My first job at BBC Points West was presenting the regional news bulletins…. the two or three minute summaries that were broadcast throughout the day, starting at six o’clock in the morning and finishing at ten thirty in the evening. If I’d been surprised at the level of hands-on technical ability required in HTV continuity, I was shocked when I embarked on my initial training week at Points West. Known to everyone as The Bubble, the news studio used for those short bulletins was a tiny cubicle tucked away behind the main studio at Broadcasting House in Bristol. Those summaries are known as “Opt Outs” because the local studio has to opt out of the national programming, in order to drop the local news into a prearranged gap of specific and inflexible length. If, like me, you live outside London, you’ll have occasionally glimpsed a quick flash of an alien programme….usually the local London news team. That’s because your region has opted in or out of the national network a tad too early or late. I’m talking split seconds here.
Life in the Points West Bubble was all about that essential split second timing, looking calm (I’d learnt that at HTV!) while operating the lights, sound, autocue (a peddle under the desk) and delivering all the correct slides and film/video clips into the news bulletin, which of course you’re trying to read clearly and intelligently, although you’re probably sight reading. If it sounds impossible, it almost was. You couldn’t allow your concentration to slip for a moment, or chaos would ensue….and one of the problems about the minutely accurate timing, was that if you DID make any sort of mistake at all, you had no room for an apology or correction.
Only very few people managed this trick and it still absolutely amazes me that I was one of them. Radio 4 continuity was much more complex and also all down to the announcer, but at least I didn’t have to try to look gorgeous at the same time!!