I may as well explain why I’m being so curmudgeonly about TV this week. Last Friday, Scottish Television officially closed their studio in Glasgow; in two months’ time they move to a new building on the South side of the river here, leaving their Cowcaddens site after 49 years. I’ve worked in that studio for almost ten years, and it carries lots of memories – some happier than others. The tragic part is that it’s not being replaced – STV will, as of August, be a broadcaster without their own studio space. Since much of my work has been unfashionably studio-based, I find this rather depressing.
But the party… the party was weird. For starters, I wasn’t invited. Only current staff were, and since there’s recently been a huge bunch of layoffs, most of the people who made significant contributions over the years were… er… not on the guest list. However, as it happened I was working in the building on Friday, so I managed to sneak in. It may have helped that I’ve known Dixon the security chief for a decade.
Getting inside was merely the start of my troubled mindset, however. The attendees split rather too neatly into two groups – the old hands who I know, have worked with, and have deep respect for; and the youngsters, who to all appearances had never been in a studio before. I’m all for fresh blood in the industry, but… who are these people, what do they do, and how can they not know what a studio represents? It’s the heart of the company, the essence of television, the… see, I’m officially one of the ‘old fogies.’ Right there, I’ve joined them.
At one point I found myself surrounded by a plethora of the bright young flittering things, which I’ve noticed tends to happen once they get wind that one’s a Producer. It’s a sort of inverse pulling contest, as the lovely girls (mostly female, the Bright Young Things) vie for the attention of what might be the source of their next job. Poor deluded fools. Anyway, once it transpired that this bunch of newcomers had only been in the studio for staff meetings, I found myself pointing upwards.
“That,” I proclaimed loudly, proudly, and possibly a little drunkenly, “Is a lighting grid. It’s a magnificent toy, one of the finest pieces of equipment you’ll ever get the chance to play with. It can make your sets and shots come alive. And you’ll probably never anything like it again.” Sad, really.
The best/worst part of the night, however, was the clipsreel, shown on a not-especially-large projection screen. Notably, it had been made by the news crew and hence was linked from their piddly little studio and not, er, the main one. A few old archive clips, the odd modestly-amusing story from a staffer, some admittedly rather good mugging from the news team. But since most of the old hands have been laid off, there really wasn’t much history. The tradition, the ambience, the… well, for me, the magic of TV, it just wasn’t there. I’m sorry, but I love this business, I take entertaining people and making them laugh extremely seriously, and I still feel slightly giddy and deeply privileged that I make programmes watched by hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. Deep down most of us feel that way, but that sense of occasion, of Speaking To The Nation, was entirely lacking. Tragic, tragic, tragic.
There’s worse, too, for the whole clipsreel was shown with lipsync way off. The dubbing boys and I reckoned it was three frames out, all the way through. And then there were the dropouts – it looked like a dodgy digitize onto DVD, with block errors, but could have been a tape dropout or even dirty heads.
Mark this carefully – this was a national broadcaster, the absolute definition of professionalism, in their own studio. From the room up the stairs you can flip a switch and go out live to the whole UK. In that space, that group of people, showcasing the best of their talent and output over the last 50 years… cocked up.
I’ve a sneaking suspicion that even when I started, that would have been a sackable offence. As it was, we fogies merely stood and looked on, slack-jawed. Then we turned away and muttered into our beers.