My Time at the BBC

A Talk by Gordon Randall 14th May 2014

Most of our members are of an age to remember the BBC 1 TV logo of a rotating globe against a silvery background. Gordon began his talk by showing us the original diminutive mechanical model globe (see image below) that was filmed to make the logo which he had rescued from a rubbish skip. BBC mechanical globe 1963C He continued with stories about the early days of television when Lord Reith was Chairman. Reith was a strict disciplinarian who insisted that even radio newsreaders wore evening dress. He believed that TV would not catch on. He was prone to sacking people for minor misdemeanours, including events in their private lives, however his daughter, in her biography of Reith, revealed that he himself was not beyond reproach.

Gordon began his career in journalism at The Bristol Evening World. The televising of the Coronation in 1953 gave television a great boost and it became clear that television news would begin to supplant newspapers. Gordon left The Evening World in 1962, just before it closed, to take charge of BBC Points West news room. Who remembers Jeremy Carrad from those days?

Gordon's career continued with similar posts in Portsmouth and Plymouth. He has fond memories of John Arlott the great cricket commentator and wine connoisseur, and Angela Rippon and Sue Lawley who started their careers in Plymouth. Then came a big break when Gordon was appointed senior man in the newsroom at Pebble Mill in Birmingham. This was the second biggest of all the BBC newsrooms.

There were many important stories that broke in the Midlands, including the Black Panther, strife at pitheads during the miner's strike, and the Birmingham pub bombings. Many of these stories were of national importance and film and interviews were passed by wire to BBC Television Centre in London. Gordon recalled many panics to edit film on editing machines and send it to London for the national news. His star editor knew that the length of his arm represented 1 second of 16 mm film and could match the length of his shots to the prepared scripts without using an editing machine.

On one occasion, an IRA bomber had blown himself up in Birmingham. His body was being returned by air to Ireland for a ceremonial IRA funeral and Television Centre in London sent up a film crew to film the departure in tandem with Gordon's crew. When the job was done the London crew went home, but Gordon had an uneasy feeling that something else might happen and kept his crew on standby. That was the night of the Birmingham pub bombings and Gordon got his crew to the scene before the Police had set up cordons. After these dreadful events Gordon spent a night drinking Guinness with the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham.

After taking early retirement at a relatively young age Gordon moved back to Portishead and has busied himself directing documentaries including some for the Open University. There were many little anecdotes in Gordon's talk, some comic and some very serious. He admirably followed the BBC Charter to inform, educate and entertain the audience.

John Coneybeare