Lois Singer Side 1
The copyright is vested in the BECTU History Project.
Joyce Robinson 0:02
The copyright of this recording is vested in the BECTU History Project.
The name of the interviewee is Lois Singer. Her last discipline and grade is L 18. That is television production. The name of the interviewer is Joyce Robinson. The date is the 16th of August 1993. side one Lois only one way to begin, when and where were you born?
Lois Singer 0:30
I was born in 1929 in Birmingham, where I grew up and stayed until I was about 22.
Joyce Robinson 0:42
So you went to school?
Lois Singer 0:43
Yes. I went to school to King Edwards. Six Girls High School, which is a very well known girls public day school.
Joyce Robinson 0:52
Yes bright, bright girls go there.
Lois Singer 0:53
Yes very bright girls. Yes.
Lois Singer 0:54
I don't know how I got in there. But the one thing that I learned there has stood me in good stead throughout my career. And that is to want to know where to find things out. It's something which that schools specialised in. And that's why so many of its former pupils have gone on to greater things. Really? Yes. Yes.
Joyce Robinson 1:15
And what did you do after school? Did you go into some sort of training,
Lois Singer 1:19
I became a secretary. I had wanted to go to university and hadn't quite made it academically. My education at King Edwards had been interrupted during the war by evacuation. And I like to think that's the reason I didn't make it work messed up a lot of lives. It ended in those days. But I went to secretarial College in Birmingham. And this was run by one of the old girls of the school. So that was considered All right, although you were meant to go on to university, I think was an extension of King Edwards.
Joyce Robinson 1:53
So what sort of firm did you work for?
Lois Singer 1:56
Oh, I worked in a children's hospital for the matron. I worked in industry, obviously, in Birmingham, that's very common.
Lois Singer 2:07
I had my first real long term permanent job as a secretary to the headmistress of a girl's private school. And when the headmistress retired, and the school closed, I was casting about for what to do next. And that was when I began in the theatre. And very soon afterwards started my career in the BBC.
Joyce Robinson 2:39
Well, well, so this is this when you're 22. And you
Lois Singer 2:42
No, no, no, we're still in Birmingham. I was in Birmingham. I was 18 , 19 years old. I always wanted to be in the theatre. I had a misplaced ambition to become an actress.
Joyce Robinson 2:52
I wondered how you'd started I see.
Lois Singer 2:54
And I wanted very badly to train at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which had a wonderful drama school. And I kept taking the audition. And I kept failing the audition. But one of the things I was able to do was to join something called the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Drama Club. And there I met a lot of like minded souls who were interested in the theatre, we always went to the first nights. If we enjoyed the shows, thought they were very good. We would be very specific about going to see them at least two or three times during the run if they were longer than the normal one or two week repertory turnaround. One of the people I met there was another gentleman, a gentleman who had also had pretensions to becoming an actor. And his name was Toke Townley. And he finally made it by getting a part in Emmerdale. And he appeared, I can't remember the name of his character, but he appeared in Emmerdale from the time that he first got that part right through until unfortunately, he passed away. I don't think he ever acted in anything else. But he did become very well known and the character that he played in Emmerdale was very like the real Tope Townley. He was just like that in real life. I finally managed to get into the Repertory Theatre School, but it had to be the evening classes. My father was definitely not going to have a daughter who ran away to go on the stage. And he had made me take the secretarial course and have what he called a proper job.
Joyce Robinson 4:36
He was right of course, it is useful to have secretarial skills.
Lois Singer 4:40
Oh, yes, most definitely. And I was working. I think at this time I was working in the school. And while I was a student, I really I couldn't have wished to have been at the Repertory Theatre at a better time looking back at the time in the company. For whom we used to run up and down the stairs with cups of tea and sweep the stage and so on as part of our training, were people that now are regarded as having been the cream of British actors. Some of them, unfortunately no longer with us, some of them are happily, Paul Scofield was one. Margaret Layton, Stanley Baker, Robin Bailey, Denis Quilley, Paul Eddington, they were all young actors in the company.
Joyce Robinson 4:48
Was this sort of late 40s?
Lois Singer 5:31
Yes, yes, late 40s. I'd started doing this about 1947 to 48. Barry Jackson, or by this time, he was Sir Barry Jackson. He was at his prime. And he was always present at first nights and we all looked up to him and worshipped him. And one of the most memorable productions I can think of was the Christmas production that they did one year, I can't remember which year "1066 and All That" in which Russell Waters, who was a very well known actor, comedy actor, I think, played the lead, the common man in 1066. And all these names I've mentioned, and many, many other guests came and the show ran for about four or five weeks over the Christmas period. And I must have seen it about four times. In late 1948, early 49. I left the school because it was very clear to me by this time that I had absolutely no talent as an actress. And I'd learned quite a lot about statecraft. And there I was 19 going on 20. And I had a social life. And it was being interfered with by my studies as an actress. And it was quite clear, as I say that I'm never going to become one. About this time, the job that I was in, working in the school came to an end. As I said, the headmistress retired, and I was out of work. And I thought, well, this is wonderful. And I've got the whole summer I can just swan about and do nothing,I had a boyfriend with a fast car at the time. I did. Really I was going to have a wonderful summer, my father had other ideas. And he said you take a week's holiday, my girl and you'll get yourself a job. And as it happened, fortunately for me, and something which was , has been the basis of my whole life. That was when I got my first job in the BBC. Now this was a very, very early example of networking. I became secretary to the head of Children's Hour in Birmingham
Joyce Robinson 7:51
Is this radio?
Lois Singer 7:52
This is radio.
Lois Singer 7:54
This lady was an old girl at the school I had been to, and the Head of Personnel at BBC Midland Region was also an old girl of the school I had been to. And I worked for this lady, Peggy Bacon her name was, for about 18 months and we remain friends for the rest of her life. And I said to her once " Was the reason that you gave me the job was because you thought I was the right girl for the job. Or because I'd been to King Edwards where you were a former student?" And she said both because we knew that you were the right girl for the job. Because you had been to King Edwards, and we knew that you would know how to find things out. And that was the beginning of my life in radio, television. Having started off in the theatre, I took an immediate turn in another direction. But they all come together in the end.
Joyce Robinson 8:46
Yes, indeed. There's big connections. Yes.
Lois Singer 8:49
While I was working in the Children's Hour, I was the departmental secretary. I sometimes got to broadcast. We used to have quizzes and all sorts of radio parties with the children. I found myself taking part in them. I came across drama on radio while I was in this job. We had two wonderful writers, Gilbert Dalton and David Scott Daniel. And they wrote the most wonderful radio plays for children. And Peggy Bacon was a great one for drama. And she produced a lot of plays for Children's Hour some of which were just broadcast in Midland region, some of which were that quaint BBC term SB, which means simultaneously broadcast, which meant that London took them and many of the other regions
Lois Singer 9:46
While we were doing these drama serials for children, I came across a great many people who probably now names household names. For instance, one of the writers was Norman Painting, who plays Phil in "The Archers" And wrote many of the early scripts and also in the casts were June Spencer who plays Peggy Woolley. And I believe the character of Tom Forrest is still played by Bob Arnold, who played it in those days. And I think they're about the only three original members of the cast that are still there. One of the programme engineers that we used was a man called Tony Shrine, who later became a producer, and was involved in various quiz games thought up by him and Edward J. Mason, who wrote for BBC Midland Region, and they became national names on radio. Also, while I was working here, I met an actor called Antony Kiri. And at the time, I didn't think this was of any importance, but it did become quite important later on when I came into television.
Lois Singer 10:56
That will be enlarged upon when we get there. I was also a member of BBC Drama Club. This was amateur radio acting with a sprinkiling of professionals, which gave us really quite good status. And I still have a recording that I made of an excerpt from Arnold Bennett's The Card which Wilfred Pickles have just done on radio. And I played the part of Mrs. Machin. And I believe that it's about to be revived either on radio or television, and I must look out for it. And I still got the record.
Joyce Robinson 11:36
Did you feel more comfortable acting on sound?
Lois Singer 11:39
Yes, I felt that I had more control than on the stage. Yes. And you could only have to think about one thing at a time. And that is what your voice is doing. You don't have to think about what your arms or your shoulders are doing.
Lois Singer 11:52
And that sort of thing. I began to get restless after about 18 months. And it was the custom in the BBC in those days that every single job that was available, was advertised on every single BBC noticeboard up and down the country. And I started applying for jobs in television. And Peggy Bacon was very tolerant of this becuase every time I came to London for an interview, I had to miss a day's work. And she had to have a relief secretary. And I must have come up and down to London about half a dozen times. Sometimes my interview was late in the afternoon, and I was entitled to an overnight stay in London. Sometimes it was early in the morning. And I was also entitled to an overnight stay the night before. So she was losing my services on average for a day and a half every fortnight. And she did get a bit fed up. And I think she must have said to the powers that be if this girl wants to go and work in London, find her a job and stop messing me about. I don't know, but I imagine. And in the end, I left Birmingham to come to London to television in 1951 in May. Now, this was just at the end of the gestation period of The Archers. They started simultaneously broadcasting it from Birmingham in the early part of 51. And it was for a three month trial where we all know how long that three months trial lasted. It's still going on. So I reckon that I can always chart my length of service in television as being the same as the length of time that The Archers has been on air.
Joyce Robinson 13:33
I'm interested to hear that I didn't know it was back to 51.
Lois Singer 13:36
Yes, yes and a lovely man called Godfrey Baseley, who was the Midland Region's farming expert and used to do the fat stock prices in the Midlands at six o'clock in the morning thought the idea up and he was the initiator of "The Archers", and he got writers including I believe Edward J. Mason at that time to write stuff. Well, it was the original radio soap in this country anyway. And perhaps no perhaps that's not true. Of course there was "Mrs. Dale's Diary" and various others but it was of that genre. So here I was in May 1951, just turned 22 on my own in London. I started out by becoming a resident in the BBC hostel in Bayswater. And I started at Lime Grove during that month of May 51. I was a lowly Assistant Secretary in the office of Cecil Madden, who at that time was the acting head of children's programmes and I soon was to learn the value of my training at Repertory Theatre School. These were the really the years when I put down my roots in television. I learnt before there was any training organised to how to do It and that really is the best way to learn on the job. Everybody was learning at that time. It was only really just getting up steam after the war television. And most a lot of the transmissions were still coming from Alexandra Palace.
Joyce Robinson 15:14
And all live Of course.
Lois Singer 15:15
Oh, yes, you got it wrong. That was it. Nobody could rap over the knuckles by running the tape back and showing you what you've done wrong. Cecil Madden is a lovely man and he must have seen how interested I was in programmes and he knew that I came from programme background or be albeit radio. And so we saw to it that I got moved across to making programmes. This time also, he was promoted sideways to becoming I think assistant to Cecil Given who I believe was Controller of Programmes at that time, it was all a bit of getting the knives out as far as I can remember. And everybody said Cecil Madden had a raw deal. But it took him away from programme making. And he really was a genius. And I had occasion to write to him after the broadcast of Norman Swallow's history of television A few years ago, in which I have a part to play. And he wrote me a lovely letter back at that time, he was almost blind, but he remembered all the characters and all the puppets that we'd used. And sadly, he died not long after that. And I said children's programmes were still occasionally transmitted from Alexander Palace. And because I went along as part of the production team, occasionally on a Saturday, I qualify for the recently formed Alexandra Palace Television Society. And it means that I get to see some of the real early TV people who are colleagues of mine. People like Bill Ward and Basil Adams. And who else was at the last reunion, how many people Yvonne Littlewood who was a contemporary of mine, and some of the very early producers and directors, I'd venture to suggest that possibly, I'm one of the very few who is still working.
Joyce Robinson 17:09
I was about to ask.
Lois Singer 17:11
This is because by circumstances and default, I became a freelance, which you'll hear about later. And I think that if you're not actually going to be put out to grass by the company you're working for when they choose to put you out to grass, there is really no reason to stop working, providing the work is there and people still want you. So there I was in Children's Programmes at Lime Grove. And some of the producers that people that I worked with Michael Westmore was one of the senior producers and he oversaw Whirligig with Humphrey Lestocq, Mr. Turnip the puppet. And that was the area that I found myself working in. There's also a wonderful lady who did children's drama called Dorothea Brooking, who was a writer as well as producer and director, they would all called producers in those days, you didn't have the differentiation between the two. She's still around. I was in touch with her not long ago. And it was Naomi Capon, who was also very good drama producer and she went to grown up drama. Eventually. It was Rex Tucker, who did children's stuff. His daughter Jane is part of the group that was in the very successful children's programme which Thames did until their demise. In fact, it may even still be going on I don't know. And that's" Rainbow". She's one of the music team in that. One of my colleagues was Daphne Shadwell, daughter of Charles Shadwell, and sister of Jack Warner's little girl from Garrison Theatre, which was on during the war. She was a production secretary like me, she was quite a bit ahead of me. I was a trainee production secretary this time, and she of course married, the lovely John P. Hamilton whom we all know and love. whom I've worked alongside for many years till we both became retired or semi retired. Then there was an actor sorry a producer called Douglas Hearn, who used to produce a programme called Saturday Special, and he came back into my life later on. But the one who made the biggest influence on my life, and with whom I worked for all my time, at the bit, most of my time at the BBC, was who somebody who at this time was just stopped being stage manager and was starting to be a director. And that was Robert Tronson, who is a well known drama director. Now, he did some of the first" Darling Buds of May" shows some of the early ones. And he's done a lot of drama stuff and we have remained friends down the years. He married a lovely girl called Nona Richards, who was a PA at Rediffusion later on, and sadly she died. quite young. And he has some gone on working like me, as long as the work is there is there, he's happy to do it. Robert had a very great influence. And one of the reasons for this was because I found with him a rapport, which you very seldom find in working life. And when you do it's something very, very valuable. And that is that when you've worked together for a little time, as the helper to the producer, whatever you're called, you know instinctively what they're going to want, what they're going to need, and you can communicate with one another without speaking. This was something that I learned with Robert, and it's something which it's only happened once again in my life. And I come to that later. In my working life. I've been very lucky to have known and worked with two directors who have with whom I've had this report report. One of the young women I worked with who trained me and told me what to do and how to do it. It's a lady called Jean Skingle , who was the production secretary to Michael Westmore. So she was in quite a powerful position. And she who originally said to me, take a stopwatch, go in the studio and do the programme. That was how I was thrown in the deep end.
Joyce Robinson 21:18
And how did you react to that?
Lois Singer 21:20
With horror, Jean married Tony Hart, who I don't quite know how to describe him illustrator, artist, children's mentor for drawing and handcrafts. But a very well known man a lot on to children's children's TV. And they had I believe, had a daughter, who also went into the BBC when she started work. Two the most important things I did, I think while I was in children's programme, was working with a lady called Ursula Easton, who pioneered programmes for deaf children. And discovered that there were certain sounds which can be made in broadcasting, which the deaf can hear.
Lois Singer 22:05
And she wanted to try and make programmes for the Deaf without subtitles, we did use them a little bit. But it really was a very, very interesting period. She again was a very, very calm, lovely lady. She reminded me very much of Peggy Bacon, whom I'd worked with in radio. And the other thing that I enjoyed doing and feel very proud to be associated was with was working with a man called John Hunter Blair come from BBC, Scotland, to experiment with programmes for schools on television. So I really felt part of the birth of that. And it was one of the first times that I became a midwife to some television enterprise. He was a dear lovely man, he didn't understand television at all. But we managed to guide him through and help him direct his programmes and get the effect that he wanted. He would say funny things sitting in the control room, like tracking telecine. And very often, while technical discussions were going on in the control room, he'd have a little nod off, and I'd have to nudge him in the ribs to wake him up. But he really was a lovely man. And it was still live when we did them the programmes, right, we used a lot of film. And occasionally because they were experimental, we'd make the programmes and they would be telerecorded, and we'd look at them and decide whether they were going to work or not, and then go back and do the real thing live.
Joyce Robinson 23:31
That was just referencing , you couldn't use it.
Lois Singer 23:35
Telerecording in those days was hardly of quality to be able to be transmitted. Sometimes it was but not very often. During the time in this department, when I was working on Whirligig, which was mainly the programme I did, which was alternate Saturday afternoons, one week, "Saturday Special" one week, it was Whirligig and Robert Johnson was producing it, and I was working with him. I met and made friends with people who remain friends of mine for many, many years. People like Steve Race, and Peter Hawkins, who's now the king of voiceovers. And Peter Ling, who wrote the scripts and of course, Humphrey,Lestocq was the funny man. Richard Baker, who that time was an actor before he became a newsreader that was and an actor called Phillip Dale, who also played quite an important part in my life later on. That because I was working in drama, and rehearsing with actors, because every one of these programmes had a drama insert in it. And I did quite a lot of children's plays. I'll come to in a minute. I was using the stage craft that I'd learned at rep school. I was using the skill I'd learned in dealing with actors.
Lois Singer 24:00
I wanted to ask you what the what your work was, because you see, for anyone who doesn't actually know
Lois Singer 24:56
Well the production secretary was a girl of all work you were the secretary. You were the minder for the producer. You had to do all the paperwork, order all the graphics, make sure your prop list was in time, get the script typed worry the producer to produce the details for his camera script sothat that could be done in time to go in the studio, be at rehearsals, time the items in the programmes, work out the clearance for the music with the music copyright department. There was a whole checklist that you had when you started the show. And you worked your way through it. And as the years went on, it became more complicated when the technical things got more difficult, particularly when videotape recording came in. But that's another story. We're a long way from that. Timing of the programme, of course, was absolutely no problem, a children's programme, because the only thing that followed it was the News. And then there was the what they used to call the I think it was called the watershed in those days, although it was a different watershed to the one we have now. They switched the programmes off, there was no transmission from after the six o'clock news until something like 7.30 so that the children could be put to bed. And so if you were a bit late going to the news, nobody really minded it because they got time to catch up during the break.
Joyce Robinson 26:22
I don't remember this ?
Lois Singer 26:23
The end of the news and the beginning of each evening.
Joyce Robinson 26:26
What sort of date is this?
Lois Singer 26:27
This is the early 50s between my start in television in 51. And when I left to go to the other place in 1955. Your mistakes disappeared into thin air. And nobody could come back and wrap your knuckles and the News just had to wait. And then in 1954 there was a new programme, which was known as "Jigsaw". And this was similar type magazine programme to "Whirligig", but they wanted something a bit different. And what did they have in this? Well, they had some of the people had been in Whirligig. They had a presenter called Richard Warner at one time, we also had Donald Hewlett in the programme who later won fame as the major in" It Ain't Half Hot Mum". And we had a new double act called Mick and Montmorency. Now Mick and Montmorency consisted of two comic actors, one of whom was the comic, and one of whom was the straight man called Jack Edwards. And Charlie Drake. Oh, yes. And we had custard pies everywhere. And don't forget, this was all live. So it all had to be worked out first. And if it didn't work, it didn't work. But with Charlie Drake, believe me, it always worked. Jack Edwards later became well known in in ad mags. And Charlie, of course, went on to have an independent career as a comic. And I remember about the time that I got married in 55, when I went back to Birmingham, to have some time off to get ready for my wedding as one did in those days. His wife was in Birmingham, and was rather ill after the birth of their first son and I spent a lot of time holding her hand, don't how it was she was in Birmingham but she was in hospital there with this child. And Charlie was still working away down in London on our programme Jigsaw. Jack Edwards, as I say, became well known in ad mags. And there were another two comic actors and I can't remember whether they were in with us at this time. But I know I worked with them sometime in the very early days. And that was Jack Douglas and Joe Baker, who were a well known comic act for children. Jack Douglas, of course, as everybody knows, and became the friend of Mississippi Potamus I believe it was or something like that. And he had a very, very good career as a comedy actor and Joe Baker, who later married one of the actresses from Emergency Ward 10 went to America. And my most recent trip in May of this year as on my previous trip in 1985. I saw him on television in commercials, so he's still going strong. But the most notable person that popped up out of Jigsaw was some young man with a beard and glasses,who was a cartoonist, andplayed the piano. And we had had another cartoonist in the programme with a beard and glasses, or at least in another children's programme, maybe not in our programme, I can't remember his name. And we put the idea of this new gentleman for our programme to the head of the department and she said, Oh, no, no, we don't want two cartoonists with glasses in the department.
Lois Singer 29:45
However, by some devious means, and I can't remember what it was and if I could, I don't think I would divulge it at this stage. We managed to get this young man into the programme. And that was how his television career began. He really jumped off from our programme "Jigsaw." His name was Rolf Harris. Which you probably guessed. During my time at lime Grove, I had the opportunity to watch some of the classic and legendary television producers and directors get into work and I remember very clearly watching Rudolph Cartier producing Opera in the old Studio D at Lime Grove. He was really the most extraordinary man but he got wonderful results. Some of the children's dramas that I worked on are not necessarily with Robert Johnson, there were one or two other directors John Warrington, Vivian Milroy, who was a businessman who was dabbling in television. And in the case, when I was working with him, it was a bit of a case of the blind leading the blind. But the act Jeremy Spencer, who was a well known child actor, was in a serial of ours of Huckleberry Finn, which was adapted from the Mark Twain book. We filmed it on the Norfolk Broads, because they looked more like the Mississippi than anything else in this country. And in those days, you didn't go abroad on location. But I'd never been trained in continuity. And the director didn't know anything about it either. So we had some very funny shots of Huckleberry Finn and his friend, Tom Sawyer, sometimes wearing a hat and in the next scene, not wearing a hat. And I didn't understand about that, in those days about shooting out of sequence. Then there was Anthony Valentine, who paid the part of a little chinese boy boy in a play, called "Mencius Was a Bad Boy" which John Warrington directed. And that was the beginning of his career. He was the most respectful little boy I've ever come across in my entire life. And recently, at memorial service for Peter Wills, who I also worked with later. Tony was there and I went up to him. And we talked about this, and he had the most immediate recall about the whole episode. And he said that that very week, he'd been asked for a lifelong CV by some American television company, and that was the first thing on his list. And I love his work. I think he's a lovely actor. And I can always spot him on the voiceovers on the commercials, Now another area that I worked in in children's programmes, and anybody of my age or 20 years younger will remember this very vividly was a series called "All Your Own". This was the brainchild of Hugh Weldon who presented it. And Cliff Michelmore who assisted in on the administrative side. I think he must have been an associate producer at that time in the Children's Programme, Children's Department. It was a programme which was really a showcase for the gifted child in any of the visual or performing arts. We auditioned first of all by letter, we weeded them out. And then we had them in and had sessions in the studio auditioning and we'd pick a few children here, a few children there to make up balanced programmes. I didn't actually work on producing the programmes, but I worked with Cliff on all the administration that was sorting the children out, making the arrangements for them to get there. This was wonderful training for me as a production manager, which I put into good use in years to come. Amongst the children that did come in were to display their talents were Julian Bream, young guitarist and I think the guitarist John Williams. I'm not absolutely certain about that. But I believe he was amongst them.
Joyce Robinson 33:39
We're in the late 50s now?
Lois Singer 33:41
Yes, we're mid 50s. I was only at the BBC until 55. It was very good experience for me, as I've said. And one of the side issues. One of the things I had to cope with, with Cliff Michelmore was that we had a little session on Thursday or Friday afternoon of Cliff learning his lines, because at that time, he was also doing Saturday football commentaries on the radio. And he would learn on a Thursday where he had to go and which teams he was having to commentate on. And so I had to help him memorise the names and the positions of all the players so that he knew what he was talking about when it came to the programme . So I would listen to the football commentaries on on Saturday afternoon, not because I had any interest in football, but just to make sure he got his words, right. Crazy. Then came "Crackerjack". This was early summer 1955. And there were rumblings about ITV and a lot of my peers and some of my superiors like Robert like Michael Westmore. were being coaxed to go ,think about going to ITV .Lloyd Williams who was the senior studio manager and also did some directing at the BBC was going across to Reddifusion to become I think it was their programme controller. Anyway, he was the top programme man there. And he wanted to take some of the people that he'd worked with from the BBC with him. Michael Westmore was approached to go and become Head of Children's Programmes, and Robert Johnson was approached to become a director. I had been asked if I'd like to go but I didn't have to make my mind up so quickly.
Joyce Robinson 35:26
It must have stirred things up a lot.
Lois Singer 35:27
Oh it did stir things up. A lot of the best people went in that time. And so people from the shop floor so to speak were being made up and there was a young floor manager called Johnny Downes, who was promoted to director, and he was asked to put "Crackerjack" together. And so I started working with "Crackerjack" planning it. And Cliff Michelmore was also involved on the administrative side of this. This was about July or August in 55. We had to find a prize for the children who want the "Double Or Drop" game, which in the early days, we played with cabbages. They had to see how many cabbages they could hold without dropping them. And we decided on the "Crackerjack" pencil. And Cliff had a source for this in his father in law, who contacted or made or had a contact who made self propelling pencils. Cliff at this time was married, and had recently married Jean Metcalfe. I'm sure you remember their most public romance over the air in "Family Favourites"
Joyce Robinson 37:47
Lois Singer 36:30
And it was through Jean's father that we got the pencils for Crackerjack. And I'm sure they'd be remembered as an instant hit by all kids growing up in 1955. Eammon Andrews was the first compare of "Crackerjack", and one of my jobs was getting an audience in. It was a nightmare, because there were rules and regulations by the LCC that you couldn't have more than a certain number of children under 16 in a television studio without a chaperone. So I had to wheedle and cajole the authorities. And we managed to get round this by saying that this was an educational children's outing, and that classes of school children could come as long as they were with their children with their teachers, because it was after school hours. And that was how we got a full studio every week in Shepherds Bush Theatre, Television Theatre, and having helped to launch this. It became my swan song at the BBC. I'd been faced in early 55. with the choice of was I going to go to ITV with my group , the people that I'd worked with four or five years, or was I going to stay? I'd been married early 55. And I thought to myself, do I need my BBC pension? Do I need a job for life? Or do I go where the money is to ITV and take a chance? There was , as I said, Bob Thompson had gone Bill Hitchcock, who had been a writer and a stage manager on our children's programmes, went across to ITV as a director. Daphne Shadwell, who had been a colleague of mine was made up to director and went across direct to Rediffusion, Associated Rediffusion and many others went. I was a contemporary at this time, and had been promoted to same grade as Yvonne Littlewood, who was production secretary to Michael Mills. And she was a very ambitious young woman. And we were both Assistant Grade D by this time, and we walked adjacent corridors. And the Light Entertainment corridor on the top floor at Lime Grove housed people like Bill Ward, Michael Mills, Graham Muir. And our corridor was Children's corridor with all the people that I've named. I went to Jack Rich, who was our manager and said, "I've been asked whether I want to go to ITV and I think I'm going to go" and he said," I didn't really expect you to stay". And so I thought I was going with his blessing although I hated leaving the BBC. One of the things that I gave up, and at that time, it was, it was quite a thing because the BBC were the only thing, the only company that did it. And if you worked at the BBC, and you were a married woman, and you wanted maternity leave, you could have it and a job was available for you when you wanted to come back. And at that time that was very farsighted by the BBC because at that time, I think there must have been the only people who did it.
Lois Singer 39:07
So women were thinking about staying right
Lois Singer 39:42
Yes, yes, people women were expected to make that-
Joyce Robinson 39:44
Did they try to put people's money up at all?
Lois Singer 39:47
A little bit a little bit but they couldn't compete with what ITV were going, said to be going to pay and they had a lot of other problems with ITV coming. One of the things that I remember clearly about this time at the BBC was along the light entertainment corridor where all these people I've just mentioned were working was the day on which a young Oxford graduate joined. Bill Ward trailed him. He'd just done the production BBC production course, having left Oxford with I believe, a double first and a Summa Cum Laude .
Joyce Robinson 40:29
Sorry. Summa Cum Laude ?
Lois Singer 40:28
That means that his viva examination that he took to get his Oxford first was applauded when he finished it. I've learned all these things from myson, who's an Oxford graduate. And this young man, of course, was Brian Tesler, who we all know and love. I can actually recall the day on which he arrived at the BBC from the course. At the same time I remember noticing that on the BBC production course and very prominent in the canteen was Kenneth Tynan and Stanley Marrs the composer, both from Birmingham and both of whom had been at school with. That was quite interesting. In the end I left I elected to go to ITV seduced by the comparatively large salaries which were being offered and giving up that perk of possible maternity leave if I ever needed it. But that's again another story.
Joyce Robinson 41:30
As you say, that was very farsighted of you.
Lois Singer 41:32
It was very farsighted. Yes. And as I say, I'd been recently married and I didn't think I needed the security how wrong I was.
Lois Singer 41:40
We did need the security.
Lois Singer 41:41
Anyway, I went and
Joyce Robinson 41:44
Please turn the tape at this point and recommence playing at the same place on the other side.
Joyce Robinson 0:01
Side 2 Lois Singer.
Joyce Robinson 0:04
You went over to ITV?
Lois Singer 0:05
Yes, shortly after I went, Yvonne Littlewood and a lot of my contemporaries who'd remained at the BBC were offered director training at the BBC. And I think that if I'd have stayed I would have probably been asked if I would like to do that too. And I certainly would have jumped at the chance. Perhaps I would have become Yvonne Littlewood of Children's Programmes. What a wonderful job she made of her career. She has the awards prove it as well. Her programmes had a trademark those wonderful moving shots on the crane. Always going with the sweep of the music. Personally, she must have been the first colour imaging candidate she would always look stunning in lilac and lavender tones and was always absolutely immaculate. And meeting her again at the Alexandra Palace Television Society she still does.
Lois Singer 0:54
So the week after ITV went on the air in September, September 55, I joined Associated Rediffusion at Kingsway. I still had no training, all my training was on the job. Well that's training heaven knows that the ITV companies had trained people who come to them from the theatre, and from other jobs as production assistants as we were now known. And so they had a rise over me and that they knew how to do the timings of the commercials. I was just thrown in the deep end. But I arrived in Kingsway a week after they'd gone on the air and found myself coming face to face with one of the young women who'd been an actress in the Midland Region Radio Drama Company, a young woman called Margaret Bolfrey, who had a very light voice and always played little girls in our plays and it was wonderful to see her again. And we've remained friends ever since. And I came across for the first time people like Myra Hirsch and Erica Klausner, who've gone on to have long careers like myself in the industry. We had Programme Quarterly Box which Robert Johnson directed and it was one of the five daily live children's programmes. And as his assistant director, he chosen Philip Dale, whom I mentioned earlier. I'd worked with him very early on when I was with Vivian Milroy. Vivian had said to me, he was a very good reliable actor. And so I recommended him to Robert as a very good reliable actor. And he turned out to be a very good reliable director too, and he went on to bigger things later. Notably, I think he directed "Ward 10" at ATV for a long time, and we became great friends my husband and I would he and his wife. In fact later his then teenage daughter Pippa used to babysit for me. I was PA to both of them on this programme called Telebox. As I said, it was an hour a week live, a play, which was a children soap opera variety items, Mick and Montmorency again, Jack Edwards and Charlie Drake, and more custard pies and buckets of slush in the studio. And we were still alive. No retakes, no correcting.
Joyce Robinson 3:14
All contrast, or all different?
Lois Singer 3:14
Oh, yes, yes. And you just went from one to the other. And the studio had to plan so carefully. Because after we done the slush items, we couldn't use that bit of the studio again. We had music in this programme provided by Nat Temple and his band, and also a solo music spot. Back in my "Whirligig" days at BBC with Robert, he'd always let me do the camera shots on the music items, because it was something that he wasn't terribly efficient at.
Joyce Robinson 3:18
And camera shot is what exactly?
Lois Singer 3:49
Camera shotting is watching the rehearsal of the music and deciding which instruments need to be featured and how you're going to cut from one to another. And he used to let me do it. It was the pop music of the day. And I liked it and I was obviously quite into it. And I found it found it easy to cut on the beat. So Bob used to let me do the camera script for that. I found myself doing it almost naturally. But of course, I couldn't direct it because I wasn't a director at the BBC. And then I moved on to drama. And Philip Dale became the director in charge of the programme. And he took me on as his assistant director. And I did all the music items in the show. And I found it actually a lot easier than being a PA and as you had two or three items in this in the show that you were responsible for and you had a PA did all the donkey work. However, previewing the shots and timing became somebody else's responsibility for the timebeing.
Lois Singer 4:57
Timing was now much more important because you had to warn presentation about cueing in the commercials. And a lot of them were live in another studio somewhere. And that studio was waiting for you to hand over to them for two minutes. And then they came back to you. And it was pretty hair raising . And all these girls that had come in from the theatre from other jobs had had a proper training and doing it and I hadn't, so I had to pick it up as I went along. I did a solo music spot in the programme, as I said, as well as doing two or three numbers with the band. And for me this at one point along the line, I needed an accompanist. Steve Race was part of an organisation called Music Facilities, which was a company within Associated Rediffusion and he put me on to the manager Pip Wedge to find me an accompanist. And Pip ran this department with help of Cecily Barbirolli a young girl who was very into music, obviously, as she was Sir John Barbirolli's niece. Pip found me a young man who come to him for a job, very diffident, very shy, just out of the Merchant Navy was very anxious when I gave him the job that I shouldn't even get his shoulder and shot. His name was Terry Stanford, became better known as a composer later on as Trevor H. Stanford. And subsequently, as a performer known as Russ Conway. Yes, indeed, as far as that's concerned, the rest is history. I'm still in touch with him from time to time and followed his career with very great interest because he came along, he featured a little later in in part of my career.
Lois Singer 4:57
That was in middle of 1956, I was quite happy doing what I was doing. And as I said, I found it far less arduous than being a PA and doing the whole programme. Then the ACTT started looking at this new development of everybody trying their hand at other jobs than the one they were supposed to be doing. And I was firmly told that if I wanted to carry on directing, I must go to one of the smaller out of London ITV companies and learn my trade and earn my spurs. In those days, that wasn't even a possibility because I was newly married, had a new home and husband to look after. And the new man had never been heard of in that in those days, or Women's Lib for that matter. And so the alternative for me having to give up directing half of the children's programme was to move to the top show in light entertainment, with lots of kudos or leave. So I moved on, and I found myself again working for Douglas Hearn who I'd worked for on 'Saturday Special" at the BBC. He was directing avery prestigious variey programme, which went out once a month during the season, called "Alfred Marks Time". It turned out that Alfred had been at East End youth clubs in his young days with my husband, and that they were old acquaintances. And I had a wonderful time on the show. I became very close to Alfred and his wife, Paddy O'Neill. In fact, later she and I were pregnant at the same time. And David Jacobson, his then wife, Patricia, whom I'd known through a friend of mine in my girlhood and Hughie Green and his wife, then Claire, we all had a social life together as well as professional one. And the whole thing was great fun. The show came live from Wood, Green Empire, which Associated Rediffusion had hired from ATV or from the Hackney Empire, which they'd also hired. And of course, again, it was all live. We rehearsed a week beforehand with the dancers and the production numbers in a rehearsal room, but the whole thing was live. I don't think there was any film in it so we were on the air for a whole hour, apart from commercials.
Lois Singer 8:53
I used to be filled with horror because at Wood Green the control room was on a level with the stage. And Dougie Hearn when the production numbers started used to leave the control room and go outside to wave his arms at the dancers to make sure they did what was right, what he wanted. And I was left to run the show with the help of the vision mixer. It was quite horrendous and I now when I look back, I was filled with horror because it was much more complicated than directing a programme solo item with a musician, which I'd been doing when I was directing. It was really a prestigious show was shown all over the country and all over the country that had ITV in those days. My overriding memory of the control room at Hackney was the size of it, which was like a box room and the ghastly smell of lavatories. It really was awful and I hated it. I used to hate working at Hackney for that reason.
Lois Singer 9:50
This went on until early 57. Then in 1957, I had a bit of a tumble, and I fell over a camera cable at Wood Green. So the next morning I had to go to my head of department and tell him that I was pregnant, which I was trying to keep quiet because I wanted to go on as long as possible. And everybody decided rough and tumble about "Alfred Marks Time" was a bit much and I should do something more sedate. That's how I found myself in advertising magazines. Bill Hitchcock, who I'd worked with at the BBC when he was a writer was directing advertising magazines, and the one with Jimmy Hanley, which later became "Jim's Inn" it wasn't called "Jim's Inn" at that time, I don't think but that was what it was. And Bill's wife was also pregnant at this time. And she and I were due to give birth at the same time. And somehow a lot of the products that we had in the programme, for some reason, turned out to be prams, and carrycots, and so on, which naturally, we found very useful.
Joyce Robinson 10:49
So this was a sort of consumer programme.
Lois Singer 10:51
That's what we now call a consumer programme. Yes, it was, we had to be very careful about advertising the products. There were very, very strict rules those days about what was in the commercials and what was in the programmes. And the two must never clash not like now when you have sponsorship. But anyway, I enjoyed that very much. And it was a much quieter life, and I didn't have the late nights and so on. But June 1957 came along, and I was a bit too uncomfortable for my own good. So I retired, and I went home with my leaving presents. And I thought that's the end of television for me. This was June 1957. Corinne Hitchcock and I gave birth a day apart in the end, she was a University College Hospital and I was in the Middlesex so we weren't far and our respective husbands visited both of us. During the last months of my pregnancy when I wasn't working during mid August in fact.
Lois Singer 11:56
I went back to visit my old haunts at the BBC. And there I found Cliff Michelmore like a dog with two tails, because Jean Metcalfe had just given birth to Guy Michelmore. They'd had a little trouble of getting started with a family and Guy was born in fact, six weeks before my son. So whenever I see him on television, now I have to compare him. He's turned out to be a very, very good broadcaster. When my son was about three months old, my old cohorts at what was now Rediffusion drove me mad to go back. Robert, Rob Thompson was entrenched as a drama producer, and all the production assistance having been earning enormous sums of money decided like me that it was time they started their families and there was a great shortage of us. However, yes, I had to desist and go back to work with a young baby unheard of in those days. But by the time my son was eight months old, I couldn't keep saying no and I found myself a nanny and back I went.
Lois Singer 13:00
One of the first things I did with Robert was a production of EM Forster's "Room with a View", which really was a lovely thing to do. And Dorothy Bromley played the part of that Helena Bonham Carter played in the film. And I remember Bob having to go down to see EM Forster and talk to him about exactly how I was going to do it and that there was not going to be anything done that Forster wouldn't approve of. It was really was a lovely production. And at that that time Dorothy Bromley was married to Joe Losey the director who had come to live in Britain because he'd been banished from America because of McCarthyism. And she, I learned had also recently given birth, and the babies were about the same age as she and I used to spend our entire lunchtime in baby talk and drove everybody else mad and we used to be pushed in a corner so nobody would have to listen. I did a few more plays with Bob. The company decided that freelance PAs were a good thing because you only had to pay them while they were actually working, you didn't have to keep them on the staff.
Lois Singer 14:10
One of the other things I did around this time I think was a programme called "After Six". Now Cyril Bennett was in charge ,he was either programme controller or head of current affairs or something like that. He was a wonderful man. He had gone through the features and documentary department. And we used to do this programme. It was a director called Geoffrey Hughes. it was live every evening after the six o'clock news, and it discussed the news of the day. And every morning at 11 o'clock, we would spread all the newspapers out on the floor of Cyril's office and decide which stories we were going to do during the programme, but by four o'clock, we had a whole new set of stories because the news changed quickly. And whatever was being done in the evening news, we'd get wind of. And those were the stories that we've covered. A lady called Tanya Leven ( ?) also directed these sometimes.
Lois Singer 15:07
Jeffrey Hughes did them sometimes he also produced it. And we had people on the panel like Alan Coren, and Benny Green, and wonderful, wonderful broadcasters. Really, it was it was a wonderful time in my life then because getting to know Cyril Bennett, again stood me in good stead later on. One of the things it stood me in good stead for but which I couldn't take up was that he was connected one point along the line with David Susskind, the great American producer. And he wanted an English PA in New York for 10 days. And Cyril put me out for the job. But it didn't fit in well with family. And at that time, I had to think of my little boy. And so I couldn't take it on.
Joyce Robinson 15:56
Lois Singer 15:57
Oh, yes, a great compliment to be asked to work for David Susskind. I've always regretted not doing it and I'm sure my son wouldn't have suffered at all. And then Rediffusion started cutting back. The usual thing companies start and spend lots of money and then find they've got to pull in their horns. So the freelance work dried up a bit. Michael Westmore left Rediffusion, and he went to work in the agency, Noel Gay which of course has become very prominent now in independent production. They're one of the main programmes that make light entertainment shows for the, for the network. It was an agency and I had to learn to work on the other side of the fence. Russ Conway was one of their main meal tickets at that time, they were the agent that he found himself. So I renewed my acquaintance with him. And I was looked upon quite benignly because I was the person that had given him his first job.
Joyce Robinson 16:57
He was very popular.
Lois Singer 16:58
Oh, very popular. And of course, the Billy Cotton Band Show that he was in brought him into contact with Bill Cotton Jr. And I believe the connection was that eventually, because of that connection, Bill Cotton Jr. became part of the Noel Gay Organisation as he now is, I believe he's the managing director after his long career in the BBC, and one of the old school. We're now in the beginning of the 60s. Having worked our way through the 50s. I found I didn't like working on the other side of the fence and having to sell artists, producers, directors to the television companies, I much prefer the other way round. And after eight months, I was given an easy way out. This lady called Stella Ashley, who had been personal assistant to Lloyd Williams, when Rediffusion started, Associated Rediffusion started. And she had progressed to becoming the head of administrator for the drama department. And she rang me up and offered me a play at Rediffusion, which gave me an excuse to leave. And so I did. And looking back, I think that it was probably a put up job to avoid Michael Westmore having to give me the sack because I wasn't really very good at working in an agency. I think that that probably was how that happened. And we'd moved out to the suburbs by now Previously, we lived in Hampstead, and in May 1960 we'd moved out of London. And I was travelling into London to Kingsway every day. And juggling a home ,a three year old.
Joyce Robinson 18:43
How did you travel in?
Lois Singer 18:45
By bus and train I had no vehicle and had to depend on public transport, which was a lot better than than it is now. But I was getting had to arrange to get my little boy to him from nursery school. And I couldn't get him a nanny to come out there. And we didn't have room for one. And so by March 1961, I decided to give it a break and went in for another baby who was born in December of 61. Now two small children, and not the help support system that's available today was a bit difficult to work. I did a few little bits of odd days filming here and there when grandma would come and babysit the central office and information the occasional day's filming perhaps at Rediffusion. But it was difficult in the suburbs, and I left it alone for a couple of years. About 63 or 64. And the younger boy was by this time in nursery school and I was able to pick up again.
Joyce Robinson 19:50
Lois I never asked you what your pay was.
Lois Singer 19:56
I can't honestly remember I can't honestly remember I know that when I came to London in 1951. To television, I was earning the enormous sum of about five pounds 12 shillings a week. It was a good wage was and I lived on that, yes, completely. Whether it was at the BBC hostal or in my bed sitting room, which I progressed to onto, then to the flat share that I progressed to. I know that when my husband and I got married in 1955, we paid four pounds 15 shillings a week rent for our flat.
Joyce Robinson 20:29
Amazing. And of course, prices and wages didn't go up so inexorably did they ?
Lois Singer 20:34
I think probably I was earning about 11 pounds a week, maybe at this time, but of course, whatever I was earning, it was vastly more than anybody else at my age and experiencing in another industry. Yes, television was where the money was.
Joyce Robinson 20:49
Yes. And such a lot of responsibility?
Lois Singer 20:53
Yes, Yes, we did. We didn't realise it then what the responsibility was, but I realise now and looking back what the huge responsibilities we had. I always remember actually talking about that, I can't remember when this happened. But I was doing a play with somebody with James Hayter in it. And we used to have to give a list of the actors to the presentation department. So this wasn't my fault, though I got wrapped over the knuckles for it . At that time. James Hayter was advertising Cape grapes, Cape apples, and Cape pears. And blow me in the middle of a commercial break up comes Jimmy Hayter with his pears and apples and grapes. And the next morning, I thought I was for the chop until it was discovered that I had in fact, given the names of the actors, and it was the people who sought out which commercials go where. Because that was absolutely forbidden in those days as I said earlier. It happens now, but there are reasons for that. Anyway, there I was coming back to work in about 63 or 64. And videotape had come in. So it was a completely new ballgame. And it was like starting all over again at the beginning.
Lois Singer 22:12
I started off by doing some office backup, because a certain PA was on holiday for three weeks to a director called John Franco, who I had worked with when he was a floor manager at Rediffusion. He was now a director, and he was setting up a play or a series and he needed some help. But I didn't have to go in the studio because I was completely devoid of any sort of knowledge about what tape recording was like. Subsequently, a lady called Tanya Leven, who I'd worked with on this programme "After Six", but she was really a drama director was producing a series of plays by Nigel Balchin in the "Uncle Charles Stories". They'd been adapted for television, and Raymond Huntley was playing the lead. Because she was a producer, when she decided she wanted to direct one of them and came out from behind her desk to do so, of course, she had no PA because there were only sufficient PAs contracted to work for the directors. So I was called in to work for her.
Lois Singer 23:20
This was my first experience of videotape editing. This time, Anthony Kearey came back into my life because he was Head of Drama at Rediffusion at this time, and Tanya was working under him. But he had been a director and producer and had done quite a lot of drama. With with Tanya was my first experience of seeing editing done. We didn't do anything out of order in those days, unless it was a completely different location. You couldn't go back and do two or three takes but there was some editing to be done on this programme. And she took me with her to ATV at Elstree where the editing facilities were and whifusion used. And I was amazed. We sat in front of this machine with this enormous width of videotape on it. And a man called Johnny Fielder, who I believe is still working, I don't know, but I believe he is, was cutting the master tape to edit it with a razor blade. Just like they used to do with sound tape. He'd been a sound engineer. And he could tell from the sound waves that were given on the machinery and by listening where to make the cut. It was absolutely incredible. And it always worked.
Joyce Robinson 24:33
Lois Singer 24:34
It worked because it was Johnny Fielder, who was the leading chap in that field at the time, and everybody wanted him as their editor.
Joyce Robinson 24:42
I'll bet they did.
Lois Singer 24:42
Anyway, we went back and finished this play off and Tanya managed to persuade Tony Kearey to come out from behind his desk as Head of Drama and direct one of the plays and because he'd come out from behind his desk, who was asked to be his PA.? I was. We had a very, very good relationship. I'd known him as I said, as an actor. And what I did for him must have impressed him because when we finished, he said to me that if I ever wanted a job at ATV where he'd done a lot of work, I should just go along to the Head of PAs is there and say that he'd sent me.
Lois Singer 26:19
Now ATV was very near to where we were living because we've moved out as I said, to the suburbs, and the suburb happened to be Stanmore. And Stanmore is not very far from Elstree . And I thought, well, this will save me quite a lot of travelling. I'll have a go at this. So I did. And I went along to see the lady who ran the PAs called Cynthia Arthur. And the first thing she did was to give me a job with a documentaries features producer called HK Luenhack ( ? ) known as Lou, who's very, very well known in ACTT, circles. And again, I'm still in touch with him. But we were working at ATV headquarters, at Great Cumberland Place. So I'm still travelling to town every day, except when we were in the studio. Now working for Lou was the best training any PA can have. Because he knew every form that was used at ATV, every procedure for preparing a programme. And he nearly told me exactly what to do, and which process to go through to get something done. And I just followed that. And I learned it back doing it again.
Joyce Robinson 26:27
It'still the best way to learn.
Lois Singer 26:28
Absolutely. And I knew how ATV worked, which when I worked for them again later, really was
Lois Singer 26:35
how did you take to change what you'd buy?
Lois Singer 26:38
then learn to find things out, as you say, Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I still had no formal training in continuity. And when they started shooting plays out of sequence, I found myself in very hot water, which I'll come to shortly. Anyway, I was working for Lou and we did some TV series, one was called sources of energy, which was for an education purposes by TV. And it was about coal and about gas and about electricity. And the most wonderful working models in the studio. When the programmers were over my then nine year old son came in for all these models. So he was very much sought after at school. We did a thing called "Take a Cool Look", which was a Saturday night discussion programme. One of the first talk shows really can't remember who chaired it.
Joyce Robinson 26:55
I can't help you. But I remember it.
Lois Singer 27:29
It was done. This was again, the mid 60s.
Lois Singer 27:33
One of my abiding memories at ATV House in Great Cumberland Place, which I'm sure you've heard before from other people, is the wonderful vision of Lou Grade in his slippers coming in first thing in the morning to go through the post. People have talked about that many people have said is apocryphal but in fact, it did happen because I saw it.
Joyce Robinson 27:54
Oh, you can't beat your own eyes.
Lois Singer 27:59
And so we come to early 1967. And I had recently bought a car sometime in 66. I decided that the the Exchequer would allow a car and that made my life a lot easier because it's ever going to Elstree on the bus on the train. I was there in ten minutes.
Joyce Robinson 29:37
You already could drive?
Lois Singer 28:19
Oh, yes, I had to refresh because I hadn't had a car before of my own if so my husband made me go out with L plates on for a little while, which I think is what people should do. Anyway, these days, even after they pass the test. But I could get turned from Elstree in 15 minutes, which meant that it opened my horizons enormously. And having a car literally changed my life because I could work longer hours, I could nip home at lunchtime and put the dinner in the oven and all those sorts of things. And if I had a problem with nannies, I could collect the children from school and take them back to the office with me. Which in those days, I did quite often. Having a car was the first thing that changed my life. And then in January, no later than that 67 I met another director with whom I found I had the same rapport professionally as I'd had with Robert Johnson. And his name was Paul Bernard. And that was really the second thing that changed my life. Because I learned so much working for him that I became able to stand up in my own right and see how things ought to be done and see that they were done. And this became another example of being able to work with the director after a while, who I knew what he was thinking and could get on with what needs to be done without talking to him. And actually that relationship across so many professional areas persists today. And that will keep coming back into this story.
Joyce Robinson 29:52
It's anticipation rather than telepathy isn't it ?
Lois Singer 29:54
You have to have in mind what you need to do and you can get it with a lot of people. But sometimes you come up against something which you don't understand why they think like that. So you've got to stop using this telepathy and become much more in contact with them. And I found that with Robert, I never needed to do that. And I now and even then.
Joyce Robinson 29:54
Magical, isn't it?
Lois Singer 30:18
It makes for so much more ease of working. And other people know, you if you're asked a question on behalf of the other person, you know what he would answer, so you can answer for him quite happily. Then during this period, I worked with Paul Bernard, first time on "Emergency Ward 10". Somebody had gone sick, and I was brought in in a hurry. And I did two of the hour long ones, one after the other with him. We used to use this wonderful thing called Monoculus, which was really just, I suppose, the equivalent of an ENG single camera, except that it was connected into the studio, but you used it like a film camera, and you edited this stuff in. And that was wonderful. And ATV hadn't such marvellous grounds and surrounding area, it was the only place at that time where everything was under one roof, the offices or the service departments in the studios. And I loved working there for that reason, because you didn't have to trail to another centre to do some of the work. And I really enjoyed working there.
Lois Singer 31:17
But I've done a few bits and pieces apart from this at ATV since I worked with Lou. And it was either before or after this, I can't quite remember that I did the experiments for a programme called the "Golden Shot". That meant working late in the day into the early hours of the morning, because they were experimenting for the first time with a line into the studio of talking to people down a post office line, who responded into a talkback situation in the studio. The director was called Pem Duttson. And if you remember the "Golden Shot", people would direct on the telephone into the studio, how the person was going to shoot an arrow to win a prize. It was a very, very ambitious thing to do. And we couldn't discuss-
Joyce Robinson 32:04
This is the public you're talking about?
Lois Singer 32:05
Yes. Oh, yes. The audience of the show were the public. You have a studio audience as well. I believe I can't remember I think, yes, we must have done and there was Bernie the Bolt, who was the chap who used to fix the the arrow.
Joyce Robinson 32:17
I don't think I did watch it. I know the name you see, but I don't think I watched it at the time.
Lois Singer 32:20
We had to experiment at night when the transmitters were closed, see, and we did these experimental programmes until about two or three in the morning. It was great fun. And after that the programme became regular on me, I didn't work on it. Then what I did do was again, because she was the producer and came out from behind her desk, find myself working for Josephine Douglas. She was producing a programme called "Virgin of the Secret Service", which should have been shot in colour, which came a couple of years later, we were now in the late 60s. And of course colour didn't come in until the 70s.
Lois Singer 32:34
It was about India, British soldiers at the turn of the century, there was an actor called Clinton Greyn who played "Virgin of the Secret Service". And this was where my clay feet not knowing about editing caused my downfall. We were doing these programmes. And if I was going to be at the editing, I would have been all right, because I've made my notes and I knew what they meant, although nobody else did. But during one of the takes of productions had it with Joe, because Clinton Greyn wouldn't listen to Peter Diamond, who was the stunt man as to how to use his sword, or how to respond to his combatant whoever it was. I can't remember who that was , probably Peter Diamond in costume. Because he used to do that quite a lot. Clinton was stabbed in the thigh. And so all the production had to come to a halt. And by the time he was better, and they could pick up, I was working somewhere else. And they had to get a different PA ,a staff PA and if there was a staff PA available you could mustn't get a freelance PA .
Joyce Robinson 33:25
Union rules ?
Lois Singer 34:19
Yes, and also for logistics of finance, if you had a girl on the staff doing nothing, you couldn't get an outside woman. She couldn't understand my notes. By this time. I couldn't understand them either. Jo Douglas had to go back and do most of it again. And so I wasn't very popular. I don't think she ever forgave me.
Lois Singer 34:41
Now, during my time at London, at ATV, jumping the gun here. I can't remember whether it was now or later. It was later. But I put it in now because it's part of the history and my history at ATV there was a man called Robert Heron. Who was the Head Of Education at ATV because they did a lot of schools programmes there. And I had been at school with Robert Heron and I discovered he needed an assistant. And I was interviewed for the job. I applied for it. Because I've had a lot of experience with children's programmes. I've had a lot of experiences I told you earlier of the origins of school children's programmes. I was into education because I had two children at school. And they were using this new service of schools programmes, and I felt I knew what it was about. And I felt that I was admirably suited for the job. So I applied for it. And I was interviewed, along with, I don't know how many other people. I was the only woman, and I was turned down. And I was in a social situation some time later with Robert Heron and I asked him, I was now on to other things, and it was quite immaterial to me, I asked him why I was turned down for the job. And his answer, if she was in her grave would make Germaine Greer turn in it. He said, "The only reason you were turned down was because you were a woman. You didn't feel that if you had to go down and beat the drum on the studio floor, you would be able to do it with as much conviction as a man." And, of course, the stirrings of women's lib. And if it had caught hold a little bit more by this time, of course, and I did that at the time, I would have made great fuss about it. But I am not by nature, and women's libber. No. And because of all the lovely things I've done since I've never really regretted it, but that was very interesting that in those days, this was some time.
Joyce Robinson 36:55
It gave you food for thought.
Lois Singer 36:56
It did give me food food for thought. By this time, Rediffusion had lost their franchise, and Thames and London Weekend come into being and a lot of the people from Rediffusion had gone to London Weekend. A lot of them went to Thames so I whenever I went to work for either company, I still thought I was amongst friends. One of the people who went to London Weekend was a lovely girl called Bimbi. Harris, who had been a vision mixer from the time I started at the BBC in 1951. So I'd known her all those years. And she was at this time producing features and documentaries for London Weekend. This time were housed in a very tall office block in Stonebridge Park, and did their programmes out of the studios at Wembley.
Joyce Robinson 37:44
Where is Stonebridge Park ?
Lois Singer 37:45
Stonebridge Park is just beyond Wembley on the North Circular. So none of it was very far away. And I was happy to take this on. still being what in those days was very rare working woman with two children.
Lois Singer 37:59
She was doing a series called discovering London which is about the history of London. And it was a really very interesting series to do. And I worked very happily with her and her researcher, a team of three women making these programmes. One of them towards the end of the series, had a big section in it on the Jewish community in London. In it's early days. And although I had I think by this time left the series I didn't do the whole lot of them. She asked me back because ,being Jewish, of my knowledge and knowing where to go and what to do, and I became a part researcher on this, although I was officially paid as a PA because that was what the union said had to be. That was very interesting. And I've still got some of the photographic stills and I helped her a lot on that. And I was very proud and pleased to be able to do it because she is she is the most organised director I've ever worked for in my entire life. Usually a PA has to organise a director. With her it was such an easy ride because you never did. And I love her dearly and still do to this day and see her often at reunions and I'm very fond of her.
Lois Singer 39:11
Because of London Weekend's knowledge of my knowledge of Jewish matters in London, sometime around this time, I got an SOS telephone call from another producer late on a Friday afternoon in the winter, that on Monday morning, they were doing a programme, I forget what it was called. But it was the late night religious slot. It was called the "God Slot" but it had a special name. It was a late night devotion of some sort. I can't remember what it was called. But it was every night and weekends. And they were having a programme of Jewish interest on the Monday and they suddenly realised at five o'clock in the afternoon that they didn't have the photographic and slide material that they wanted. "How are we going to get it by Monday morning, we start shooting this at nine o'clock. Ring Lois, she'll help us." So I did help them. They rang me up just as the Sabbath was coming in on the Friday. So it was absolutely useless me trying to get anything done until late on Saturday. And I said to them, it's no good. You're trying to do anything tomorrow because everybody who wants to speak to will be closed . So on Sunday morning, armed with a list of things that they wanted, I went up to the synagogue where my children used to attend religious classes and appeal to their Headmaster. And he brought out his slide box and he found me pictorial material for everything that they needed. So I reported to the studio in Kingsway. It was a small studio and they still did things at Kingsway in that. No, I'm wrong there because now that that's wrong, because Rediffusion had finished. It was London Weekend. And it was in a West End studio somewhere. I can't remember where it was. No, it's gone. But anyway, I turned up on the Monday morning with the material that they wanted and found this very trendy reform rabbi being the presenter. And I stood behind the director in the control control room more or less directed the programme for him because he didn't know which pictures the rabbi was talking about. And I did. And that was to be quite a notable encounter. As I discovered later, Michael Goulston, the rabbi was a very forward thinking educationalist. And he could see that the value of video and television in teaching in the classroom, using it as a teaching aid, of which it did become later. And he wanted to use it for religious education. So sometime afterwards, he rang me up and he said" I want to do a series of stories for children with pictures. And I want you to produce it for me. And I haven't got any money." So what was I going to do?
Joyce Robinson 42:05
This is the rabbi you're talking about?
Lois Singer 42:06
Yes. He said "You're in television you must know how to do it." So what was I going to do? He didn't have any money. So I went to Cyril Bennett, who by this time I think it was Controllor of Programmes at London Weekend. And he was Jewish. And he said "I'll give you a studio soon as we've got a free date."
End of Side 2