Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The sad news reaches me from Bernie Newnham, ex-BBC TV producer and now proprietor of the must-read Tech Ops broadcasting history site, of the death of Stewart Morris, last Saturday, at the age of 78. Stewart was one of the great showman-producers of BBC light entertainment's golden age, possibly even the greatest.

He was feared by his crews for his high-octane approach to production and his impatience with any minor cock-ups, but loved and respected by the same crews because he cared so much and produced such sparkling results. Probably the best-known example of his modus operandi is the illicit recording of his talkback from the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, a night when tits up seemed to be the likely outcome on more than one occasion. He kept it on the rails, at the price of a few deafened and mildly offended colleagues.

He gave me a wonderful interview for Turned Out Nice Again and had, very generously, agreed to another interview for my next book. I was looking forward to visiting him at home in Chiswick, and trying not to let my laughter overwhelm the recording, but that's not to be. RIP Stewart.


JM said...

You could get an entire book out of the technical memories of that show.

First it was delayed a month after the BBC cameramen went on strike and the trade unions across Europe declared solidarity with their British counterparts by threatening to boycott the show if it was staged anywhere else.

Finally it went ahead a month late from the just-completed Wembley conference centre.

The caption generator threw a fit halfway through the show, resulting in the names of some acts rebounding around the screen like mexican beans.

Then in rehearsals, some BBC execs decided that the blouses being worn by the Belgian entry showed just a little too much boobage for Saturday night TV and ordered that taste and decency should prevail, resulting in some incredibly creative camera angles being required to show them from the neck up and all times.

Finally a cameraman was detailed to track winning singer Marie as she made her way from the green room back to the stage to reprise her entry. Tracking backwards, he stumbled arse over tit and dropped the camera on his face, blackening his eye. Marie's tears of joy became ones of concern as she stopped to attend the fallen techie, completely forgetting where she was supposed to be going.

LF Barfe said...

There's a bit of that in my book, but not the stuff about the Belgian boobs. The in-between number items involved SM taking the Young Generation around London on an open-top bus, but Bill Cotton took exception to it, and said that none of it could be used. The result was that, between numbers, viewers across Europe got nothing more than slow pans across a bemused and self-conscious audience.

Full credit to SM on the falling cameraman front (he fell backwards, walking down the green room stairs, tracking Marie Myriam). He cut away the moment the shot juddered slightly.

My favourite bit of that is "Go to the end caption! Go to the end caption!" followed by Stewart's PA Lydia Seton asking sardonically "You mean YOUR caption?".

Also, listen to the way that he changes once they're off-air. He all but bursts out laughing. The show was the thing. I'd say they don't make them like him any more, but I'm not sure they made too many like him then.

JM said...

I will sound like a terrible Eurovision anorack, but I just have a book on the subject that is all.

The slow pan across the audience was reserved for Norway and Sweden as their delegations had objected to the video postcards which had shown their singers cavorting in a nightclub. This was felt to be showing their representatives in a bad light so their vetoed them.

Oh yes, and I've worked with utter tyrants before, prepared to eff and blind and curse out any underling who had managed to balls things up in any way, only to be sweetness and light afterwards. What mattered at the end of the day was that you got a good show out of the door and the shouting at the people involved only served to strengthen the respect everyone had for each other.

Gordon Ramsey is an utter cunt to work for, but has a 90% staff retention rate.

LF Barfe said...

That makes sense. My recording of 1977 is the Norwegian transmission.