Television technician

Television technician

Born: November 11, 1934; Died: July 5, 2014

Loading article content

Elizabeth Catherine Matthew, who has died aged 79 after a long illness, was a television technician who was known to a generation of industry insiders as Betty Autocue. She shared a cup of tea with The Beatles, worked with Prince Charles and the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and, most enjoyable of all perhaps, let Cary Grant kiss her hand. The journalist and former MSP, Dorothy Grace Elder, said of her: "Betty was the spirit of STV, a gallus Glasgow good fairy whose compassion and kindness touched many lives over thousands of programmes."

She was born and educated in Glasgow, worked briefly in hotel management in Kelso and Aberfoyle and spent some time with Rex Publicity based in Glasgow before joining Scottish Television in 1957.

Commercial television was in its infancy across the UK and the Canadian newspaper magnate Roy Thomson had been awarded a contract to provide programmes for central Scotland. Ms Matthew said she was attracted by the idea of joining not just a new company, but an entire industry that looked like it might play a major role in all our lives.

Barely three months separated Mr Thomson being told he had won his precious contract and Saturday 31 August 1957, the date set for the official launch. STV possessed no studio, no artists, no announcers, no producers, no technicians, no musicians and no programmes.

The company's first director of programmes, Rai Purdy, was lured from New York, fired by the challenge of opening a brand new television station from scratch.

Ms Matthew was assigned to autocue, a system developed to ensure presenters appeared word-perfect on camera. "Autocue was a high risk frontline operation," said one experienced presenter. "If the operator went too fast, or too slow, whoever was presenting could be left looking tongue-tied and extremely foolish."

Ms Matthew was one of several new recruits who stayed with STV for most of their working lives. A number of people were recruited from other ITV companies, such as Rediffusion in London, where they had been forced to declare redundancies, and the BBC who could see the chance of promotion. "But quite a few of us were completely new to the industry," Ms Matthew said, "and didn't know one end of a camera from the other."

The staff's introduction to the ­adrenalin-charged world of live TV could not have been starrier, or more demanding, even by today's standards. The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, provided the venue.

The presenter was James Robertson Justice and the big names on parade included Jack Buchanan, Deborah Kerr, Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, the Clyde Valley Stompers, the Glasgow Police Pipe Band and Moira Shearer whose husband Ludovic Kennedy opened the proceedings by reading the ITN news from a desk in the Theatre Royal.

The show lasted an hour and attracted good reviews. Robertson Justice, like a good many star presenters in the years ahead, was well served by the recently acquired skills of the bright, cheerful young woman, seated in a quiet corner of the studio, out of view of the studio audience.

That first live TV broadcast from Scotland, seen throughout the ITV network, lasted an hour and was the first of thousands of programmes, live and recorded, on which she worked.

Going back more than half a century, to the early days of STV, when the industry was fresh and young, she encountered some of the biggest names in show business, politics, the arts and sport.

"Sophia Loren wore hardly any make-up, which she insisted on applying herself, and looked absolutely stunning," she said. "Robert Wagner was the best-looking man I ever met and Cary Grant easily the most charming. Just before he left the studio, he walked over to where I was sitting, and kissed my hand."

She was working alongside Morag Hood and Paul Young on Round Up, a programme aimed mainly at teenagers, when the show's producer Liam Hood agreed, as a special favour to his old friend, Brian Epstein, to find a spot for The Beatles.

"During a break in rehearsal, Morag and Paul went off to make-up," said Ms Matthew. "Nobody else was interested in looking after some unknown band. Frank Ford, the senior cameraman, and I took them to the canteen for a cup of tea. We spent the next hour looking at photographs of them in Germany. Four lovely lads, I enjoyed their company immensely, they couldn't have been nicer."

Her meeting with Prince Charles happened when he was serving with the Royal Navy at Rosyth, in command of a minesweeper. BAFTA had decided to honour his sister Princess Anne and Charles agreed to provide a surprise tribute, to be used in the annual TV awards broadcast.

The heir to the throne was already settled in a hospitality room at STV's Gateway studio in Edinburgh when Ms Matthew arrived. "He immediately got to his feet and asked me to join him on the couch where he was sitting. While we worked on the script together, I could see all these executives giving me strange looks. I was asked later if I'd kept his script, which was covered in Charles's own handwriting, as a souvenir. Unfortunately, as soon as we finished the recording, and Charles left the studio, an aide appeared and took it away."

Ms Matthew visited 10 Downing Street on two occasions, once to provide autocue for Harold Wilson and an aide treated her to a visit to the cabinet room, and once to attend a party in the family flat, arranged by Mr Brown in honour of his brother John, both of whom worked full-time, alongside Betty, at STV.

Following her retirement in 1994, she divided her domestic time between Glasgow and Troon and travelled widely. She moved to Canniesburn Care Home, Glasgow, in August 2012.

She never married and is survived by her nephew John, his wife Karen and daughter Claire.