This must have been an exhausting week for BBC One and Two playout teams. I’ve almost lost count of the number of last minute scheduling changes caused by Wimbledon.
Delays to news bulletins and extended coverage on One had knock on effects to Two. Several potential scenarios were worked out.
This is exactly why live presentation is so important for “reactive” channels. Sport and live events can take unpredictable turns.
Imagine cutting off Andy Murray at a key point simply to hit a junction. Imagine if Wednesday’s royal ceremony from Edinburgh had fallen off the air.
But what about normal live programmes keeping to time?
Part of the skill with live broadcasting is to bring a programme out on time. Sometimes this means dropping, shortening or elongating items.
BBC Presentation has always allowed a degree of slippage either way which commercial broadcasters can’t accommodate.
For instance, the main news programmes nearly always come out a few seconds under or over.
But it has always been clearly understood that Presentation can simply haul an overrunning programme off the air if necessary.
I can’t think of many times this has actually happened in practice – at least in ways which are obvious to viewers. But Richard Marson’s recently published biography of legendary Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter contains a gem.
One Monday in February 1986, disaster struck in the Blue Peter gallery. The Production Assistant’s stopwatches failed.
The timings went badly wrong. The programme was simply taken off the air by Pres.
I find it astounding that this happened.
Any live programme should know it’s planned off air time – the time by which it absolutely has to finish without an agreed extension.
There must have come a point when the gallery realised this was going to happen. Were they unable to bring the programme to a neat and clean if unexpected conclusion?
Similarly Presentation must have realised BP was over-running wildly? Surely they must have been on talkback wanting to know exactly what was happening and insisting on an absolute out-time?
The circumstances were particularly unfortunate of course.
The 5.35pm network programme – an American comedy Charles in Charge – had to run at a certain time to make sure the regional trail at 5.59pm got to air followed, of course, by the clock going into the Six o’Clock News. (If the News had been delayed by even a few seconds in those circumstances all hell would have broken loose.)
Wales and Northern Ireland also needed to opt at 5.35pm for their news programmes.
Normally if BP came off a few seconds early or late, the CBBC presenter in the broom cupboard would have provided the necessary elasticity.
It seems there was a 10-second link out of the abruptly curtailed BP into Charles in Charge.
Did the CBBC presenter pop up to say goodbye or was it straight into the globe – normally voiced by them at 5.35pm?
Hopefully a video will emerge at some point.
But disasters like these from long ago and Wimbledon scheduling shenanigans are a reminder of why the Presentation teams of BBC networks cannot be treated like the playout of minor digital channels.
PICTURED: BBC Wales playout and announcer/director Leanne Thomas. COPYRIGHT: BBC.