Money is available to start the rebuild of ABC Unit 5 / Thames Unit 2 – GNF 951E, but the biggest problem during the current conditions has been to find people who are willing to start work on mechanical and exterior restoration.
TV in London is 65 years old in 2020, remaining vital throughout a period of external pressures as well as the changing viewing habits of the population. In this article, I look at the birth and evolution of London Weekend Television, and at the role that technology played in developing its sport and drama output.
If you want to understand the history of Thames Television’s outside broadcast (OB) trucks, it is necessary first to appreciate the tortuous way that the broadcaster came into being. Therefore, I am starting this review of the Thames OB fleet with a little history.
While many enthusiasts collect radios and televisions, broadcasting equipment is a more neglected area. The Broadcast Engineering Conservation Group (BECG) is a group of people who rescue, restore and conserve historic UK television equipment, focusing on the engineering aspects. We aim to use this to present television history to the public. Continue reading “Carry on Trucking”
We have made our first foray into restoring our latest acquisition – the ABC/Thames Outside Broadcast Unit “GNF951E”. As detailed on the Project Page, this vehicle was converted into a mobile home by the previous owners, so we had to start by removing the modifications. A project team consisting of Paul, Richard, Martin, Jeffrey, Dave, Phil, Dicky, Jill, Margaret and Ruth assembled to start the work.
Our latest project is the restoration of ABC TV’s “Unit 5”. This was one of three new vehicles ordered by ABC in the mid-sixties. It passed to Thames and then to Sony before being converted into a domestic vehicle.
One of three units ordered by ABC around the time of the 1966 World Cup. Transferred to Thames TV, then to Sony Broadcast for HDTV work. Subsequently converted to a “living van” and is now to be restored.
Photographs of GNF951E and the other two vehicles when they were in service.
ABC Television Unit 5 GNF951E being built.
ABC Television new Outside Broadcast unit.
ABC Television Unit 4, FNB460D (sister vehicle).
ABC Television Unit 4, FNB460D (sister vehicle).
ABC Television Unit 5, GNF951E, Production area.
Thames Television Unit 2, GNF951E at an Outside Broadcast.
Thames Television Unit 2, GNF951E at Diana's wedding.
Thames Television OB Vans at the Derby.
ABC Television Unit 6, HXJ846F in RTS livery.
Thames Television Unit 2 GNF951E Threadneedle Street, London
ABC Television Unit 5, GNF951E new Outside Broadcast unit.
Thames Television Unit 2, GNF951E in later Thames livery.
Sony HDVS OB unit, GNF951E.
Unit 2 being craned onto HMS Hermes for an 'Opportunity Knocks' OB in 1970
After the Football World Cup was awarded to UK in 1966 and following a review of requirements, ITV decided that additional facilities were needed and ABC Television ordered three new Outside Broadcast trucks – FNB460D, GNF951E and HXJ846F. These trucks were “state of the art” incorporating a number of firsts:
All transistor equipment
Separate operational compartments for sound, production and engineering.
The trucks were built by Road Transport Services, on a Bedford “VAL-14” chassis, fitted out by Marconi and supplied to operate with up to 6 Marconi Mk V Image Orthicon Cameras.
Probably only one truck (“Unit 4” – FNB 460D) was delivered in time for the Cup.
Following the ITV franchise changes in 1968 these trucks were transferred to Thames Television. They sold two (FNB460D and HXJ846F) to Racecourse Technical Services, but kept GNF951E and converted it to colour, using Marconi Mk VII Cameras. The unit remained in service for over 10 years before being sold to Sony, who used it as an HDTV demonstration unit during which time it spent some time in Italy.
After broadcast service the truck was used as an advertising billboard for the great Dorset Steam Fair, before a new owner, based on The Isle of Wight, took over in 1992 and used it for several purposes including a mobile home, art gallery and a costume store. After many happy years with the family it was time for a new owner and BECG acquired the unit in 2018, with a view to restoring it as an outside broadcast unit.
The plan is to restore the bodywork and rebuild the interior with two Marconi MkV and two Marconi Mk VII cameras, representing the conversion time, thus giving the unit both monochrome and colour capability. Examples of much of the original equipment or period-correct equivalents are available.
Some notes from the previous owner
These noted have been lightly edited in the light of other known facts (see above).
This vehicle consists of a purpose-made body, on a Bedford VAL14 twin-steer chassis of the type made around 1963-64. It has a Leyland 400 diesel engine (6.538 litres) with a Bedford 5-speed gearbox. This vehicle is fitted with the optional Bedford two-speed rear axle, air operated from the gear lever. Top speed is in excess of 65 mph.
The drum brakes are compressed-air servo-assisted hydraulic, with the mechanical handbrake operating on the four front wheels. A secondary mechanical drum brake operates on the transmission shaft. Steering is hydraulic power-assisted, giving a relatively light steering control. This, together with excellent visibility and the fact that the vehicle is on a passenger chassis, makes for a very comfortable ride.
The body was completed around  1967 as a TV Outside broadcast Control Room (“Scanner”) for ABC Television (Unit No.5), who [sold] transferred it to Thames Television in  1968 (Unit No.2). There are three side doors to the interior, in addition to two rear doors and the two cab doors. There are spacious external lockers, which on the nearside house three air conditioners. The very rigid body, of double-skinned duralumin with foam insulation, was built by Road Transport Services of Hackney, and is believed to be their No. 4030.
The vehicle is approximately 10 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and 3.6 metres high.
Around 1985 the vehicle passed to Sony Broadcast Ltd, who had it refurbished by Glover Webb Ltd. of Hamble. The original interior TV equipment including the elevating antenna mast was all removed. New interior decor, display lighting, mains-driven air conditioning, and TV and audio circuits for use in demonstrating High Definition TV Systems were installed. During the five years in this role it spent about six months in Italy, on loan to Radiotelevizione Italiana in the Milano area.
The present owners acquired the vehicle early in 1992. The exterior was repainted, and the vehicle brought up to the standards required for the Ministry of Transport Plating test. The interior décor is generally in the condition when Sony owned it. Some additions and modifications have been made, including roof windows, both for use as an artist’s studio/gallery and also for domestic requirements.
“As found” state
Photographs of GNF951E when it was acquired by us in 2018.
Air Conditioning Lockers
Door and Steps
Leyland 400 Engine
Kitchen with original 19" racks!
Kitchen area from rear doors
Original Mast Housing
Roof and Toilet Fan!
A short (five minute) video describing the state of the vehicle in May 2018 with some initial thoughts as to the restoration.