Wednesday, 22 June 2011


My obituary of Hubert 'Hub' Schlafly, who invented the telepromter (or autocue, as it's called in Britain) is in Thursday's Guardian, or you can link to it here.

It is printed pretty much as
filed, except that when I filed
the story, I had actually
written the first graf in short
lines, like you'd read off
a teleprompter, just like this.

I was not surprised to see it in a more usual format. The desk did, however, point out to me that I'd managed to write the entire story while misspelling his name as Schafly, like the right-wing anti-feminist Phyllis. Hmmm.

I was very pleased while writing the piece to be able to get in a plug for my old boss at ABC, Peter Dimmock, who for me was a one-man education in the business of television sport. He really was the first person to use an autocue in this country. I love the way the BBC was always at the forefront of new technology--note the state of the art telephone foregrounded in the studio shot of Peter presenting Sportsview.

One thing that was lost was the point of the story about Herbert Hoover at the Republican convention: because of his stopping to ask that the machine be restarted, it became public knowledge for the first time that such devices were being used, which was a breakthough of sorts. But people still seem to believe those talking heads on TV are making it up. Though nowadays they're more likely to be being fed clever lines through their earpieces. Maybe we ought to make everyone watch Network again!

Oddly enough, when I started doing NFL on Channel 5, we added a green screen, like weather people use, to our analysis--and besides learning to do my telestrating backwards, like in a mirror, I also had to deliver my analysis to camera. Just after I started doing it, I was talking my friend Paul Shienfeld, who's spent his life working in television sports, and after commisserating with me about the difficulties of green screening, Paul commented that I read autocue better than anyone he'd ever seen. Your eyes never move. I laughed because our show couldn't afford an autocue: the entire sequence was ad lib, week after week. I offered to let him hold up cue cards for me if he wanted to.

Schlafy's portable satellite dish may well have been more important for television, and his pay per view system was probably more important in the minds of the guys who actually run the business. But those are three absolutely essentials parts of the business, necessities on every level, and it's amazing that one guy came up with all three. Just the kind of guy you'd nickname 'Hub'.

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