[Start of Recording]
I: This is an interview with Robert Scott for the Scottish Broadcasting Heritage Group's Oral History Project. The interviewer is Janet McBain and the date is 13 May 2017. OK, Robert, when and where were you born?
R: I was born and brought up in Edinburgh. My Dad worked for Bank of Scotland and my Mum was a stay-at-home Mum. Although he was a banker, he was always interested in technology and I think it is through him that I got an interest in technology in general. So when I went through to Glasgow to go to Strathclyde University after I had finished school to do electronic engineering and I went to do that course, not because initially I knew what I wanted to do but because I felt that that was the general field that I wanted to work in. And first, at the Freshers Fair at University, the first thing I came across was Unit Sixty Five, which was the student television outfit and I thought that was interesting so I joined that. And I think, probably, my university studies somewhat suffered because of that because, obviously, doing TV programmes was much more interesting, even as a student, than going to lectures and that sort of thing! On `Unit Sixty Five, we did news programmes and we had Danny Kyle on and Billy Connolly before he grew to be really famous. The University's audio visual unit was very supportive of Unit Sixty Five and let us use their studio at lunchtimes and also let us borrow their film camera from time to time. Jim Harold, who was the head of the audio visual unit let us borrow an Arri ST and my friend and I at university shot a film for the University Car Club. My cousin was involved in the Car Club so we thought it would be a good idea, there's a good contact and let's go out and film some cars rushing about the place! So we did a wee promotional film for them, on 16 mm reversal. And then we moved on from that and we did a film about the Edinburgh Festival in 1974. It was called EIF 74 imaginatively, which was just a sort of flavour of the whole festival experience really. Various plays and people rehearsing for plays and things like that and that actually won the prize for the best Scottish Amateur Film in 1974.
I: And did you go, in those days I think they [Scottish Amateur Film Festival] used to show the prize-winning films in what was the G.F.T.?
R: Yes, we went to the presentation and it was shown.
I: How did you feel sitting in the audience watching your film on the big screen?!
R: I don't know! Slightly embarrassed about it. It was always amazing to see it on a big screen. There were also some other films there that were way better than our film but there were some people from a school, a film school in Los Angeles had sent it, so their film was more like a mini Hollywood epic compared to ours! Ours stood up as a mini documentary of the Festival.
I: Well, I can tell you just as a point of information, I think it was 1974 when Robert Zemeckis entered a film in the Scottish Amateur Film Festival, better known now for directing Back to the Future so there you are! So, within Unit Sixty Five there would be a team of you, a group of you making these films?
I: Did you have a particular role in the production process or was there anything that you particularly liked more than other things about it?
R: I started off, as most people did, doing camera and then, eventually, you were allowed to actually do the engineering of the camera once the audio visual unit technicians had worked out that you were actually competent in what you were doing because it was quite easy to, they were very good cameras and it was quite easy to make a mess of it really, I think. So, eventually, I did the engineering part of that. Setting the iris and the gain and various bits and pieces of the camera to get the cameras to match. And then the occasional bit of vision-mixing really and then a lot of playing out because we recorded all the programmes on half-inch tape and then they were played out to the Student Union at lunchtime so we had to do a kind of switch-over. Somebody had to go to the Union and switch all the monitors on and then somebody had to do a kind of switch on of the AV unit and play the tape and hopefully somebody was watching it!
I: So, '74, that was quite early days for video, wasn't it? Half-inch? Was that the open reel half inch?
R: Yes. I can't remember what the make was but yes. And then we made another film at the University based on the poem 'Not Waving, but Drowning', by Stevie Smith, which, I think, I don't know why they made it! Just for fun because they could really and it was a bit just slightly off-the-wall dramatisation of the poem. But that was at the end of my second year at university, which was at the end of my career at university because television was becoming much more fun basically!
And I had only stayed for my first year with re-sits and I think it became apparent that it wasn't my thing, university, so my Dad knew a guy at the bank who knew of somebody at the BBC, John Byres, who was the Operations Manager at the BBC at the time so I went through and had a chat to John Byres and, fortunately, because I was interested in the subject, I had been reading lots of books about cameras and lenses and aerials and all sorts of stuff so he suggested that I apply for a job as a Technical Assistant at the BBC, which I duly did. I had two interviews. One interview was quite technical and the second interview was more, I don't know, it seemed much more gentle! The first one, I thought, was quite hard because it was all kind of technical questions and the second one was just much more relaxed, I felt. In fact, they asked me a somewhat strange question at the end - "Although it won't apply to you, say you were in a studio and there was a concert pianist about to play. A big audience and all set to go but he said he couldn't play because the piano was out of tune but you knew it was perfectly in tune - what would you do?" So I sent him, subterfuge of television, I said, "Well, I would send him to another room where there was another piano where he could rehearse and then I would just move the piano a bit so that something had changed and tell him it was tuned and bring him back in again!" A bit of a lie, I know, but if you know it is tuned, there is no point getting it tuned again. Anyway, I got the job! So I started at the BBC as a Technical Assistant.
I: When was this?
R: October 1974. '74? I'm trying to think! Yes. So, you go down to Evesham to do the training course which, if you fail that, you are out and if you pass that, you are in so I managed to pass that. And then you have eighteen months on the station and then another two-month course and then eighteen months on station and then another twelve-week course and that's you qualified as an engineer at the BBC which is what I did. The course, what it had actually done was to give you a really good, broad training and then, so I ended up on station at the BBC. I always wanted to work in Operations and they put me in to Communications for some reason despite the fact that I had no particular training in Communications! Communications is radio links, which, at that time, was the way of getting signals back to the studios. And routing various signals about the country. Glasgow was the main kind of routing place across the country so you spend a lot of your time patching up feeds from here and there, with a teleprinter spewing out instructions for the next thing! Something to happen in the next half hour and running around and that sort of thing which is not my idea of fun really! It is quite tedious! So I really wanted a job in VT which is video tape, because I was quite interested in editing but anyway, during my year of training, you get taken round all the departments so that is how you get an idea of what you want to do. So, I have been in telecine, I have been in VT, I have been in the Test Room which is maintenance and all areas of the BBC. You might, potentially, you've got radio studios, splicing audio tape, maintaining audio tape machines so I wanted to work in VT so I applied for a job in VT. I didn't get it but I was told that I was also suitable. In other words, if another job came up, I would be considered without interview so I had obviously done well enough in the interview to get the job, it's just that somebody else was better than me and there was a guy who had been there longer than me, knew more about it so he got the job! However, before another job came up, a job came up at STV in telecine so I applied for that and when I told John Byres, who I had spoken to earlier on in the process, he kind of kept an eye on me all the way through and I told him I was leaving the BBC to go to STV and, I have to say, I don't think he was best amused! But anyway, that's the way it was! So, I came to STV in telecine in 1979. [09:49]
I: So you were five years' training and then with the BBC?
R: Yes. Three years completing the training course and then another two years on station doing stuff. I mean, I enjoyed the BBC fine but I wanted to move on in my career. So, I came to STV in telecine which was - STV was a bit of a different world to the BBC I think you could safely say! A lot of people working in STV in telecine were former projectionists. I am not taking them down but they were former projectionists whereas the people who worked at the BBC were engineers. So when I came to STV, I did what I did at the BBC, which was lined the machine up every morning, which was a sort of thing of wonder to some of the people at the time! And telecine was fine and, at that time, STV was a closed shop. It was ACTT was the Union. So, when I was getting interviewed for the job they said, you know, "It is a closed shop and you have to join the Union - is that OK?" And it was absolutely fine with me because I had been in the ABS at the BBC anyway. I just thought it was the right thing to do. To join the Union. So, I think I was about half an hour through the door in telecine when this ?? came rolling round the corner with the form to sign, which was fine for me!
I: So, in telecine you would still be a young man then? You would be in your twenties?
I: And would most of the existing staff have been there for a while? They would be, maybe, older?
R: Yes, I suppose they were older.
I: Men, presumably?
R: Yes, they were all men, yes.
I: Could you talk us through, like a typical day in telecine, what the processes were? You said you would start by lining up the machines?
R: Yes, you would start by lining up the machines and there were two 35 mm machine speeds which mostly did commercials and then there were two 16 mm machines and a magnetic film sound transport and there was also a brand new Rank-Cintel Mk III Telecine which we could actually, it was much more like a VTR, we could fast rewind and that sort of thing and that was, kind of, the new toy on the block. It way more than the BBC had. The BBC didn't have a Mark III, never would really, and they didn't have 35 mm telecines either because they had no reason to transmit in Glasgow with a 35 mm film. So, in the morning, you would come in and line up each of the machines and there was also, some of the commercials went out as slides so there were two slide scanners so they were just like telecine machines except the film didn't move, it was just on a slide, so we lined those up as well. The lining up basically consisted of making sure that something which was black and white was black and white and if it was black and white when it was dark, it was also black and white when it was in a light colour so basically tracking was black and white all the way through. And if that's right then the colour things are going to be right pretty much all across the range as well. So, STV, as I say, transmitted commercial stations so we transmitted commercials so commercials came from the library department, having been made up into long reels with a commercial break, sub-leader, a commercial break, sub-leader so you loaded the first reel up and set up a number 6 leader which is five seconds run down until you get the stand-by from transmission and then roll telecine, press the button and the telecine counts down. The film runs, they take the break and, at the end of the break, we let it run till the next break and stop it at the next leader.
I: So this is going out live?
I: Right, from telecine live transmission.
R: And the same with movies. If it was a movie that STV was showing, it would be on 35 mm as well and again, that would be shown live and any colour-balancing done live as it went.
I: That must be quite pressured, was it?
R: Yes, well a film, these tend to be pretty colour-balanced anyway but the most colour-balancing I've done was on new stuff which was of various colour-balance so that was more kind of tricksy because the first time you saw the film was when it ran live on air so the first frame appeared and you would try and quickly balance the colour to something. When I was at the BBC they would mix Kodachrome and Fuji and Fuji was always very red so if you knew it was Fuji coming next, you could adjust the leaver to over roughly where Fuji was so that it would be right whereas Kodak was much more - why they mix the film stocks, I have no idea. Whereas, with STV, it was generally, if it was a movie, it was already a graded print. The commercials were graded prints. There was a, everything worked with final, these 35 mm transports along with the take up reel which ran. I remember on one occasion when the take up reel decided not to run so a 35 mm film going through the thing, of course at some rate, and it's inside a cabinet so basically I whipped the camera open, get the reel off, run across to a rewind bench and somebody was winding the film in with the film trailed across the floor in telecine! It didn't happen that often but when it did happen, it was difficult because the film was spewing out at a great rate of knots so there was the odd excitement!
That apart, it was a fairly routine thing and STV, in those days, was pretty organised really and one of the things that I was shown when I first went in was the overtime rota. The shift work. They worked on a shift pattern because somebody had to be there seven days a week and we had two days off a week called 'notionals'. A notional Saturday and Sunday. So notionals were double-time overtime days and when it was an off-day, it was an overtime and a half so the telecine staff had worked out who should get the overtime if somebody was off and that would be the guy on a notional day to make sure, to maximise the overtime. So, if somebody was off, you would go to a wee chart and say, "Right! It is he who is getting phoned to come in!" And the management seemed to ignore that! Well, just because it was OCC, they didn't have to work it out themselves. The guys on telecine just phoned up somebody and told them to come in. Job done!
The shifts on telecine, because the commercials ran till the station closed down at half eleven or so, the shifts ran then until, pretty much nearly from about seven or eight in the morning until eleven at night. Just running commercials, doing the news. Sometimes the news would arrive a bit late so somebody would come running round the corner with a roll of film and most of the film was Com mag, which was the sound was combined on the film but some of the film was Sepmag, which, if you'd done a feature that was more likely to be mixed so Sepmag came with that so that had to be, we also had a different machine synched up and then when you synched them up and locked them together then the Sepmag machine would run together with the telecine machine.
I: So was this news footage? These are film news inserts?
I: They were processed, was it at Balmore?
R: Yes. Processed at Balmore, yes.
I: And then they would come to telecine or did they go through an editing process?
R: No, they went to editing. So the film would be processed at Balmore and then edited and then made up into A and B reels so that there were two reels so the two news stories were close together. You had the next loop waiting and ready to go rather than trying to queue up.
I: So, it would come direct in to telecine from the edit suite and then put out?
I: So, sometimes it must have been quite tight? Quite close to the wire getting into telecine before transmission?
R: Generally. Not sometimes! More often than not, really! It was close to the wire. But we always made it, you know! If you make it by thirty seconds, the viewer doesn't notice! To them, as long as it appears on air, it's fine! You know, thirty hours or thirty seconds, it doesn't matter!
I: So, I would imagine that would be quite, I bet you got used to it but working day on day, transmitting stuff live and if there's any problem with the machine or something goes down, you're, as you described, at the sharp edge, to make sure that the image gets on screen. I would imagine that must have been quite a pressured job?
R: Not particularly because it just becomes, it's just what you do. I mean, I always, I often thought sometimes that if you are transmitting from something, some listing that's going through this cable, if I just pull this out, it's going to go! It all hangs on little links all the way through the chain. And it's just what you did. And, you know, commercial breaks are only every fifteen minutes, there was a lot of time not doing very much really. Just waiting or loading stuff up or, you know, when one reel came to an end and the other reel would be there ready to go on, just loading that up, making sure that everything is fine.
I: So, was that the first time that you had worked with 35 mm?
R: Yes. The BBC was all 16 mm because it was just news footage. The BBC had a processing bath in Queen Margaret Drive, which I spent some time in and that looked like a not very pleasant job really but somebody had to do it! At least they had it on site whereas STV just processed their 16 mm, their news footage was done at Balmore but I'm not quite sure if any drama footage was done there or not.
I: Balmore, was that Humphries, the labs that were running Balmore or was it Rank.
R: It might have been Humphries. To be honest, I'm not quite sure.
I: So, how long did you stay in telecine for?
R: I was in telecine for, I think, a couple of years. One or two years. But I had always fancied VT. VT was just next door to telecine. One of the editing suites was in what, sorry, the editing suite was just next door and, at that time, VT was just two-inch machines and at the BBC it was two-inch machines but they used a pretty old-fashioned method of marking the tape with chinagraph. Spinning it off. Spinning it back. Marking it in point. Spin it back ten seconds, mark it with chinagraph and then the two machines ran together and they did the edit manually. STV they had Editech, which was a time-code controlled system so there was a remote controller for each machine and you set the end points and things on these remote controllers on the machine. The remote controller controlled the machines. Ran them to the edit, did the edit so that was much more advanced, the STV, and they could run a third machine in which the BBC couldn't do at the time. They did most of their machine to machine editing. And at that time it was two editors that did it. So there was an editor who was, kind of, on the record-side and an editor who did the playing side. But there were two editors that did it. But it still looked like kind of fun to me! So I'd been angling for a, you know, hanging about there, basically getting known. As you do! And getting to know the machines. I mean, I knew how to work the machines, they had a different make of machine than to the BBC. The BBC was Ampex and STV was RCA but, essentially, it was the same machine. Same adjustments. Same set-up. So, a job came up in VT. I applied for that and managed to get that, which was good. It mostly involved just playing in stuff. Recording stuff from studios and playing stuff out. Recording Late Call's. When they were doing Late Call's, which was the late-night religious broadcast, the Directors want to get through them as quickly as possible so, basically, the recording machine never stopped. They were running to the clock! The person who was presenting would do their piece and we would re-set the clock, run the clock down for the next one, do the next one, so we could get through them pretty quickly. Normally between something like that, you would stop and restart but just straight through. And doing recordings, stuff from studios that was going to be edited later on, playing out stuff. Some programmes came in on tape. The commercials were, at that time, eventually moved across to being on tape, kind of tape cassettes, so that had to be run as well. Again, an RCA machine with a carousel arrangement that would select the kind of commercial, slam it in, thread it up, play the commercial and just play the breaks as programmed. So that was, I think, at that time, that was kind of the early eighties on STV and I always felt that STV, the atmosphere about STV was kind of, if you walked in from outside you might think it's all just guys having a lark! You know, mucking about. But it was people, really professional people doing their job very well that knew exactly what they were doing but they were kind of having fun at the same time and they were all kind of friends. It was kind of, almost family-like. Everybody was friends and having fun doing it but doing it very professionally, which made it a great atmosphere in the place, I thought. It was a great place to work really!
I: It's possibly now a slightly old-fashioned concept but would it be fair to say that there was a sense of corporate loyalty to STV?
R: Oh yes! I felt the company was quite paternalistic in a way. You know, when my wife was pregnant with our first child and I went to the Op. C. and said, you know, "I will need some time off but I can't say exactly when", and there was absolutely no problem with that. They made a joke about it and say, "Do you know how this happened?!" But that was the way, everybody was kind of, it was all friendly.
I: And you would take a pride in doing a good job and getting the material together.
R: Oh yes. Everybody did! It didn't matter how small it was really, you know, it was important that it was right and if something didn't work, you know, sometimes things go wrong, then you just had to say, "Well, these things happen!" I did have one particular disaster at the BBC which I could refer to which was I was working in the Communications. I was in the Switching Centre, which is the vision part of, which basically routed the BBC One, BBC Two signals to the transmitter. And the BBC One signal normally came up from down south and just went straight to the transmitter, it didn't come through Glasgow. But if we were going to do an opt out, you had to route the BBC One signal into Queen Margaret Drive and then route it to continuity so extending the loop each time. So, one day, one evening, I got a kind of very rushed sort of, "I need to do a quick opt out in ten minutes!" And I made a slight boo-boo in the selection panel and routed BBC Two onto BBC One! Briefly! I realised what had happened and I kind of, because you are watching it on the monitors, and I got it back again! But, you know, you write it on the log. You 'fess up. I told the guy what had happened but, you know, it was a sort of five second trip and people at home would have gone, "Ooh, what was that?!" But these things happen! Log it. Obviously it was asked about the next day and I was honest and said, "finger trouble error!" and that was fine. I always think if you make a mistake, 'fess up. There is no point in trying to cover it up because sure as guns, it will get caught out so just 'fess up!
I: So, in VT you were doing, were you doing a wee bit of editing then?
R: No, because the editors were the editors really. They were very precious about who touched what really. At least the head of Maintenance, VT Maintenance, was very precious about who touched what. But the editors were very friendly and very supportive about, you know, letting you know about what was going on. Occasionally, if there was a third machine, you would get to play in to that. To set that up so you would get a kind of focus of what was going on when they were working. Yes, so at that time there were two editors working and then they brought in a new edit system. It was called the RES, which was basically, it would be one editor operated but they needed an assistant for this suite, which would not be an editor but would be an ordinary engineer. So, I volunteered for that and I remember someone at the time saying, "What do you want to do that for? That's, you know, just playing in to edits! That will be boring!" The sub-editor is doing it. But I thought, well, this is my route into editing really, you know.
I: And you established that that was something you wanted to do?
R: Yes. I had enjoyed editing the films that we had made at university and I thought, you know, it's good! I don't know why I enjoy it, I just do! It was good fun so I was working with Bob Dowie who was, the kind of senior editor at the time was the guy who was mostly running the RES suite and I was his assistant and I learnt a hell of a lot from Bob and Bob was very good at letting you have a go occasionally if the Director wasn't there or if he and the Director were going to go for a coffee, he would say, "You just stick that little bit together." So, you would labour away and not get much done while they were away but, you know, at least you were getting a chance to do stuff! At the time, the network used to do a lot of Christmas tapes which were made up of bits and pieces and we'd never really done one so I thought we should do one. So, as an assistant, I kind of made up a little Christmas tape of bits and pieces and one of the things I did was that I took a Daz commercial, an actual Daz commercial but put some archive footage on it, you know, of people kind of washing stuff on washboards and all that sort of stuff. And people seemed to think it was quite funny. I thought it was quite funny. But that was the sort of thing, to me if you are, one way to get in to editing is to show what you can do by doing stuff, you know, off your own bat. You can sit about and wait to be given the chance but if you just do it off your own bat, then there's much more chance of people seeing what you can do. And if people see what you can do, you are much more likely to get the job!
So, in '82 I think it was, unfortunately one of the editors passed away so a vacancy appeared. I applied for that job and was lucky enough to get the job as an editor. So mostly doing Sport but the good thing about editing in those days was, you do everything! We did sport, we did game shows, we did, I say we did dramas, we didn't do dramas, we did online dramas, which was just putting graphics on and things but at least it gave you a kind of feel for that sort of thing. My first sport edit, the Sport editor wanted to make sure, you know, stand over me just a wee bit to make sure I was doing the right thing. Fair enough! I had absolutely no problem with that because in those days, they would log the game and just give you notes into the editor. They wouldn't sit with the editor, they just gave the notes in and the editor would edit the game. So, obviously I seemed to have done alright, he seemed happy with it so, after that, it was just hand in the notes and edit the game. I quite enjoyed sport editing. Sport editing on one inch, on two inch rather, was interesting because you couldn't actually see the pictures when it was spooling.
I: You couldn't see the pictures?
R: No. So if you were looking for something, if you spooled it slowly, you could hear the crowd noise going up and down and then run it back a bit and then roll it up and it would take five, six seconds to lock it up to a stable picture and have a look and see what it was. So it was quite a slow process really compared to how editing is nowadays, it was really quite slow!
I: And that would be done, OK, so editing sport on, this is on two inch tape?
I: The picture would be coming from the camera men at the ground if it's football? Is it a live feed?
R: Yes, it would be an outside broadcast. Basically, the way Sport worked at that time was that the BBC covered one game and STV covered another game and the Heads of the respective sports agreed which matches they would each cover. So they weren't, obviously in the Old Firm games, there was a kind of toss-up, you know, they got one and we got one or two or whatever it was. So, with an outside broadcast and the pictures would be sent direct back to STV on a radio link and we would record them back at STV. At that time, though, no replays were put in on site so you put the replays in in the edit. So, as it was coming in there would be notes from the, the notes, I think, at that time, would be coming in from the outside broadcast actually. I'm trying to think actually. I can't remember but anyway. So the commentator at that time had to, who, I think, was Jock Brown, well, Jock Brown was the best at this anyway, something would happen and he would do a replay commentary without seeing any replay pictures so we would, at that time we had acquired a one inch machine, which allowed us to do slow-mo's so he would, the incident happened, he would do his replay commentary and we would put in the replay at sixty five percent speed or something like that and it would just fit! Perfect! Sometimes with some you would have to speed up and slow it down or adjust it slightly so it fitted the words but most of the time Jock was just spot on! Amazing, really. Amazing. To have that recall. I mean, it was "so-and-so passed to so-and-so" and blah blah and how he remembered that, I don't know, but anyway that's the skill of the great commentator, I think! And so, the Scotsport programme would go out on the Sunday in the afternoon so this was Saturday night that we would be editing this and then, on the Sunday, we would do any kind of back-up stuff, sort of any particular incidents or other stuff that we had that had come in from other games and then, after Scotsport, we all retired to the Green Room for the guest hospitality and, at that time, they invited all the editors in to have a little bit of guest hospitality as well which was very pleasant. And even if there wasn't a guest, there was guest hospitality. But that was STV in those days.
I: OK. So you joined STV in 1979. That was the year of the big strike with ITV. Were you involved with that?
R: Yes. I was out, round about twelve weeks, I think, we were out for. Something like that. It was quite a long time really. It was one of these things that just sort of escalated, I think. I think it was about pay basically, I can't remember. I think it was about pay and there was industrial action taking place so the electricians were taking industrial action which was that they were basically, the company was only powering up the station on their allotted hours, I think. So, I think, Yorkshire suspended an electrician for not obeying an instruction to keep the thing on so then that just kind of escalated, rattled up through the station, through the network and all the electricians went out on strike so, therefore, the ACTT went out on strike so basically it was, the whole, I think one could get the impression that the strike was deliberately triggered, if you like, but anyway, that was that! We all went out on strike and everybody thinking, 'oh, that's fine, we'll be out for a week or so!' However, it just kind of rolled on and on and on. I think STV themselves would have settled, you know, way earlier but there were some elements in ITV that were not keen to settle at all so about twelve weeks we were out and I remember at the final meeting ?? which was a good deal, I think it was a pretty big pay increase, there were some at the meeting who voted to stay out as if twelve weeks weren't enough! Enough's enough and it was quite a good deal, it was a decent pay increase. And I remember STV giving us a loan when we came back to help us over, which was never expected to be and never was paid back. But that was them saying, you know, to help us out because STV kind of looked after their staff really. The journalists never striked during that, of course, they were always in, the NUJ was always in, which, I think, rankled with a number of people for a good number of years but the NUJ were in the building but there was nothing for them to do really. So, I think during the strike I ended up, my wife was working fortunately so we weren't too bad and I didn't have any family so that wasn't too bad but I ended up washing windows with a pal! Going round with a ladder and washing peoples' windows!
I: Because you were just newly into the Company?
R: Relatively, yes. I think it was, was it the beginning of, yes, it was '79 I think I joined. I had only been there a few months really.
I: And what, in the aftermath of the strike what were the relations between ACTT and STV? Had it soured relationships?
R: I don't think so, at all because I think STV would have settled no problem but they were in the ITV unit so they couldn't. No, I don't think there was, I wasn't really aware of it. I mean, although I was a member of the Union, I wasn't really involved in the Union at that time so I wasn't really aware of how relations were but I think they had always been pretty cordial, to be honest.
I: Yes. But you became more active in the Union, didn't you?
R: Yes, that was much, much later. That was in the nineties. I had a good friend, Andy Boyd, who I used to go on walks with and he was quite involved in the Union and he said, "Why don't you come on the Committee?" So I thought, oh well, why not so I was on the Committee for a bit and then they were looking, we went out for a walk one day and Andy said, "You know, it is the election of Office Bearers coming up - would you like to be Steward or Chairman?"! So I thought I didn't have enough experience. I was quite keen to get involved but I wasn't, I didn't have enough experience to be a Steward so I thought, OK, I'll be Chair and that gives me a slightly closer view as to what is going on and I am just, basically, organising things, I am not actually doing any of the negotiating and things like that. And then, when the Steward at the time left the Company, took redundancy, it was kind of, not like muggins' turn but everybody else stepped back and I was left out standing in front so I became Steward.
I: At the time, in the eighties and nineties, outwith Broadcasting Scotland, you know, out with BBC and STV, in the wider world of the freelance and the film-makers and things, there was a lot going on in terms of trying to generate this concept of being the Scottish film industry and production industry and also training initiatives. Were you, as an STV Union member, aware of what was going on in the freelance or the independent sector? Did you have much relationship with the industry?
R: Not really. The only thing that we basically said in our Local Agreement was that any freelance person coming in to the building would be treated under the same terms and conditions as the staff because we didn't want freelance people being undermined. You know, coming in on terms less favourable than the ones the staff enjoyed, which, I thought, was fair enough. But, apart from that, I didn't have any dealings with the freelance work because there wasn't in that, in those days, it was kind of late nineties really, there weren't that many freelancers working in the building. We still had staff OBs, we still had staff cameramen and all the editors were staff. Freelance would come on board for dramas, for Taggart and the like, that was largely freelance but even still then, the lighting cameramen would be staff. Sound recordists would probably be staff. But the industry has evolved to being much more flexible labour force. There is far fewer staff involved but we didn't have that much dealing with the freelance world.
I: What about the Scottish Broadcast Training Trust initiative because I think there was, you know, there was a lot of ACTT support for that, wasn't there?
R: Yes, when I became Shop Steward, this was past the merger into BETA and it wasn't a closed shop anymore. The closed shop ended, as we know, in the eighties, which, one thing the closed shop did was, I think, maintain a certain standard of skill because you couldn't get your ticket or whatever, you couldn't just walk off the street and say, "I am an editor" kind of thing or camera operator. You had to have certain training to get your ticket to be whatever so it maintained a certain standard whereas nowadays anyone can call themselves a cameraman and there are a lot of good cameramen about who are just, have done it themselves, but there are also some who are not so good. But that's by the by to some extent. I think by the time I became involved in the Union, it was past the merger of ACTT and BETA which then went in to BECTU so ACTT, BETA and NATKE were all merged into one Union and now BECTU is in part Prospect so it was constant amalgamation really. So there were different divisions of the Union. The Union looked after freelancers whereas, no, in ACTT times there were different divisions sort of thing. But we tended not to deal with the freelancers as such in that unless, when I was Shop Steward, and a freelance had an issue, I would look after them in terms of representing them with their problem. We felt that if they were in STV, they were in the STV shop umbrella so, therefore, we looked after them and, you know, if they had any issues then they could come to me or go to one of the other reps for help. But I know, as a freelance, trying to get help as a freelance, I suspect is probably pretty difficult out in the outside world.
I: And I think training is key as well because you got your training through, on the job, if you like?
R: Yes. A large part of my training was, the basic training was at the BBC. I learnt a hell of a lot there and the rest of it was learnt on the job by watching the likes of Bob Dowie or whatever, you know, doing stuff and then just making stuff up as you go along.
I: Anyway, let's get back, you were in VT editing in the, would this be the 1980s?
R: Yes, the early eighties. I was editing and doing Sport and, as I say, game shows, The Wheel of Fortune in those days and, in those days, we would do one Wheel of Fortune a day. In the late eighties we were doing three a day so we kind of, the process certainly speeded up! And just, there was nothing you didn't do really which was quite a good way of working really because you didn't know what you were going to do.
I: And did you get involved with dramas as well? Were you editing dramas?
R: Not drama editing as such because drama editing was always done by film editors so it came to VT for the final. It was always transmitted from tape so it came to us to be, just basically have captions put on it, any graphics put on it and that sort of thing so that was a pretty easy job. Sit back and have a cup of coffee and watch Taggart! Basically.
And then, in the, I'm trying to think, either late '83 or early '84, I was approached by Malcolm McAllister and Dave Turner, myself and Iain Ballantyne, who was also an editor with STV at the time, to say that they were interested in setting up a facility in Glasgow. A facility being a business where it just does the nuts and bolts part of the TV, editing graphics, no production, just editing graphics, which sounded like a fantastic idea! Give us the chance to up the ante in terms of the equipment we were using and a chance to do different work. I was about thirty then at the time and so, that opportunity comes along and you want to challenge yourself and so you think, well, we'd be building an edit suite from the ground up and shopping for all the kit and it's always nice to spend somebody else's money. So, Iain and I both said yes so we had a slightly secret process of looking at equipment because we didn't have much telling of STV what was up until the last minute really. So we were looking at brochures, ordering equipment and going down to London to look at, we looked at a couple of facilities companies which, ostensibly we were looking at the kit but it also gave us the chance to look and see what a facilities company edit suite looked like because we were going to design our own one without having any real idea apart from STV's edit suite, what an edit suite looked like. So that was interesting and then we went to an exhibition and Dave Turner saw an early Paintbox, which is a Quantel product so we went along and took a trip out to Quantel and looked at that and Dave thought it was a fantastic tool and he was absolutely right so we got one of the first Paintboxes in Scotland and I think the total cap. ex. was a million quid, which was a lot of money even then! But that's because the kit was so expensive! The Vision Mixer alone was three hundred thousand, I think, and each channel that we did, the additional effects device was over a hundred thousand. So a million was easy to spend!
I: Whose money was it? Who was funding it?
R: It was, well they had investments. There were investors who put money into it and a bit of bank loan as well, I think. So, it was eventually all go so late '84 we left STV and went to set up Scope Picture Productions which is now Edit123 in the same building of 123 Blythswood Street and the edit suite was in the basement and Reception and Paintbox was on the ground floor so we had this basically open-plan area to divide up into a machine room, an edit suite with a client area and I made, something I'd seen in London, I made the client area just a little step up from the area at the desk, just to give a slight separation so the client area had the comfy seats and the TV and all the rest of it and then there was the slight step down and you were down to the nuts and bolts with the Vision Mix and the desk and all the rest of it. So, we kind of opened for business and did pretty well.
I: Was this possible because, I mean, in the eighties Channel Four started so there was a lot of production being outsourced from London to Scotland?
R: It was a lot of commercials actually. Commercials basically went to London. There was one edit suite facility in Edinburgh whose name escapes me. Picardy hadn't been started at that point, I don't think, so if they wanted it in Glasgow, if the agency wanted it in Glasgow to be a commercial, they had to go to London so, the idea was to stop them going to London, I would get them to do the commercials in Glasgow so we had to be, we had to have facilities of a similar level to London so we had to pitch the kit pretty high-ended. There was no point in having cheap kit because no one is going to come and look. So we had all the agencies in to look and had the agencies' graphic guys come and look at the Paintbox which they were sort of, which they loved but they had never seen such a thing really but, you know, they loved it. So we had a graphics guy and he had the Paintbox and did, not just the graphics but also some mattes for instance. We gave him a Paintbox and he could draw mattes for us and then edit. We had three one-inch machines - all Sony, because they seemed the best machine at the time and a Sony edit, not a Sony, a different edit control whose name escapes me again. We looked at Sony, we looked at CMX, sorry, I can't remember the name but it was a little independent guy who built this system which has now been bought by, they've now been bought by Grass Valley so it was a good edit system, it just ended up being bought over. So, we had this fantastic edit suite and it was great fun to actually design and build it to be honest. But Iain Ballantyne was the real engineer, I think, because he was the one that was thinking about earthing and all that sort of stuff whereas I am a more Systems person. I just want to join the bits together. And we had a BT line in as well just in case, because there could be a requirement to play stuff down to them. I don't think it was ever used really but we thought it was a good thing to have. So we invited all the agencies in to have a look and we started getting some bookings and doing some work. A lot of it was pretty challenging. We didn't really have much of a clue as to how we were going to do it but, you know, you just kind of launch in and give it a go! And that's how you learn stuff sometimes. You know, agencies would come with a storyboard and ask us to price it and so, which was a really difficult job because then you could have, it was basically how long is that going to take? And the price list was different depending on how much of the facility we were using so if it was just the edit suite with no additional effects, I think it was about three hundred and something an hour but you would get up to five hundred and seventy five pounds an hour if you were using both channels of digital effects. So to work out how much we thought we would use the digital effects and how much not, and price the job, and you always ended up, to be honest, totally under-pricing it really because if digital effects are there, you use them just to do bits and pieces because nobody else is using it. So, it was a challenging time, I think, but it was good fun really.
Again, some pretty late nights/early mornings. I did a video for Jesse Rae. Do you remember Jesse Rae? He came to us to do a video. He took his helmet off inside the edit suite which very few people have seen Jesse Rae face to face! Jesse Rae used to appear with his full leather gear on and a helmet, which he always went about in, but in the edit suite he took the helmet off and I did a couple of his videos and that was challenging stuff! Jesse didn't know when to go home really! So. I remember being there at three in the morning saying, "Jesse, we've got to do this!" I couldn't even remember if I had done a preview or not! "No, just a bit more! Just a bit more!" But he had some good ideas. He came to us with a video which he'd built a box to put a 16 mm camera in, a waterproof box with a glass panel in the front, on the end of a long pole, and hired a helicopter to sling this pole below the helicopter and he dipped it into a loch and the camera came out of the loch and flying low over some trees, through the trees, and the band were playing and there's a camera coming about that off the ground, narrowly missing the band at the top! Health and Safety! But some great stuff. Some good videos! So, that was kind of, he always wanted me to work with him, Jesse, but he was always up to the minute! I just said to my wife, "Don't expect me!" But it was mostly commercials.
We did some, Malcolm McAllister had come from Northern Ireland so he had some contacts with UTV so we did some game shows, some sort of It's a Knock Out! style game stuff for them which they seemed to like so it was pretty busy. But you learned to kind of, even if it wasn't busy and somebody phoned up and said, "Could you fit us in on Thursday?" you would look at the blank sheet and say, "Oh yeah, we can move some things about! Yeah, no problem!" But you don't want to say you are not busy. But I had four years of that which was good fun, really challenging but it was always a bit, I felt it was always a bit like business on a knife edge! They were running with about a hundred thousand overdraft constantly. The Bank Manager didn't really understand the business at all. He was fairly old-school and coming and seeing all this technology, he had no idea what it was about so I felt it could go pear-shaped at any minute so a job came up at STV as an editor so I thought, this has been fun while it lasted and I'll zip back to STV which I did and Edit123 survived! It's still going strong! In fact, I was at their thirtieth birthday party!
I: Yes, that's one of the success stories really.
R: Yes, they now have the whole building! I had the basement and the ground floor. They now have the whole building so good on them! That's fantastic! They have about twenty edit suites - we had two!
I: So, that's you back in STV?!
I: Again in the VT edit?
R: VT edit, yes. We were opening a second RES suite. Well, a second one-man-operated suite so I ended up working in that quite a lot which, again, was different technology. I mean, not as good as Edit123 but I wouldn't expect it to be as good as Edit123. But it was still good fun. Still doing, more or less, the same programmes. One important thing about doing the likes of game shows in those days was that we had a PA in the edit suite. All the programmes, Directors had a Production Assistant who would time the programmes as recorded and would know when we came in to the edit suite how long it was as in, it was five minutes over its allotted slot so as we went through we would tighten things up and take some time out but because it's on tape there's no, when you get to the end, you're at the end, you can't take something out of the middle again so the P.A would be able to tell us how much we had to lose and hopefully you would get to the end and you only looking for a couple of seconds to lose and the programme arrives plus or minus ten seconds at the duration, which, I think, is a fantastic job of the P.A. I don't know how they do it! Whereas editing nowadays in non-linear is much easier because you can just take bits out wherever.
I: Were you still working in the edit suite when they moved to digital?
R: When I went back to STV, they were on one-inch at that time, which is a lot better obviously because you can see the pictures when you are shuttling and you can do slow-mo's so it was still analogue recording basically so - sorry, I've lost my train of thought! Of course, we are still on tape, they had moved from two-inch to one-inch while I was away, which was the right way to go and the tape's much smaller for a start in terms of storage and you can get two hour tapes which you can't really get in two-inch and they shuttle much easier. They are much easier to edit on those because the faster you see the picture and again we are doing the same variety of programmes really - sport and we started doing an Arts programme called NB at the time so I did the first on-line of that so there was a lot more to do on that programme when it came to the on-line as in tape edit. The individual items were edited on tape. By that time, it would be from film on to tape for shooting things so the individual items were edited on tape and so there would be maybe an item about a play or an item about a film or whatever and they would come to the edit to be put together into the final programme with the linking graphics and things like that but sometimes they hadn't actually had time to finish that edit beforehand so that edit had to be finished in the on-line and sometimes it had been dubbed so there was music on it so that was a challenge to edit without ruining the music but I quite enjoyed that sort of stuff. I liked editing music anyway. I get disappointed if there's music needing to be edited and somebody's done it already - I get disappointed! "Oh! I wanted to do that!" So that was another challenge, you know, the audio edit could be miles away from the vision edit. Just to get the audio edit to work but that was the kind of challenging thing and NB was always a challenge in the on-line edit because of the time. It was on air at half past ten that night and it came into the edit about ten o' clock and basically you had to complete about a minute and a half, two minutes an hour in the edit to be on schedule and I just kept my eye on the clock to see how we were doing and if it was getting a bit behind schedule and they want to do various things like, "Can we add a graphics here?" and I said, "No! We'll come back to that if we've got time" because the important thing was to get to the end of a programme to put a production caption on the end even if there were no credits on it. If it's got a production caption on the end and it's complete, you can go to transmission but if it's not complete, you can't go. So the idea was to keep an eye on the clock and to make sure we were on schedule and not get carried away doing something, to make sure we were going to get there. I remember the Head of Programmes at the time, one Alistair Moffatt, coming and sitting at the back of the edit suite, watching and saying, "You are not going to make it! You are not going to make it!" And I thought, this is helpful! We did make it! Again, by about five minutes but the viewer, five minutes, five days, it doesn't matter. It takes about five minutes to get it off the machine downstairs, take it up to transmission, spool it on the machine upstairs, load it up and get it ready for transmission so it's not like, kind of, instant transmission so that was kind of, NB was always a good fun programme but always a [sigh]!
I: A white-knuckle ride!
R: A white-knuckle ride, yes, but it was, we never missed one! [56:56] Sometimes Sport could be a bit like that as well because in the, for a time Scotsport was going out while the English, ITV were showing an English match live so we would record that as it was going out and edit it for inclusion in the programme which was already going out so, to do that, we ran the recorder plus three machines so we would have one machine recording the whole match and not stopping, another two machines recording the match but if something happened we would stop one of them and edit it onto the package and then put that back into record and then, if something else had happened, we still had the other one and so on so you would leap frog your way up through these two machines and, in an ideal world, when the match finishes, your edit's finished because you've done it. It's there. Except one time when we had the package finished and then they scored another goal but the package couldn't be any longer so we had to go back and take the previous incident off in the middle of the commercial, we are into the commercial break before it's going out so we had to take the previous package off and add the goal in and the Head of Sport, the top act, saying "We are in trouble here! We are not going to make it!" "Shut up! I am trying to get it done here! It is not helpful!" And we did make it, you know! But that sort of thing. When I was young and fit(!) I quite liked that sort of thing!
I: It's an adrenaline rush.
R: Yes, it is. And after that, a great sense of satisfaction that you've made it.
I: When you went home at night, for relaxation, would you watch television and, I mean, were you watching stuff that you had worked on?
R: Yeah. Not particularly that I would watch something that I'd worked on unless it was something particularly big, I didn't watch it really. But I couldn't go to sleep, if I'm working till ten o' clock, I still couldn't go to bed when I went home because you are still buzzing from what you've been doing so you just kind of chill out, watch a bit of telly for an hour and a half, two hours and then go to bed after that.
I: When you are watching telly, can you watch it without your editor's hat on or are you sitting, going, "Oh, that's a bit...!"
R: No! My wife keeps complaining because I, in fact just about a couple of weeks ago I was watching something and I said, "That was a duff edit!" because you saw the person move just as they were about to say something else but they cut off it and I was saying, "Why not just cut them off? Cut them off a bit earlier to let the sound run?!" And I was jogging through it frame by frame saying, "See?!" But your eye is just, your ear is just used to watching for those kind of things so you just pick them up. I think the biggest project that I did at that time on tape, at STV, was the Runrig concert at the City of Lights at the Barrowland so that was actually shot on film. Eight film cameras and we pre-striped as in, striping a tape is just recording black but with a time-code on it, with time of day time-code on about five or six big reels and after telecine transfer had been done, we transferred the film on to these tapes at the same time as they had been shot so we could run all the cameras together in sync and then the edit suite cut between the cameras like as if they were kind of live cameras but with the ability to stop-start obviously because it was a tape edit. So that was a pretty major project. That took about two weeks to edit, I think.
I: Wow! That would be quite unusual, was it?
R: For taping, yes, because we would edit each song separately, well, the songs that they used and some of the cameras, despite my exhortations, had started and stopped because I said, "Don't stop!" because as soon as you stop, we've just to re-sync it. I wanted them just to run all the way through the song because they would have just run but some had stopped and started, which was a pain so we had to edit each song and then Chris Buckland had edited some of the little packages shot in the Hebrides.
I: Chris Buckland being?
R: A film editor. He was a film editor, sorry. So he'd have been, Graham Strong was the Director and he'd been out and shot some stuff with the band at their home and some sort of stuff, it was a documentary, basically, about them but with their concert.
I: It won a few awards, didn't it, that programme?
R: It did, yeah, it won a BAFTA.
I: How did you, you must be quite...?
R: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely!
I: We are back in VT and by this time, what, we are into the 1990s are we?
I: And you are working on one-inch. Maybe you could talk about how technology evolved into the digital era. Where we went from one-inch tape.
R: I think STV was one of the first companies to invest in non-linear editing technology. We looked at Lightworks, MC Squared and Avid and I think the general consensus was that Avid was the way to go and, as a tape editor, certainly, it was the way, it looked most like a tape set-up to me in that it was a Play monitor, a Record monitor and I could make sense of the timeline so it was intuitively reasonably easy to work so I did another programme, I created a programme with Graham Strong again on Avid. One of the early Avids. It wasn't actually installed in Edits but it was in a conference room so I don't know whether it was one of the first ones we had or not, I'm not quite sure. But it was certainly a revelation moving on to that kind of technology because you could just do so much so quickly really. I remember being at a conference seminar thing in London about linear- editing and one of the editors said "We can now edit faster than a Director can think!" Which is true because with a tape, every time you rewind and play, rewind and play, the Director's got thinking time but not linear. You can be chopping stuff out, sorry, crafting stuff out at a rate of knots and, you know! The thing is, the way it quite often worked was just to edit stuff and then play it for the Director to see rather than discuss every caption. Doing that was too slow. So the throughput of editing has obviously increased hugely and the creativity as well because you are not limited in what you can do so much so that you can try things that on tape you wouldn't try. You can do limited effects stuff on the basic Avid that you could never do on a tape suite very, very quickly so that is a huge advance! I think the quality potentially is better because it is not going down generations. The only thing, in some ways, in terms of Sport, it is not as fast as tape because although you can edit quite quickly, I could have a tape, I could have a match finished, the edit finished when the match finished and in Avid you could do that as well but now you've got to play it out or export the file whereas on tape I could rewind that machine and play it straight away. So, in some ways, getting it to air, it's faster and I know at the BBC sometimes, they have issues with the Avid file transfers that you send it to their server and hopefully it gets there! So, there's still some, it's very fast for the editing but for the output, there's still some, I think, flaky issues on it. But in terms of an editor, you wouldn't ever go back to tape, I don't think.
I: What about the tactile element of it? I mean, when I started working, I worked with celluloid and I loved handling it and a video tape came in and it's a bit of brown plastic in a black, plastic box and, in terms of human interaction, I never felt the same relationship with video as I did with celluloid. Was there a sense of, within the work that you did, the tactile pleasure of dealing with tape?
R: No, we never touched the tape. Apart from putting it in the machine, you never touched it. It was always in a different room. It wasn't even with you. So, the moving from, you know, a keyboard controller for the tape machines to a mouse or a pen and tablet, there was not really much difference. There was no change. The source is still quite remote of the pictures, you just want to make them happen really you know, it's not, where it comes from doesn't really matter!
I: You've talked about a few disasters averted in your time but is there any particular incident or amusing incident that you can recall?
R: In regard to?
I: Anything really. I mean, there was your work but then there was all the social - was there a big social life around STV?
R: Yeah, I mean at Christmas the Sound Department have their Christmas Party and so, you know, the atmosphere in STV, it was still just the same, you know, as it had been. Still a lot of guys having fun basically, guys and girls having fun but being very professional about it, as they went about it. I mean, to be honest, it was always a laugh! I never thought of it being, I never felt, came into work thinking, 'ooff!' really, it was just, up to the day I retired, it was always a laugh really. And if you can't have a laugh doing your job then, you know, what's the point?! I mean, serious about doing it but have fun while you are doing it.
I: Looking back, what gave you the most job satisfaction in all the things that you did?
R: Probably the Runrig programme actually because it was so complicated, really, in many ways, and there were lots of little effects and things that I did in the edit suite that I was quite pleased with within the realms of what you could do in a tape edit suite, which is not much really but, you know, there was some, I remember one effect, it went from black and white to colour. We'd made some of the stuff black and white and there was a shot of a make-up artist just painting make-up on one of the faces, and just kind of, iris wiped, the kind of colour out from there and somebody said, "How did you do that?" I said, "It was just an iris wipe, it wasn't complicated at all!" But, you know, the simplest of things! But no, that was the most, I really enjoyed that programme. I felt the concert was great and I thought we covered the concert really well. Some of the camera shots were fantastic. It was just a great programme, I think, from beginning to end. I've done other programmes that, you know, I have enjoyed as well. I did a thing called Magic House which was a kid's puppet thing. It was one of these things where the set is up in the air and the puppeteers are down below and they are doing things and that was quite fun! It was all a bit silly, really, and we had our own take at what the puppets were actually meaning when they were saying things, you know, there was that sort of, one of them looked like she was definitely a bit high on something! Soapy bubbles! Anyway! That was another programme which just kind of ran on and on. It was more complicated than they had thought it was going to be and it took a lot longer to edit but it was a puppet thing.
I remember once, eventually, having moved from, the tapes were still working but then we moved into some more specialised post-production finishing tools so we bought an Edit Box, which was an opening into that kind of area of work which was basically unlimited layers of effects and that sort of thing but not very easy to use at all! It was built for film editors because it was all kind of ?? rolls of film joined together. It just didn't make any sense at all, I didn't think. So we eventually moved on to an Avid DS which was much more, it looked much more like an Avid but you could do unlimited layers and what ever effect you liked, we could do it. I really enjoyed working on that because there was lots of stuff. It was a step up again from the Avid and the Avid's a step up from tape because you could edit things much easier and do some other effects. This was a step up again into the effects you can do because you could do really good Ultimatte Chroma Key and you could do rewrites, film effects, make video look like film and I have challenged some people to look at some of the video stuff that was made to look like film and say it wasn't film because it looked, just with a bit of grading and a bit, sort of, plug-ins and I thought looked brilliant. That was another satisfying part of my career which was towards the end when I was, back end of the time when I was at Cowcaddens, when STV moved to Pacific Quay, I was doing that sort of effects work, kind of really, that was mostly what I did, was effects work at that point. Finishing programmes but sticking as much as I could in. You can have a programme that just comes in to be graded but you can always stick extra bits in - a nice landscape shot, a bit of a grad in. which you can do in the effects or whatever. I always like to think, 'what can I do with that shot?' you know. If an interview shot, maybe just blur some corner, darken down some corner, something, little effects that just add a wee, a wee something to it. I mean, it is easy to go through and grade it but why not just play with the toys!
I: I mean, what comes across is that you take a great pride in your job and, you know, I think you've been fortunate in enjoying your career.
R: Yes, I've always considered myself very lucky in my career in that when I was young and stupid I would have said I would do it for nothing because it was just fun, you know! That's the way the whole job was. There were stressful moments and there were times when things went wrong but things go wrong sometimes! At the end of the day nobody died, you know, it's only telly! Which is, you know, it's only telly but at the end of the day, it's not life or death so there's no point in getting too, you try and get it right every time but sometimes things go wrong.
I: And do you think you were, in a way you were the right generation because when you started working in telly you could conceive of a job in telly as being a job for life whereas perhaps now, it's not necessarily the case.
R: Yes. No, I think my Dad was aghast when I left the BBC because he'd been with the bank all his life and then when I left the BBC to go to STV - he goes "what?!" And then to go to STV to go to Edit123, he thought was madness but it's all worked out alright and, you know, people do change jobs. I always think I was maybe just ten years too late because I think the real halcyon days of TV were just maybe ten years earlier because a lot more LE [Light entertainment] stuff was done although I wouldn't miss the back end of my career either, you know, because of the ability to work with the high end of technology, which I really enjoyed doing. I mean, I tried, I took a great pleasure in my work obviously and, you know, I would work late, you know, to get it right because I think that is what people who are professionals do.
I: If there was something that you felt that STV contributed to Scottish life and culture over this last sixty years, what do you think that would be?
R: Well, there's always been a lot of, I think, maybe not so recently but there's been a lot of art stuff on STV, I think which has been good, you know, in reflecting the Scottish arts scene really. Not just, things like the Runrig programme are the extreme but also various, was it Don't Look Down? That was an arts discussion show and bits and pieces. And always, I think STV has always shown it is perfectly capable to make network standard programmes up here in Scotland which, I think, a lot of people who come up from London, London production companies, because a programme would come up here to be finished or whatever, and go away pleasantly surprised that they didn't think we could, we were up to doing that sort of thing! But everybody is up to doing that sort of thing in all the departments. In sound dubbing, editing, whatever department, cameras, everybody was a professional and knew what they were doing.
I: So, in a way, STV is helping give Scotland a voice in the nation?
R: Oh yes, absolutely, I think, yes! Yes, I think STV is proudly Scottish and rightly so.
I: Good. Right, OK. Any particular single memory that you would, if somebody, well, I am asking you, if you have a particular singular memory of your time at STV - good, bad or traumatising?!
I2: Can I quickly interrupt? Are these the STV questions?
I2: Is that the beginning of the STV questions?
I: Well the last one was the first of the STV questions. I was trying to go gently into it rather than "Let's stop and ask the three STV questions!"
R: Have you stopped?
I: Are we rolling?
R: I remember when we were still at Cowcaddens and there was an evening football match and we were all sitting up in the canteen having our tea on the assumption that kick-off time was eight o' clock. It turned out to be half past seven which we realised about twenty past seven so it was a mad stampede down the stairs to get the, so one thing is we didn't miss it but phew, just check your details! To be honest, I can't think of a particular moment because I think I enjoyed all my career at STV, there was no bad moment when I thought, you know, this is rubbish! You know or that I didn't want to do it anymore.
I: Yes, a great place to work! Great people!
R: Yes. Well, it was a great place to work, good people and I think the only time I thought, right, that's enough, is when I came, when I decided to retire. Up until that point I was absolutely up for it and - your Producer is trying to indicate to you!
I2: Christmas tape!
I: Oh yes! Christmas! Christmas tape?! Yes, you mentioned that when you were just exploring your skills as an editor, you made a Christmas tape.
I: Were there more Christmas tapes?
R: No, I think that was it! That was it! Sorry! At that time, we were just at the back end of, all the company used to do Christmas tapes and this was at the back end of that really when I did the Christmas tape and I had, sort of, put some, part of it was putting, getting a Daz commercial and putting some archive footage against the people with washboards and that sort of thing. It was really quite funny but we also shot some stuff round the building but I can't remember that much about it. It wasn't that great, to be honest! It was the back end of the time of Christmas tapes and the BBC did such great ones, it would be foolish even to try and compete to be honest! They had some fantastic ones.
I: Good. OK. I think we'll, if you are happy, we'll wrap there unless there is anything else you would like to say?
R: I don't think so. Is that alright?
I2:Yes, there's just one thing. I think since I did lose focus and I don't know why because I didn't touch it, I think we should conduct the penultimate question as well. Just revisit that.
R: Which was?!
I: Which was, yes?!
I2: The contribution made.
I: Was that before the single memory?
I2: That was before I turned...
I: I think it was, yes. What contributed, did you feel, if STV did make a contribution to Scotland, what was it and you talked about proud to be Scottish and the arts question.
I: So, are we rolling? I'll ask you again then. If STV has made a contribution to Scotland, in its widest sense, what would you think that would be? What would you feel that would be?
R: I think, over the years, STV has contributed greatly to the Scottish arts scene in general between various programmes such as NB, Don't Look Down, Runrig Concert - that sort of thing and reflecting the Scottish art scene mostly and reflecting Scotland in generally ways that other programmes haven't done I think and STV has always been proudly Scottish and rightly so.
I: Great! I think that's a wrap! Brilliant, Robert. That's your sound bite.
R: I was lucky enough at STV that editors got a chance to get attachments as Directors occasionally, if you were interested and if they thought you might be up to it. So I did a few stints on NB, the arts programme, which was good because the items were really short, just three or four minutes, you are not trying to do, construct a whole programme. And you are just filming what's in front of you so it might be just an exhibition or possibly an excerpt from a play, which is more complicated as you have to work out how to cover it with just a single camera. That was really interesting and good. I also got to film a couple of bands and they are shot in film. Again, another experience. Film to playback because it was playback to a track so that, again, was a different experience. And that seemed to go OK so I was able to do a bit of directing of Scottish Passport as well, went to a couple of trips. One to the exciting Cadbury's factory on a bus trip with John Amabile and the other one was to Madeira with Eileen McCallum, which was really interesting and that was actually quite a good wee test of directing because apart from the filming we went to the famous hotel there - can't remember the name - which is famous for its high teas on a balcony overlooking the bay so Eileen had, we had arranged to go there and film. Eileen was there and we sat down and all set to go and the manager came up and said "Lady, you are too old!" because they were trying to get, Madeira was known for being a retreat for the older people so they were trying to get a younger feel about the place so he said, "Too old!" I said, "Well, no Presenter, no item!" And fortunately Tony Webb, who was the cameraman, was busy shooting GVs from the balconies! Just taking the chance while we were there to film away so I basically said to the guy, "No Presenter, no item!" so they relented and Eileen did her little piece. I thought, how ridiculous! How outrageous! But you know, sometimes you've got to stand your ground and just say. And then I did some time on Wheel Nuts, which was our motoring programme. Again, just, not unlike NB except it was all about cars but that was a bit more exciting because you were driving about filming cars. Generally in the rain! John Agnew called me the Rainman because every time I went out filming, it rained! And then I did one whole programme, which was an arts programme, about the Scottish Design Centre where they were designing a new car for the new Thunderbirds movie, the new, what is it, Lady Penelope's car. And they were demonstrating their, they called it the haptic table where they could look through goggles and look at a three dimensional view of a car and spin round sort of thing so a whole programme about that, which was interesting but I think it was a great opportunity to get out of the edit suite because STV, sometimes in the edit suite you would say, "Och, where's the wide shot? Where's the close-up?" but it's much harder when you are out there on location to actually get these things. You should get them but other things happen and you forget or whatever. So it was an insight into, I think it is always good to have insights in to other sides of the business and the training at the BBC was good in that I knew what it was like to be in a studio sound room or cameras or whatever so I had experienced all these areas so I knew, I had experience of them all so you are not just sitting in the edit suite in a darkened room saying, "Huh! Why did he not get that right?!"
I: And when you were directing, were you kind of thinking ahead for what shots you would take with the view to how they would edit?
R: Oh yes. I think editors make good Directors from that point of view. Whether I was or not I don't know but yes, I was thinking, here is the sequence of shots and sometimes you get a piece in the edit suite where somebody has just shot stuff without any concept of how it's going to go together.
I: When you came back to the studio, did you get to sit in with the editor and edit it?
R: Yes, and that was one of the most trying and challenging parts of my career because it's quite frustrating as an editor to get somebody else to edit your piece because you want to, but I think it is better to get somebody else to do it because if you've directed it and you edit it, you've got kind of tunnel vision about what it should be. And the edit process is not just the Editor pressing buttons at the Director's behest, it's making something more out of it, it's the editing. The whole TV process is a creative process and the editing process is you and the Director between you making the programme. At the end of the day, it's the Director's programme but I would always suggest stuff, there's no point just sitting there and pressing the buttons. The point is, suggest stuff, "What about? What if?" and if you don't like it, fine! If they do, well, you've made an improvement. So, yes, it was a particularly trying time watching somebody else do it and not going 'tap' because that's the worst thing a Director can do - tap on the table when the edit's supposed to happen! I always gave the Director a dirty look if they did that! Fine! If you think I don't know where to edit then...anyway and so it was a great experience, I think but worthwhile doing.
I: Now you've retired do you do any kind of amateur production, film making or editing?
R: No, just my grandchildren! And family! I've done, shot plenty of stuff for the family when they were young and edited here, obviously, STV. And they love it because they look back and see themselves at three and four! But, no, I think I have retired, retired!
I: OK. Great! Thank you very much, Robert, that's terrific.
R: Thank you.
[End of Recording]