was the equipment like when you first started? And how has it changed?

Michael Aldridge  6:08  
Heavy. [Laughter]  I mean, our basic tools. When I started the basic camera was, if you were doing sound it was the Cameflex in a double camera, or it was the ST with either a stripe box on the bottom or in a fibreglass blimp. And only in the mid 60s did we actually go on, I think, to BLs, which changed everything because you didn't have to hide under a duffle coat to keep the sound down. It was reasonably acceptable sound.

Interviewer  6:55  
So what have you noticed the difference in sort of ... because you were filming up to what year, roughly? 

Michael Aldridge  7:01  
I finished actual camera work in about 1972, and went into what is loosely described as management.

Interviewer  7:11  
Yes. Okay. So that decade plus that you worked with cameras, can you describe the difference in both the technique and the development, if any, over that period of time? What strikes you?

Michael Aldridge  7:26  
Well, the main thing that strikes me was, working in news and current affairs for most of the time, the crews were fairly small anyway, we were normally a crew of three or four.  Four, if it was a longer assignment, with lights. Not much different today. Except now, of course, the crews are mainly two but, even on news in those days, it wasn't unusual to go out as a two man crew with a set of Colortran and a camera. So those techniques have not changed a lot, as such, except the equipment has got a lot lighter.

Interviewer  8:05  
And the stock you used. Do you find there's any great change in that? 

Michael Aldridge  8:08  
Well, of course, the stock that I would have used then would have been ... I don't know, in those days I suppose it was FP3 with an ASA rating of 80 and Double-X, I think, was the other one which had, I think it was 200 ASA. Then we started going into colour. And I think the early colour film was something like about 64 ASA.  Now, of course, if you're talking about film stocks, there's been a great advance in film stocks, the speed has got faster. They were certainly, particularly as we were in news and current affairs, on Ektachrome which you had a quarter of a stop latitude either way.  Nowadays on colour film its incredibly kind to you and you've got a stop, stop and a half, either way.  And of course the grain is much, much less and the saturation is greater.

Interviewer  9:03  
On the films that were longer, how long was your longest location? Was it Africa you were in?

Michael Aldridge  9:08  
Yeah, I was out there for nearly 20 weeks. It was the longest one I think I did. But that was picking up four or five producers on the way.

Interviewer  9:17  
I see. What programme or programmes was that for?

Michael Aldridge  9:19  
That was mainly for the Natural History Unit for their wildlife series, where you'd, as I've said earlier, you'd pick up, you'd do all the links. And you'd most probably do three or four programmes of links, and maybe a specialist item while you're over there as well. The idea in those days was that if once you were there, it was useful to feed producers to you rather than keep ferrying the crew backwards and forwards. So we based ourselves in Nairobi and then worked on from there.

Interviewer  9:52  
Do you think you got very familiar with the countryside and so on? What did you think of Nairobi?

Michael Aldridge  9:58  
Well, Africa in those days was a wonderful country. It's not so pleasant now I  understand.  Nairobi in particular, it's a lovely, lovely city. And the countryside was absolutely gorgeous. I had the advantage of going all over the Central and South Africa. It's an experience I'll never forget, particularly the nights, the warm nights and the vastness of it. It's a wonderful country.

Interviewer  10:25  
Have you worked with any specialised process in film or in the laboratories?

Michael Aldridge  10:32  
Well in the labs, I suppose optics. I did my stint as a trainee in the optical department doing opticals, bi-pack work. And then animation and doing bi-pack work on animation as well. So I suppose that was the most specialist area that I got involved in, making matts and dissolves and flips and all sorts of things that one did in those days. Fairly crude by today's standards, but they they did work. Travelling, matts was another one,  travelling matts, BP work, was all done in the optical departments in those days.

Interviewer  11:22  
Those are the things they do on computers now.

Michael Aldridge  11:24  
Yes, I know. That's right, it's all done electronically now. But in those days it was pretty crude but reasonably effective, although if you look at it now it looks very crude. [Laughter]

Interviewer  11:37  
Okay, which technicians that you have worked with gave you the most help?

Michael Aldridge  11:42  
Oh, I think in the early days in the laboratory, certainly, I worked for a chap called Jim Timms, who was in charge of the the developing department in Studio Film Labs, another was a guy called Bob Davis, who ran the optical department. Then, in my later times, I suppose I worked with a cameraman at Ealing called Jimmy Court, Jimmy Balfour. Those are the ones that I remember that took pity on a young technician and helped. Although every cameraman I worked with, I didn't have any problems with. I think because they'd been assistants, most of them, they'd come up the hard way as well. They were reasonably sympathetic, as of course I was.

Interviewer  12:43  
How long did it take you to establish yourself in the job, as a camera assistant or cameraman?

Michael Aldridge  12:50  
But like most camera assistants, it was a job that lasted about seven or eight years before you were ever promoted as a cameraman and sometimes even longer. It was a question of either expansion or people dropping out of the system in those days. And it took me about seven or eight years before I actually became fully qualified as a cameraman. But not for very long, because very soon after that I went into management.

Interviewer  13:19  
You didn't go to evening classes, for any level to raise your skills?

Michael Aldridge  13:24  
No, because I'd done that previously. While I was working in the lab, I'd gone to the London Polytechnic and I did a a two year sandwich IIP, Institute of Incorporated Photographers course, and that gave me, if you like, a stills qualification or a photographic qualification. So, I did that.

Interviewer  13:48  
Okay, so which director, films, or producer, television, did you work with that made the most impression on you? And why?

Michael Aldridge  13:57  
Oh, I think the one that sticks in my mind is ... I've got two that stick in my mind in Current Affairs, for the wrong reasons. One was called Frank Dale, the other one was called Brian Robbins. Both of whom got us into terrible trouble, which we had to talk our way out of. I mean, but working with people, as they did because they were the directors of people like Fyfe Robertson and Macdonald Hastings was an experience. It was an experience of life as much as anything else. Working with David Attenborough, of course, was great. He was a superb man, as was Gerald Durrell, but, and then some of the drama directors like David Rose and ... Oh, can you stop a minute? I've got to try and think ... Hill.

Interviewer  14:46  
Can you say that again ... 

Michael Aldridge  14:48  
I didn't like drama. It was it was too slow for me. I mean, I was much more a news and current affairs person and still enjoy news and current affairs. Although I like the techniques of drama and I like to see a good well crafted drama production. I think it's still something that our television system or our film system does very well, but primarily I did news and current affairs.

Interviewer  15:20  
So can you tell us a tale of Frank Dale, about something that happened that you could relate to? 

Michael Aldridge  15:28  
Oh, gosh, the story of Frank Dale is that, like most crews, you never ... you very rarely see your rushes.  The only time you ever saw your rushes was actually either on air, or if you came back late on a Friday night and they were running them in the review theatre. We got back late one Friday night into Lime Grove and were sitting down watching the rushes with Frank Dale.  And who should come bursting into the review theatre but a guy called Donald Baverstock, who later I think went on to be Controller of BBC One, and he looked at the screen and said, "Who the hell did this load of rubbish?" And of course, there was Frank Dale sitting in there and we were sitting in there. And to our amazement, he sort of looked at Frank Dale and then walked out. But also a chap called Brian Robbins, who was a fairly fiery character, who in those days used to run a programme called Wheelbase, who nearly got us locked up in Africa because, in fact,  we didn't have permission to film. And he insisted through the African authorities that we were the BBC and we were going to film. And we did, only to find that when we came onto the border of the two countries, we were going through our camera gear and everything was confiscated and we were threatened with jail. And it was only the intervention of the British High Commissioner in Nairobi that actually got us out of the situation, minus the rolls of film. But not an unusual story.

Interviewer  17:20  
Okay. How did you first get involved with ACTT?

Michael Aldridge  17:24  
As a trainee, from very early in my training, part of the the agreement, I think, although most probably an unwritten agreement, was that most of the technicians join the ACTT. And I'd joined ACTT in 1956 after only a few weeks working in a laboratory and stayed as a member for many years until I joined BECTU, and then BECTU joined the ACTT.  And for many years, I was a dual card holder.

Interviewer  18:11  
Do you remember who recruited you?

Michael Aldridge  18:13  
Yes a chap called Jim Timms and a guy called Len Cutmore, who was the printer in Studio Film Labs. They were my two sponsors for the ACTT.

Interviewer  18:29  
Can you remember anything specific, recollect anything about the ACTT? Apart from people that initiated you?

Michael Aldridge  18:35  
Yeah, we used to have fairly regular meetings.  Because I worked in Dean Street, there was laboratory meetings for once every couple of months. And although they were union meetings, they were quite interesting because you could talk to the other ... I mean people from Humphries and Kays and Technicolor were there as well. And you got to know quite a lot about the other laboratories as well. And there was a  technical meeting every now and again, which I used to go to in Soho Square. They were quite interesting days and I think the ACTT in those days, forgetting the political bias of it, did a very good job because it was one of the only areas that actually pulled everybody together so that you could find out and did understand what other techniques were being done within the film industry, particularly as you were isolated in the laboratory. Later on when you worked in the wider world, you got to know people but from there you wouldn't. In fact, I got my job at Film Producers Guild through an ACTT meeting.  I met somebody that worked in Film Producers Guild and I told him that I wanted to get further into cameras and he suggested that I got in touch with Film Producers Guild, which is exactly what I did and I managed to get into cameras because of that.

Interviewer  20:09  
Okay, so looking back just over your actual camera work side of your career, I will come on to the management in just a minute, which particular film programme gave you the most satisfaction and why?

Michael Aldridge  20:27  
I suppose a series that we did on drug smuggling in northern Cambodia. It was the time of the Vietnam War and the drugs were coming out of Cambodia, going down through or coming out of Thailand going into Cambodia and guns were coming the other way. For the only reason that it told the world for the first time what was actually happening on the other side of the border in the Vietnam War. Those sort of programmes I found, for me, were interesting because it told me what was happening.

Interviewer  21:13  
Very good.  And what decided you to go into management and how did it come about?

Michael Aldridge  21:18  
Well, I never decided to go into management. Like an awful lot of people who were in "management" in that period came from ... they weren't managers that came into the industry. They were craft people or producers that became managers and, waiting between assignments, I was asked to actually cover the office because the FOM of the day went sick. And he stayed sick for three months. I stayed in the office for three months, and never went back on the road. I was asked if I'd go to Manchester to stand in for the FOM there for a year, which I did, Graham Turner. And then coming back to Bristol, the job became vacant. Cyril Morehead became the FOM. I became the Assistant FOM and was with him for three weeks when I was drafted as a FOM to Pebble Mill.  From there, Film Unit Manager it was in those days, and I stayed there for 24 years. So I suppose like most managers it was by default, rather than design.

Interviewer  22:35  
And how have you found that the management process changed in 24 years? So obviously, things did change, with the operation and the staff. Do you think you could tell us roughly how things were from a management point of view when you first went in?

Michael Aldridge  22:48  
Well, as a Film Unit Manager, how you literally ran a film unit, you were part of an Operations Department, but completely separate. You were responsible for everything that happened, you're responsible for the staff, for the finance for everything that happened within a film unit. You're a little firm within the BBC, and quite an important part of The Mill operation. Like all film units, they were autonomous, nobody really knew what they did and providing it worked they left you alone, whether you were a large film unit or small one. I had a staff in those days of about 18 to 20. 

Michael Aldridge  23:47  
That stayed until I suppose the early 80s, when we amalgamated with the Operations Department. We were very much isolated within the Film Unit and becoming then part of Operations Department they wanted to cross train, which was a very good idea, something I certainly supported. To do cross training in those days was where operational staff would come into Film Unit and learn the techniques and work under film cameramen. Bearing in mind I was in Pebble Mill, we covered everything in those days from news and current affairs, the local news Midlands Today, right up to drama, where it wasn't unusual where we would be shooting either things like Poldark or a Play For Today. Or a series of Second City Firsts, as well as doing major documentaries and working for some of the major network programmes, as well as a lot of magazines, like Farming and the Asian magazines. And Top Gear started then, The Clothes Show started then. All of those started on film because it was the easiest way to do mobile recording. Gradually, they became electronic programmes working across the board. So that was a good thing that we did combine. Most of the film cameramen after that time - and I'm now most probably thinking about '86/'87 - began to leave. And because the Drama Department was employing more and more freelance cameramen, I felt at the time our cameramen had a difficulty in competing, partly because of the costing operation, the conditions of service that prevailed at the time. So it was best in fact if we actually reduced that side of the operation and concentrated more on the PSC and the lightweight work, which is what we did, the model that is there now today.

Interviewer  25:58  
Okay, so the crews that you manage ... do you actually employ crews?  Did you actually, sort of, a production company will come to you and say, "We want crewing for this production" and you will actually arrange for crews? So I mean, what was in your calculations when you're presented with that? 

Michael Aldridge  26:15  
Well, I mean, you're quite right. Certainly in the earlier days, I mean, we're now talking about a producer has an allocation of crew days, there was no money that changed hands. We held the money to hire crews or to deploy our own crews. And obviously, you deployed your own crews first, bearing in mind the circumstances. But I always tried to match the crew to the production rather than anything else. I think this was the most important thing that was paramount in my mind, or my Film Operation Manager's mind, was to get the right people for the right assignment, if you could. And that I mean is paramount. The second thing was to try and see if you can run an efficient operation, bearing in mind that you had to bear all the costs of the location, whereas the producer didn't. He was working on an allocation of crew days. And normally, when he put in his budget, he put in for far more than he ever needed. So quite often, you'd end up in a situation where it'd be costing the unit money to actually do a production but that was the way the system worked in those days. That's changed now. Total costing started to change it but didn't go far enough. Of course, when I left in 1995/1996, it was then completely realistic costing, where the producer held the budget and paid for everything he used, which was, in fairness, the better system because it gave him the control of his own budget. But also he was very careful on how he used that budget. The downside of that, of course, is then he started to reduce crewing, make crews work longer, and crews under pressure from the fact that if they didn't do that they wouldn't be used. And if they did do it, they'd be working very long hours and being very tired.  I think somewhere in the middle is the answer. Certainly not the way we've gone at the moment. Also the pressures on management, which were different from then, and I mean the pressure on management in the early days was to make sure that the Head of Programmes was satisfied with the service that he got out of Film Unit. That was paramount. That was what it was all about. You were making programmes and making sure that the producer or the editor was pleased with the service that he was getting. When I left, the the main thing that was paramount was to make sure that the pennies matched and the programmes broke even. Both I think are right, but you mustn't lose sight of either. This I think has happened now, they've lost sight of what the production is, for how much the production costs.

Interviewer  29:24  
So that was probably the major change as far as the organisation was concerned over the years .......

Michael Aldridge  29:31  
The other  change was that up until I suppose 1992, I worked for a Production Department. Although I was a service, my direct boss, work came from Phil Sidey, it came from Production.  1992, when we became Resources, my direct boss became somebody from the operational side. And therefore you drove a wedge in because Production had no ownership of you, they only had use of you. When they had ownership of you, there was a loyalty to you, as there was a loyalty to the other side. When it became Resources, as it is now, it is a business and has a business trading relationship, which is different to a family relationship. And that family relationship was important from both sides. I don't think the cameramen today and the cameramen of 20 years ago, were any less enthusiastic and keen and dedicated. I still think they're dedicated. But I'm not so sure that they're treated or used or thought of in the same way now. And that's sad.

Interviewer  30:58  
Do you see that? Do you think there's any pressures at the moment to actually improve the relationship in television that exists? Or do you think it's going to go down the same road for some time?

Michael Aldridge  31:09  
I think it's going to go down the same road for sometime for many reasons. One is that television, because it's a fairly young medium, people coming into the the industry in production have no formal or proper training other than possibly a media course or media degree. And don't have the same understanding of the the way they can get the best out of their service department, whichever they may be. Also the time pressures and the money pressures on them at the moment are much greater than they ever were. We're trying to do more for less, which in sometimes is right and proper. But in a lot of times, it's not. I hear of crews now getting up at six o'clock in the morning and driving up to Manchester, doing a day's work and coming back at midnight, absolutely tired and starting again for a similar job the next day. And in the current climate, particularly as most of it is now freelance crews, they can't turn down the work the next day, even though they're tired, because they may not get it the day after.

Interviewer  32:34  
Whose responsibility do you think this has eventually got to come to, as it is not obviously just the unit managers? It's got to be above that level hasn't it? 

Michael Aldridge  32:41  
Well, I think it's above that level. I think also it is that at the moment maybe we're in a transitional period. I think it is very difficult for the crews to turn around and say "No, we won't do it." for two reasons. One is the're seen to be, if they don't, uncooperative, or they will lose income, which a lot of them need because there's an awful lot of people out there, or somebody else will do it cheaper. Until, I believe, a certain amount of legislation comes in, it may be European legislation, on the length of the day and the type of the day. And I'm not saying this is new because as a cameraman, I was working 120/140 hours a week. But I could at times say "No, I'm tired". I think that safety valve has gone. I think that time has gone when a cameraman ... I would be supported if I said I was tired, I'd already done xx. That isn't so now.

Interviewer  33:47  
So the producers that actually drive these hard bargains, because that's what they are, are they not affected? Or, why are their conditions so much different from the crews?

Michael Aldridge  33:57  
Well, because they're not doing it day in day out. They may be doing three or four days on location, and then go off and sit in a cutting room for a week. Or they're doing their research the week before. Whereas the crew is being picked up and put down more or less daily. That's the change because there is nobody now, as I was as Film Unit Manager, or the Film Operations Managers were, to actually intervene in the middle there and say "Look, hang on a minute, this is unreasonable". Nowadays, I don't think anything is deemed to be unreasonable.  And this to me is the main change. And one that, if we're not careful, we'll be burning people out at a much younger age than we were.

Interviewer  34:51  
Do you find that the programme's themselves are as stimulating, or more or less than you remember them when you first started in your management job?

Michael Aldridge  35:00  
Well, like all things in hindsight, things were always better then. Having said that, there's still some very good television production, there's still some very good quality television production, there's more and more cheap stripped studio shows than there ever were. I suppose these are necessary to pay for the much more lavish productions. But television in this country is still pretty good. It hasn't gone down to the levels that one sees, either in Europe or in The States, yet. I mean, a good drama series is still a good drama series on screen. And it always was, I mean, if you go back and look at things like Z Cars, which will nowadays look very dated, when they were made they were very good productions. You compare that now with Morse which is a very polished production, in the same way it is a very good production. And more and more of the percentage of the budget is actually going into those types of programmes. But, of course, that means the majority of programmes are now being pushed down to a lower, lower, level.  And you're getting far more and more wall to wall cookery programmes, wall to wall antique programmes. They are cheap and easy to make.

Interviewer  36:26  
Can we pause there, just for a minute.

Michael Aldridge  36:28  
You were met with enthusiasm, only to find that when the programme went out, you'd never go back again. 

Interviewer  36:39  
What programme was that?

Michael Aldridge  36:40  
That was Tonight. I always remember doing a story in Yorkshire about the Yorkshire water. And we were wined and dined by the Head of Yorkshire Water and we spent a day with him and sort of friends all around when we left. When I saw it go out about three days later, there was no way I'd go back to Barnsley other than in disguise. And the problem is that I'd also been on the other end of it, where you've followed the Tonight crew and you'd meet with hostility when you went into the local school because you found that Tonight did a programme on them six months ago and decimated them [Laughter]  Those were the sorts of things that used to happen.

Interviewer  37:32  
Barnsley,  that's Mike Parkinson's football team isn't it?   Did you enjoy travelling in the North Country, apart from that?

Michael Aldridge  37:42  
Oh, they're a very friendly people. I mean, I did a tour of the North for Tonight, a memorable tour for about nine days.  We arrived in each location and we sort of went across the Pennines, Wakefield, Halifax, you know, and so on, right through to Hull. And sort of hitting each town at about nine o'clock at night, and the only thing that was ever open was Chinese restaurants. So for nine nights, we got sick of Chinese food by the time we got to Hull. But very friendly people, very trusting people, for us, I mean, because, as you know, not always the programmes did them the best. But truthful, but truthful.

Interviewer  38:30  
When you went into management, were you as aware of the content, favourable or otherwise, of the material shot? Apart from a technical effort, as you were when you were actually working as a cameraman?

Michael Aldridge  38:44  
The thing I always used to try in management, my style of management worked very closely with production and got very much involved with production, with the person, with directors and producers, and the integrity of them in those days. Well, even now, the integrity of them is still pretty good. I used to query if I thought something was misinterpreted.  And the one thing that we had at Pebble Mill in those days was we had a Programme Review Board, where every Tuesday morning for an hour and a half the senior managers and the producers of the building got together and discussed the week's output that we'd been involved in, and also network.  And that was the forum if you felt that anything was misrepresented or was wrong, or even good, that came out at that forum. So there was a monitoring system for production, and technically as well, if you didn't like anything technically you'd say so at that meeting, and later on being responsible for all the output technically of The Mill. It was important.

Interviewer  40:16  
We talked about what you liked best and your efforts on Tonight and the embarrassments and articles. Can you think of something technically that you had to intervene on and do something about that didn't work quite the way it was planned?

Michael Aldridge  40:31  
Oh, yes. I think that the biggest argument I had, which I suppose in the end I got support from the Head of Programmes, was the director went out with a camera - we're now talking about the late 70s I suppose - a fairly responsible director, but he went and shot a lot of material in covert operations which was untransmittable. And I had to say it was untransmittable. As you can imagine, this was quite a political decision with a small "p". And eventually, it wasn't shown. But that caused both a very nasty, nasty situation with the director. But I was supported by the Head of Programmes to say it wasn't. So those are the sorts of monitoring or edits ... I mean, in the end management shouldn't edit programmes, is not there to edit programmes, but occasionally you have to say "Hang on a minute, this is just not good enough".

Interviewer  41:38  
Did the producer in this particular case, sort of say "Well, the crew didn't do what I asked them", or what did he say? 

Michael Aldridge  41:44  
He didn't have a crew in that situation. And, you know, all the things were said - "Well, of course, you would say that wouldn't you because I didn't have a crew." So that even made it a lot more difficult. In the end, we got round it by actually compromising with his material and material that we went out and shot, and we got round it.

Interviewer  42:09  
So the tried method proved to be the saving grace in this particular programme.

Michael Aldridge  42:13  
Well, the tried method happened to be the fact that you actually sent out a cameraman to do all the GVs and all the background material, and then we used his material intercut with it. And it worked.

Interviewer  42:25  
Definitely a score for management over all sorts of problems.

Michael Aldridge  42:28  
It wasn't a score so much. It was more trying to actually to get the best out of a programme and the maximum information and enjoyment to the viewer. It was done purely to say you cannot show that material, it is not good enough. But we can do it. We can get it better.

Interviewer  42:50  
With the new developments of these high technology Betacam SXs, that can shoot almost anything, do you think that more and more people will go out and do their own material? And the quality, do you think that sometimes it'll be better or sometimes not as good?

Michael Aldridge  43:09  
I think there's two problems to this. I mean, if we now take modern electronics and things like DVCam, directors and researchers will go out and shoot their own material. For most of what they shoot, it won't be noticed because it is good enough. But the one thing that will be noticed is the production value because you can't do two or three things at once. You can't be a sound recordist, a cameraman and a director all at once, unless you're really skilled at it. And the skill is not there in a lot of cases. So therefore, what you're going to do is get a reasonable job. And for most of the time, Mrs. Brown won't know. But, maybe some of the cameramen now have got to pick up the other mantle and start doing more of the production side of things. So instead of a producer, being a cameraman, it's a cameraman being a director or producer. Likewise, in editing, this is going to happen with desktop editing. And I can see the director, sitting at his desk, doing a cutting list and eventually editing the programme on a disk and going down to whichever the replay area is for transmission. Fine if this is going to happen, what it needs is the editors to do it as well, the editors to go into production, because in the end, they're more crafted and skilled to put a programme together than possibly the director on his own. The only thing you lose, of course, is you lose a subjective view where two people are looking at the material instead of one. One person looking at his own material gets very insular within it. He gets very focused, whereas two people looking at it can be objective. And that I think is where it's going to change and what's going to be lost. I mean the editor turning around saying "No, you might have taken three days to get that shot, but it doesn't work, you know, I think this is better".

Interviewer  45:12  
Okay, well, thank you, Mike.

End of Side 1

Side 2 

Interviewer  0:05  
I'm just going to say that this is the B side of the tape on Michael Aldridge. And on the BECTU History Project tape.

Michael Aldridge  0:16  
One of the most interesting jobs I ever did was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We were doing a documentary purely for the West Country. And in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where they were restoring many paintings, including Old Dutch Masters, was a graduate from Bristol University. And the story was about this graduate who lived in Amsterdam. So we did all the usual GVs with him and the build up. And then we went to the Rijksmuseum and watching them restore Rembrandts and Old Masters was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Because they would literally peel off the paint and pull it back, ripped canvases, they would put together and repaint and retouch in and they would do, I don't know, what would be a square inch would take them a month to do. It was absolutely fascinating to see this work. And a lot of the things that they showed us that they'd done, they showed us pictures of them before and after. And some of the stuff that we saw, there were paintings that had been damaged in fires which were sent to them. And the final result, you'd never have known that they'd been damaged. It was absolutely wonderful. And certainly a lesson in patience and art. Those are the sort of programmes that I found interesting and some of the people that you met too, some of the most influential and aristocratic people of the country are some of the most nicest and gentle people, not at all arrogant. Whereas occasionally you'd find somebody that was completely arrogant. And for some reason, you had to try and see that it didn't worry you.

Michael Aldridge  2:26  
I worked quite a lot in refugee camps and with children in Africa, particularly in Red Cross and United Nations camps. Again in Uganda just after Idi Amin came in. And some of the sights and the distress there, you came back quite depressed, and yet, you had to leave them behind. You wanted to put everyone in your kit and bring them home. It really was heartbreaking. Some of the scenes, as a cameraman, you used to see, and yet you could do nothing about it. For two years I spent about two or three months in Belfast, 1968 and 1971, on a sort of tour over there, and wonderful people, very nice people. And yet it was the time of the real troubles. And seeing families losing one or two members of their families through the troubles was heartbreaking really, because it was such lovely people and lovely country. So those sides of it were well, I think where you remember most. And there were the good times as well. I mean, when you look back on most locations, there were good times.

Interviewer  4:18  
Yes. Have you ever worked on any specialised methods of production? Like Independent Frame, for example?

Michael Aldridge  4:26  
No.  Well, I have because I used to do animation and used to do bi-packing so all that was Independent Frame as such, you know where you'd spend a week doing two minutes? Yes, I've done that. 

Interviewer  4:48  
It's called High Definition isn't it, high definition film presumably. It's this sort of area, isn't it when you're working in our specialised subjects? 

Michael Aldridge  4:56  
Yeah. Well, it's not so much specialised subject, more specialised equipment. The optical side of processing in the sort of 50s and 60s was fairly crude. It wasn't that sophisticated, but it was very effective but very painstaking.

Interviewer  5:20  
You've had a double career in a way haven't you because there is a difference, not a vast difference, but there is a difference between the camera aspect of your career and the management part of your career. 

Michael Aldridge  5:32  
There is to a certain extent, except for a cameraman, of course, if he's working on a crew, has to have had a certain amount of management. It may be a different brackets management, but he certainly has to have a certain amount of management. The same way as if you're managing, as I was, for many years a Film Unit, you've got to have the thoughts and the links with the cameraman. And I felt that one of the things I liked about the management of that type of operation was that you were still a technician. I was still very much regarded as a technician even though I was a manager. I was regarded as a technician by the production people, who'd come and talk about the best way to make a programme or how to do a particular technique. I was regarded by my colleagues as a technician even though I was their manager, we'd come and talk over technical problems. I used to look in the early days, and later even, I used to always look in the Preview Theatre if ever there was one running or go into Telecine or go into an editing booth to see what the material was like. I still did, and now, regard myself as a technician. So one of the advantages I had is, although I went into management, I still had this link as a technician. Now, and one of the changes there is, is that my colleagues that have taken over from me, are not necessarily technical managers. Therefore they don't have that link. It is purely a management function. It is an accounting function. I was never an accountant. And I think this was probably my biggest problem. I was never an accountant. I used to look at things practically. Yes, I could balance books and I had staff around me to do that. But first and foremost, I was a technician first, a manager second, because by being a technician, I can best serve the programme. As a manager, I used to serve the Corporation. 

Interviewer  7:28  
So, I'll ask this question on both skills that you possess, which cameraman that you worked with gave you the most help in your climb, as it were, when you were advancing in the camera field.

Michael Aldridge  7:44  
Oh, I think without a doubt it was the two Jims, I think to start with Jimmy Court and Jimmy Balfour. And then I was an assistant to a cameraman in Bristol called George Shears for about four years. And he was very helpful. And like all cameramen, eventually, if he has confidence in you, he becomes the assistant and you become the cameraman. That's how you make cameramen, how cameramen were made in those days. We didn't come out of a film school, with all the theory and none of the practise. We actually worked side by side, master and apprentice. That's how we got our training. That's one thing that's gone. And it's not just training of exposure and lighting. It's the training of the whole production technique as well. How to manage people, how to work with people, how to work with the general public, whether it happens to be the miner down the mine or the Lord of the Manor, it didn't make a difference. That's what you learn, you learn the road craft. And that was as important in making a programme as being in the right place at the right time. Knowing which person to ask, is as important as knowing which exposure to use, particularly for news and current affairs. There's no point in spending all day trying to park the car when your supposed to be interviewing somebody. You know, these things you learn from cameramen, and you teach your assistants, it's the master/apprentice which has gone. And not only is it gone in our craft, it's gone virtually throughout the country now. And that was a very good way of learning, because if you had a good relationship with your cameraman, your master, he taught you all the good things and he told you all the bad things not to do. And it worked. And those of us that came through that era, I think had a much broader base and a much broader way of looking at things than they do now. They come out of film school and although they've most probably got all the theory that we didn't have, to a large extent, they've got none of the background and none of the practise and none of the experience and nobody to go to, to get the experience because the directors and producers are in the same boat. And they're all trying to teach each other.

Interviewer  10:10  
You mentioned earlier I think that you knew Skeets Kelly.

Michael Aldridge  10:14  
I knew Skeets Kelly. I knew. Yes, I did. Yeah.

Interviewer  10:19  
Anybody else in that particular era? You worked with him did you or ...

Michael Aldridge  10:22  
Yes, I did. I was his clapper loader at one time. Who else around that period? I didn't work with that number of ... because I wasn't in the feature film industry for very long. Another cameraman I worked with was a chap called Ian Craig, I was his assistant, again during that period. And then, of course, joining Ealing you joined quite an illustrious body as we saw them in those days and some very good cameramen, some of the industry's best cameramen in fact, whether it be the television or the film industry, some of the cameraman that were around at that time were the best cameraman in the country, weren't they?

Interviewer  11:14  
Absolutely, for all time perhaps, considering the equipment they used, which is very different than today.  You didn't actually get a Board as a cameraman because you moved to management. 

Michael Aldridge  11:25  
That's right. 

Interviewer  11:25  
Okay.  Do they actually give Boards in management? Or do you just find yourself ... ? 

Michael Aldridge  11:31  
Well. Yes, I was interviewed in management, Boarded, and got the job after spending nearly two years as an acting Film Unit Manager both in Manchester and Birmingham. So I'd got the experience behind me. So I did that, but, as I said, it was something that if you just said to me two or three years before, this is what you're going to do, it wasn't what I set out to do. But something that I did enjoy and gave me great, great pleasure.

Interviewer  12:11  
Following that thought along.  If you had the opportunity to do something quite different from the word go, what would you do? Is there anything you'd have preferred to do with your life? What would you prefer to have done rather than what you've done?

Michael Aldridge  12:27  
I'm very grateful for what I've done, I thoroughly enjoyed what I've done. Having done  it, I think, if I'd have had the chance, and knowing what I know now, I would still have done it. I think it's possibly one of the most fulfilling ... I mean, you see the world at somebody else's expense, you are privileged to all sorts of things that you would never have been privileged to in most other forms of life. It has it's good times. It's very hard work.  It isn't something for the faint hearted. It's very hard work, but very enjoyable and rewarding work. What else can one say? The only downside is it has its toll on your own private life, you don't have a private life, in fact, you're a cameraman. And I've seen and been been a victim to the pressures and strains on a marriage. That is the downside. A lot of my colleagues would agree with that. But, of course, it's like a drug, you want more of it. And if you were asked to give up because of that, it's a very brave man. And I've known two cameramen that in the past have given up but their wives have forced them to go back because they'd rather have them away and happy than at home and completely unhappy. But I think, in hindsight. what I did, which was went into film management, I got the best of both worlds. I could be at home some of the time. It wasn't a nine to five job, and I never made it a nine to five job. But I also kept in touch with production, and was very much, as i said earlier, remained a technician.

Interviewer  14:29  
If we would take the same question as we just [unclear], once you got into management, who's the person who gave you the most help in resolving where you wanted to go? 

Michael Aldridge  14:40  
Oh, I was very fortunate that I worked with some very good heads of production. The Head of Production for drama was a chap called David Rose, who was a very eminent director and then producer, and David, because Birmingham was at the forefront of drama. Sean Sutton was another one because I used to work with Network Drama. And when he was Head of Network Drama, I worked very closely with him and solved a lot of problems, a few problems together. With news and current affairs, I had a news editor called Michael Hancock and then Gordon Randall, both of them I worked very closely with, and then Terry Dobson who ran Pebble Mill At One. And the person that I had one of the greatest respects for was Phil Sidey, who was the overall Head of Network Centre in Pebble Mill. 

Michael Aldridge  15:35  
The one thing that I would say about Birmingham, it worked very much as a very close family, a very close team. And it was, in those days, information was something that was spread not guarded.  Because as I said earlier, my direct boss was a Programme  man, I worked for Programmes, not Resources, I was very much involved in things.  I knew what the annual plan was when it was put together in November for the following year. When I left Resources, we didn't have an annual plan and we didn't know what we were going to do for the following year. We ended up in a situation where, if you take the 1970s, I would know what the annual plan was, and I'd put together a department budget subject to the annual plan. When I left in the 1990s, my budget was set before we knew what we were going to do. In fact, the Resources budget was set first, then the Programme budget was set after that. It wasn't a question of tailoring what was going to happen. It wasn't a question of tailoring a budget to the output. It was a question of we'll do this output for that budget.

Interviewer  17:06  
I am just going to pause there a minute because your [Unclear]

Michael Aldridge  17:11  
I mean, you asked my relationship with with heads of department and Sean Sutton was was one of them and we used to what was called host productions from London. The way they were hosted was that although it would be in the London budget, Birmingham's facilities were allocated too, and quite often, a London producer didn't want to use a Birmingham cameraman. Either he had his own cameraman that he knew and trusted. Or the fact is he thought the Birmingham cameraman wasn't up to the standard that he was generally used to in London as often was the case. And I had a cameraman, a very good cameraman, very experienced in drama that was working on a particular production with a director. And I got the feeling all wasn't well. You can tell by looking at rushes, you can tell by talking to the crew in the morning, how things are. And I got to talk to the recordist in the end and found out the fact that the cameraman and the director weren't exactly hitting it off. So I went down to London and I spoke to Sean Sutton. And Sean went on to location and at night he observed and at night he went and talked to his director. And things got tolerable and they got better. The upshot of that was on the next production this director did, he asked for this particular cameraman again. So that was the sort of liaison that only you could do with somebody like Sean, or even David Rose, whoever the Head of Department was. So  that was the result of of that close cooperation.

Interviewer  19:07  
Can you now give an example of something that worked extremely well and your point of view of the relationship between the crews?  I mean, is there anything outstanding that you can think of, a particular drama or, I don't know ... you didn't do arts features did you?

Michael Aldridge  19:22  
Not very often. One area I didn't get very much involved in is arts features. I did the occasional programme, but not very much in arts features.

Michael Aldridge  19:39  
I had a great relationship with a producer called Jerry Glaister when he came to Birmingham, and under pressure as a lot of London producers did to actually come up to the Midlands, to use our studio and location facilities. Although quite often they wouldn't use our location facilities, they'd only use our studio facilities. Jerry came up with Brothers. And we did, it must have been three or four series of The Brothers. And I got to know Jerry well, and subsequently I managed to actually then get him to finally to make his programmes through Birmingham. And so things like Howards' Way which was his next project. And then finally Trainer, we did wholly as Birmingham productions. And another one was Poldark, I  managed to get Poldark.  And those programmes gave us an awful sense of achievement, particularly as you were a region. Because up until then those type of productions only ever came out of London. So we established ourselves very well. And it wasn't just the quality of the drama, we had our own drama department in Birmingham, but for once we were having drama. Bill Sellers was another producer I worked with who did All Creatures Great and Small, that were pulling in 14 and 15 million. This was a wonderful sense of achievement, not only because they were very good programmes to work on, but also Pebble Mill became identified with them. And the one thing I suppose Pebble Mill will always be identified with was Pebble Mill At One, which again, was something that I was part and parcel in starting up on the operational side. And for a programme that everybody said wouldn't work, well it ran nearly 20 years in various guises or forms. It started off in the foyer of Pebble Mill because it was the only place that was big enough to have that sort of programme. 

Michael Aldridge  22:10  
And Phil Sidey who came from Nationwide to Birmingham to start a new daytime programme, concept of which, well format of which wasn't known at the time, walked through the foyer, looked around it and said "This will make a good studio". Everybody that was involved, or most people that were involved, looked at it and thought well how can you turn a foyer which has got an eleven foot ceiling, so it's going to be difficult to light, a marble floor and walls, so the sound is going to be incredibly difficult. But it was achieved and it was achieved to a point where we attracted an awful lot of of star material to Birmingham to perform on the  lunchtime programme, being interrupted by visitors who came to the reception desk. Eventually we dedicated it as a studio and built a gallery and it had its own gallery, so it was a very self contained studio. And that programme ran for about 22 years in various guises even though it was said it would never work. And was the start of daytime television.

Interviewer  23:29  
Okay, good. You actually were Senior Executive of Film Department in Pebble Mill when you left?

Michael Aldridge  23:37  
Well it wasn't just Film Department, I mean Film Department had gone by the time I'd left. Gone five years earlier because I absorbed Film Department into Operations. And yes, I was, I ran the studios, the Outside Broadcast Department and what was left of Film Unit.  I was the last of the film units as such to have a film unit and it's still in Pebble Mill. Two of the old film cameramen, of course, very rarely now work on film because it's nearly all electronic. I think the last series we shot on film was was Reach For The Sky.  Although we're still doing film drama, but most of that is contracted now, but again by old Film Unit personnel.

Interviewer  24:30  
So what year are we into now actually?

Michael Aldridge  24:32  
Well, we're into 1994/95. I started to dissolve the old Film Unit by persuading people one way or the other to go, in about '92/'93, and by the end of '94 the pure film people had gone. I kept a couple of gaffers on because I always felt that using a BBC gaffer was the right thing. He didn't have a vested interest, unlike some other person might well have. It was also an area that worried me with health and safety. And if you had a BBC gaffer, at least he could always fall back on the system to say "I'm sorry, this is unsafe", very difficult for a freelance gaffer to do so, very difficult. And they are still there, they are still there and still shooting drama productions.

Interviewer  25:29  
When you first went to Pebble Mill in a senior side of management, is there a great difference between the amount of hours of television time recorded then than there was in '94 do you think?

Michael Aldridge  25:42  
Oh, yes, there was. I mean, when I went in, taking out the local programmes which had their specific slots and was all told about six and a half hours a week, we were doing for network, I would think, in the region of three hours a week. When I left or, certainly in its heyday of the "Nuts" or early 1900s (sic), we were doing ten per cent of network, which was quite a considerable amount of hours. But then it had built up to eight regular magazine programmes in the shedule. Things like Top Gear, The Clothes Show, all the Asian output, all the Afro Caribbean output, together with at least one current drama series, and at least three or four singular plays. You put that on top of the news and current affairs output for the local region, it's quite a vast output. And I had a staff of about 160/170. They were purely the camera staff, the floor staff and the technicians, without any of the admin. staff.

Interviewer  26:59  
In the old ancient days of The Beeb, there was a very large, as there is in the industry today, training programme to bring on the next decade of technicians. How do you see that being developed within the Corporation? 

Michael Aldridge  27:13  
Well, again, I touched on training earlier. I still think, and it's not nostalgia ... The training over the last five years in the BBC has virtually been non-existent in Operations. For many reasons, for some justifiable reasons. I mean, if you're actually "downsizing" is the current word, very difficult to downsize and train for two reasons. If you're downsizing, morale is low. You don't want to start training in a low morale atmosphere, it doesn't do any good for the trainee. Also, you don't want to increase the size of the staff, which is what will happen if you start putting trainees in, naturally they will want jobs. If again, you are trying to reduce the number of staff that you've got. So for about three or four years, there was no training at all. I don't think training will ever come back as it was because I don't think the money is there. I also think that a lot of the trainees are accepted by outside establishments now before people join the BBC. Going back to nostalgia, I think the master/apprentice, particularly for camera work was the best training but that's never going to happen again, for two reasons.  One is you haven't got the masters. And the masters haven't got the time to train or the inclination in a lot of cases to train. As one cameraman said to me, "Why should I train an assistant when he's going to take all my clients?" It's a fact of life, I can understand that. So I think one of the things that BECTU can do is to coordinate training with the various establishments that are ... I mean, I was inundated with job requests from students from every media course from virtually every college in the country. The accreditations of that course were dubious in the extreme in a lot of cases. There doesn't seem to be an industry standard anymore. I mean, in the past, if you knew somebody had done a particular course, you knew within reason they'd achieved a certain level. I think this may go for three or four of the main establishment training establishments now, but there seems no coordination. They've tried to do it within NVQs. Again, some of the students that I've had on work experience don't seem to have the knowledge and background to the trainees that I had 10/15 years ago. The other thing is that there seems to be no sense ... I mean, recruiting was always done centrally in the BBC. Not something that I agreed with because there seems to be no coordinated recruiting anymore.

Michael Aldridge  30:54  
And as the industry gets more and more fragmented, particularly in film, that's talking about film where the cameramen are freelance, they don't have time to take on trainees, plus the fact that an awful lot of the cameramen ... One of the problems with the industry is that, particularly at the higher end of the market, directors and producers are very loathe to give somebody that's new a chance. Therefore, you've still got the tried and trusted technicians that were there 10/15/20 years ago. And they likewise have their respective crews, and they don't want to let them go, because if they do, they may not get them back. So the whole thing is now fragmented, to a point where training is suffering. And although one would say that today's trainees are better educated, and its most probably true, than we were, they're not necessarily better skilled. 

Interviewer  32:18  
Okay, well, let's take it up from there.

Michael Aldridge  32:20  
Yeah, I mean, let's talk about lighting because all of us, at one time or another, have had to light for many reasons. And this, again, is going back to the master/apprentice situation, where in my case, I worked with a cameraman like Jimmy Balfour and having been with him for four or five weeks, he turned to the director and said "Do you mind if Mike lights this?", and you go in and you'd light it. Or as happened a couple of times, we do a pre-light overnight and he'd ask me to light a room. And the first thing that goes through your head is, because you know about the principles of lighting, three point lighting or whatever it is, you know the principles of lighting.  He'd say to you light it, and the first thing to go through your head is how would he light it because it's his scene. And you try and think how he lit the last situation like it, and you'd give a wink at the gaffer. And you'd try and create what he had done. In doing that, you learned how to place the lights. Then he'd come back ... I mean, the three things you need to know when you're lighting is what the action is, who's going to do what, where the natural source of light comes from, that is another key point of lighting, and thirdly, where the recordist is going to put the boom. So you create that and then you get somebody like your cameraman coming in and saying Yes, that's fine, but if you move the key light this way that shadow will either be enhanced or not. Or you've chosen that as your main point of light but have you thought about doing it this way. And that was by observing and by practicing. And by looking at other people's work by watching films and television and seeing how you think other people have lit circumstances, is how you learn to light. 

Michael Aldridge  34:26  
Whereas film is shot by shot, so therefore quite often you will change your lighting for the next shot, although I tried if I could to actually light so I didn't have to change the lighting very much, only tweak it for reverse angle or whatever one had to do. Television lighting is entirely different because you're not lighting for one camera, your lighting to six. So therefore what you've got to do is you've got to create an overall feel of light plus the fact that you've got specific points of key. And you've got to take into account your various camera angles not only for the fact that you're going to get the shadow the wrong way, but also you might get the light in the lens  . So it's an entirely different way of lighting. The other thing you've got to do is you've got to talk to directors to tell them to appreciate why your lighting, you don't always light for exposure, particularly outside you don't light for exposure and quite often, even though it's a dull day you're going to get five.six, you light for effect.  

Michael Aldridge  35:33  
And, actually I've often found, certainly in my early days of lighting, you get a good gaffer, and some of the gaffers are pretty good lighters.  You must have found that, aren't they?  And you can send them ahead to actually pre-light a situation where you'll only go in and tweak. A good gaffer is worth his weight in gold when it comes to that, a good one. And if he's worked with you long enough, he knows your style of lighting.

Interviewer  36:06  
Absolutely, and as far as the equipment is concerned from the early days of lighting, how have you found it's changed?  What can you describe as specific changes? 

Michael Aldridge  36:15  
Well, when I started lighting, it was literally Mole 2K Pups. Then Colortran came in which was a step-up transformer and boosted lights, which were very good for illuminating. You couldn't light with Colortran, but you could illuminate with Colortran. Nowadays, of course, whereas before you would use arcs for outside lighting and maybe, if it was a big scene, you'd put a scaffold tower and two arcs together to give you the moonlight strike. And then you fill in with Pups and 2Ks. Now you've got HMIs which one or two lights will do what half a dozen used to. The other thing, of course, you've got to be careful of, is if you use too many lights you actually end up snookering yourself. [Laughter]  You can't get rid of your own shadow.

Michael Aldridge  37:18  
I don't think enough attention is given to lighting training, actually. And that is now fairly evident if you watch some of the programmes. People ... cameramen, young cameramen, don't know why they light.

Interviewer  37:34  
Do you think part of the problem is that quite a few producers that I hear from time to time don't know why you light either? That's where ...

Michael Aldridge  37:39  
That's right. The other thing, of course, is in fairness to it, if you've got to do a scene in two hours and it's a large square, the only thing you can do is to put a blasted great big light up and flood the whole thing, there's no question of finesse at all. And we've been caught in that way many times. So you can't do that. It comes down to time and as budgetary constraints come down and down and lighting crews are cut and lighting budgets are cut, its more and more difficult. I think it'll change slightly with faster cameras. Won't for interior lighting that much, but it certainly will for exterior.

Interviewer  38:28  
Really the majority of producers, particularly in television, are concerned about budgets. In the incredible freelance jobs that we do the one and a quarter million that Channel 4 put up for Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was an horrendous budget, like seventeen million I think, originally. Got its money back, of course. Do you think that we can, as senior management position, does it come into your thoughts that we may negotiate on a scale to actually, because the money is there to make large productions, that some of the larger production money should be gone after by television or associated companies to make those sorts of programmes.

Michael Aldridge  39:10  
I mean, if you're talking about budgets and the relevant budgets, I still think there's fairly generous budgets for the higher class productions. On the other hand, I would say the best person that can in fact influence budget is a script editor. And quite a lot of scripts that I saw, with a reasonable amount of rewriting, could have saved thousands of pounds. There also isn't enough production pre-time for a director. And the first time a director gets the ... If he gets the script when he's doing a recce he is lucky in some cases. Now a disciplined producer would make sure that the script was in on time, which it isn't these days. He would make sure that the director was contracted earlier so that he got both familiar with the script, he would make sure the artists had good, more, rehearsal time.  It costs money up front, but it saves money on location. And invariably now ... when I left, I used to see the fact that time was wasted on location. Because the director hadn't had enough time to prep, the designer hadn't had enough time to prep, quite often it was over designed. And the reason it was over designed was because he didn't know which way we're going to shoot. All the cost cutting up front is leading to more expenditure on location, or a lot of expenditure on location. This didn't happen, when in the days people like David Rose and Sean Sutton, they understood that and were far more prepared when they went out on location. And they say now they will shoot a fifty minute episode in two weeks. That's nothing new, we did that. It's not new. But I think we were better planned.

Interviewer  41:07  
You're saying, and I agree with you, there is nothing to take the place of experience, good experience, with the right people responding the right way to dealing with ...

Michael Aldridge  41:18  
Talent is important, very important. And if you've got a talented director who hasn't had the experience, what you need to do then is to put somebody with him who's got the experience. And that's not happened. I mean, there are some very skilled, directors, very talented directors around who lacked the experience. Now there's nothing against that providing that the experience is there somewhere. If you've got a very good, an old experienced cameraman, he will provide that experience. An old experienced associate, he will provide that. But as happened, quite often in my later days, you had an experienced director, an experienced cameraman and an experienced PA, or production associate.

Interviewer  42:12  
So there's hope for us yet, Mike, do you think?

Michael Aldridge  42:14  
Well, I mean, I don't want to go back and interfere anymore, let them come forward, I want to see talent come forward. But I want to see talent come forward in a controlled way.  And the control, I mean, is experience to learn from people. In the past a production would always carry, used to carry, a trainee director, called an assistant director, they were called a PA in the early days, who then would go on and learn. There isn't that room for learning anymore.

Interviewer  42:50  
So if you were to summarise, coming back just to finish up with your experiences. Could you summarise the way you feel about what you've done with your working life?

Michael Aldridge  43:01  
I've had a marvelous life. I mean, as I said earlier, there's nothing else I'd have wanted to do. Whether I would have stayed on the road longer, and whether, in fact, I would have got the fulfillment that I got, certainly in my early management career, I don't know. I certainly enjoyed management up until I suppose, I ought to say, the last two or three years when I didn't, I wasn't so much a manager, I was more of an accountant. Although in fairness, I used to get somebody else to do the accounting part for me. So it's an easier way of doing it. 

Michael Aldridge  43:34  
And there are some very good young people in the system and should be given a chance. We aren't a production line. Every programme that comes off is different and crafted in a different way. I hope the foresight is there for the people that commission programmes to commission the best programmes and to commission those programmes not for just what the public want. Which is important if you're Channel Four, Channel Three, or even the BBC because you have to satisfy your licensees, but are a bit more adventurous and are prepared occasionally to fail? Very rarely do you see a pilot programme these days, which I used to work on. Very rarely does a programme go ... Well, there are programmes on the shelf that haven't had an airing, but will. I think now there is so much pressure on everybody not to occasionally fail and if you don't fail you don't know.

Interviewer  44:43  
Mike Aldridge. Thank you very much indeed. 

End of Side 2