Former presenter Paul Barnes celebrates 60 years of Anglia TV
PUBLISHED: 17:23 25 October 2019
Paul Barnes celebrates the early days of Anglia TV as the station celebrates its 60th birthday
As daylight begins to dim on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 27, 1959 the eyes of the region are on the clock. It's marking time on the TV channel that isn't occupied by the BBC. Each second is underpinned by an electronic beep. At 4.15pm the beeping stops, the clock slowly fades and a voice declares "Anglia Television is on the air." And there's the proof on screen: Introducing Anglia, a bird's eye tour of the region's towns and cities, ports and farms.
Back on earth a slow, simple and dignified opener is performed jointly by two chairmen: Lord Townshend for Anglia and Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick for the Independent Television Authority who throws the ceremonial switch (it's just for show and made of cardboard). And lo, there is Anglia's famous knight, dramatically lit, revolving stately to the sound of Sir Malcolm Sargent's arrangement of Handel's Water Music.
This brief episode had been polished by intense rehearsals. Standing in for Sir Ivone was Ted Williams, a stagehand who'd joined Anglia in August having done National Service, "keeping the Ruskies at bay", as he puts it, ending up as acting lance bombardier "coming out with a wage of about three pounds, twelve and six." Anglia paid a bit better than the army: "I think it was about fourteen quid a week."
He aimed to become a floor manager, rising to director. Some colleagues had other ideas and frog-marched him to the head of cameras. "Ted's going to be your next trainee cameraman," they commanded. And so he became one, "which meant I had to drop down to about nine quid a week. Years and years passed and I became a supervisory cameraman and worked on great dramas with directors like John Jacobs, George More O'Ferrell, Alvin Rakoff and Ted Kotcheff. It was the best I've ever felt professionally when I was on one of those crews."
Nineteen-year-old Wally Sparrow was another August recruit, responding to an ad in the local paper for trainee technicians. He was assigned to the sound department. "I'd been involved in school drama, "he says," doing the sound and the lights so I thought, I'll apply. I was presented with a tool kit and a soldering iron and a bench space, and sat for several hours every day wiring up hundreds and hundreds of plugs and sockets to facilitate cabling up the studios."
Did he have any qualifications? "I had an A level in chemistry." But he claimed a technical aptitude. "I was fairly practical because I'd mended things from schooldays, servicing masters' cars, making money out of repairing bicycles." He rose eventually to become head of sound.
Beside enthusiastic beginners Anglia needed experience and expertise. It was imported from established broadcasters such as the BBC, ATV, Granada, Associated Rediffusion and other companies. There was no shortage. Norfolk's appeal was strong. Sell a house in London or Birmingham and use the money to buy one twice or three times the size, an old rectory perhaps with a lot of land, or a fine town house in the best bits of Norwich.
From the Post Office or the Navy came men who thought nothing of working high up in all weathers maintaining the transmitters. The Mendlesham mast was 1,000 feet tall, twice the height of Blackpool Tower; technicians had a climb of over an hour to reach the top.
The Anglia Knight and his sterling silver horse became familiar emblems. Wherever in the world people watched television they recognised it, pretty much in the same way that they might have registered MGM's roaring lion. Except that MGM was in Hollywood whilst Anglia was in Norwich, Norfolk.
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But the image on the telly gave you no sense of the knight's scale. He was big though, and back in 1977 when I first turned up he dominated the reception area of Anglia House, surrounded by various awards and trophies for achievement, from home and abroad. And Anglia was still only a teenager.
The first time that distinguished emblem was seen on sets beyond the Anglia region was at 9.35pm on that opening day when the knight and his steed prefaced The Violent Years, a network drama featuring Hildegarde Neff and Laurence Harvey.
Anglia went on to establish itself on the network and beyond with its dramas and documentaries. There was even a home-grown, short-lived soap in Weaver's Green. Quiz shows like Gambit and Sale of the Century pulled good ratings. Few of us could overlook Survival, naturally. The output of truly regional programmes was respectable too. Remember them? Folio, Bygones, Romper Room, Farming Diary, Birthday Club, The Big Question, Portrait of a Village, Arena, Enterprise. It grew to become the golden age for Anglia; it certainly felt like it for those of us who were part of it.
About Anglia, the regional flagship, was what it said on the tin, a programme about the whole of East Anglia. David Frost and David Dimbleby both cut their TV teeth on it in 1960. It wasn't just news, but a news magazine with items about music, art, books, sport, and all kinds of quirky activities.
Occasionally, a big name might be coaxed onto the show. Between shooting scenes for one of the Tales of the Unexpected I interviewed Eli Wallach, though for the life of me I can't recall anything that was said, but he seemed an affable fellow. Roald Dahl was affable too.
When Anglia first secured the TV rights to Tales of the Unexpected I was dispatched with a film crew to Dahl's house at Great Missenden for a conversation with him in his famous "writing shed". We must have talked about the stories but details of our chat are long forgotten. Could the film lie quietly coiled in some dark vault?
The wonderful thing was that these regional shows were made side-by-side with the prestigious network productions, and each nourished the other because the same technicians worked on both.
We all stood to gain from it. Knowing that the likes of John Gielgud and Joan Collins were in the next studio, our own efforts were charged by a process of osmosis; we were all breathing the same air under the same roof.
Apart from the bare bones of the regional news Anglia no longer really exists. The last vestiges of production work have gone, leaving only an regional rump of ITV.
Two days after I joined Anglia, producer Paul Honeyman said, "Welcome to the graveyard of ambition". The ambition never did die. It still hasn't, though it's eased up a bit. It's Anglia that waned and faded.
We Anglia Relics meet from time to time, the ones out on licence or day release, some of us still with our own hips, and pretty well everyone agrees that we enjoyed the best of times, enriching in more ways than one, even if some didn't realise it at the time.
And then, with a nod and a wink at the Anglia Knight, we tilt our glasses and thank our lucky stars.