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Mary Malcolm: Announcer
Category: The early stars of the television screen
A women's experiences in early television ...
People often say to me, "I?d love to have a job like yours, but how do you manage to do it with three daughters and a home to run?" Well, there are moments when it is a bit complicated but on the whole it works out very well.
A Typical Day
We live in part of an old country house sixty miles south of London so that "daily-breading" from a job which begins at 11am and ends at 11pm is out of the question. Fortunately my mother lives in Central London and puts me up, and of course I am not on duty every day - my duties are generally arranged in groups of two or three days "on" followed by two or three days "off". There are three regular announcers, Sylvia Peters, MacDonald Hobley and me, plus some guest announcers. The three of us average ten days work a month each. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculously little but then studio-announcing is only a part of our duties.
There are the numerous light entertainment programmes which MacDonald Hobley comperes so ably, each of which requires a days' rehearsal. There are the Childrens Newsreel commentaries which I share with David Lloyd James as often as possible. There are occasional Outside Broadcasts, Sylvia's two recent visits to Paris (great fun but really hard work too) and a dozen other unexpected duties which, though they sometimes make mincemeat of a forty-hour week, do make this job particularly interesting.
Then there are the "backroom activities". Numerous sessions in the showrooms of the London Model House Group choosing TV clothes and fitting them, doing studio tests and posing for still photographs. Frequent visits to the hairdresser, (gone are the days when I washed my hair in the bath and hoped for the best). Add to these a good many requests to open things, judge things, present things and "say a few words", and you will realise that life can be quite hectic.
An Announcer's Duties
A day in the studio starts for us at 11am when the announcer on duty arrives at Alexandra Palace, half an hour's journey from Central London and perched three hundred feet above it on a pleasant, grassy hill. At 11.15 there is a conference at which the afternoon and evening programmes are considered, technical problems ironed out and the presentation of them discussed. The majority of programmes come from our Lime Grove studios nowadays but they are generally announced from Alexandra Palace which remains the control point.
After this meeting the Presentation Assistant dictates a sheet of instructions (known as a "running order"), which is typed by the continuity clerk and distributed to all departments concerned. It contains a rough draft of each announcement prefaced by the note "announcer ad libs on following lines". Very few announcements are learned word for word but obviously there must be cue-phrases agreed upon so that one is not faded out in the middle of a sentence or, worse still, left lingering too long upon the screen.
What to Wear
The next question for consideration is clothes. The Presentation Assistant will say what set, curtains or backcloth he would like to use and, with this in mind, one chooses a suitably contrasting dress from the six or eight in current use that are hanging in the wardrobe department. This little problem does not confront Mac: his evening uniform is a dinner jacket worn with a beige shirt (pure white being too bright for the cameras). True, he sometimes introduces a novel note by wearing grey flannel bags and brown shoes beneath it but this is a subtletly lost upon you, the viewer, unless an absent-minded cameraman should chance to take too long a shot one evening!
And so to lunch in the huge staff restaurant and then upstairs into Central Control Room to make the "sound only" opening announcement (on a lip microphone) for the afternoon transmission. For the next hour one is free to deal with the mail in the office, either dictating letters to our overworked secretary or typing them ourselves. Somebody says "tea" and one realises with horror that two hours have slipped by and it will soon be time to change and make-up.
Makeup and Rehersal
Artists appearing on television are made up but we do ourselves. A suntan foundation, grey-blue eyeshadow, a brown eyebrow pencil, mascara and a darkish red lipstick, these are the ingredients for an Alexandra Palace make-up. It takes me almost twenty minutes to do, but sometimes there seem to be more shadows and lines to paint out than usual and then I can fiddle around for hours!
"Lining up and lighting" is the next job. This means sitting in the announcer's position for about twenty minutes immediately before transmission while the lighting engineer places and adjusts his many lights, and the sound engineer checks the microphone and does a "level test" of one's voice.
In this atmosphere of organised chaos one rehearses an opening announcement, choosing between this phrase and that, and glancing at a small monitor set placed beside the camera to make sure there are no stray ends of hair (Mac looks to see whether his tie is straight!). The hands of the clock creep towards 8 pm, the Studio Manager calls "Quiet please", Big Ben chimes and strikes, and the evening transmission has begun.
Adapted from a Radio Times article published, on 19th Spetember 1952