Teleprompting – the early days……a personal view………..

About Prompting

MD Teleprompting Techniques

Hi my name’s Chris Lambert, MD of TTL and I’ve been kicking round the Prompting Industry for close on 50 years. When I started operating we were only a few steps away from Cue Cards! The early equipment we operated used three or four part, even five part, sprocketed paper and we typed the script using IBM typewriters modified with 5/8ths of an inch, capital letters soldered onto the standard shafts. They used to fly off every now and then and believe me if it hit you you’d know all about it! When the script was completed the paper had to be separated from the carbon paper between each part. Operator’s develped all sorts of cunning ways to achieve separation form flip flapping right through the script to one operator who just used to throw the whole lot in the air and as if by magic it all came to earth again perfectly seperated. Perhaps the fact he was a concert pianist had something to do with it. Once the parts were separated they would be loaded onto the viewers and the master control. The equipment we used then was based on magslips – the things that synchronised the aiming of guns on warships! The master control sent stepping information to the slave units. Once the scripts were loaded the top copy, the darkest was rigged on the main presenter camera and as each copy got lighter so it was rigged on a camera of lesser importance. God help the presenter on camera 4!

Making corrections in those days was something of a team effort and any show that had two or more units on camera had two operators, which, of course, was great for bonding and having fun! You may think that two operators was something of a luxury. But changes were made by applying yellow cloth tape to the paper prompt text and writing in the change using a flomaster pen. Now that’s fine for changes that are contained within a line but when it needed more space, or in the same way if a deletion was made that was too big to scroll through, then paper had to be spliced in or out of the script – and, of course, if spliced in or out of one then all viewers had to be spliced. And then the next problem. Due to shortage of time as the transmission time came nearer – remember the majority of programming a this time was live – short cuts had to be taken – by, for instance, only doing a correction on the viewer that was specific to one presenter. This in turn meant that the viewers had different weights of tape and paper on them and would gradually lose synchronisation. So during transmission one operator would be controlling the text speed and the other would be crawling round the studio with a little crank handle and manually re-sync all the prompters on the fly. This was particularly challenging because as the viewers were rigged on camera they went where the camera went and it was quite likely that as you locked in your little handle, the camera would make a move of some kind, pan or tilt or shove closer to the presenter – there were no zooms at this stage, lenses were mounted on rotating turrets and were selected as appropriate by the cameraman by turning a handle. This could also catch you out. One of the little jokes the cameramen used to play on each other was to, during the dinner break and just before transmission, change the position of the lenses on the turret ! I leave to your imagination the look on the cameraman’s face after his first lens change!

Teleprompting Grows Up

It all changed with the introduction of a closed circuit video system where a mono camera photographed a “bog roll” of script that was fed beneath it at a controlled speed. This paper based system not only used standard typewriters but could provide as many feeds as required. Although changes were still made by using stickers and handwritten text, and, indeed, splicing text in or out using a glue pen, the change only had to be made once and it was done everywhere. Of course, as ever this didn’t mean that the operator could relax because it just meant that more changes were made – and later! Then character generated prompting came along, and that’s really where we are now. Quick and slick and amazingly readable with a huge choice of fonts, colours, instant changes and edits, languages. Scripts downloaded from newsrooms directly into the prompter, video feeds being transported by satellite anywhere in the world. Short of a brain implant I can’t see that prompting can develop much further but why prompting at all?