Roger Tames looks behind the scenes at the Olympic Games
PUBLISHED: 22:05 05 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:50 20 February 2013
North East Life columnist Roger Tames looks behind the scenes of the greatest show on earth
I find it hard to imagine that the control room needed to put man in to space can be significantly bigger or more complex than the nerve centre at the heart of televising the London Olympic Games.
Certainly the seasoned Olympic campaigners I worked alongside at mission control Stratford insisted they had never seen a set-up like it.
Around 80 giant plasma screens, each subdivided into a dozen or more separate pictures reflect every incoming feed from every venue and then the outgoing signal to virtually every country on the planet.
Despite its proclamation of being The Olympic Broadcaster, all this technical wizardry was not the entire responsibility of the BBC. Covering the games for television is controlled by Olympic Broadcasting Services who employ more than 6,000 production staff from around the world.
They undertake coverage themselves of half the sports like swimming, basketball and sailing.
Televising the rest of the 26 Olympic sports is sub-contracted to international broadcasters. BBC was responsible for five sports including boxing, football and tennis. China Central TV did the gymnastics while Finnish Broadcasting undertook the phenomenal complexity of delivering the athletics while that cycling road race was broadcast by the Dutch.
The level of planning was quite phenomenal. The Production Guidebook ran to 507 pages and detailed every camera position at every venue. I became confused after counting 49 cameras on the track which, of course, didnt include everything required for the field events.
Around 5,600 hours of television coverage was produced in the most ambitious television project on the planet.
The area where I was involved comprised a new Olympic service to provide ten channels of continuous sports coverage for 15 hours every day. Countries who had bought rights to the games but couldnt mount significant levels of their own coverage could receive all the action complete with commentary in English, Spanish and Arabic.
I was lucky enough to commentate on some of the diving, plus occasional basketball and football while also working in a production role monitoring how the commentaries were working.
Home for much of three weeks was the International Broadcast Centre, a massive warehouse of plain walls housing a studio base for each individual national TV service. American network NBCs set-up dwarfed everybody elses including the BBCs own substantial complex.
Wonderful professional experience though it undoubtedly was, not everything was bathed in Olympic glory. Logistics demand that many commentaries were done not from the venue, but from one of 27 claustrophobic booths lined up like cubicles at some massive public convenience. Its regular common practice on sports coverage these days.
To ensure this international service was truly impartial, commentators were drawn from all around the English speaking world. The voice of Premier League football in South Africa does actually understand the subtleties of handball which would be beyond any British broadcaster. Each nation brought a different style to the presentation but the levels of enthusiasm and knowledge were constant.
There was a genuine Olympic spirit among television production staff similar to the competitors themselves. Talent from all around the world came together with a common cause and created a harmonious atmosphere to spread the message of the Games.
Working on an Olympic Games built a few hundred yards from where I was born was a totally uplifting experience. For me there were no medals to be won. It really was about the taking part.