From Television and Radio 1977, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1976

‘Know what a lens is lad?’

‘Er, yes.’

‘Ever seen a television camera before?’

‘Er, I think so.’

‘Right. You start first thing in the morning.’

An occasional young cameraman might conceivably have started his career in television like this fifteen or twenty years ago. Recruitment into the industry then was sometimes a haphazard and irregular affair and even once in the job formalised training was not always available – you often learned as you went along.

Things today are very different. The video communications business has become a large and sophisticated industry. In addition to the broadcasting organisations and the host of small, private film and TV companies, virtually every university, technical college and art school as well as most of the larger education authorities have full-scale television systems in operation; the industry’s techniques and equipment have become highly advanced. Against such a background it was inevitable that regularised, planned training programmes, college courses and recruitment schemes should have sprung up. Young hopefuls entering the industry today will have to have at least some qualifications under their belts before they start and then after joining will more than likely embark on a planned course of learning and instruction.

In Independent Television, a number of the larger companies have instituted such schemes for all their recruitment and staff training. One company to have done this is Thames Television in London. Its training scheme began in its present form some three or four years ago and is still developing. Thames has set up a special Training Department with its own staff and its own Training Centre at Teddington studios. The centre includes a library of books, tapes and cassettes, a study area and special facilities which can be used as a lecture room, viewing room or television studio. The scheme has a number of sides to its operation and is not designed just for technical staff. There are courses for, among others, secretaries, programme directors and production assistants as well as staff from the business and administration sides. Recruits from both inside and outside the industry find they have a large number of courses available to them.

Senior cameraman John McAdam gives a Thames trainee the benefit of his experience.

One of the most comprehensive training courses Thames undertake is the Technical Training Scheme. Student trainees in camera and sound work, operational engineering, film and other technical fields take one-year courses which include a period in the training centre followed by a period as operational trainees. The courses are devised on a modular basis covering a wide number of areas and each trainee follows the full course through. They begin to specialise during the operational phase and as vacancies occur are progressively absorbed into the company. The courses include lectures, demonstrations, visits and production projects, and a number of days a week working in a small closed-circuit studio and control room.

On the production side there are training programmes for production assistants and trainee directors, the latter spending most of their time working closely with other directors but also undertaking several weeks of concentrated instruction. In addition there are special courses for vision mixers, graphics department trainees, engineers specialising in quality control and digital techniques, plus external courses for VTR operations, lighting control, 16mm. film production and colour photography.

As well as the production and engineering courses, there are those catering for people specialising in the business and administration sides. There is a trainee secretaries’ course for recruits joining from secretarial college, and Thames’ trainee manager scheme covers most aspects of management and business administration. Short specialist courses for established managers cover labour relations, interviewing methods and industrial safety.

Another feature of the Thames approach to recruitment and training is the induction course. All new people joining the company go on a one-day induction course which includes a welcome from an executive director and tours of the Teddington and Euston centres as well as a look at some of Thames’ programmes and talks with personnel and welfare staff.

A trainee engineer works on a video tape recording machine under the guidance of VTR supervisor Bill Wright

Yet another valuable and in some ways novel part of the overall scheme is the regular studio training sessions Thames organises for all its employees. These sessions are specially designed to give staff a chance

to do jobs they,would not normally do and so as well as being of great value they are needless to say great fun too. For some staff the sessions present a good opportunity to see if they really would like to be a cameraman or production assistant; others are able to test their prowess at such work as sound balancing, which a boom operator for example would not normally be able to do. Others find their experience usefully broadened by having to work in unfamiliar conditions and many of course appreciate the chance to sense the excitement of programme making. Anyone in the company from the newest recruit to the most established executive can apply to take part. An obvious advantage of the studio sessions is that they prove to some people that they will never make a cameraman, production assistant or whatever else it was they’d had ambitions for!

The broad thinking behind the entire scheme is one of fostering and developing talent. Young people coming into the industry are given the opportunity of receiving high quality training designed to suit specifically their talents. The right type of training must be given in the right areas. Care is taken not to deny job opportunities to those already in the industry, and those whose skills and abilities have been overtaken by technological change are offered re-training. The twin issues at stake in training are the short-term needs of individuals and the long-term needs of the industry.

Thames Television House, Euston

About the author

Eric Croston was editor of the ITA and IBA yearbooks from 1963 until 1985

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