Noel Cantrill Remembers His TIT Days
(Interviewed by Bob Sitsky February 2008)

 

I lived in Kiama, a sleepy little place in those days, except in summer when the holidaymakers came to town. My father saw the TIT advertisement in the paper towards the end of 1957, I think, and I sent in an application. I wasn't all that sure I wanted to apply because I had my heart set on going to university and doing a pharmacy degree. I had worked in a chemist shop for 18 months as an errand boy and thought that the chemist's life was ok. I was called up to Sydney for an interview and it was held in 'the cottage' near the Channel 7 gates. It was with Ken Middleton but I'm not sure who was with him, could have been John Watson. I remember Ken Middleton enquiring about the Honours course for Maths 1 that I had completed and asking what I knew about 'the square root of minus one', which was one of the few things I could talk about! My interviewers were also interested that I had done a fair bit of 35 mm photography (I had bought a Zeiss Contina camera with my errand boy earnings).

I didn't get a good enough pass for a Commonwealth Scholarship so when I hadn't heard back from the ABC I went back to school in 1958 to have another go at the Leaving Certificate. Before I had time to settle in during the first week the headmaster called me to his office and said my dad had just phoned to say the ABC wanted me to start immediately! I was still a bit reluctant, thought it would be like fixing telephones for the PMG, but the next week I was in a classroom at North Sydney Technical College at Gore Hill. One of my first lessons was with Mr. Roffy, the English teacher. That put me off even more - here I was wasting time on Intermediate Standard English after passing the Leaving Certificate. I thought my worst fears were well founded.

However, it all changed after that first six weeks when it was our turn to work in the studios. My first job was looking after the camera cable for the crane - Len Richardson was the cameraman and Bill Dayhew was the crane driver. It didn't matter that it was probably the lowest and dirtiest job in the studio, that's when I decided that I was in the right place - working in a 'live theatre' environment. Here was a 16 year old kid from the country thrown into this sophisticated, exciting world. The fact that it was live to air was really something. That soon took my mind off going back to uni and being studious - I decided that show business was for me!

Of all the Tech College teachers, Stan Graves stands out as being inspirational. I think he was the one who convinced me that there was nothing mysterious about the physics behind the electronics; he made it seem easy, anyone could understand it. And I soon realised that my newborn interest in electronics would allow me to build myself a 'hi-fi' sound system to play my records, and one thing soon led to another. I always had a bit of a feeling for music and could play by ear, but I wasn't taught any theory. I didn't realise it then, but when it came time to put down our preference for jobs after our training was completed, John Watson just told me to ask for sound mixing: and after almost 40 years of it I reckon he was a fair judge!

At the time we all thought that the Tech College course was badly organised. Looking back now, I can see how stupid we were to criticise - it was really such a fantastic course. We were so lucky being paid to do our television training. Six weeks in class followed by six weeks 'on the job' worked very well.

My salary at the time, based on age, was something like seven pounds a week. After paying board (I stayed with my grandmother for a few months) and fares I had ten shillings ($1) per fortnight left over to do anything extra! When I moved into a flat, I received 'living away from home allowance' - and that made it a little bit easier.

The ABC never had us tested for colour blindness during our training although the Kiama doctor who gave me a physical before I signed on had picked up that I had trouble with reds and greens. Well, here I was working in Telerecord Processing for three and a half months - most of the time under red lights! Whenever Vic Zeleny walked out of the room (e.g. to go to the canteen) the processing machines always seemed to jam up, and I had to try to clear the fault. I couldn't work out why I found the job so difficult compared to other people but I didn't think to complain or even talk to John Watson about it, but with my poor sensitivity to red light I was stumbling around in near darkness. And I was left there longer than anyone else!

The studios were always full of interesting characters. The guys working the cameras were my role models. Len Richardson on the crane was always cool, calm and collected - in total control. Rex Lapham was a very fit man - I remember him walking up a stepladder holding a 2K pantograph light in one hand, then standing on the top of the ladder to lift the light up above his head and clamp it on the grid with his spare hand. It definitely wasn't the right way to do it but there was a show to be done! I remember once when I climbed over from the catwalk onto the Studio 21 grid to help place a light in position when Ken Middleton walked across the studio floor beneath me. I froze and tried to be invisible but unfortunately, he looked up. A memo arrived shortly after that to ban this type of practice! We did 2 or 3 shows a day and were working quite long shifts. We could have a women's programme in the morning, a children's show in the afternoon and a variety show at night. It was good fun.

Of course there were slack periods at times waiting to set up the next show. I remember one day when a group of us were in Studio 21 and, as was often the case there was a Steinway grand piano in the studio. Larry Sitsky was on our crew at that time and he was sitting at the keyboard and with one hand he picked out the simple melody of 'Three Blind Mice'. He repeated it a few times, adding the bass chords then started flourishing it and adding variations to it until it finished up as a 'concerto on the theme of Three Blind Mice'! He probably thought nothing of it, but we trainees were absolutely amazed. It was very obvious that he was much too talented to remain in that job for long.

It was a ground-breaking time. TV was a fascinating new industry and you knew you were part of something that hadn't been done before in this country.

I had a lot of respect for John Watson, especially in the later years of training. He had to carry out original research when teaching about the equipment, there weren't any books to guide him. This was stuff at the leading edge of technology. He could nut out the functions of a new piece of broadcast equipment and break it down to neat block diagrams that were easy to follow and remember. We received a very good grounding in television.


Noel Cantrill started his TIT course 28/2/1958 on £379 ($758) per year.
He left the ABC on 13/2/1998.

 

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