Car A102 speeds the news

Behind the scenes at Northern Newscast

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 6 December 1959

A PHONE rings in the Northern Newscast office at the Granada TV Centre in Manchester. News editor David Plowright answers it, then turns to reporter Terry Dobson and says: “Four feet snow drifts on the Snake Pass. Take the radiophone car — and hurry!”

Dobson grabs his overcoat; rushes to the waiting car. The engine of the black saloon is ticking over as he slides into the seat beside the driver. Off towards the hills — and another eyewitness story.

Granada’s car was the first in the North to be fitted with the new telephone equipment. It has given on-the-spot communication in remote country districts where telephones are rare.

As the car races along slush-covered roads, Dobson makes his first call to base. “Car A102 calling exchange … car A102 calling exchange.”

Twenty miles away on Winter Hill, only a stone’s throw from the ITA transmitter, stands the GPO receiving station through which Dobson’s call passes to the new Peterloo exchange in Manchester.

Dobson, in the car, and Plowright, in the office, discuss how the story shall be treated. Then Dobson relaxes as the long climb to the snow-clad moors begins.

Another hazard lies ahead — patches of fog close in on the narrow road that twists over the Snake Pass. The car edges cautiously round hairpin bends, bumping along over rutted snow, dodging drifts which in places have hidden the low stone walls marking the roadside.

Suddenly the headlights of a stationary lorry are seen. The car stops and Dobson steps out — into a knee-deep snowdrift. The lorry driver tells him of hold-ups on his run from Sheffield. Back into the car goes Dobson to report progress — by phone.

Farther along the road are more lorries. Some are moving; some have been stuck for hours. Film cameraman Steve Stephens records the battle against the weather as lorry men help each other to dig their vehicles free from snow.

As we watch, Dobson tells me: “This is the sort of story we get right through the winter. The weather is always news.”

Dobson phones his story from the car. This way it can be quickly assessed against other news pouring in.

A man speaks on the phone by a car
From the road-side… a story to base

The typewriters of copy typists Barbara McDonald and Freda Roberts are chattering out more reports from the towns and villages bounded by Carlisle and Middlesbrough to the North and Barmouth and Grantham to the South.

Every correspondent is pinpointed on Plowright’s wall map by flags names and telephone numbers for and easy reference.

On another wall is a chart into 20-year old newsroom secretary Anne Beaty sticks coloured pins denoting the number of times cities and towns have been mentioned in the bulletins week.

“This gives us a picture at a glance of the newsiest spots in our area and the places which might yield good, off-beat stories,” said Plowright.

“We are a team which goes into people’s homes every night to tell them in a simple, but vigorous, manner what has been happening.

“The news we aim at is not all death and disaster. We try to keep a balance by using the lighter, more human items, the stories with a touch of glamour or oddity them.

“We concentrate on getting material which has not appeared in the evening newspapers so that we have a fresh and lively bulletin.

“That is why, each night, we present a tailpiece to the news that is unusual or amusing. These are items which lend themselves to a brief, humorous comment from the newscaster.

“We work to a five o’clock deadline for film and are proud that we have given pictures of an event which has taken only 45 minutes earlier.

“News stories, of course, can be accepted right up to time we go on the air.”

Keeping Northern viewers in the news picture is a tough but exciting job that has taken Dobson and his colleague, Don Kerr, thousands of miles, often in trying conditions.

Dobson and Kerr write the stories the and the film commentaries needed for the six-minute bulletin. “We always write more than are actually needed so that we can pick out the best just before we go on the air,” Dobson told me.

He has checked through the reel of film shot by Stephens on the Snake Pass and decided, in consultation with film editor Dick Thomas, the sequence and running time.

In the newsroom, urgency increases as programme time nears. Newscaster Brian Trueman arrives just as Plowright is shuffling through a wad of stories for a suitable news tailpiece.

The room is now full of people. Final checks and changes are made. Trueman sits in the tiny studio. A red light flashes … and another Northern Newscast begins.

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