Big Centre Television

The Story of Big Centre Television

Elsewhere on this website there are various “Box Sets” of a number of the Television programmes I made when I was working at Big Centre Television and Made in Birmingham. I didn’t really intend them as a history of the place, but I later realised as I was looking back across them that they do indeed come together as a timeline of what was going on in the station during each particular period of production.

With this in mind, I’ve linked them together into a history of the television station as seen from the inside. At the bottom of each page, just like this one, you’ll see a box showing you a chronological list of which parts of the story are available to read, and what period of time it covers.

As time goes on, I’ll add more articles to fill the gaps, and I’ll probably update some of the existing articles (including this one) too.

The Beginning

This article on Wikipedia and this website both give an overview of the ‘local television network’ in the UK. Meanwhile this article gives a relatively accurate (as much as Wikipedia ever can do…) overview of Big Centre Television and Made in Birmingham.

City TV was the original company awarded the licence. This appears to be an early version of their branding.

In 2012 the local television franchise license for the West Midlands region, officially stated as covering Birmingham, The Black Country and Solihull, was awarded to a company called City TV. For various reasons this company was not able to continue and in November 2014 the license was passed on to a separate company called Kaleidoscope TV Ltd. This company had been formed by Chris Perry (from the Kaleidoscope Archive Preservation Group) and Mike Prince (formerly from ATV and Central Independent Television during the 60s, 70s and 80s, and subsequently an independent producer). Both Chris and Mike had been connected with the original City TV company along with a number of others who would also move across to Kaleidoscope TV.

This new company – Kaleidoscope TV – was given a deadline of being on-air no later than the end of February 2015 and so plans were quickly put into action to build / prepare studios, gather equipment, and recruit staff and volunteers.

What could have been…

The station went through a number of name suggestions and logo ideas. The talented designer Dave Jeffrey was commissioned to work on these. One of the early ideas was “City 8 Birmingham” which followed a name also used by the previous company.

As Dave explains: When I originally did the logo for BCTV, it was called City 8 Birmingham. The idea was that the 8 would look like a canal tunnel with a reflection in the water, with the reflected bit being stripey ATV style. They were very definite about wanting a purple colour scheme.

Partway through the first year on air, the Freeview channel number was altered to Channel 7 for most local TV services across the UK, so perhaps some fore-knowledge that this might happen at some point precluded the station being branded as City 8, which is a shame because that’s a rather lovely logo!

From the Midlands, you might have found yourself watching Engine TV…
You could have gotten the Buzz around Birmingham…

Simon Coward from the Kaleidoscope Archive TV Group tells me that further names and logos were discussed under the names of “Buzz TV” (evoking memories of the short-lived ‘Buzz FM’ radio station where a number of my radio friends worked in Birmingham during the very early 1990s) and “Engine TV” (likely taking inspiration from The Midlands Engine Partnership – the ‘engine’ reference was returned to around two years later, with ‘The Big Engine Debate’).

Original logo designed by Dave Jeffrey – only used in early promotional materials and never broadcast

However, it was ultimately decided that the station would brand itself on-air as “Big Centre TV” – though retaining the Kaleidoscope TV company name for the time being.

Dave Jeffrey’s initial version of the logo continued to feature blues and purples before the final design settled upon more of a rainbow swirl of colours intending to reflect the diverse nature of the area and of course also evoking memories of the former branding of ITV’s Central Television during the 1980s and 1990s.

Dave Jeffery’s revised logo and branding was well-received and you can see some of the main examples of it, along with the station’s signature tune “Birmingham Lads”, as well as Dave’s own behind-the-scenes explanations of the work on Dave’s excellent YouTube Channel.

Big Centre’s launch logo – revised with much more colour, by Dave Jeffrey. This ran from launch at the end of February 2015 until April 2016

The studios were to be based at the Walsall Studio School within a building known as The Goldmine Centre. As there was no stipulation for the station to ever be located in the City of Birmingham, Walsall was chosen for its base due to its equally central location within the transmission area and also the inevitably more favourable costings. There was also an arrangement in place whereby students attending the Walsall Studio School were able to get ‘real world’ experience in a proper broadcast television station and studios.

AQ Broadcast were commissioned to supply the bulk of the studio equipment and editing facilities, and by the middle of January most of the elements were in place and the station was on track to launch on time.

And that’s where I enter the picture.

I had known Chris Perry for a few years at this point following my involvement in the production of the “ATV Land” DVD documentaries. Chris’s Kaleidoscope group regularly ran weekend events showcase historic television – showing old programmes and interviewing guests. In 2011 Chris had asked if the ATV Land team (including me) would be part of an ATV event he was planning. We agreed and he interviewed us about the “From ATV Land in Colour” DVD documentary live on stage at the event.

Following this, our team would attend further Kaleidoscope events in Stourbridge and I would chat occasionally with Chris about Tiswas due to my other connection with the TiswasOnline group which had unearthed many missing episodes of Tiswas from private home-recorded videos (this interview explains more about that). This connection to ‘missing episodes’ of Tiswas would prove useful when I was at Big Centre, but that’s another story which will follow later…

So when I’d heard that Kaleidoscope had been awarded the local TV licence in November 2014 I fired off an email within minutes to Chris basically saying “Got any jobs going?”. He asked for my CV etc… and put me on his list. I was given an interview, conducted by News Editor Bob Hall (more later about that particular gentleman) at the beginning of January 2015 and waited…

A ‘Diddy’ picture of Mr Hamilton – such a nice person to work with.

Within a couple of weeks Chris invited me to be part of the production team for the very first production that Big Centre would make: “The David Hamilton Show”. This was a 12-part chat show starring the famous ‘Diddy’ radio/TV presenter, recorded in the main auditorium of the Walsall Studio School. My official role on the show was to be the Floor Manager which is usually looking after things on the studio floor on behalf of the Director in the gallery. It soon became clear that everyone was simply mucking-in with everything – I was in my element!

As a 12-part series, The David Hamilton Show was planned to be recorded across 3 weekends in order to get as many programmes ‘in the can’ in the shortest time. That first weekend we did 2 on the Saturday and 2 on the Sunday (subsequent weeks would follow the same pattern).

The first show was a Top of the Pops special, and I had the honour of fitting the microphones to such well-known figures as Pete Murray, Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart and Jackie Trent. Sadly Jackie Trent died around a month after we recorded this show, and Ed Stewart died almost exactly a year later but it was magical to meet them at that time.

The David Hamilton Show is still available to view on the Local TV:WestMidlands YouTube channel

During the second week of recording on The David Hamilton Show, Chris Perry came up to me and said “Now that you’ve worked on our first programme, how would you like to join us full time on the first day of broadcasting” – and that was it!

The Big Centre Floor Manager

A shot of me at work as the Floor Manager on the infamous Autumn Schedule Launch show where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Do I look suitably stressed? Photo and Name Art courtesy of Peter Thomas from TiswasOnline

My role was to continue as the station’s Floor Manager, and this involved setting up Big Centre’s own main studio ready for each programme that was to be made. Every morning I’d arrive (very) early, arrange the required set in the studio ready for recording later in the morning and then bundle things away afterwards ready for subsequent programmes. During each recording I would make sure every participant had the necessary microphone pack, told them what they would need to know about the recording, place them in position on set and finally I would take my own place behind the main presenter’s camera in order to give them their traditional countdown so that each programme segment would run to time.

Oh and it was also my job to shout ‘QUIET’ to anyone in the adjoining office!

Although these programmes were not live, they were always recorded as if they were, and so running everything ‘to time’ was essential in order to reduce the amount of post-production editing work, particularly if the programmes we were making were to be broadcast later in the same day. This was especially true in the early days as although there had been a flurry of activity during the month prior to first broadcast, this material was soon used up and it was very important to build up a bank of programmes quickly and efficiently. The team became very good at this!

Big Centre had two main areas within the Walsall Studio School/Goldmine Centre. On the first floor a single large L-shaped former classroom had been subdivided into a large studio space comprising of two recording ‘areas’ with a fully operational gallery in another corner, alongside a rather small partitioned office space which would house around 20 people at any one time!

On the second floor, a long thin room was converted into the Newsroom with its own studio area (a green screen ‘virtual’ set) – this was completely open plan and so anyone else in the room would have to keep quiet when the News was on-air. To begin with the news programmes (entitled ‘The Midland’) were broadcast live 7-9am, 1-2pm and 6-7pm with additional shorter bulletins dotted throughout the day and evening. A small ‘cupboard’ room was utilised as a separate gallery for these News programmes – it also doubled as the gallery for any programmes recorded in the main downstairs auditorium (such as The David Hamilton Show, and a couple of ‘concert’ programmes which were recorded in the first few months).

In the early days, with only the single office available for admin activities and the main studio (my ‘domain’) in almost constant use, any post-production work as mentioned before had to be kept to the bare minimum. It was usually the case of taking the raw studio recording, and simply dropping on the pre-made opening titles at the beginning (often produced by students at the Studio School itself) with a secondary ‘credits’ version at the end with basic scrolling names, concluding with the stations end-card (or ‘endcap’ as anoraks, such as me, often nickname it). Most post-production was done on whichever PCs or laptops was available at the time. Sometimes people would bring in their own machines as there initially weren’t enough to go around. Space was at such a premium that it wouldn’t be unusual to find various people editing in a small seating area out in the corridor immediately outside the office/studio and even occasionally on the worktop in the tiny kitchen area!

But it worked. There was a simple need to get the programmes on air, everybody understood, and that’s exactly what happened. The only unfortunate thing was that any errors which had crept in during recording often had to stay where they were. Any editing issues or mis-rendered sections (bits which an editing computer had fouled-up while processing the images) would also have to remain in place. Time was simply always against us, but luckily there weren’t many on-screen issues. That said, it inevitably caused some derision from those types of people who choose to enjoy getting upset about such things (armchair critics and various kinds of ‘anoraks’) but the bulk of the viewing public didn’t seem to mind at all, and it really is true to say that there was such a lot of support from regular people across the area who liked what we were doing. The simple fact is that I found it amazing that the place managed to get itself on air – which makes me very proud indeed of everyone – and from memory none of the programmes ever missed their transmission deadline.

You see when a pre-recorded programme was completed, it would have to be sent across the internet to the Comux transmission playout centre in Birmingham. Sometimes there would not be time for this to happen as the TX files were very large in size, often around 13Gb for a single half-hour show, and so it was often easier to re-programme the transmission schedule in order to allow for them to be played out live and in real time from the studio. But everything went on air, on time, every time!

In charge of the programming department were two people who really understood local television. Head of News was Bob Hall – formerly of ATV and Central‘s News and Sport team, and the Programming Director was Mike Prince, as mentioned above. I had literally grown up watching these two gentlemen on my television at home and so it was such a thrill to now be working with them both, as well as learning from them too. Although Mike always tells me that I made him feel old whenever I mentioned about watching him ‘back in the day’, so I try to keep that sort of comment to a minimum. I’m so happy to say that both of them have remained friends ever since.

And so that’s how the early days of Big Centre began. I’ve always said it was a roller coaster, and you’ll be able to see what I mean in other installments of this ‘history’.

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 (new 18th June 2021)
  5. Summer 2015: Crossroads Check-In
  6. August 2015: The Story of Children's Television
  7. Bloopers and Behind the Scenes
  8. Autumn 2015: The Big Centre Magazine
  9. Winter 2015: The Midland – Weekend Edition
  10. Continuity - The Bits Between TV Programmes
  11. Spring/Summer 2016: The Big Magazine (updated 27th May 2021)
  12. Autumn 2016 - Spring 2017: Weekend Magazine (Walsall) (updated & revised 27th May 2021)
  13. Promotional Trailers
  14. Summer 2017: Weekend Magazine (Birmingham)
  15. 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.