Bob Forster & Eric Hitchin remember Gore Hill in the 1950s

(Conversation with Colin McPherson & Doug Grant on 7th. July 2005)


(Webcoordinator Bob Forster was based in ABC Melbourne and came to Sydney for Television Training after which he returned to Melbourne)

Eric - There were no technical people in the ABC before the (establishment of the Technical Services function. The PMG provided all of those functions.

Bob - I was initially with the PMG. The Broadcasting Control Board had a camera, which we set up in the Showgrounds in Melbourne in 1954. It wasn't an image orthicon, It was a Super Emitron, but it was only used during the September Show.

Eric - There were two CPS Emitrons in Melbourne and two Sydney. That's what we used in Presentation in Melbourne.

Bob - I worked at Alexandra Palace with the Emitron cameras. I went over to the U.K. in 1951 (aged 24). The Emitron cameras were being used in the studios there. I was put into Telecine which had an Emitron camera. Downstairs we had the flying spot EMI Telecine machines. They were Type 405's and of the same design as those installed in Melbourne and Sydney. Gigantic. The signal you got out of the Emitron had a lot of tilt and a lot of bend, and there was a lot of vertical and horizontal shading.

Eric - The conversion of the ABC Marconi cameras from 3" to 4 and 1/2" has an interesting story behind it. The cameras that they had in Lime Grove in England were Mark 3. The original cameras that they had were Mark 1 and Mark 1B, and I lectured on that at Marconi College. They were a copy of the RCA cameras. They had rights between Marconi and RCA. Marconi took over the design of that camera which basically looked like an RCA camera changing to 405 lines. And then the 4 1/2" I.O. came along. The 4 1/2" was very interesting. The reason it happened was that RCA had been playing around with bigger images, in fact a sort of 4 1/2", and a bloke called Otto Shade who was a very famous guy who worked for RCA. He postulated that you would get a better signal to noise if you used a bigger image. A guy called George Parkinson who was the Chief Engineer of Broadcasting at the time, whom I knew very well, went over with someone from English Electric and they saw a demonstration of this tube, and they said "My God that really looks much better than the 3". They then came back. The reason RCA didn't go ahead with it was that with their version you had to have different lenses because the image was bigger. But what English Electric did was in conjunction with Marconi was that they made the image on the front the same size as a 3" and then had an electronic enlarger in the image section to bring it on to the target that gave the best signal to noise ratio. The BBC were very interested because they didn't like the harshness and the grey scale of the 3" and because they had the EMI cameras which were quite photographic. So they went down to Lime Grove and converted cameras from 3" to 4 1/2". I went down there and did one of the cameras. That's why the ABC's cameras were converted.

Bob - They were more sensitive and had a much better grey scale, and you didn't get the hard edges that you got so often on RCA cameras.

Bob - I built a vision mixer for the St. Peters Hall training studio because we had the two cameras and no way of switching them, or dissolving. So I grabbed a part of the circuit

of the CCU and brought two inputs to a 12AT7 (valve) and added the syncs on the output so that we could dissolve between cameras. It was just a "lash-up".

Eric - The Marconi cameras were part of the installation in Sydney later on I suppose. The Marconi camera came out in 1954 and covered the Queen's Visit, and one of the people who worked on that, because AWA were agents of Marconi, was John Poll. They set up links to one of the hospitals as well. He helped the PMG - I suppose because AWA brought the cameras out. John Poll and Ross Thyer were both employed at AWA.

Bob Went on to discuss his DVD of the opening of ABN. He mentioned that during the period of loss of vision, he added a still frame of the Prime Minister et al as a fill till the vision came back.

(Colin - The plan I have seen for the ABC Studios was that Studio 23 was to become the Presentation Studio and next to that was the Props Store. The Props Store became Studio 20 which was a Continuity Booth and Studio 23 became a news studio. Presentation was mainly done from a big studio with a chair in front of a cyclorama, and the original Presentation concept disappeared)

Eric - The first thing I did when I came to Australia in 1956, I came to Sydney, and they sent me to the transmitter building in Sydney to look after the Program Input Equipment, and then AWA said they wanted me to go down to Melbourne, and I thought it was just to have a look at it - and they left me there for 2 years

Eric - Before the war there was an amalgamation between EMI and Marconi and the deal was that EMI would do the studio equipment and Marconi would do the transmitting equipment. After the war about 1951/52 or maybe earlier, Marconi decided that they would get into the studio business. The only way they could do it was to use their contacts with RCA, and get all the drawings for their camera and modify it for 405 lines. That was the first camera that they produced. There never was a Mark 2 - there was a Mark 1B which was the modified RCA, and that's what I lectured on at Marconi College. I was doing that in 1952. I was working on radar before that. I went to Marconi College and was lecturing there till about 1954, then I installed equipment for Rediffusion because commercial television was just starting in 1955. So I went to Rediffusion and then in 1956 came out here.

(Colin - Summing up - the EMI range of equipment was basically developed pre-war and was utilised in the expansion of television. The Marconi was all post-war design and that's where the new technology came in which we became caught up in the 1950's.)

Eric - I met Colin Stockbridge and Ken Middleton in early 1956 and they were the first Engineers appointed by the ABC. They came to the UK in early 1956 to the Marconi College, and I took them down to a studio that Marconi was running in London as a training studio for the BBC and Marconi, a place called St. Mary Abbott down in the Kensington area. Marconi had this studio. The BBC used to transmit from this studio occasionally. I took them down there because I used to take my classes down there for practical work, and that's when I first met those two gentlemen. As far as planning was concerned, I think the PMG were involved in this.

Eric - The Federal structure included John Poll, and Carl Wilhelm, Dave Prichard and the guy who was in charge was Hadfield. He brought along Middleton and Stockbridge and Kevin Bourke etc. They were situated here in Sydney and they worked in the Cottage at Gore Hill and that's where I met them first. They didn't get involved with Melbourne except when Carl came down for the Olympic Games. I think Stockbridge was offered the job in Sydney and he didn't want it. When I got to Melbourne I went to see Stockbridge as part of the AWA team. I was introduced to them, and this guy (Stockbridge) named every one of them, and he couldn't have known them all that long, and I was very impressed.

Bob - I went from Sydney to Melbourne in early 1956 because the OB Van had to be commissioned for the Games. We did some training sessions out at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Bob - I was working for the PMG in Melbourne Radio Studios up until 1954, and that was when we got this camera from the ABCB and used it at the Showgrounds, and then they seconded me to Sydney for the duration of the training with Mungo McCallum, Kay Kinnane and the rest.

Bob - St. Peter's Hall operation was interesting. It was quite funny - when everyone came in to do their TV Ops exam, I used to have to line up the cameras and go outside. I had to do my examination as well and I had to line up the cameras again after they had fiddled. There was a photo of the first drama production we did - and there were some actors involved in the photo. Identified Beverly Gledhill, Mungo McCallum, Kay Kinnane. At the back was Brian Rhys Jones, Michael Charlton, Dennis Carrol (Floor Manager), myself, John Laker, Dave Tapp, Prue Bavin. One of these is Darryl Miley.

Bob - (Referring to the Olympic Games coverage). We did the opening day and then we went over to the swimming. We were there when the Russians and Hungarians clashed. Channel 7's link to Mt. Dandenong on top of the MCG fell off. It could have killed someone near their OB van. I knocked on the door and opened the door and told them they were no longer on the air. They didn't believe me and told me to get out!

Bob - All three channels broadcast the Games. There were two ABC Pye OB vans in Melbourne for the Games. However there was no sharing of the facilities!

(Colin - I have a classic photo of three OB vans at the Sydney Cricket Ground covering the one match.)

Bob - During the Games Channels 7 and 9 must have taken the swimming from us because there was only one van there. The one van at the Stadium. I'm not sure if Channel 9 had a van.

(Doug - Gordon Waterhouse mentioned that he had been on camera at the top of Bourke Street for some significant arrival at the Parliament House. He said that there had been some cooperation between the channels, so it can't have been exclusively parochial.)

Eric - When I look back at it I wonder what the hell was I doing for two years. Bringing equipment out was a very slow process because everything came by ship in great big crates. So it took a long time for the equipment to come out. It didn't all come at once. So I was involved in basically redesigning the system because we came to the conclusion that the drawings we got were not the way we wanted to do things. I've got pictures of me in the garage with my drawing board, and I drew up all the facilities diagrams for the whole place, and did the installations. The other thing they got me to do was to come up to Sydney to do acceptance tests. Because the guy who was doing the Marconi Van in the Sydney studios (Channel 7) was Ken Frank. Ken had been with Marconi for quite a long time and he was one of the 6. He did some work at Channel 7 in Sydney, but he also did ABN Studios. For the acceptance tests Federal Engineering wouldn't accept him to do the acceptance tests because he wasn't qualified, according to them. You had to have a degree or some equivalent. I had the Electrical Engineers qualification that was equivalent to a degree, and so they said, "you're going to do the acceptance tests in Sydney". So they used to bring me up to Sydney every now and again to do the acceptance tests, specifically on the Marconi studio equipment. Ken Frank could have done it easily because he had been involved in television testing - but that was the rule. It was great to be sent up to Sydney from time to time and stay with some friends and hang around for about a fortnight doing the acceptance tests and then I'd go back to Melbourne. It took up the two years.

Bob - John Poll was very much involved with acceptance testing. He did many frequency runs. Test equipment itself was fairly light on at the beginning - we had CRO's and Sweep Generators.

Eric - The thing I had (in the UK) was a Cossor Scope and all the equipment had been designed using a Cossor Scope. When I got out here the ABC had bought Tektronix things - the 524 I think it was called. So I was presented with this thing and we began to see things we'd never seen before because it had a bandwidth of 10 Megs (MHz) and the Cossor Scope was 3 MHz. I used to photograph the results and send them back to Marconi and commented that "I'm sorry to say, they (ABC) have better equipment than you have". As soon as I got to the ABC I was presented with this beautiful new CRO, but of course you saw all these funny spikes and what have you, and I had to photograph the screens and send them back to Marconi. When I got back to Marconi at the end of the two years I had a meeting with the Chief Engineer and I said, "Look it's ridiculous, your equipment is so outdated".

(Doug - Frank Shepherd told me that he had to find a suitable cable run from the Arcon to the transmitter. He had pushed a microphone boom out of the way and the end punctured the fibro wall of the Arcon. That hole became the basis for his cable run to the transmitter.)

Eric - When the Marconi transmitters came out here, you must remember they'd been designed for 405 lines, (3MHz). Derek Griess had a terrible task to try to get them to meet 5MHz bandwidth. An awful lot of work went on both here and at Marconi's because I don't think they'd ever supplied any 625 line, or even 525 line - maybe in Canada on 525 lines but they only needed a 3MHz bandwidth. So they modified them after a terrible time for Derek Griess trying to get this bandwidth out of these transmitters.

(Colin - The group delay was woeful, particularly on the low band channel 2, unlike the commercials which were on band 3. Bandwidth just wasn't the order of the day in those days, particularly using Cossor CRO's at the design end - "what the heck!" It was the changeover from the pre-war technology to post war where the Tektronix equipment introduced into the ABC Studios came into its own.

Doug - Frank Shepherd told how he had to go out and buy the Cossor CRO's, AVO meters and AWA Audio Oscillators for the Transmitters

Eric - The way the line strobe equipment was arranged was such that it swept on one field, and the next field was blank, so we had a database. So when you looked at the scope you got the frequency response which you could look at. I used this to measure the Fernseh Kines (telerecorders) . So I put this waveform into them and looked at the output to see what the frequency response was and there was nothing coming out! I thought what the hell. And then I realised that the reason was that the Fernseh equipment only recorded one frame. So what these devices did was to actually blank out one complete field, the active field from the sweep - so coming out of the end was nothing!.

Bob - One of the big differences in the early days, everything was live. We would put a drama to air live. I think it is a pity that its changed because a live production is like a stage production. All the studio facilities were built around doing something live. Variety shows were done in Studio 31 because we had this high grid. We could take scenery up and down for a show, and a saturated grid for lighting as well. You had to have everything there. You might have to tweak light after about half an hour, swivel it around etc.

Bob - Regarding my time with the Training School (St. Peters Church Hall), on New Years Eve (1955/56), we got a furniture van and set up a small control room. I built this vision switcher and we made a desk and televised the New Years Eve celebrations from Kings Cross. It was projected up on a big screen with an Eidophor near the El Alamein fountain. We brought the crowd to screaming point because we had this girl up. She was singing in a very low cut dress and we had a close-up of her body. She looked as though she had nothing on at all. The crowd went berserk.


Bob Forster first obtained television experience in the BBC in 1951 and 1952. He joined the Melbourne PMG Radio Engineering Dept in 1953 as a Technician. From October 1955 to April 1956 he was seconded to the ABC in Sydney to work with the newly established television training group. He went back to Melbourne in April 1956 and joined the ABC. When he left the ABC in 1977 he was a Technical Producer. Bob then joined the Ausralian Film and Television School in Sydney.


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