Brian Spencer – Cameraman

Brian Spencer was a freelance cameraman in the early 1980s who came from the BBC to work at Granada. He worked initially on regional programmes and regularly found himself filming exterior inserts for Coronation Street. He later worked as a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I had been a film cameraman in television for some years working only for the BBC and then the union got very difficult about people joining ITV and eventually when I submitted two full sides of credits of BBC programmes to Bill Borrows (employment secretary of ACTT), he eventually agreed that I could work for ITV. I could have a union card but it would be restricted to BBC only for two years. Then Lynn Lloyd, the Granada shop steward said nonsense you’re working here as from Monday if you want to. I’d had a fair amount of camera experience before I came to Granada, so I was put out on the local program’s crew which was a two plus two, – that’s two on camera, two on sound – and servicing a number of programmes during the week so that you would do Down to earth on a Monday, Granada reports on a Tuesday and Coronation Street inserts on a Wednesday and so on. So Coronation Street inserts was one of the things, which the Local Programme’s crew did. This would be about 1980. Everything was still shot on film then for what was a taped programme so it was not a perfect marriage. You could always see when it was film.

It was normally just one day a week when the programme needed to go outside of the lot although even exteriors on the lot were shot on the film. But essentially it was exteriors from the studio sets that was shot on film. So there was a certain amount on the exterior lot. When I was there Brian Tyldsley was working in the garage under the railway arches, so that story ran for a few weeks. Gareth Morgan was directing and he persuaded Bill Podmore the producer to shoot in Stockport market. Gareth took it to a new level of realisation with dollies and tracks. It was terribly ambitious. We had 23 pages one day and 19 pages the next with dolly and tracks. I enjoyed it because cameramen like to have these kinds of challenges. But I spoke to Bill Podmore afterwards in the bar and I said him that trying to do 23 pages of script in one day with a coach load of extras in a high wind on Stockport market was just too much especially with a two plus two crew. The last scene that day we had not had time to do reverses or pickups. We simply ran out of time. That was a shame. It wasn’t that we were working slowly, we were working very fast but it was just too much to do in one day. Bill’s reply was that trying to get these high production values into Coronation Street when Coronation Street was not about high tracking shots, and cranes and so on. Coronation Street didn’t need all that, nor want all that; it was bringing to it a level of drama production that was in his view unsuited to the format, the story, the people, the feel of   Coronation Street was, in his view, not served well by trying to introduce high level production values. I thought that response was very interesting. As a young cameraman trying to do big dramas I found that very frustrating but I recognized too that he was right. After that I never got dolly and tracks out again.

I filmed the railway arches off Deansgate two three times. I also remember filming in Heaton Park where there was a picnic scene. I also filmed on the lot a few items and then where was a shopping scene at night on Deansgate. That was done with night lighting, which was interesting. It was good experience for me who had essentially been a cameraman doing documentaries. The experience of working with actors on drama even if it was not the fill production drama production level.

The cast was whoever was involved in the story line. Helen Worth who was married to Brian I remember gave a lovely performance. I was very young and impressionable and I was impressed by the way the cast knew their roles, their lines, their performances, their moves. They were very slick and professional. I suppose there must have been tensions somewhere but I was never aware of any. Maybe being out on location diffused the tensions but iI was never aware of it. It was great fun.

We would meet in the crew room, maybe early and had breakfast or if we’d had breakfast we’d load up. The electrician would put his lighting in. I’d have my own camera, I’d get film stock from the office and we’d also get extra batteries. We didn’t have recces. We didn’t have time although we did for the night shoot. We’d talk though the first set up. The assistant would set up the camera while I directed any lighting that was needed. We’d probably have a camera rehearsal, making sure the mike didn’t come in shot and so on. Then we’d go for a straight take. I didn’t do any hand-held work on Coronation Street and I never filmed in studio. There was a rule at that time about the use of film in studio.

Leave a Reply