Big Centre Television

Big Centre – An (Early) Day In The Life

After the excitement of launching Big Centre TV with a first night party at a bar called “The Bureau” on Colmore Row in the centre of Birmingham, we settled down to the day-to-day business of making and broadcasting programmes

The station was originally set up to be the local television channel for Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country. It had to provide local programmes for local people (now there’s a fun phrase…) and as with every local TV service, there was a requirement to produce a set number of hours worth of local news and factual material per day or per week. I didn’t deal with the figures, but I know it was a relatively high percentage. This had to be regularly reported back to Ofcom who license television and radio services in the UK and set the figures. Having been in Radio for the preceding 25 years by this point, I understood what this meant and so the whole station was built on including as much local content as possible, both bought-in (from local producers) and home-made in house.

From my point of view, I ran the main production studio as the Floor Manager for all of the programmes, though I was effectively the overall Studio Manager and arranged the bookings in the main studio for whichever programme needed it (including my own).

So what was a typical day for me?

As I explained before I’d arrive early to set-up for the first show of the day, look after arrangements during the recording, remove the set elements when it was done, and then repeat the process for the following programmes.

In the earliest weeks and months, the programmes made on a weekday settled into a pattern. CuppaTV would be made in the mornings, Extra Time in the early afternoons, and then Postbag in the later afternoons. These three programmes were broadcast daily to begin with. In addition, various weekly programmes were fitted in, such as Brummywood Yammywood, Life Stories, Midlands Sports Scrapbook and so on (including Crossroads Check-In). Some other programmes were made in the evenings after I’d left for the day.

Cuppa TV with Monica Price

The CuppaTV team – sitting amongst the set that I had to prepare daily. That’s obviously me at the back, so left to right: James Brackpool (director), Monica Price (presenter), Jack Daly (runner), Dan Woodward (editor)

CuppaTV was Big Centre TV’s daytime chat show, presented by Monica Price, and was a daily hour-long programme, with a Friday highlights edition.

The show had to feel as if it were coming direct from Monica‘s sitting room at home and so she brought in many trinkets and decorations and even designer prints for the walls. As mentioned above, I would single-handedly dress the set every morning before the recording began. As time went on, I found a number of ways to make this sitting room feel a lot bigger than it actually was!

As an hour-long programme (expanded from its initial half-hour run on Monica‘s request), CuppaTV featured 3 parts of differing lengths (separated by the commercial breaks) and usually there would be a different set of guests for each part. Or if they were interesting enough, one set of guests might be allowed to spill across two parts of an edition, meaning that if someone else had arrived as booked they could simply be ‘banked up’ to form part of a further edition, necessitating a quick costume change for Monica.

Monica produced the whole show herself and then James (the director) and I would look after the studio recording – and those recordings would take absolutely bloody ages!

Now, I should say at this point that despite the lengthy recordings, I really enjoyed working on this show. Monica is a complete bundle of energy, lovely to work with, and always very professional. She had been told that CuppaTV was one of the station’s flagship shows and so she always wanted to make sure it was the very best it could be, and we had so many fascinating guests. Monica even went over to Nashville with her music executive friend Barry Tomes to record a week’s worth of special programmes.

Two other spin-offs of CuppaTV spring to mind – a ‘live’ Led Zeppelin tribute concert, recorded in the The Goldmine Centre‘s auditorium (where I apparently managed to break the lead singer’s microphone by moving a box of A4 paper… don’t ask…), and a full election night special.

Yes, you heard me, we ran a CuppaTV Election Night Special for the 2015 General Election on 7th May 2015. We went on air totally live from 11pm on election day all the way through to 8am the following morning – the longest single live programme that Big Centre (or any of its successors) ever attempted. It was madness, but totally thrilling, and I was absolutely knackered by the end of it all!

The idea was that we would simply do the usual CuppaTV chat show format, and intersperse it with interviews and election updates direct from the Election count in Birmingham presented by seasoned journalist Bob Hall. For various technical reasons we weren’t able to run these inserts live, so they were produced on a rolling basis and sent across the internet for us to play out during the live show as soon as they arrived, a matter of minutes later. This worked very well, and in this way we were able to give the most comprehensive local election results picture on TV in the area. We were also able to ‘break’ any big news of the election results live, thanks to a team monitoring the situation in the next door office and a highly technical process of writing the results on the Big Centre logo cards, pushing them under the studio door, me grabbing them, and handing them to Monica often while she was in-vision talking – but hey, it worked!

One of the most memorable moments of our studio programme was the male strippers.

Again don’t ask.

I can’t remember why.

Almost had my eye out… (no, they didn’t show too much).

Anyway, another memory is of the band who turned up to do an acoustic set… but then proceeded to unload and plug in all of their amps and electrical equipment into domestic wall sockets. At this point we had to say no to them in case it blew the fuses and took the whole station off air! You see, the electrics in that part of The Goldmine Centre weren’t brilliant at that point – a boiling kettle had once taken the News off air! Plus the fuse board for the whole floor was in a separate, locked, part of the building so we weren’t taking any more chances. I was later told by the building’s maintenance staff that such issues should have been dealt with when the building had first been constructed, but it took our involvement to highlight this.

I’ve kept a copy of the entire Election Night Special, and looking back over it recently I am totally amazed at what we achieved mostly through enthusiasm and will power. It’s a wonderful mix of the thoroughly authoritative election updates from Bob at the Birmingham counts and the totally left-field refreshing nature of Monica’s CuppaTV chat show. It was unique and I’m so glad we gave it a go!

Many regular editions of CuppaTV are still available to watch on the LocalTV: WestMidlands YouTube Channel.

Extra Time with Gary James

The other main programme to be recorded daily was Extra Time – the Sport’s chat show, presented by Gary James, later to be joined by James Brackpool. This half hour programme was always broadcast during the evening of the day it was recorded and featured a great array of local sporting talent including many famous names. I’m not such a sporty person but I always found the guests that Gary invited onto the programme – and he knows a LOT of people – absolutely fascinating.

12th May 2015 – my first Director credit on Gary James’s ExtraTime programme

I mentioned above that Gary was joined as co-presenter on Extra Time by James Brackpool. James was officially with the station as a director and video editor (see him in the CuppaTV photo, above). He was always very interested in the sporting side of things, and so it was all but inevitable that he would move towards presenting and producing Extra Time – this therefore opened the door for me to move into directing both Extra Time and CuppaTV.

Extra Time was presented out of necessity from the same sofa corner of the studio as CuppaTV, though it was obviously dressed differently. We couldn’t really hide the fact that it was in the same place, though we did our best to give it a different ‘feel’. The idea was that it was a football changing room, and so we had many of the local football team shirts hanging on the wall along with a number of footie scarves and various items of football memorabilia on the shelves (including two football shaped coffee mugs which were my own contribution from a local charity shop on Day 1).

Many editions of Extra Time are still available to watch on the LocalTV: WestMidlands YouTube Channel.

Finishing the Day with Postbag

Finally, Postbag would end a typical day for me at Big Centre in the early months, and little did I know that it would also be the first programme I would present, and then continue with in various forms across the whole of my time with the station. Postbag has its own article on this website, with videos, so I’ll talk about that, there. For the earliest editions Mike Prince was presenter, though as time went on, almost all of the presenting staffs would give it a go before a recent arrival in the team Chanelle Shea-Calvin was given a chance and made the show her own.

Life Stories

Once a week we would record an edition of Life Stories, another programme that spanned the complete Big Centre and Made in Birmingham years, presented by Mike Prince and later Des Tong. As the title suggests this would be an interview with an interesting local person, including some famous guests including Jasper Carrott, John Lodge (Moody Blues), Jaki Graham, Raymond Froggatt, Bev Bevan (The Move/ELO), Don Maclean, Clem Cattini, Connie Talbot, Cissy Stone and Brian Travers (UB40). I clearly remember one of the earliest programmes featured Mindu Hornick, the only survivor of Auschwitz in the Midlands. A fascinating lady with such a moving story to tell.

I was asked if I would find some people to feature on Life Stories and present some of these programmes but unfortunately with everything else I was doing, there simply wasn’t the chance. I’d always wanted to get Jane Rossington in from Crossroads and as I’d already interviewed her for my Crossroads Check-In programme, my idea was to talk to her about everything else EXCEPT Crossroads!

Many editions of Life Stories are still available to watch on the LocalTV: WestMidlands YouTube Channel.

Not an Archive TV Station

To begin with there was an expectation in some quarters that because of Kaleidoscope’s original involvement with Big Centre TV, many of the more vocal correspondents, commentators and keyboard critics had chosen to interpret this into the notion that the station was going to be wall-to-wall retro material from Kaleidoscope‘s own archive of programmes which had been rescued over the years. I even had people categorically telling me (who, you’ll remember, was the one who actually worked there) that they had it on the highest authority (?) that certain specific old UK television programmes were definitely going to be shown… and that if they weren’t, then these people would never watch the station again.

Ah, the nature of the geek (I can say that, because I am one!).

What was true however, was that a few old TV shows were indeed going to be shown – such as Crossroads which was on-air from Day 1. There was a lot of sense in this with it being such a fondly remembered programme in the local area. I’d actually known about Crossroads from my earliest discussions with Chris Perry back in the previous November, but was sworn to secrecy. Tiswas was another programme that was in the early planning stage – I know this because I was the one planning it. Later in the year I also became heavily involved with The Long Lost Shows Show, a discussion programme about classic television presented by Central ITV’s Wesley Smith who is, like me, a self-confessed television anorak. Other that those, a few other retro programmes were indeed being investigated, but that was as far as it ever went.

I think that people who followed Kaleidoscope had simply connected Kaleidoscope‘s well-known marvelous archive-recovery activities with an apparent ability to broadcast any of these ‘found’ programmes on the station. That would be a lovely idea, and speaking personally I would have been quite happy for that to happen, but of course television doesn’t work like that. Arrangements have to be made with copyright owners, and fees/residuals need to be paid (where necessary), and that’s an over-simplified explanation.

Being Proud of Big Centre

The early days of anything have teething problems, and Big Centre was no different. Our teething troubles were of course there for everyone to see and some commentators weren’t particularly forgiving. I can understand that, but then they didn’t see behind the scenes and what you can’t fault is the wonderful enthusiasm and dedication this relatively small team put into everything we did. I stand by it all.

An early group picture of many of the original Big Centre team during the Spring of 2015 – look at my cheeky cheesy grin (sitting second from left). This is the “Show Us Your Mug” shot when we were offering branded mugs as competition prizes – I’ve still got mine! That’s in the CuppaTV corner, later re-dressed for ExtraTime (with football shirts hanging on the walls), also to be re-dressed for my Crossroads Check-In programmes where I’d shift the sofas to behind this camera position and place my reception desk it the front of the shot. Considering our limited resources we became very creative in ways to use one little corner of our big studio!

This article, along with various others in my website are part of the wider story of Big Centre Television as seen from the perspective of the programmes I was making at the time. Most of the articles contain a video gallery of the original shows that I made.

I was with Big Centre Television from the very first day of production in January 2015 until the last of the original team were made redundant in November 2017 when the bulk of production and operations were being moved up to Leeds, the HQ of Made TV with whom Big Centre had merged in October 2016. Big Centre had a wonderful team all the way through, I miss them all and I remain really proud of what we ultimately achieved.

Contents (click an entry to go to that page)

  1. The Beginning
  2. Spring 2015 - An (Early) Day In The Life
  3. July/August 2015: Postbag
  4. Summer 2015 - Reading The Television News
  5. Summer 2015: Crossroads Check-In
  6. Summer 2015: Tiswas Pies Again! (new 8th July 2022)
  7. August 2015: The Story of Children's Television
  8. Bloopers and Behind the Scenes
  9. Autumn 2015: The Big Centre Magazine
  10. Winter 2015: The Midland – Weekend Edition
  11. Continuity - The Bits Between TV Programmes
  12. Spring/Summer 2016: The Big Magazine
  13. Autumn 2016 - Spring 2017: Weekend Magazine (Walsall)
  14. Promotional Trailers
  15. Summer 2017: Weekend Magazine (Birmingham)
  16. Autumn 2017: Community Noticeboard... and The End...

As time goes on, I'll be filling in some of the gaps as well as adding more to these existing parts of the story too. If there's anything missing, or you'd like me to talk about something in particular, send me a message on social media (see the very top or very bottom of this page) or contact me through the website.