Donald MacLean's Blog 1






The tension is palpable. In the little office in a West London side street the older man is quietly insistent ... he's sorry but it simply cannot be done.  He is a senior BBC engineer - experienced in humouring eager young television producers like me - and he explains, with infinite patience, that we should have consulted him before initiating a series of programmes that are technically impossible.  "One of these days someone will work-out how to record pictures - like sound - then you can be as clever as you like."


[Just a few years earlier I had taken the legendary American folk-music collector Alan Lomax to the Hebridean islands of my ancestors to hear Puirt a Beul - rhythmic Gaelic 'Mouth Music' sung by weavers in time with their shuttles - and he had recorded them with one of the world's first tape-recorders.]


Opposite the Engineer my mentor closes his file, stands up and says "Well I'm sure you're right - as of today we cannot mix the output of cameras that are hundreds of miles apart - they just don't synchronise.   However, this new series goes on the air in 9 week's time and I'm sure you will have discovered how to do it by then."


As we left the room he looked back over his shoulder, smiling, and said "By the way, the series will still be called "Come Dancing".


Now it's a Sunday morning in a new century.  Christmas is next week.  Half a century has passed since that meeting - and the brilliant engineers of broadcast TV (who did - just - manage that breakthrough) have achieved a thousand more last-minute miracles since then.


Tonight Ann finished putting up the decorations and we drove down the hill into our Chilterns village, to our currently-favourite restaurant.  At a corner table was Puppy Millie's Dad (we have a number of friends, known only by their dog's name, with whom we exchange greetings when we meet in Carpenters Wood).  All the other tables were empty.  Unusual.


Across Britain restaurants are empty.  8.3 million TV sets are switched to BBC1 which is devoted to the final episode of a TV series ... and the people of Britain are devoted to that series.  If you are in the UK as you read this I don't need to say "By the way, the series is still called Strictly Come Dancing".


Can I distil 82 years into a few blogs?  Into a few pages?  A couple of paragraphs? A single word?  Well, maybe a couple of words.  And that's a dead heat ... so I'll keep one for my next essay.  The key word for this first blog is change.


I've spent a very full life working in fields that were also my main interests, my hobbies.  Few are so fortunate.  Radio - Television - Video - Software - Internet.   I've found myself with a central role, on a worldwide stage, in each.  The move from one to the next always seemed natural (though never easy).


Always my role was to look over the horizon ... to foresee change ... and prepare for it.


Last night we finished our meal and were home in time to watch the climax of the show - the last hour.  Dancing is not my thing (ask Ann!) but these performers were stunning.  And - of more interest to me - the production, the creative and technical brilliance, was breathtaking. Interior of old scanner van


In the Scanner truck outside that same London hall all those years ago, I had uttered a silent prayer that the pictures from Manchester would actually meld with mine.  Last night we were bombarded with a breakneck sequence of rapidly-developing images and sounds, including lightning flashbacks to precisely-edited recorded sequences.


A graph of the RATE of change throughout my life is an upward curve.   In the thirties it was flat ... as a teenager I was repeatedly told "This is the way we've always done this ... what makes you think you know better?"


Came 1939 and WWII - the graph abruptly began to tilt - things had to change.  And the tilt has just gone on getting steeper ... today's rate of change would have bewildered my grandparents.


Visibility from the window was nil - dense fog - I settled back in the tweedy armchair of the corporate jet as it circled over Holland.  Opposite me sat my boss Peter, Chairman of our FTSE100 company - now telling an uncomfortable co-pilot that we should not turn back to London but must land as planned at Eindhoven, fog or no fog.  Peter was a licenced private pilot.  Like me.  And he relished danger.  Unlike me.


But his commercial decisions were soundly researched and shrewd. We had made similar excursions as guests of major companies in the US and Asia, and so it was that, soon after that visit to Europe's premier electronics company (in their company plane) we adopted the VHS video-recorder system - a decision which ended one of the more significant global industrial competitions of the 20th century.




My distilled word nr 1.


A theme that will recur in my story.




"It is not the strongest species that survive, or the most intelligent,
but the ones who are most responsive to change." 
Charles Darwin.


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