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The Background to 'Operation X'

When the General Election (1959) results programme was being planned by the Television Service, it was obvious that the timing, size, and complexity of the programme would need a separate small 'supporting operation' on the administrative side. The programme was designed to last for nearly twenty-four hours; none of the programme breaks was sufficiently long to allow all staff to go home; and the only answer was to turn Lime Grove into a hotel for the night. Central Services Group, with calm efficiency, provided 140 beds in double bunks to equip Studio E, while other beds in dressing rooms gave slightly more quiet for hard-worked commentators, and privacy for women. The only complaint heard in Studio E was that one of the blankets did not tone with its surroundings.

Part of the scene in Studio G during transmission of the Election results.It was not possible, owing to the nature of the programme, to have meals at fixed times in the restaurants; instead, a running buffet was set up in Studio H, where programme staff could, at any time, get a snack without wasting too much time. How it was done remains a secret locked in the bosoms of Catering Department, but at almost all hours of the day or night there seemed to be supplies of deliciously fresh, open sandwiches, piping 'hot dogs', and an amazing variety of snacks. Quality was high, and the quantities interesting: 700 'hot dogs', 1200 open sandwiches, 500 hot meat pies and pasties, 300 rounds of sandwiches, and 400 portions of fruit tarts with ice cream, not to mention large quantities of fruit cake, biscuits, and fruit salad, were served during the operation. Everyone commented on the excellence of the coffee; because of the distance from base as much disposable crockery, cutlery, etc., as possible was used to get over the problem of washing-up. The unusually high working temperature in Studio G had been foreseen, and 1500 glasses of iced orangeade disappeared down parched throats. It seems to have been a thirsty night and day, for, in addition, 4000 cups of tea and coffee, with 500 glasses of cold milk or hot bovril and 600 cups of soup, passed over the counters. Breakfast was served in the restaurant - officially from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., but some late sleepers were happily feeding at 9.30 a.m. - the usual restaurant services for other staff were in operation, and increased hospitality for the numerous VIPs was provided. Altogether a tour de force - surprising only to those who do not know the Catering Service.

The running buffet in operation in Studio H.Baths and showers were a problem - the Television Studios were not designed as a luxury hotel - but the existing facilities, reinforced by a supply of bath towels 'on demand', were sufficient. As many people as possible were ferried to their homes or collected thence by taxi. The scooter messengers were also busy about the empty streets, collecting the early provincial and London editions of the morning papers, and bringing them back for use by the commentators.

Studio E presented an unusual nocturnal appearance.On an occasion such as this, it was a fair guess that the Corporation would not avoid comment and inquiry from the public; BPX (who maintained a twenty-four hour service) were able, with the aid of a monitor, to answer the flood of queries on Party totals, and on particular results, but something more was needed to cope with more general questions relating to policy or presentation. The precaution of equipping Room N.101 with extra telephone parallels and of manning it with experienced, quick-witted, and urbane Duty Officers and Duty Clerks proved to be well justified, for the weight of telephone traffic handled was heavy and its content surprising. The Duty Office and the Press Office, which also functioned throughout transmission, together freed programme staff from any distraction from their task by outside events.

The result of the General Election seems to make it unlikely that this minor administrative 'operation' will have to be repeated in the near future; a pity, really, because occasions when the BBC's administrators and 'supporting troops' can feel they are contributing directly to the success of an important broadcast are rare. This was one and it was most stimulating.

Article and pictures from the BBC's 'Ariel' staff magazine from November 1959

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