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The Glencoe Climb

The BBC televised a series of rock climbs in the 1960s, the most spectacular and famous being the ascent of the Old Man of Hoy, by Scottish climber (and GP) Dr.Tom Patey, Joe Brown, Chris Bonington and others in 1967. Around 16 tons of equipment were ferried 450 miles on army landing craft, and the conditions under which the programme was made would be taxing today, never mind with the bulky (black and white) equipment of the time.

Such was the success of these programmes that the BBC continued with the theme and in 1970 and 1971 other climbs by Joe Brown and Hamish McInnes among others were shown, including the Anglesey Climb which was the first in colour, using CMCR9. Another was done at Glencoe in 1971, again using CMCR9 (which was LO5 at the time.)

In 1980 another live climb at Glencoe by Joe Brown and others was televised. The unit used was North 2, CMCR8, from Manchester. The choice was made as the PC80 cameras were capable of operation over longer cables than the 2001s, and the closest that the scanner could get to the mountain meant that cable runs up to 5000 ft were required. Every reel of cable from every BBC OB base that could be scrounged was pressed into service.

Imagine the labour needed to accomplish this. A 100ft reel of G101 cable weighs over a hundredweight (100Kg approx.) and takes two strong men to lift. Each cable coupling is a potential problem, even in the dry, and this was half way up a mountain. The camera heads are also a two man lift, then there were the lenses and controls in wooden crates. Camera positions were set up using scaffolding, as the lenses would be required to be operated at maximum zoom- so the slightest movement of the camera mounting would set the picture bouncing. The mountings and pan and tilt heads were all very heavy as well.

The nearest access by road was at the bottom of the valley, cables having to be rigged across the moorland and over a river! To get the signal out, one of the first satellite uplinks in British TV was used- the special vehicle can be seen in the foreground.


Some of the positions were impossible to reach from the ground carrying the camera equipment, so a helicopter was used to lift the cameras and mountings.

Some impression of the difficulty of the operation can be seen in this fantastic picture taken by cameraman John Chester.



It looks like the weather was good, but while it was warm enough for a bare chest at base, it looks as though the temperature dropped considerably by the time they got up to this camera position.

It looks like the cameras were being run for tests outside the scanner in the picture on the left. They didn't want to lug the heads all the way up the mountain to find they didn't work!



All pictures courtesy of John Chester.

More brilliant shots of the dramatic landscape at Glencoe with a camera position perched like a bird's nest. The cameraman does not look too chilly here, but the camera is wrapped to protect it against the mist and maybe to stabilise the temperature. Another lens is on the platform if required. This PC80 was over ten years old at the time, and although I believe there were a lot of compromises made to get the pictures back over the incredible cable lengths, they gave good pictures and the programmes were watched by millions. This was real 'reality television', - not just watching a few extroverts sitting round in a room on security cameras.

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