Skip to main content

Two hundred seconds

Yesterday was the first day of decent weather for five days. My walk was, therefore, a bit more extended than some, nearly reaching eight miles.

My phone has a facility called "hyperlapse". This produces a video at about ten times the life speed. So when I record a twenty-minute walk through the Auchenderrin Walks, it plays it in two minutes. I am approaching the point where I have recorded all the paths. The next task will be to record introductory pieces to camera for each walk.

Editing and producing diagrams to show where the walks are on a map will complete stage 1. Then it's the easy task of creating a simple web site.

This is hardly a new approach to speeding up journey times to sustain the viewer's interest.

We got our first TV in 1953. The purpose was to watch the coronation. My recollection is of a nine-inch screen encapsulated in a large cabinet. There was only one channel, the BBC, until Scottish Television started in 1957. At some point, my parents upgraded to a twelve-inch screen. But by the time I left my parents in 1969, there was still only one channel available in the family home.

Television was very, very different from now. Almost all programs were broadcast live. There was then no method of recording to tape. It was film or nothing, and that was both expensive and cumbersome.

My first visit to a TV studio was to Scottish Television's base at Cowcaddens in about 1977. My chums, Alastair and Robert, and I had built the first home computer in Scotland the previous year. Actually, Alistair did all the soldering. There was an American called Ken who was based in Stirling whom we just beat to the finishing post. Indeed, we were ahead of what was going on South of the Border. Which is my why it was me who gave the keynote speech at the first-ever UK microcomputer conference, Microsystems '79, which took place on 2nd February 1979 in London.

The paper I provided for the conference said one important thing above all else, "the rate of change is frighteningly high and the contents of this paper must be obsolete almost at once". I was correct on all counts. You can read it at

STV, as they later came to be known, took a keen interest in microcomputers from the outset. That's why they asked us in to demonstrate our one. And to record a "filler" piece for using in their early evening news bulletin.

In our naivete, we went to the studio, unaware that most of the newsroom were locked in a dispute with management. They had walked out. So I was interviewed by a trainee. At least hope that's what they were.

It was traditional stuff, film not video. A shot over my shoulder to see what was on screen. My doing a piece to the journalist standing next to the camera. Shots of the interviewer asking her questions. And a view of her just nodding, known in the trade as the "noddies". That would be edited into any longer answer from me to relieve the visual boredom.

There was only one camera, so each type of shot was completed before the filming of the next started.

My bit complete, it was now time for the journalist to speak her questions to camera. Alas she had not used pre-prepared questions. She could not bring them back into her mind. It was generally thought to be a good idea if it appeared that my answers related to her questions. This was not politics after all.

I had had an earlier experience of this issue when I had been interviewed by Magnus Carter of Radio Forth on the same subject. He asked me two questions. I gave him two answers. Radio was well ahead of TV and used magnetic tape to record sound. The editing process then was razor blade and clips which could hold the disassembled bits of tape, cut by the blade, in the order into which they would be spliced before broadcast.

Magnus did ensure that my answers followed the correct questions in his broadcast tape. But first up, was question two and its answer. Question one followed. I learned that it was not just important not to attach the wrong answer to a question. I didn't bother to phone him to complain and he later built a successful broadcasting career in London. Hardly any injuries caused that day.

Meantime some grumpiness was being displayed at Cowcaddens. The cameraman had captured the questions addressed to me. The film in the camera required development in the darkroom before the results could be seen. But the sound was recorded on a thin piece of magnetic audiotape which was attached to the film.

The cameraman succumbed to entreaties and rewound the film through the camera. Herself listened to and transcribed her own words onto paper. She was now ready to speak them to camera. Nervous tension was now firmly in play. It took several shots to get this done.

Only the "noddies" to do now. Every time the camera rolled, she nodded her head as if finding my every word interesting and informative; they were. But she was unable to nod without simultaneously shutting her eyes.

Time dims the memory. I think at this point we left. The piece was broadcast the following week; it was a filler planned for a slow news day, and it looked ok. Can't remember if it had any noddies.

Rewinding to the even earlier days of TV, the near-universal use of live broadcasting, brought other problems. There was a lack of precision in the time at which a program might end. In the early '60s, broadcast satire was born with the BBC's "That was the week that was", otherwise TW3. Much of it was unrehearsed and most of it was written on the day of broadcast. Sometimes it ran more than half-an-hour over its time slot. But as the last program of the day, that didn't matter.

More pernicious, were programs that finished early. Early watchers were familiar with the interlude. One was of a potter at his wheel. The BBC could cut at any point and thus easily get back on schedule. There we also technical failures.

Even before the legendary Mary Marquis sat before cameras with the news from the BBC in Glasgow, there was an even more basic version. One evening, all the film broadcasting equipment failed. And the man before the camera had run out of script less than halfway through the program's allotted time. He decided to ad lib by rising and lifting a random book off a shelf which was part of a bookcase that formed part of the set. And reading its contents to camera. The result was so cringeworthy that I seem to remember retreating to another room to avoid watching it.

A more satisfactory solution to such failures was either the short interlude, accompanied by soothing music, or a longer film shot especially for such purposes.

The word "hyperlapse" may be new, but the concept is not. A favourite "short" used in extremis on TV was London to Brighton by train in 3 minutes 20 seconds. The original was shot in 1953. To celebrate 30 years, the BBC did it again, in colour this time, in 1983. To complete the set, there is a 2013 version. Some clever person at the BBC has stitched the three to be together side-by-side.

So when, and if, I complete my little films from Auchenderrin, I hopefully learn from some broadcasters difficulties, rather imitate their successes. No noddies.

Copying a creation that still entertains after sixty-seven years sounds a good idea.

Three minutes twenty seconds.

Can I make them all that length?


Popular posts from this blog

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely. Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest. Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknow

The Eric Liddell Centre Burns Supper

Welcome to the world of Robert Burns. 558 pieces of writing over a couple of decades, around 400,000 words in total. Not all of it in Scots. Some of it, as his “Grace Before Dinner” illustrates, in English; O thou who kindly dost provide For every creature's want! We bless Thee, God of Nature wide, For all Thy goodness lent: And if it please Thee, Heavenly Guide, May never worse be sent; But, whether granted, or denied, Lord, bless us with content. Amen! Thank you indeed to those who tonight did provide. Some of Burns’ writings, recorded for us long-standing folk songs. An educated man who studied French, Latin and mathematics. Not a rich man, not a poor man; when he died he left the equivalent in today’s money about £40,000. And a man known to this day as a father whose children had many mothers. Every woman in Edinburgh and many beyond seemed to want to explore what he kept in his trousers. Indeed on the very day of his funeral, his last child was born. Burns

Advice to the new MSPs

A contribution made to Portland PR 's weekly briefing on Holyrood A new job is a time to look in the mirror and undertake a self-assessment about what one can contribute in a new role. And what weaknesses one may have that could inhibit success. Being elected an MSP is no different in that respect. But very different in many others. One has become public property and every action, or action thought to be by you, will be open to public comment, often unfairly. Silence is often your best response. When one comments on criticism one lengthens the “war” and widens the knowledge of it. Set your own agenda rather than respond to that of others. Who can you trust among your fellow Parliamentarians? Make contact with as many as you can as quickly as you can. And make it a priority to interact with political opponents. The first substantive decision in the new Parliament is the election of a new Presiding Officer and it will be a secret ballot. Understanding the dynamic of other partie