Written by Simon Lloyd Category: Programmes
Published on 07 February 2008

The hospital carol service is one of those events we have been covering ever since HHTV started. It has become one of our most important events of the year as it is the only way many of the patients can get to see it. In recent years we have settled on a formula that is relatively simple for us to set up and looks as professional as possible for the viewers. That said we are always in a rush at the last minute as the venue is in use earlier in the day. We never quite have enough time to get everything ready for the start.

This year the location was the League of Friends' pavilion. That should have made things easier for us, as it's much closer to our studio and the pavilion was closed most of the afternoon for setting up. We knew we had made things difficult for ourselves when we looked at the crew list for the day. There were very few of us available during the day and only a couple of people around all day. We were going to struggle just to fill the main jobs. Worse still Len, who should have been presenting, told us he may have to work and wouldn’t know if he was available until the day.

 

 

 

When I arrived during the afternoon several hundred metres of camera cable was already run from our studio to the venue and much of the rigging was under way. There is a perfect little room that we have used as a temporary control room in the past. Sadly, we couldn’t use it this year as there was a plan for the children from the hospital crèche to use it before they performed. That put us in the lobby - a room about six feet square so things were going to be cramped.

Luckily, we had done lots of the work in the studio the previous week, getting it ready for all of the camera feeds and sound coming in. I was going to be directing the event so it made sense for me to carry on with these preparations in the gallery while the others rigged lights, microphones and of course the cameras. Safety is our first priority as the building will be full of members of the public, so the dozens of cables we used were all rigged around the edge of the room, tied up over door frames and past through windows to avoid any hazards.

 

 

 

 

With about an hour to go we joined up the final link in the cable to connect the cameras to the studio. This cable has to go across a road so needs to be done when the flow of traffic has reduced. At last I could see pictures from the three cameras, I could hear the sound and they could hear me over talkback. I selected camera 1 on the vision mixer and asked them to frame a shot for me. No response from camera 1 but camera 3 did what I asked. When I asked the same of camera 2 again no response but camera 1 sprang into life. I guessed what was happening so wasn’t surprised when I finally asked camera 3 for a picture and camera 2 obeyed. Somehow I had managed to mix up all three of the cameras in the bird’s nest of wire that connected them all. Ten minutes of frantic tracing of wires and I finally had them all in the right order. Alan and I were also working flat out to get all of the scripts, captions and tape inserts ready. We knew now that Len was not going to make it. He had recorded all of his links at the weekend just in case he was working. This was hardly ideal but there was nothing we could do about it now. We were using a new audio player on the computer to play the recorded clips of voice over. Until that evening we had never used it live so Alan just hoped he could manage to drive it without playing any of the clips in the wrong place – and he very nearly managed it too.

 

 

In the past the concert organisers have delayed the start by a few minutes because we were not ready. Remarkably, this year we were ready with about five minutes to go – but for a change the organisers weren’t. Fortunately within a few minutes everyone was ready to go and I ran the opening titles. We don’t get a chance to rehearse with singers so getting the sound balance correct can be a bit of a nightmare for the first couple of minutes. In fact most of the event was done flying by the seat of our pants, but as usual the entire crew made a supreme effort the final result looked very good. There were the odd couple of glitches – due mainly to my inability to do what I say. So on a couple of occasions I would say something like “Camera 2 next” and then cut to camera 3 without warning. I’m sure the added element of surprise just adds something to the event – but I’m not sure the camera operators always feel the same.

An hour later and it was all over – I ran an end link we had pre-recorded with Len and the closing titles. I faded to black and switched back to HOSFAX, the information service we broadcast when we are not on the air. It would be wonderful to say goodnight and go home but we now had another two hours work ahead of us to de-rig and clear up.

We record the concert and play it again several times over the holiday period, so it is worth going to all that effort. Now that Christmas is out of the way it must be time to start planning for next year, when I hope we can do it all again but better than ever.

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