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Evening Meeting With Amanda Mckean, Director Canterbury Festival

30th April 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground

Evening meeting with Amanda McKean, Director, Canterbury Festival.
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Lunchtime Meeting Agm & May Business Meeting

7th May 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground
Lunchtime meeting 12.30pm for 1pm meal Annual General Meeting to be followed by the May Business Meeting.
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Evening talk: David Pick: Careering through 40 years of regional TV

Our members enjoyed a trip down memory lane the other day when former TV director and producer, David Pick, came to talk to us about his work in regional TV. It was a fascinating talk, interspersed by photos and short clips from David’s own collection.

“I’m going to take you all back to 1958” David announced at the start of his talk, adding with a wry smile “I don’t think many of you will remember back then!”

David went on to remind us that back in those days there were only TWO channels – “the ‘stuffy’ old BBC and the ‘brash newcomer’, ITV”. All this would change in 1958 when ITV awarded its first franchise for regional broadcasting to Southern TV (STV). The broadcasts, in black and white, went out from its first studio in Southampton – a converted old cinema. With an audience spanning the south from Kent to Dorset, the channel was much loved by advertisers who, according to David, “chucked” money at it.

After showing us a picture of STV’s Southampton studio, David showed a snap taken of the Dover studio, which was built to help the Southampton HQ of Southern Television cover the east of its vast region. The picture showed three members of staff at the time, including cameraman Bob Walker, with whom David built a close relationship over the years. Reflecting on how cameramen were deferential to directors in those days, David told us that even during his very first documentary, about the luxury train “The Golden Arrow,” Bob had insisted on calling him “Sir”!

At the start of the 60s, broadcasts, such as the racing at Lydden, were live – “there was no video tape in 1958, and when it was invented it was 2 inches wide and years before anyone could edit the stuff!”

Of course, this gradually changed with time and acquisition of new technology. Southern steadily built a loyal audience and made a wide range of programmes – from quiz shows to farming programmes, and not just news!

In the 1980s STV became TVS; 12 years later the franchise would go to Meridian. The latter change in particular was a sad time for David. While TVS had done things very differently to STV, they’d kept the commitment to regional programmes and retained STV staff, but Meridian let many of the “old timers” go and programming became very different – it was now a digital age. David doesn’t think the viewers will have shed many tears; these days there are so many options for audiences – they still get regional news but also have a variety of channels, Freeview, Netflix and YouTube. “But,” said David, “something was lost – a connection with the community”.

Going back to his own career, David told us he did many things before becoming a director – including writing jingles, being a researcher and, at one point, even being a floor manager. “Eventually I was given job of trainee director,” said David. And that meant that he had to move to Dover. He described the shift to the Dover studio in those days like being sent to Siberia! But it had its perks – the studio happened to be opposite a much-frequented pub nicknamed “Studio 2”.

David used to work on programmes such as Scene South East – a popular magazine programme anchored by the presenter Mike Field, with whom David became great friends. (We learnt that another local journalist and celebrity, Malcolm Mitchell, was a Rotarian.)

“Making programmes was very much a team game,” said David. Even though he might have been the director, some days all he did was carry the tripod! There was a lot of camaraderie and respect between team members, and David showed a picture of him and his colleagues, including cameraman, George Pellet, in an old van. George was quite a character and a businessman too. 

The team made a series of films known as Southern Report, which would focus on local issues. “We covered hundreds of local controversies and supported lots of different causes,” said David. For instance, one big issue at the time was the A2 bypass. David illustrated this with a video from then of the village of Boughton. We saw quite alarming footage of heavy trucks and lorries thundering down narrow village roads very close to pedestrians – including families with young children, prams and pushchairs. He contrasted this with a video taken the day after the bypass opened, with all sorts of locals walking right down the streets that the lorries had been using the day before. One of these local “country characters” was a lady called Betty Mckeever, a well-known and well-liked local personality. Betty used to live at Mount Ephraim; in another of his video clips David showed her outside the house there talking about her life for another programme. It seems she was quite a personality – “they don’t make them like that anymore,” said David.

Apparently ITV often got regional companies to collaborate, which meant that David would work on well-known programmes such as Harry Secombe’s 1980s programme, “Highway” – a programme of hymns and chat remembered by a number of our members.

Another series that David worked on was called “The Stories of the Saints” – with regional units charged with making a programme on a local saint together with local schoolchildren. “Initially I was horrified. I’m not a religious guy and the only a Saint that I could think of at the time was Thomas Becket,” said David. But he was lucky – he did know a music teacher at Geoffrey Chaucer School, Cyril Wade. So he and Cyril – rather an eccentric – worked together. David just wrote the script and contracted a professional actor to play Chaucer, while Wade did everything else, from scrounging costumes to recruiting local kids and getting the Cathedral to agree to filming! David showed us an interesting clip of children from the school all dressed up in costumes playing the part of pilgrims and also re-enacting the murder in 1170 of Archbishop Becket. “While we were filming one of the children lit a cigarette in the cloisters,” David recalled with a laugh. “I think it was the Archbishop himself, I’m not sure!”

Going back to Southampton, David worked on other programmes such as “Opinions Unlimited” – a current affairs programme and forerunner of the BBC’s “Question Time”, fronted by well-known and much respected TV personality Cliff Michelmore.

Out of the blue David was offered the chance to work a series of children’s short films based on Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five”. At the time it was one of the most expensive dramas for children’s TV and David was terrified – but it gave him a chance to see “how a well-organised, professional location film shoot should work.”

Another popular series David worked on was “Worzel Gummidge” – the children’s series adapted from books written by Barbara Euphan Todd and fronted by former Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee. Jon played the loveable but cheeky scarecrow, Worzel, while another well-known actress, Una Stubbs (now better remembered for playing the housekeeper in Sherlock) played the stiff, life-sized fairground doll and Worzel’s side-kick and love interest, Aunt Sally.

The director of the series was James Hill – a man well known to be a perfectionist. For example, Jon Pertwee would often be in makeup for two to three hours, emerging caked in real mud and straw! The crew would film around 5 minutes of film per day – which seemed really slow to us but which, apparently, is very quick by feature film standards. This is because so many things can bring filming to a standstill: aircraft overhead, a man with using a chainsaw in the distance and so on.

“Worzel probably wouldn’t suit today’s audience,” said David: “he was a mischievous rogue” – but audiences back then liked him that way! In one clip David showed Worzel talking to Eastenders actress Barbara Windsor, playing the character of “Saucy Nancy” (a carved wooden ship’s figurehead). Nancy was supposed to be moved along using a radio-controlled trolley. However, it seems that things went awry due to interference from shortwave radio used by the local Coast Guard and the trolley went out of control! In the end they had to find a different solution: it turns out that in the clip we saw, Barbara was being propelled forward by the shortest crew member sitting beneath her skirt and pushing her along on his hands and knees!

One more series that David worked on was called “Music Makers” – which he described as a “classical” regional programme. “It was a simple idea … but they are often the best”. David showed a clip of schoolchildren filmed at the then-popular musical museum Finchcocks, near Goudhurst (a place remembered by several of our members). “Finchcocks might not have been the Wigmore Hall,” said David, “but its music making was fun and served with cakes and lots of jokes”.

David’s team covered all sorts of music in the series – from low- to high-brow. He added: “our job [in the series] wasn’t to take the Mickey, but to celebrate the creativity of local music…We found our music makers in the strangest of places”.

In another clip from a programme called “Killing Time”, filmed at Cookham Wood Prison, we saw a band of prisoners with a Tina Turner lookalike enthusiastically singing and dancing as if on “Top of the Pops”, thanks to their supportive prison guard. “The best things I’ve seen in many visits to prison are the creative arts and the education departments,” remarked David.

One final programme that David spoke about was a one-hour documentary called “The Tunnel” – about the construction of the Channel Tunnel. It highlighted a team of hard-grafting workmen known as the “Tunnel Tigers” who did dangerous, physical work in the difficult and slippery tunnels. David showed us the video of the Tigers at work, prayer and play. “It wasn’t an easy job to do at first,” said David. Thanks to negative coverage about the tunnel from “Fleet Street’s gutter press”, at a time when the workers were sensitive because several had died, film crews were not welcome. Nevertheless, the programme was fascinating and the work literally ground-breaking. “When you travel through the tunnel [these days] you can’t see any of these engineering miracles,” said David “but in my mind, I can”. David and his team were filming when the two ends of the tunnel (from UK and from France) met. “I’m very proud we were there, deep underground in the wee small hours…truly fantastic,” said David of the historical moment.

David would later go on to do other things in his career with his own production company, along with cameraman George – including making English language programmes for German TV. Reflecting on his time and experiences in TV David said, with an air of nostalgia, “whatever progress we make, there is still something we leave behind. Too much TV these days is about celebrity and wannabe celebrities. But we were about the so-called ‘ordinary folk’, their talents, their problems, and the places where they lived”.

David ended his talk by introducing us to his wife, Jo, who he met while she also worked for Southern TV. Jo later taught French at a school in Ashford, and taught adults at the prison here in Canterbury. However, Jo was gradually losing her sight and is now blind. Thanks to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (“Guide Dogs”) she eventually got a guide dog called Dulcie, and later one called Poppy. Currently, Jo has a sweet guide dog called Autumn, who we were all introduced to. David was full of praise for the charity: “it’s the most fantastic charity,” he said, “they really look after the people, as well as the dogs”.

With that our President, Tony Loughran, handed David and Jo a cheque for £150 pounds for Guide Dogs, while Past President and former BBC man, Martin Ward, gave a vote of thanks which was followed by a warm round of applause.

Main picture: David talks to us about his career. Inset: Autumn, guide dog to David’s wife, Jo. Picture credit: Rotary Club of Canterbury.

 

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