Clive Piercy on the Presentation Graphics Department at BBC Television
In 1977, thanks to an introduction from my favorite tutor at Brighton Art College, I was asked to interview for a position at the famed BBC in London, in their legendary in-house design department...in-house, that is, before a certain Mrs. Thatcher did her best to eradicate all traces of creativity from the institution... but don't get me started about THAT woman. I was brimming with attitude and was offered the job... quite a feat for someone straight out of school. I subsequently discovered that they didn't particularly like my work (what little of it there was) but they knew of my prowess on the soccer field, and realized that I would be a valuable asset to their team, the G-Men.
I showed up at television Center and was directed to a small basement underneath the BBC cafeteria. I can still recall the delicious smell of bacon and chips that inhabited our studio. The Presentation Graphics Department. Inside were ten desks, grouped in pairs, but it was a miracle that you could find the desks, so covered was the place in junk. It was like the Old Curiosity Shop meets Bladerunner, devised by W. Heath Robinson. All of the desks were occupied except two, and I sheepishly sat down at one of them. “Hello, your partner is Bob Cummins, but unfortunately he injured himself in his garden this weekend and needs a hernia operation, so you'll have to manage by yourself... here's a title sequence that we need finished by Friday... good luck.” So spoke Oliver Elms the leader of this motley crew (and, by the way, the designer of the WORST ever title sequence in BBC history, “The Good Life”). Baptism by fire, obviously. Gradually the other teams introduced themselves and I found myself amongst the most amazing group of people I'd ever met. Characters one and all, and, as I discovered, a superbly gifted bunch.
Oliver, in charge. A gentle patriarch from a much more civilized era.
Tom Brooks. Unassuming... but could turn his hand to anything in the department, and was able to spin gold from twine. Great footballer, too.
Rick Markell. The Jack-the-Lad of the group, always on the lookout for “material opportunities”.
Roger Ferrin, who always demanded an idea on every job. Prodigious talent. Prodigious drinker.
Pete Wayne. A character out of Dickens, who would hang his dirty underwear out to dry on the radiator next to my desk. For years, Oliver thought it was MINE, but was too polite to say anything.
Mina Martinez. The only woman in the group, and a devotee of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
Bob Cummins (the hernia victim) who meticulously assembled his animations while rolling his own cigarettes and listening to Test Match cricket on the radio.
John Jefford, our studio photographer, whose “assignments” nearly always involved aspiring actresses shot in faraway locations.
And Graham McCallum... the resident genius, who made everything look supremely easy. I fell instantly under his spell.
Knowing nothing at all about animation, I somehow survived that first week, and seemed to prove myself to the others. Over time I worked with all the different members of the team and grew to appreciate their unique individual merits. But the greatest lesson I learned there, and one that I carry with me always, is that they showed me how vital it is to use all of your outside influences and interests in your work. That ideas count for much more than showy layouts and that an atmosphere of friendship and good humor must inhabit any worthwhile creative studio environment.
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