Jonathan Leech Interview – Part 1

Jonathan Leech has been part of Beacon Productions for some 21 years, longer than many of the university students on placement we enlist have been alive. The man in black, a quiet reassurance, and someone who is kinder than most. Often seen waving a boom pole on filming days and fettling with lighting he is more than happy to support the creative endeavours of the directors and actors. It’s not an over top statement to note that Jon’s arrival in the group heralded the arrival of a new knowledge base that the club simply did not have before.

“When I first joined there wasn’t even the mop pole for the mic – I remember Matt at one point holding the mic in the crux of his elbow… No lighting at all either.”

Had you always wanted to be a technician?

“I’ve always wanted to work with sound and music and have ended up working with lighting and video as well so, yes, I guess I have.”

What first piqued your interest in sound work

“I started learning the piano when I was four and have always listened to and played music, so I just naturally progressed into it. I bought my first 4-track Tascam Portastudio, after borrowing one from my synth teacher, in about 1988 and my first two decent Yamaha keyboards at the same time. All paid for by painting neighbours’ houses.”

Growing up, was there a dream/ ambition to work in television?

“Yes. My school went to see “On Safari” being shot at TVS in about 1984 and that definitely gave me the bug. It was fascinating seeing the orchestration of the (many) cameras, and Christopher Biggins twatting about with Windsor Davies and Gillian Tayleforth!”

You had a work placement at the BBC, tell us about that?

“That was in 1991 when I was at college. I spent a few weeks shadowing the various departments at BBC South when they were at South Western House whilst their new (current) building was under construction. Starting with a general technician called Pete (really nice bloke); part of his job was to collect up and wipe all the Beta SP tapes each day, a process called “black and burst”. This meant demagnetising the tape and putting 60 secs of colour bars at the start and then black video and reference tone. A dull job in itself, but it meant we could visit each room of each department, which was really interesting. I remember being in PSC (Portable Single Camera) where tapes were collated from the various roving cameramen, the edit suites (2 inch reel to reel tape), graphics department where most of the time I was there they were producing weather maps and “Astons” (Aston was the computer that generated titles and straplines on screen), and a fair amount of time in the studio where I operated cameras (massive great old tube cameras) on
South Today a couple of nights. One on Angela Diffley, the other for Sarah Watts (remember them..?!). Ironically, I don’t recall anything about the sound department though. Had lunch with all the presenters at various points including the legendary Bruce Parker and Steve Humphrey, who is still there to this day.”

I first met Jon in and around 1997 at the local drama club. Even from my limited experience with stage production then, I recognised him as a crew person. Mainly because of the ponytail and black shirts – the true identity of a technician. What drew you to the world of amateur dramatics, and what aspects did you enjoy?

“I started at school when I ran sound for a couple of productions in 1989 and just carried on running technical stuff ever since. Amateur theatre came about because I had a number of mutual friends at the newly merged Sarisbury Theatre Company and they persuaded me to join. My favourite job was compiling all the sound effects and editing the music.”

If you could, and there were the jobs available, would you prefer to work in TV, or theatre?

“Of the two TV, but as jobs are so rare in this area it’s not something I’d ever consider now. I worked on Question Time a number of times in the 90’s as an audience voting systems technician and I also put microphones on many politicians and “celebs”. To be honest, I’m quite happy as a Music Technology technician now working with Mac-based systems as I’ve learnt such a lot about it over the past ten or so years.”

How did you come to get involved with Beacon?

“Through meeting Steve, yourself, Matt, etc, at Sarisbury Theatre Company and being asked to take some of my lights along to a shoot (forget which one though).”

(SB – “Back in Business”, I think…) What were your early impressions of the club?

“This is the kind of question I’m crap at answering. Can’t really remember, to be honest! It was certainly all positive – everyone was extremely friendly and enjoying themselves, as did I.”

Your experience and involvement certainly changed and updated Beacon’s equipment, how basic was it back then to those that don’t know?

“Very basic in comparison to today, but then it would have been really. The equipment cost such a lot back then compared to what you get for the money these days.”

How significant was the first Awards for All grant in 2004? And indeed the subsequent investments?

“It was massively significant for Beacon and allowed the level of equipment to progress hugely. I forget exactly what we bought with it though, you’ll have to remind me!”

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