Ron Seeth - Transcript
[Start of Recording]
I: This is an interview with Ron Seeth for the Scottish Broadcasting Heritage Group's Oral History project. The interviewer is Janet McBain and the date is 13 May 2017. Ron, let's start with when and where you were brought up. When were you born and where were you brought up?
R: I was born in 1953. I was mainly brought up in Clydebank, not too far away from where we are at the moment. I went to school in a place called Faifley, which is part of Clydebank. That's where my education was and lived there until about 1982 when I left the nest and went and bought my own place.
I: And when you were growing up during your childhood, was there anybody in the family who was interested in television or did you have an appetite for going to the pictures? How did you evolve an interest in...?
R: I found out many years later - and this is where the bug must have came from - that my Grandfather was a very keen photographer and, unfortunately, all his equipment was lost during the Clydebank Blitz but I think, perhaps, that's where the bug originated from. But I remember when it first really took hold was when I went with my parents to watch a live show at Scottish Television called The One O'Clock Gang back in the early sixties it would be and I think, from that moment (it was a very unique programme actually - it was a live lunchtime programme. It went out every day, which was ahead of its time indeed), but I always remember sitting in the audience at being absolutely amazed at what went on behind the scenes! The cameras, the sound, everything indeed was incredible! From that moment on I used to get tickets for all the STV shows sent. I used to write in. We got them for nothing, of course, and went quite often to watch programmes being either recorded or going out live and it was from that moment that I knew that I wanted to work in television, specifically be a television cameraman. That was my aim in life.
I: So, you'd only be a school boy when this was happening?
R: Absolutely. I would say I'd be about eight, nine, ten and that was my ambition even from that early age. There was nothing else I wanted to do. Television cameraman was it! I always remember when it got to that time when you had to leave school and you were sent down to meet the Careers Information Officer and I went and sat down with him. My father was with me as well and I lived in Clydebank at the time and you either left school and you went in to shipbuilding at John Brown's, of course, or Yarrow's or Singer Sewing Machine, all heavy industry places and it got to the million-dollar question - "Well, Ronald, what do you want to do when you leave school?" I'm fourteen at the time. "I want to be a television cameraman!" To which there was silence for a moment and then he realised I was serious and, to be fair to the gentleman, he tried to put me off by saying along the lines of - you really have to, it's a difficult career to get in to and, at the time it would be impossible I would reckon, fourteen, fifteen, where do you get experience to work in television? So, I don't think he had ever had anyone before or since come in and tell him, "I want to be a television cameraman." but it was something I wanted to pursue even at that early age. It's not something that happened overnight by the way! We'll probably come to that later on. But he was very nice to me, he gave me some information and off I went with the ambition of being a cameraman someday in the future.
I: So, what happened? Did you leave school at fourteen then?
R: I left school, believe it or not, with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever, which, having now managed to get in to television and eventually become a cameraman, seemed an impossible task then. It's not something I would recommend everybody would leave school and have no qualifications at all. It just so happened that I knew somebody (and this will be a recurring theme as we go on here), I knew somebody who knew somebody else who knew there was a job coming up in a photographic shop in Glasgow so, my parents got in touch with this person. They got in touch with me and told me that there was a job coming up in a photographic shop in Sauchiehall Street - I'll give you the contact details. So, I applied for a job in a photographic shop in Sauchiehall Street called Twentieth Century Movies. They had a shop there. They also had a shop in Queen Margaret Drive but I literally left school on the Friday and, two weeks later, started work at fifteen in a photographic shop. Now, it was the first stage of my ambition to be a cameraman. There I was in a photographic shop with cameras. And they sent me to College and I learned about lenses and cameras and what they do. I wasn't particularly a big photographer, I remember at the time, because cameras were very expensive then, as they are now, so I wouldn't say it was a hobby that I had but I was interested in photography, playing with cameras etc but still had that inkling to work in television somehow, somewhere along the line in many years to come.
I: And Twentieth Century Movies, did they cater mostly for the amateur and the non-professional market? Was it 8mm and 16mm?
R: Yes, well the shop in Sauchiehall Street eventually closed down. Nothing to do with the fact that I came and joined them. The main shop was in Queen Margaret Drive, not far from the BBC, and eventually I was decanted up to Queen Margaret Drive and I stayed there for six years but the one thing about that job, even though I was surrounded by cameras and films, they did cater for the amateur and they also catered for the semi-professional. I remember in the window we had Bolex 16mm cameras and Arriflex cameras etc so it did actually have an interest with the semi-professional and possibly professional as well. They also had, as well as cameras and all photographic equipment associated with a shop like that, they also had a film library and I quickly fairly soon after joining the company realised one thing I wasn't good at and that was selling things. I absolutely hated serving behind the counter. Customers used to appear in the shop and I would go and hide somewhere until, obviously, I had to go and serve somebody. That wasn't what I wanted to do at all. I just knew my career laid down a different path from that so I knew I had to get out of this shop and there was this film library. Now, they used to hire (this was years before the video was invented), they used to hire 8mm and 16mm films and one of the busiest times of the year was at Christmastime because we used to hire out cartoons for kids' parties and that was the busiest time of the year. We also had the Irish Tourist Board Library, we looked after that as well, and I eventually - because it got me out of the shop and out of selling things which I hated - I actually started to run the Film Library, which was in a little shop two door's along from the main branch so that also got me out of the shop as well. I used to spend hours rewinding films, repairing films, hiding out the way as best I could and that got me knowledge of how a Film Library ran. That was the biggest library in Scotland I believe at the time and possibly forever. I used to take all the bookings, deal with the films going out, films coming back and that experience led me in good stead actually because when I joined STV a few years later, it was in the Film Library I started off in but, for the moment, there I am in Twentieth Century Movies hiding from the customers coming into the shop and working in the Film Library so that kind of got me a little stepping stone to get into STV eventually.
I: And did you have to train yourself in to how to handle 16mm film and splice and repair?
R: Absolutely. All self-taught. There was another gentleman who worked there as well. He taught me how to splice films together the old-fashioned way with a splicer and the film cement etc, wearing gloves and how to check the perforations weren't broken in the film but, no, it was quite an ambitious Film Library for its time. Thousands of films and people used to buy films as well! You know, 8mm, Super Eight and occasionally 16mm. I remember once taking a 16mm projector home with me and we used to get a lot of the big Feature Films sent up from London. People used to hire them out by a catalogue, a catalogue of films which people could look through and hire and rent by the day or the weekend and I took a 16mm projector home one day and a couple of Feature Films. I was the most popular person in the street that weekend because people heard about this - "Do you hear Ron's got a projector?!" Again, video was unheard of so there's me with this huge, big projector, 16 hundred foot film, roll showing Spartacus, I think it was, which is the longest film in the history of the world and the living room was packed with people! I had some cartoons as well. So, it was quite an adventure that day! But that was my initial stepping stone into STV.
I: So, you went from Twentieth Century Movies to STV?
I: So, how did that come about? Did you see an advert?
R: Again, it was one of those situations where I was in the right place at the right time and because my uncle knew this person who had a contact in STV, he told me that there was a job coming up in the Film Library at STV. This person was retiring. Leaving. Again, similar situation, "Why don't you write in?" So, I'd no ideas so I found out who the personnel person was and this job had not been advertised, it had not even gone up on the board in STV. I knew it was coming up and because I had Film Library experience I thought 'well, I might have a chance here, I'll write in.' So, I wrote a letter and, to my amazement, got a reply from the personnel. A person, at the time, called John Baxter who invited me for an interview so I toddled along one day to the Theatre Royal where STV's front door was at the time and went for an interview, which was, I think, the most frightening experience I'd ever had in my life because there I was, in STV, and people asking me all these questions and I'm only twenty, twenty-one at the time so I was still wet behind the ears basically and I thought, 'I'll never hear anything about this again' but, lo and behold, they invited me back for a second interview a few weeks later and, again, went along and I'll always remember there was a wonderful, old Commissionaire at STV called Tom Harold, who used to wear the white cap and the braid and all the medals and he remembered me from the first interview that I'd had a few weeks earlier and he said, "You've been here before son, haven't you?" And I said, "Yes." "You must be in with a chance then!" he said. So, I went for a second interview. It was a higher level of Management this time I discovered later on and I went back to Twentieth Century Movies and thought, 'Oh, I'll see what happens. I won't hold out any ambition for this happening.' But that afternoon at Twentieth Century Movies I remember there was a switchboard girl that used to work in the back office, typing, taking calls and hearing the phone going and she popped her head round the corner, "Ron! It's the phone." Ok. So, I'm hiding behind the counter. It was John Baxter to tell me that I'd got the job and I think my salary quadrupled within about twelve hours because I remember very well when I left Twentieth Century Movies in about, oh, it would be '68 it would be probably, I was earning the princely sum of twelve pounds a week before deductions and I think I was getting slightly more than that working in STV. I remember being given the salary and I thought I'd won, if the lottery had existed then, I thought I'd won it! But that wasn't the reason for joining STV. That was a huge stepping stone was getting in to the building and there I was one day going in to the building at STV, working in the Film Library but I'm in there! There's the studios, there's the cameras, there's the cameramen and it was a great time. Fondly remembered, those times.
I: So how many of you were in the Film Library at the time?
R: At the time David Cargill, the person I replaced, there was four of us altogether. There was actually two Film Libraries at STV when I joined. Bearing in mind that the Theatre Royal was still the main building so the Film Library was actually in the upper circle of STV. If you imagine all the seats as they are now, that was row upon row upon row, raked, film cans and shelves, all the way round as far as the eye can see! And, as I say, there was actually two libraries. There was the production library, which looked after some of the altered films which STV used to make themselves, stored it; there was also the tape library as well, part of that, which is the part that I used to work in. There was also the commercial library as well, which a lovely lady called Isobel used to run with an iron hand! She'd been in there from the very beginning and everybody knew - and feared - Isobel! But she was the loveliest person, she really was, and we had a great laugh. And they looked after, because all the commercials that used to go out on STV were on 35mm and they came in single cans and they used to have duplicates of all the commercials. There was row upon row upon row of them and all the commercials used to get made up and compiled on to a huge, big reel film, they were transmitted as a commercial break, taken away back to Film Assembly, taken down and put back in the film can again and that's how the commercials went out but that was a different department. I worked mostly in the tape, video tape, and film side of it.
I: And what format would the video tapes have been in?
R: Two-inch. Two-inch quad tapes, which were quite heavy. We used to have, we used to, every morning our duty was to load up the tapes for transmission, a lot of programmes on STV were recorded from the Network and go out at different times from the Network, taken down to VT [Video Tape], take away some of the material that had already been transmitted, leave them in the wipe rack for use again because obviously there was only a limited amount of tapes but they could use them again and again and again and we had a system. We used to know which tapes we could wipe and which tapes had to go back and be kept in the library and that system worked quite well until one day I managed to place in the wipe rack, in error, an episode of Crossroads which, again, STV put out on different times on the actual Network and I remember that evening when I was compiling the tapes to go to VT, looking for the particular tape number and not being able to find it because all tapes had the tape number on the card. "Where's tape number 594? It's not there! Where is it? I can't find this tape anywhere!" Then I suddenly remembered, "I think I put that in the wipe rack this morning!" Fortunately, for me, I think, it was still in the wipe rack and had not been wiped! I made sure it was checked because that would have caused, well, I don't know how that would have caused me. Crossroads would not have gone out that night or they'd have to have had the tape sent back up the Network again at whatever cost but I remember very well thinking, 'This is the end of my career! I've wiped Crossroads! Nobody will see it tonight and civilisation will come to an end!' But that was one of the mistakes I made there. I didn't do that again, I can assure you.
I: Yes, it's a steep learning curve to do something like that.
R: Yes! Always double check these things! You know, "Is it meant to be there? Yes, it is".
I: So, do you know who made the decisions as to which tapes were to be kept and which were to be wiped? Or, what was the policy for keeping, can you remember what the policy was?
R: It was such a long time ago. I'm thinking now that the, we used to check with various Heads of Department I think at the time or with my immediate boss - "Can we wipe these tapes?" because if they've gone out and they're not original programming, they are generally wiped but we all made sure we checked with whatever department. [20:20] We also had archive tapes as well. We also had a Programme Sales Department.
I: Even in 1968 or thereabouts?
R: I didn't join STV until 1973 so it would be about then. And that is the reason, I am sure, that STV today is showing Take the High Road was because most of the material was wiped but the Programme Sales Department had their own separate library and quite often used to record episodes of Take the High Road, for example, and send them off to the likes of the regional companies that existed at the time - Westward or HTV or whatever who would put them out in the afternoon and they would send them back to us and we would store them in the Programme Sales Department but the Sports Department had its own archive as well. We used to put the highlights onto an archive tape and they were all stored on to a two-inch tape for many years. The interesting thing about the library at STV was the fact that when STV moved, I'm trying to think, it would be about '74 now, they had to move out of the Theatre Royal as Scottish Opera were moving in and they'd also built a new building round the back of Cowcaddens and everything was being moved into that, we obviously had to get out of the Film Library. We had to move and there was an enormous amount of material to move but there was no room! In fact, there was no Film Library! They forgot to build a Film Library! There was no storage for the library, storage space for the library so a lot of material (how can I put this delicately?) disappeared! Some, I think, went to a College, other people (including myself) used to hide things! Archive footage of Glasgow, black and white footage of Glasgow, tram cars and street scenes, I used to hide them in drawers out the way so that nobody could find them! But I remember very well, at one time there was a lot of people putting a lot of films, archive material, in bags and it was being sent away somewhere never to be seen again. I don't know what happened to it, it was all...
I: Yeah, I mean I think that is a real, it is a tragedy really!
R: Oh, it was.
I: That Scottish, that they lost, because, presumably, that would be the point at which they would have lost things like the first programme and some of the early pioneering programmes from the Theatre Royal. They just wouldn't have survived the move.
R: Even to this day I still think about those times and get annoyed that there wasn't a more of a long-term plan of action of how, they just didn't have the time or inclination to keep all this material and it's something even now I look back on and think, 'this should all have been preserved!' And, of course, when it came to anniversary programmes, which there was one that came up very soon after that, and I started to get phone calls in the library - "Can we have this?" We don't have it any more! Francie and Josie, for example, two well-known Scottish comedians of the time, I think the only existing tape of Francie and Josie performing is on a programme called The Twenty One Show where they recreated it again. That's all that exists of Francie and Josie. All the shows have gone! It's an absolute tragedy!
I: Is that because a lot of these shows that went out live, they would have been recorded on tape but the tape was so expensive they used to...?
R: There is an element of that. The earlier shows used to go out live. The interesting thing about that is the opening night of STV, I believe, wasn't recorded locally and the only reason it exists today is because it was recorded in London by the company that existed at the time and they had a tele-recording of it and that's the only reason we still today have the opening night of STV with Kenneth McKellar and James Robertson Justice etc and a live outside broadcast from somewhere, that's the only reason that exists. It wasn't recorded locally. They didn't have the means to record it locally at the time. But, as you say, a lot of programmes did go out live and recordings didn't come in to the vogue until much later. But there was a lot of material that just disappeared, never to be seen again!
I: So, how long did you stay in the library then?
R: Well, I started in '73 in STV in the library and I stayed there until 1979, having tried over many a year for jobs in the camera department. That was still my total aim in life. That was the only reason for coming off that path. I wanted to be a cameraman, I'm in STV, I'm working in the Film Library. By this time, I was now personal friends with all the cameramen and I used to, quite often, just appear towards late afternoon down on the studio floor and just watch what was going on and, eventually, you know, they'd let me have a go at the camera or whatever and I always feel sorry for Maureen, who I worked beside (she was my boss in the Film Library) because I would quite often would vanish at the most crucial times and give it absolute pelters when I came back - "Where have you been?!" But we laugh about it now. I still see Maureen occasionally, laugh about it now, but she understood this is what I wanted to do.
As I say, I used to go down every so on, not every night, obviously, but every so often when I could find the time, go down and watch the rehearsals for the, then, nightly News programme called Scotland Today and I used to sit in the studio and watch the cameras and, eventually, when I got to know the camera crew really well they would let me operate the camera on the rehearsal. In fact, I got so familiar on this job, they used to go away and do their shopping! This is in the time that cameras were actually operated, not like they are now with all robotic cameras now, you actually used to operate and move the cameras round the floor. And they would leave quite happily because they knew the programme inside out anyway, it was fairly straight forward for them. For me it was a great thing to be let, oh, I'm rehearsing this show and it got to a stage over the years that people actually thought I was a cameraman! I was in the studio more often than they were! That was great fun.
But I always remember the first time somebody put me on a camera. Now, at the time these things are huge! Big pedestals, takes a bit to move them around. After all these years of wanting to be a cameraman, when I eventually got on to one to try and operate it - "Och, I can't do this, this is impossible! You need to have five arms and four hands to operate this thing!" And I got really worried that I couldn't do this job because it's impossible. Obviously it wasn't impossible but it was just a bit of a shock to me. So, for years I used to go down on the studio floor and was told I could do the rehearsal whosever turn it was, you know, they used to fight over as to who had to go away! "No, I want to go away! You can operate my camera for the rehearsal!" They'd come back and I'd made copious notes on the script about where the camera should be. They could do it in their sleep, they didn't need notes. Until one night the senior cameraman, Jimmy Stewart (there were several Jimmy Stewarts at STV by the way), Jimmy Stewart of the Camera Department, after a normal rehearsal of Scotland Today said "Do you want to do the show?" to which I balked and went, "Really?!" "Yeah, I'll be with you, you know, you can do the show." Again, I work in the Film Library, I'm not a cameraman, so what do you say? Do you run a mile and say, "No way!", or do you say, "OK, then!" So, I remember very well the show went on the air at six o' clock, my first shot was a caption, it normally was on that particular camera, followed by a shot of the Presenter of the time called John Toye and the camera actually had to track in a little bit to the desk and frame the shot accordingly. Again, Jimmy was beside me but I operated the camera to millions of people round the country and I always remember that particular evening, for some reason, there was a guy playing the guitar. They used to have little features like that on the show even if it was a News programme. They used to have soft features as well. They had an area called the 'soft area'. Anyway, there was this guy playing a guitar so there's also an element of music as well, defocusing on the strings and focusing up on the strings and so, I did all that, back to the Presenter again, a couple more captions. Now, the twenty-five, twenty-six minutes went in like that and the Director at the time had only just come out of training himself and he wasn't told that I was doing this camera, he just thought that Jimmy was operating the camera as normal just in case something went wrong and he got the blame. I did the show, it went out and if you'd seen me afterwards, I remember very well, it was as if I'd just come out the shower! I was absolutely saturated, head to toe, completely drenched! And I remember Jimmy called Cliff, the Director, onto the floor and said "This is who's been operating Camera Three tonight." Cliff said, "Well, I didn't notice any difference!" So, I did a live show.
Now, up until that point, I had applied for various jobs that had come and gone in the Camera Department.
I2: Can I just pause you there, if I may?
Yes, so, that was my first live show on STV and I'd tried on numerous occasions to join the camera section but got various rejection letters along the way and it got to the point actually after, this is maybe '77, '78 now and I'm thinking, 'Well, time's going on here now, if I'm ever going to do this, I've got to do this pretty soon here!' It wouldn't be a disaster if I finished up working in the library for the rest of my life or whatever but I know I wanted to do this job but it got to the stage - and I found this out many years later - when I did eventually apply again for the job I got, there were so many people had gone up and spoke on my behalf because, basically, I was doing the job anyway unbeknownst to Management, I think, you know, I was actually doing live shows! I mean, heaven forbid, you know, it wouldn't happen now but eventually I was interviewed again and I was asked back for another interview for the second time once more and going back down to the library again and thinking, 'Well, this is the chance! If I don't do it this time I will probably never do it because I'm probably getting to that too old stage now.' And I remember sitting in the Film Library, in the office, the little office we had with Maureen, and the phone goes and it was Maureen who answered the phone and said, "That's Ferdi Coia, the secretary." Ferdi Coia's my boss's boss, he was head of the Facilities Department at the time so, effectively, he was my boss's boss. "He wants to see you." So, that was it, my heart sank. I thought, 'This is it. This is another one of these "Thank you very much, goodbye!"' Only, this time, in person. So, off I turned up to the office and sat, Morna's secretary sent me through. Ferdi was a lovely guy actually. Ferdi Coia. Paul Coia's Dad. He was a rascal! He was a rascal. Sat me down. I'm shaking like a leaf! He's sitting back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, as he does, and he was doing whatever he was doing, delaying the inevitable as far as I was concerned, looked at me and said, "OK, son, so you want to be a cameraman, eh?" "Yes." "Well done, son, you've got the job." So, what do you do then when somebody tells me you've got the job after all those years, what do you do? You burst into tears. At which point Ferdi panicked and said, "Are you alright, son?! Are you alright?! Morna, get a whisky in here now!" Morna brought one in. I don't drink whisky at all but I had one that day! I was in bits! Couldn't believe it! After all these years! As I described earlier, from the age of eight or nine, went through all that to somebody actually telling me that I'd got the job. It was just, it was unreal! That's what I did, I burst into tears. But that was fine. I didn't care. So, that was 1979.
I: And did you go in as Cameraman or trainee or an assistant or...?
R: I think my first official grade was Trainee Camera Operator and I still have the memo somewhere in a little file, along with other things, telling me my salary etc, my starting date on the old STV memo form that we used to have at the time. I must dig it out and see what the salary was actually. Probably surprise myself. But an interesting side note to all of that was after waiting all those years to try and get into the Camera Department, getting the job, being told I'd got the job, was to start (I forget the actual date), the entire ITV Network in 1979 went on strike so my journey to the camera section was delayed for a good two or three months because I had to, obviously, do my notice in the library etc but I thought I could wait a few months longer. I remember my very first official show for STV. There were two studios at the time, the big studio was Studio A and the smaller studio with the News programmes and all the other shows that STV did at the time but, for some reason, Studio C was shut down, was being refurbished, and the main show was a programme called House Call, I think it was. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, it was in Studio A anyway. I think Isobel Begg was the name of the Presenter but maybe my memory's playing tricks on me. It doesn't matter anyway but I remember working on my first show and being extremely nervous about it as well but that was later on in 1979.
I: I think it's very interesting what you said about in a way if it hadn't been for people like Jim Stewart and some of his colleagues who were willing to give you a chance to step out of your official role and do that, and yet, what you tend to hear about television in those days is a very strong sense of demarcation. Everybody had their job and woe betide you if you, you know, a Director asked a cameraman to move a prop or something and that was the stagehand's job. How do you equate the support that you got from your colleagues in encouraging you to do something that wasn't your job with the kind of, that other kind of culture of being very protective of people's jobs?
R: That's interesting. An interesting question actually. I don't know the answer to that one. I just got to know the cameramen and all the studio people really well through many months and years and I think they just took me on. Saw that I was really enthusiastic. It must have been beaming out of me, really enthusiastic and this is what I wanted to do and really, I think they were quite impressed by the fact that I used to give up my time to go on to the floor and not just a week or so, over several months and years I was quite consistently going back. I think they saw this was something this guy wanted to do and maybe they saw something in me, I don't know. There was a couple of people who kind of took me on board and took me under their wing and pushed me forward in that way but it was definitely something, looking back on now, I don't think anyone frowned upon it as far as a Union, we all worked in the same Union, for example, so there wasn't a problem there. I just think people thought, 'this guy wants to do this, he's got an ambition to do this, why should we stop him?' And I wasn't really doing anybody out of a job anyway. It was a natural progression, a vacancy that became available. Some people would move up and people would come in at the bottom end or whatever so I wasn't exactly taking over somebody's job as such. But you're absolutely right, at the time you couldn't do, like, for example, if you had to move a prop or something or move a chair, you daren't do that! That was definitely somebody else's job back then! It was just a big no-no. If you had to move something you got the Stage Department to do it. Or a microphone - that was the Sound Department's job to do that and you went nowhere near lights - that was definitely a big no-no! So, there was a big demarcation back then. It's a lot more relaxed these days for good or bad, I don't know, but back then everybody had their job. Lines were drawn in the sand and you didn't cross it and that was it because you could cause a major strike! People would walk out! You touch that - out! That was it! So, that's how bad things were back then.
I: So, you maybe just got in before that culture really kicked in and it was due to the generosity of colleagues willing to share and give you a chance.
R: Yeah, as I said before, I found out later that actually I'd sight of a letter that I shouldn't have seen. Somebody had actually written a letter on my behalf and sent upstairs and people used to go up and knock on doors and, as I say, I found this out many years later, "Do you want to give this guy a job? He's doing it at the moment!" You know. And I'd no idea that all this lobbying was going on behind the scenes. I'd be quite embarrassed by it to be honest but I'm glad it did! But I think it was, even now, at sixty-four, I'm still enthusiastic about the job albeit thinking of retiring would be quite a good idea as well but, even now, I've no ambition to give it up tomorrow. In fact, one of the things that I want to do now in my twilight years, if you like, is to train and get into media training. That's something that I definitely, I have done in the past because I still get excited about cameras and microphones. I prefer to be behind the camera right enough but here I am in front of it!
I: Here you are in front of it, yes. [41:51] So, in 1979 that was you starting finally, starting out as a Trainee Cameraman. How long were you a, sort of, trainee or how long did it take?
R: I don't think it was very long because what happened after that was that somebody else above me left so there were people who applied for jobs and they get moved up grades and I don't think I was a trainee as such very long. I think I suddenly, if I remember rightly, I jumped from being a Trainee Camera Operator to being a Second Year Camera Operator and I missed out the First Year altogether! And I think, because of people moving on, leaving or being promoted out of different departments, my TV camera career went up very quickly and in fact, I think it was about 1982, that I became a Senior Camera Operator but it was all training on the job. There was no sent away for courses or down south to Colleges. It was all trained and training on the job and that's how I learnt the craft.
I: And it was studio-based, predominantly, I presume?
R: It was mainly studio-based but there was an element of outside broadcast as well. STV had a very thriving Outside Broadcast Department. In fact, they had eventually two Outside Broadcasts Units working side by side and that, again, was a different way of working because you are obviously not in a studio environment, you are either outside or in a building somewhere and that was a learning curve.
I: Can you talk a wee bit about the kind of job, like a typical day, if you like, of an outside broadcast. If there was such a thing as a typical day in outside broadcast! I mean, were you working from a van or was this you going out and setting up on a location somewhere?
R: Depending on the outside broadcast. Back then STV would record a football match. Nothing really went out live. Very rarely, later on, would there be a live football match but all the programmes, all the football, naturally, were recorded, edited down so we'd go out, if I was seconded on to the outside broadcast, as we all were at some point, there would be four cameras working on a football match. Four cameras! Now there's twenty-four cameras working on a game but, back then, there was maybe three or four. We'd go along, we'd set the cameras up. This is again something else that's changed over the years. We used to go along and the riggers used to bring out all the boxes to the positions and we'd build the camera. That was fine. Then, once everybody had finished, we'd pack the camera away in the boxes and leave it and the riggers would take it away. Nowadays, we actually go along to the van, get all the boxes off ourselves and build the cameras, haul them up or whatever so these things have changed and not for the better, I have to say. But a typical day would be setting the cameras up, maybe doing what they call a Facility Check, a Facs Check with the Director, make sure your tube light was working and you knew what your job function was, whatever camera you were doing you knew what your duties were or, for example, you used to do horseracing from Ayr.
Quite often STV would be part of a Network of two racecourses, Ayr being one of them and another one down south and they used to, ITV used to go back and forward between the two horseracing events. It was called the ITV Seven. Yes, I go back that far! But my job on the horseracing at Ayr, I always remember I always finished up on the Start Camera and the camera was mounted on top of a vehicle which STV had bought themselves. I think it was built in Scotland, called Stonefield and this camera we mounted on top, on the roof of the vehicle which would go to the start, film the horses parading at the start, filmed, it was live, it wasn't filmed, show the horses leaving the frame, that was your job done, all the rest of the cameras would take over the race. The next part of the proceedings would be to unplug everything and these were the days before satellite links, it was all post office connections and wires in a box by the side of the road, pull all these things out. I used to travel on top of this vehicle along the main road down to the next start which, inevitably, would be on the other side of the course, which involved going on to the main road, past all the traffic lights, down another road into the other entrance while the other race was on, get to the start in time to get all connected up again in time for the next race happening and we managed to get there! We managed to get there! But sometimes you think, 'We're not going to make this!' And, all of a sudden, your headphones burst into life and you hear the Director and your picture started, all of a sudden your pictures would start coming live at the back of the scanner so the first thing they wanted you to get was, "Camera Four, can you get me the horse with the pink slash and the green stars!" Black and white viewfinder! It's all multi shades of grey to me! You know, so you had to look beyond the camera - "Oh, that's him there, OK, that's that particular horse there." And we used to travel down to Ayr in the morning and set up, do a little bit of rehearsal then our wonderful O.B. supervisor, John, used to like to go to a particular coffee shop in Ayr for coffee and cake. He used to canter away down there. He used to leave things very tight for getting back to the ground or the stadium or whatever but he was the boss so we did what he, and he had the car as well so I suppose we did what he told us to do! But there was never really a typical day in O.B. really.
Many a golf tournament, which were live, and that was exciting! Golf, generally speaking back then, went to the Network so your pictures were being shown all round the country, which was terrific! You know, that was a great buzz, that, live pictures! And to think I actually managed to follow a ball through the air, which I didn't think I could do at the time, but that was unbelievable, following a ball through the air!
I: So, was it a black and white monitor?
R: Yes, it was all black and white back then! Colour viewfinders didn't come in until very recently.
I: It must be quite difficult to film snooker as well on a black and white monitor?
R: It would be yes, but you can actually see the table in front of you so you can see the coloured balls but looking through the viewfinder, it's difficult to tell the blue ball from the pink ball, the green ball, whatever colour ball it would be so you had to use your own eyes sometimes to determine where we are, you know.
I: So, I think you said it yourself, did you get a bit of a buzz from this concept that it was going out live and things had to be ready to go on air when they were and there was no, sort of, no room for manoeuvre really - did that give you a bit of a buzz?
R: Absolutely! And still does to this day, which is why I am still doing it. Every year live programmes at STV were quite limited. One of the main live shows that STV used to put out year after year was a Hogmanay show and I used to volunteer every year to do that show because, well, where else do you get the chance to do a live entertainment show that's going out to the entire country? And sometimes other countries as well?! And some of the older guys wanted to be at home so there was never any shortage of positions to work on the show and that was an incredible experience working on a live show. They used to rehearse for two days beforehand in the studio and then, on the evening we all had a break and then the audience would come in about half past nine, quarter to ten. The place was just electric, you know, you just, it's hard to describe this atmosphere in the studio. It's about to go live! Everything is just buzzing! Including the crew as well. And then the countdown begins and you hear the opening music and you're on! And I can't describe that, it's a wonderful experience! It's just a great buzz!
I: I think it's wonderful, you know, that you've been doing it all these years and you obviously still get a real sense of enjoyment of what you do and job satisfaction out of it. Would it be fair to say that in those days a cameraman, you're conscious of being part of a team because there's a whole load of people that have to work together to get a programme out but tell me a little bit about what it was like to work in that environment. Other people have said that Scottish Television was like a big family, for example?
R: That's absolutely correct. It was a big family and that was the reason it was such a success. Everybody worked together. It was fun. It was fun. We were all doing a job. We were all working really hard but we're having fun as well at the same time and that's what made it a success story. And that's the reason, I think, a couple of years ago when I organised a reunion night for people who'd worked at STV at the very beginning right up until the end of Cowcaddens before we moved to Pacific Quay here, that was one comment I remember hearing on the night of the reunion, was 'It's just like the family getting back together again!' It's like all your relations that you know have got back together and people just picked up where they left, some people hadn't seen each other for twenty years but it was as if they'd just met each other last week! People just picked up where they left off.
I: How much of that, do you think, was due to the atmosphere that was created by the likes of Bill Brown?
R: It was totally down to the Management of the time. Bill Brown was the cornerstone of STV for many a year and a nicer man you couldn't wish to meet. I didn't have an awful lot of dealings with Bill personally although he used to come down into the Film Library when, because he knew Isobel who had been there for many a, Bill used to pop in occasionally to see how things were and chat away and he seemed a very approachable person. No airs or graces about him at all and he was obviously very well liked in the Company and, indeed, in the entire Network. He was very well respected within the industry. You used to see, Bill used to like coming, pop in and see people occasionally. You used to see him up the canteen sometimes with his cup of tea and his little sandwich or whatever and people used to think, 'Oh, I've got to go and sit beside him! What will I talk about?!' But, you know, he always put you at your ease. But he was, I would say, I wouldn't go too far to say he was a bit of a legend in television at the time. I haven't had anyone in my career say a bad word about him at all! He was something else.
I: And he knew his workforce.
R: He knew everybody by name! I don't know how he did that because STV at one time employed was it four hundred, five hundred people in Glasgow alone but he seemed to know everybody by name. That's very clever. And he used to, he wasn't one of these Managing Directors who used to hide away when you saw him at Shareholders' meetings or whatever. He was very visible. He would quite happily walk down the corridor, have a chat to somebody and walk on. He was very much a person's person, if you like, which I think was a lot of the reason for STV's success.
I: Did you find that the atmosphere changed a bit when Bill Brown left the Company and there was a new generation of Senior Management coming in? Did that impact upon, generally, the staff in the Company, this feeling of corporate loyalty in a sense which is quite old-fashioned I know, did that sustain itself into the new next generation?
R: There was definitely a change took place. Now, I'm trying to think of the timescale here when Bill retired because I left STV in 1987. My career was going to take a different path. Still in television but the job opportunity I took meant I left STV. So, my memories are of Bill and STV about that time was about the change that happened just about '86, '85/'86 and there was definitely a change. New people were coming in, new ideas (good or bad depending on your viewpoint) but there was definitely a new direction that STV was taking at the time and I think, looking back on now, perhaps, wasn't the best route they could have taken at the time. History will often show that that's the case but Bill Brown, for example, I think was of his time and it would be interesting to see how he would have coped with the changes in television that took place after that. Big changes happening anyway and I think he was just of that moment and he happened to be there at the right time to lead the Company through whatever they had to go through at the time. It was just a good time to be at STV, I think, looking back now. People say, "Oh, the best times was back in the fifties and sixties!" But I was there in the seventies and a lot of the eighties and, to me, they were the best times as well so people had different viewpoints to when these were. It is what you make it, I suppose.
I: So, you actually left the Company in '85, did you say?
R: '87. I left STV in '87.
R: Much to the horror, shock, of my immediate boss when I told him I was leaving. He couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it myself actually. I was given the opportunity to go into a Production Company in Glasgow who were looking for a Staff Cameraman and I saw this as a development. I'd done Studios, Outside Broadcasts etc and I saw this as a way forward. It was an interesting year, that year, because I thought about this long and hard because at the time, as I say this was 1987, I am leaving a 'job for life', as it was then. It might not have been fifty years down the line but at the time it was a job for life and that's it, you are here, part of the bricks now and some people went, "You're leaving STV?!" My immediate boss couldn't believe it as well. He was absolutely stunned. I had doubts, I must be honest, if I was doing the right thing because it was a big decision to make to leave a well paid job. A secure job, pension, you name it, everything. I had no idea what the outside world was like anyway but here am I thinking about leaving all this, 1987, and, what else will I do that year? Oh yeah, that's the year I got married as well! Let's just do all these things at the one time! Yeah, right, so I eventually made my decision and this is what I wanted to do and I duly left STV and started as a Staff Cameraman in a company called Scope Picture Productions based in Blythswood Street in Glasgow and it was different. I did have my doubts for many, many months following it. I did miss STV terribly for a long time but I was being given new challenges now. There was corporate videos to be made. There was commercials and there was a new thing which I'd not even considered and that was lighting. Lighting was something that somebody else did and I wasn't really too much bothered about it. Operating Cameraman was fine. Now I was interested in lighting and being shown how to create something and I learnt from a couple of very well known cameramen who were brought in to do commercials at the time and I thought, 'Ah, I shall quite enjoy this!' This is another aspect of the job that I hadn't even considered before because, as I said, somebody else would do it, but I got a lot of satisfaction doing something else like that so I stayed with that company for a while. Still, as I say, missed STV. Still was in contact with a lot of people but I could tell, speaking to them, that things were changing at STV. Things were moving on in different directions now and I stayed with Scope until '91.
And that was the year that I jumped ship entirely into the freelance market and that's where I've been ever since. '91. That's a long time ago, '91. It isn't really that long ago. But I learned an awful lot. As I say, you never stop learning anyway! You always learn something new in the job and there's always something different to pick up on but I think I've been very lucky a) becoming a cameraman (I don't say otherwise), I've just happened to be in the right place at the right time or somebody knew somebody who was in the right place at the right time and I just followed that path and I always go back to that Careers Information Officer many years ago saying, "Do you want to be a cameraman? Don't be silly!" If I was him, looking at me, I'd be doing exactly the same! "It's a ridiculous thing to become! You'd never get there, no worry!" But I did but against how many odds I don't know.
I: In the 19...
I2: Are we breaking there?
I: So, the early nineties, you are going freelance, that must have been a shock to the system, was it?
R: It was another shock to the system. Leaving STV was a shock to the system and then going freelance. I'd made the decision about a year before because, because I worked at Scope, I was in contact with a lot of the freelance market as well. They would come in and be employed by Scope as well and I was eventually being asked to do jobs outwith Scope and they let me do it occasionally until one day they said, "No, you work for Scope and you can't do that" so I thought, 'I don't like being restrained like that. If I think I want to do something, I want to go and do it.' So, I decided I was going to leave the company but one of my first freelance jobs was actually working for Scope! But that was actually an interesting time because I had no contacts in the business. Or very few contacts in the business. I had no portfolio to work on. People had been working freelance for years and had all the contacts. I had nothing, really, so I had to start from scratch so that was a bit of a scary experience when I think back on what I did then. I started to get, work started to come in. Very few and far between but I was working. I wasn't on the breadline but it took me a couple of years to build up any kind of semblance of clientele, if you like, because people really didn't know who I was. Fairly new kid on the block etc so I had an element of trying to prove myself to a lot of companies etc but, eventually, I got regular work for Sky doing live O.Bs. and that was the start of that period of my life as well, doing football. Also T in the Park came along. I used to do that every year, up till recently still did but I took a while to build up a reasonable clientele. Quite often my diary would be empty for, maybe, a couple of weeks on end and think, 'Well, I'll need to do something about this. What am I going to do now?' but, eventually, then a couple of jobs and then maybe a week's work would come in so there was that. And there still is an element of a famine and a feast about being a freelancer. You could be working non-stop and then, all of a sudden, nothing for weeks on end. There doesn't seem to be a regular, just a regular five-day week thing for a long time. But I've been freelance since '91 and I've now done thousands of football matches for Sky over the years, which involved a bit of travelling in the mid-nineties which I don't regret at all. I don't think I should like to go back to that ever again - I know the M6 very well! I've done four World Cups. I've been all over the world. There's places I would never have gotten to if I hadn't been doing this job. I've been to Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Germany. Plus, there were other things as well that sent me abroad so there's been lots of opportunities that I would never have had had I stayed at STV perhaps. Indeed, would I still have been at STV if I hadn't moved on? You don't know how things would have turned out. You make decisions at the time and you move on from that and make the best of it. [66:12]
So, the nineties were mostly, consisted of outside broadcasts and the occasional corporate video or whatever and that is true, more or less, today. I have developed now, since 2002, I now regularly work on BBC's River City. I started off operating but now I'm one of the three Directors of Photography who work on that particular show and am still there to this day. Been on it fifteen years now and I find that incredible. Six months after it started I popped along and I've been there ever since! They can't get rid of me at all but that was something that I would never have thought of seeing at the end credits of a programme - "Ron Seeth, Director of Photography". If you'd told me I would be doing that years ago I would say, "Don't be silly! I'm not a Director of Photography!" But I've obviously acquired that knowledge over the years and still doing it to this day.
I: If you look back on everything you worked on, is there something that gives you the most sense of accomplishment or pride in any particular project you worked on and thought, 'yeah, I got a lot of job satisfaction out of that!'
R: I got a lot of job satisfaction on practically every job. Obviously we had our certain jobs come along and it's a bit tedious, a pain, it's been a challenge, whatever, but I think at the end of the day I still get enjoyment out of every job I do, in some form. There's obviously things that go wrong or whatever but mostly, I would say, I still get job satisfaction. You've got to, really, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. You've got to push yourself and I think I'm experienced enough now to know when I have done a good job. Somebody would have told me anyway by now but it's, I can't see myself having done anything else apart from this. I don't know what I would have done. I can't imagine any other job that I would have fitted in to! I've done a bit of hospital radio. I've done a bit of radio work as well but that's more of a hobby than as a career move although at one time, in '91, I nearly did go into radio full time and that would have been a different story. I might not even have been sitting here now but it's just the way things panned out at the time.
I: Do you see yourself as being part - a question I've asked some of your colleagues who've worked all their lives within STV and within the broadcast sector (but you're slightly different in that you've worked within STV but you've also worked outside in the wider freelancing), do you see yourself as being part of a kind of Scottish Film Industry, if there is such a thing?! You know, particularly in the eighties and nineties there were a lot of things going on where the Independent Sector were trying to create a sense of a buzz around, 'Yes, we have a film industry in Scotland and we need to do this and that and the next thing!' Do you see yourself as being part of that wider industry rather than just a, say, a broadcaster or a cameraman? How do you see your own contribution?
R: I think I've just went down the path I went down. I know what you mean about a Scottish industry. I think now, I think I've missed, I've missed an awful lot of jobs because a) I didn't have the experience perhaps, I don't know. I took on the jobs I knew I could do. Live events, for example, was something I knew I could do. Single-camera corporate was something I knew I could do. A lot of my colleagues, freelance colleagues in the business, had their own jobs and they were quite successful in their careers, the path they took, working with certain Directors, for example. I think an awful lot of the time is people will employ you because they know you really well and what you can do and it's getting in to that little circle is very difficult, I think, sometimes. I don't worry about it too much now because I'm now, as I say, looking towards the end of my career perhaps. Not today or tomorrow but very soon. So, I think what was meant to be for me, happened for me. A lot of, I know a lot of my colleagues themselves worked with the same people all the time and there was a certain show the BBC does just now, the cast request the same crew every year so, I know, getting into that particular niche would be very difficult. So, there's an awful lot of little circles going around in this industry I find and breaking in to those circles is very difficult. I know what it's like when people come along to an O.B. for the first time. That's why I am always very keen when I see a strange face or somebody that I don't know well, that I try and welcome them in there because I know what it must be like when you don't really know things too well and how things work. But I know many, many people in the business personally but I've never really worked with them as such because they've all got their own projects and they have done for many years. Clique's maybe too strong a word but there is an element of that in the Scottish Film business, I think, not that it's a problem for me, just that I've never broken in to certain aspects of the business. On film, it's certainly something I've never really worked on so that would be something that I would be lost at but certainly, there's a few projects along the way I've thought, 'oh, I would like to have worked on that show!' but I've never managed to.
I: Looking back to your time at STV, is there a particular memory that you have, something that happened or something you worked on that makes you smile? If I had to ask you for one, single, memory of STV, your time at STV, could you come up with one?
R: Oh, I could come up with many! I could come up with many! There was a wonderful Hogmanay show once, live, and somebody had the bright idea to bring on as a special guest Hercules the Bear. Now, I don't know if you remember Hercules. Andy, I think, was his owner, was the name of the owner. He was quite famous doing commercials and this big bear was a huge, big thing and Andy trained this bear. Now, it was decided that he was going to be the special guest on the programme. Right, that's fine. And it was Jack McLaughlin was the host of the Hogmanay show and I was on the floor and this poor bear was kept all nice and quiet out the back of the scene dock all day. Nice and cosy. Away from all the noise etc. It wasn't there for rehearsals but the poor thing was brought in for the show. I remember, earlier on, I mentioned about the studio being electric, the buzz, excitement etc and I always remember this poor bear brought in to the studio just before transmission, live on air, decided that he would do what nature intended, all over the floor in both sides! And this was live! I didn't actually see any of it but Jack McLaughlin did a very good description of what was happening live to the nation! There's this poor bear was totally and utterly shocked by the audience, the noise, the band, the music, the people, and he did what he had to do on the floor! And I always remember Jack McLaughlin said at the time - and I always thought it was just the critics that said this about the show - we went into a commercial break because we couldn't go anything else but go into a commercial break because the floor was just a mess and we went into the commercial break, which we ran for about three and a half minutes perhaps, and I always remember the poor cleaning ladies of STV, who were there in all their finery, in the audience, got up en masse, went and got their mops and buckets and cleaned the floor during the three minutes and forty seconds of commercial break, came back out the commercial break and I always remember the Thingummyjig dancers skiting about the floor because it was quite slippy, you know! Da-da-dah, da-da-dah! And we never saw Hercules appear after that, he disappeared, never seen again!
I: That's absolutely brilliant!
R: Poor Hercules!
I: That's a cracker, that one!
R: Yes. Yes.
I: Yeah, I mean it speaks volumes about, I mean I've said a lot about STV that the cleaning ladies would actually be sufficiently engaged with putting on a good show that they would do that, you know, they would volunteer to get up and do it and all the rest of it!
R: It was part of the family thing again! What else are they going to do?! Who else was going to do it? The show must go on! They went out there, got their gloves on, buckets out and cleaned it up and it was a hell of a mess, I can tell you!
I: What do you think, or, do you think that STV has made a contribution to Scottish life or to Scotland in the last fifty or sixty years and, if they have made a contribution, what would you say that was?
R: I think they've made a huge contribution. You only have to look back at all the programmes that they've made over the years. A lot of award-winning programmes at that. Again, going back to what I call the 'Golden Era' of STV, they did some incredible Dramas back then, which I happily worked on many. Studio-based Dramas as well which was great experience for a young cameraman to work on! Network Drama in a studio, to get that experience was gold and thoroughly enjoyed those experiences as well. Apart from the regular, mundane programmes you used to do everyday, STV's Drama output back in the eighties was exceptional. Setting aside the obvious example of Taggart, there was dozens of other examples I could quote and they were very good at doing the half-hour Drama as well, half-hour play, giving new writers a chance. Again, I worked on a lot of really interesting Dramas back then as well, which I've still got at home on VHS somewhere. I've kept them all. In the Film side as well, a lot of award-winning Documentaries were made at STV. A lot of very intelligent people worked in the Company then and it was just great to part of it.
I: So, it was almost like promoting Scottish culture, certainly for Network, within the UK and getting Scottish coverage?
R: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. I mean, one of the most popular programmes that STV had at one time was Take the High Road. Network couldn't get enough of it! They just wanted the scenery, the lochs etc and I still think they should bring it back because it was, people just, and it was sold all over the world as well. It made a huge killing all over in the likes of Canada, Australia. Ex-pats just loved watching Luss etc but there were other programmes, more serious subjects as well, that STV made at the time as well. But, from the very beginning, they were very, they were very, everything was new. As I said earlier, they used to do a live lunchtime show. Nobody else, well, very few companies at the time apart from STV (there were a couple down south), that was unheard of! Five-day week live show! How do you do that?! There was a programme called This Wonderful World with John Grierson, which the simplest format in the world - get a Presenter behind a desk and talk about films that had been brought in from all over the world and talk about them. Again, never been done before. STV did it. There was a very, very famous Drama called Sense of Freedom. David Hayman stared in that, which, I believe, won all sorts of awards and that was unique because it was, no punches were held back on that particular film. It was very real and it must have been great to work on. I remember seeing David Hayman in the Mail Room when I worked at STV - David Hayman! That's the guy in Sense of Freedom! But there were lots of programmes that STV worked on at the time from the simplest Late Call to the top, high-end Drama that they used to produce on a regular basis.
I: So, I take it you had a sense of pride in being part of that?
R: Absolutely. I think everybody did and that came across at the reunion night nearly two years ago or a year and a half ago now. Everybody just wanted to be back and grab a part of that nostalgia again and be back at STV just for one night again. If you'd said to everybody that night, "STV's starting up again." STV as it was then, making all these programmes, is starting up again. "Do you want to come back and join us?" I think everybody would have jumped back in there again. People came from all over the world to this reunion night! On their own! They paid for it themselves, we didn't, you know. It was just, it was fabulous! A fabulous, unique experience! Loved every minute of it! Did I really do it?! Yes, I did!
I: That's terrific, Ron, thank you! Tim, how are we doing? Is there anything we...
Tim: I think you've done everything.
R: And I think I've done everything as well!
I: Yes, unless there's anything else you want to, anything else you'd like to share with us?
R: I can't think of anything. Well, I could tell you a few funny stories but I...[82:26]
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