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Big Interview - Bradley Engineering (Pt 1)

Bradley Engineering is a company that prides itself on coming from a “cameraman’s perspective”. This is due in no small part to Managing Director David Bradley’s vast experience working as a cameraman.
Bradley produced its first analogue remote pan & tilt head in 1998. Now, it supplies digital, U-Series remote heads which encompass a host of features and use the latest technologies. Regional Film & Video caught up with Mr Bradley to find out about his early beginnings as a freelancer, the leap to becoming an engineering specialist and his views on budgeting and finance.

RFV: How did your career in broadcasting and television begin? What was it that drew you to the industry?

My Grandfather recognised that television would be something I could do. I only ever received one letter from him. Inside the envelope was a single cutting from a newspaper. It was an advertisement from the BBC inviting applicants as technical operators. And so my career in television began - on an 'A' course at Wood Norton in 1978. A59 to be precise.
I spent my first few years at Television Centre working on programs like Hi de Hi, Blake's 7, Swap Shop and the very first Newsnight. Then on to BBC Outside Broadcasts for endless horse racing, Royal Variety Shows, Wimbledon and Cup Finals.

At what point did you realise you wanted to become a cameraman? How were those early days in your career?

Back in about 1985, whilst working on a show with Samantha Fox we had to use a new-fangled invention - BetaCam - to get shots on a fairground ride. Paul McNeal made the mount and the shots were great – never before seen on TV – never before possible! It was however the perceived wisdom that these 'CamCorders' would never catch on - so I bought one. It cost more than my house at the time - nearly £30,000 with just 4 NP1 batteries and a 9 x 14 lens.
So I launched myself (blindly) into the freelance world. I only had a camera and couldn't afford a tripod, or lights, so I would hire these from Martin Mathewson who had an Ikegami HL78 and BVP110 kit at the time. It meant very early starts and late finishes for a one-day shoot as I had to collect the tripod before the shoot and return it afterwards. But I was young and it was exciting. By the way, for those who don’t know, ‘HL’ stood for ‘Handy Looky’!
I gradually developed some regular clients, a few spring to mind; Creative Television, JD Associates and Open Mind Productions. Open Mind are still around and specialised then and now in childrens’ programs. One program won a Royal Television Society award for technical innovation and another won a Bafta - great for my CV!
When Sony launched a new camcorder - the VX1000 – it was obvious to me that this was a ‘game changer’. It used Mini DV tapes and produced pictures nearly as good as my Ikegami HLV55 BetaSP camera. Suddenly, anyone could afford a camera and set up as a cameraman. The writing was large on the wall and I decided that remote cameras were the way forward. In retrospect this may have been slightly premature

How did you make the leap from cameraman to focussing on camera technology and accessories?

I had already been toying with remote systems in my shed, expanding my rudimentary knowledge of electronics and mechanics to a point where I developed my first little remote head specifically for the revolutionary Toshiba TU48 remote head camera. Michael Cain (the cameraman) was one of my first customers for in-car cameras on Top Gear.
I then met Steffan Hewitt of Polecam who invited me to join him on his stand at IBC. I think that was 1999. We had a tiny booth round the side of Hall 10. The buzz from the show was amazing. One of the things I demonstrated was a gyro controlled version of my little remote head. It was very simple, and analogue, but showed potential. Now we produce several products utilising this technology, originally developed in little more than a garden shed!
I also met Stuart Bush who I had missed at the BBC. He was always, and still is, having stuff built that just doesn't quite exist yet; tracks, remote heads, widgets etc. Our latest collaboration is a new, Versatile jib head which we launched at NAB in April. Whilst building stuff for Stuart I realised I would have to 'go digital'. Andy Peakin (AKA Ginge) recommended a book on digital electronics which I read and re-read until I understood enough to start building digital stuff. Of course this led straight into needing to learn how to program microcontrollers - another sharp learning curve! However, there's nothing like needing food and a roof to motivate learning and doing what's necessary.

Read the full article in the online of Regional Film & Video here
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