Colin Weston on the role of the continuity announcer

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A continuity announcer that is a guy or a lady who sits there and provides announcements between programmes, telling you what’s coming on later in the evening or the next day. They’re also there if the programme breaks down or there’s some technical error you have to fill by coming in to apologise and things like that. Also, when I started, we were reading local news, though that was taken away later, but we read the local news bulletin after News at Ten. We also, in the early days when I was around in ‘68, we actually did commercial announcements; slide commercials live on the air, which was a nightmare really because these people paid money to have their products advertised and if you cocked it up by fluffing, they lost money and they had to have the adverts reinserted. And we also did everything – rugby league results, weather forecasts. You basically are there live to cover any problems, but the main job is to promote the company’s programmes at every junction.

And would you know that there was a particular point where you were going to have to introduce a programme?

Oh, yes. Because there’s what they call a DOS – a daily operational schedule – and that tabulates everything that is going to happen on the screen. Your contributions, your announcements – it even lists all the commercials and your bits, like your intro into a programme or promotion, things like that. So you know when you’re actually going to be used, except if there’s a breakdown when you have to jump in.

And those timings are down to the second, are they?

Oh, yes. Yes. It’s very, you know, when you’re meeting network companies from elsewhere in the UK you’ve got to do it to the second, you can’t you can’t be late. If it is late then that’s an error on somebody else’s behalf.

So when you have to introduce a programme, when you’re introducing Granada Reports or whatever, is that scripted for you, do you script it? Does somebody else script it? Do you ad-lib it?

All three, really. I mean, they have a promotions department and those writers do write scripts for the whole day, but you might not like their style, so you have the right to actually change the words to suit your style. So yes, it’s a case of reading a script that’s been written for you or throwing that out and doing your own little script – it’s up to you really, because you’re the live guy, so it’s your job to actually see what you’re comfortable with.

And if you’ve got 15 seconds you know precisely how much you can say?

You can say a lot in five seconds, let alone 15 seconds. It’s amazing, people don’t realise. If you give them a minute… a minute, in some cases, feels more like 10 minutes. It’s actually sort of… it’s amazing what you can say in that time.

But you would know precisely how much you could say?

Oh yes, because you know when the next programme is due in, because you look at a clock… you have what they call a monitor, an auto preview monitor, which shows you the next source coming up. If it’s say for instance it’s a programme coming from LWT, LWT’s clock would be on what we call auto preview. And if it ticks away, you know how long you’ve got before you have to shut up. BUT if they delay the thing you have to fill in a little bit, you have to ad-lib. So for instance, they would make a late roll of 10 seconds, you’ve then got to extend your script by 10 seconds to make sure you meet the programme on time – you can’t make it look as though there’s a gap in between what you were supposed to say and the incoming programme. And you earn your money when that happens.

And would you have rehearsed that in your mind? Would you have said, “Right, if there is an underrun or overrun.”

Oh, yes. They used to give us… apart from the normal script, they used to give us a standby script, which was just a script of every programme that day, so you could sort of lift out of it something, you know, you could ad-lib say, Coronation Street, and the programme is late. You could then talk about Coronation Street because it’s written down on what they call a standby script. So you’ve always got something there, material to fill in, it’s just a case of you don’t know how long you’re going to have to speak. It’s a juggling act, really.

And would you ever ad-lib anything which was cosy and friendly?

Well, yes. I mean, not too cosy though because you’re trying to sell the company’s programmes for that night. No, I don’t think it comes under any category really, you’re just you. You know, you just sort of… every announcer’s different; some so perhaps cosier than others.

But you could be yourself, if you were giving out the weather forecast, which have been for a nice day tomorrow, you might say, “It’s going to be a nice day tomorrow, I’m looking forward to that.”

I think you can only go away with that if you’re in vision, because you’re seen to say that. Over a slide, it doesn’t quite sound the same; it doesn’t sound very factual. So you know, I don’t think… when I first started, Granada didn’t like that sort of cosiness – they wanted you to do the job but not sound too cosy, because you weren’t an in-vision announcer, you were a voice. You were the voice of Granada. So you couldn’t be too cosy, you had to sort of give the information and make it sound as interesting as possible but not too, you know, touchy-feely. Can’t have any of that in the Bernstein days!

 

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