I’ve been very lucky during my working life in that I’ve been for very few interviews, being self employed for the last eight out of ten years has reduced the possibility of such trauma but many of the jobs I’ve had have been arranged over a beer or a coffee on the basis of a recommendation from a third party. However there was one that will I will always remember, actually a second has just popped into my head but I’m going to go with the first idea I had.
In 1974, yes I am that old, I went for what was to become the start of my 25 year love affair with (broadcast) television. At the time I lived with my parents in Norwich and I applied to the BBC to be an Audio Assistant, I didn’t feel I had sufficient qualifications to be a cameraman and at the time I was more into audio than visual. In those days the BBC was divided into London and the English Regions – Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and then there was BBC Scotland, Cardiff and Northern Ireland. I was invited to attend an interview at the famous Pebble Mill Road studios in Birmingham at 2:00pm. Now to be in Birmingham by that time involved catching a train from Norwich about 8:00am because the cross country service took nearly five hours and there was no buffet car it was what we used to call a railcar rather than a train with carriages and an engine. Many didn’t have toilet facilities as they were really intended for short trips.
Norwich Station is an inhospitable place at the best of times and on this cold spring morning was not an inviting place to be. Hiding from the cold in WH Smiths I spotted a magazine, Studio Sound, I had never heard of it or seen a copy before but it was to make the difference between success and failure in the interview. With a five hour journey ahead of me I settled down to read this ‘bible’ of the recording industry from cover to cover, taking in as much detail as I could retain. If you’ve never travelled cross country by train from Norwich to Birmingham you haven’t missed anything except a few derelict brick yards and some flooded clay pits so a good read can make all difference. Don’t forget in those days there was no iPod, internet, email or video games to occupy your time.
As a boy not used to such places New Street station seemed impressively large and rather filthy, I remember coming up the escalator into the station and thinking how big it was compared to Norwich. Armed with my BBC issue map of Birmingham I set off to walk to Pebble Mill. I got bored with that after about fifteen minutes and asked a passerby how far it was, too far to walk was the response. Buses in Birmingham were blue and cream and unlike our red buses with conductors you got in at the front and placed your cash in a slot and a driver behind a screen would issue a ticket. This appeared from a machine further inside the bus. This was all very new and strange to me. Was bus driving so hazardous that drivers had to be protected by a screen? Apparently so. I didn’t like Birmingham.
Arriving at the studios I sat in the foyer where they had just finished Pebble Mill at One, a live magazine show broadcast five days a week – a programme I had never seen having usually been at work at that time. Lights creaked and banged as they cooled the hot metal contracting. After some considerable time I was collected and taken along a corridor to the back of the building where the lifts were. I don’t remember exactly which floor but there were six plus the canteen on the seventh. The interviewing panel consisted of the Head of Engineering Recruitment, up from London and the Audio Manager, David, I do recall his full name but it’s not relevant. The ‘Head of’ asked me lots of questions based around my hazy knowledge of physics and engineering in general while David asked more sound related stuff as you might expect. He then announced that he was going to play me a tape on a Nagra IV portable tape recorder. The first section was very descriptive and was a reading from Alice in Wonderland. Was this from a radio production or tv programme he enquired, I answered correctly that it was radio, “how do you know”? “Because it’s more descriptive of the events” I replied (or something similar). The second track was a faulty recording, it was suffering from wow, a fault where the audio is slowed down and therefore less intelligible, what might be the cause I was asked? Well it’s not the Nagra I replied, somewhat taken aback he asked me to explain. This is when five hours of homework on the train really paid off. I started explaining that this particular machine was crystal locked so speed stability was not an issue and it was unlikely to have been caused by said appliance because of the way the tension was controlled on the tape spools. That was probably the turning point, after that I think I was in although I did cause a slight ruffling of feathers when I said that because my interview had started so late I would have to go to catch the only train back very soon so could not have a mandatory hearing test on that day.
I came out of my interview reasonably happy with how it had gone, I hadn’t said anything stupid, been rude to anybody and had not disgraced myself on the slightly tricky physics questions about resistance / voltage / inductance – V=IR if I remember correctly. However the one thing that stuck in my mind was that I really didn’t fancy Birmingham too much and the journey home was very dull. I arrived home sometime after nine tired, hungry and cold it had been a very long day.
A couple of weeks later I received a letter, subject to passing a hearing test and a colour blindness check to be held in London I would be offered a trainee position, in Birmingham. My immediate reaction was not so much I’ve got a job but a free day out in London.
I joined the BBC that September, many of the people on my course had applied several times before so I was very lucky, buying Studio Sound that day changed my life. I worked on television and radio dramas, comedies, plays, we even did a series of Doctor Who and of course Pebble Mill at One. For eight years it was the best job ever. I loved working at the BBC, I left to go to ITV and after several years mixing live news and current affairs programmes spent nine years making television commercials and posh corporate videos but that, is another story.