More on TVX:
Britain’s first video workshop

Hoppy’s video workshop TVX at the Robert Street Lab was the first of its kind in the UK.  TVX’s history has been documented by both the REWIND project at Dundee University, and in detail by scholar Ed Webb-Ingall in his excellent blogs on the LUX website. The TVX studio often seemed a world of its own within the Robert Street Lab, though Hoppy enthusiastically collaborated with John Lifton’s cybernetic theatre and memorably contributed the novelty of live video to our opening party, and to the Hilliard / Breakwell show. I can remember seeing few of Hoppy’s tapes at the time, though in Summer in 69 he lent me a reel to reel Portapak (Lennon’s? or the one he’d blagged from Sony for use in the Camden Fringe Festival?), and for a week I experienced video’s allure for myself.


Here is Hoppy’s own account of his discovery of video and his time at Robert Street, culled from Jackie Hatfield’s REWIND interview with Hoppy and Sue Hall (17th November 2004). Sue wasn’t involved at Robert St but became Hoppy’s partner and co-worker following his move to Prince of Wales Crescent in Summer 71.


“….In the early ‘60s, I earned my money by being a photographer in Fleet Street. By the middle of the 60s I got more involved in organising underground events, so much so that I put down my camera. The ‘Summer of Love’ [‘67] was very psychedelic; I spent six months in Jail for dope and various other things happened and [then] I went travelling in Europe with my then wife Suzy Creamcheese. About early ‘69 I was in a town called Riete, near Rome… helping to organise a carnival. Imagine February, and the snow in the mountains, some crazy friend of mine from Rome, an Italian guy and a bunch of other people, including some people from the original Arts Lab in London [Jack Moore and The Human Family]. I hadn’t been there for a few days before I ran into Jim Haynes [or was it Jack as in other versions of this tale?] … and he said ‘there’s something new on the scene’ which was a thing called video. He explained to me in five minutes what video was – and I knew something clicked. I went more or less straight back to England and went to see Sony. I persuaded them with all the muscle I could bring to it… to let me borrow an open reel Portapak. What I thought I knew before I picked one up was incredibly amplified by the first use of it, and that what’s started me off. That was in early ‘69 and I persuaded some branch of Camden Council to let me take part in the [First] Camden Fringe Festival, where we showed some video and shot some video in Notting Hill and brought it back to Camden to show and stuff like that”. 


Hoppy describes his crew at the Robert Street Lab:  


My gang was called TVX; [we were] the video department of this burgeoning Institute [IRAT]. And the people who were involved were… Joebear Webb, who was a lawyer and helped write the Constitution for the [New Arts] Lab [IRAT]; Till Rhomer who was a German friend of mine, who was a bit of a bad boy, got busted later. The three other members… were Cliff Evans, who was a brilliant cameraman – young guy; Steve Herman who was diabetic and had rather poor eyesight, but he compensated for this by being very interested in film, and John Kirk who came from Australia; he’d been doing some teaching. There were various other people, we weren’t a closed group…


He describes TVX’s equipment at the Lab, and where he sourced it: 


“.. I start with a 405 line Portapak that I borrowed from Sony, [for the Camden Fringe Festival demonstrations] and when I had to give it back, John Lennon gave me his equipment, which was the same model, and we managed to use that for a bit and then it turned out that Ampex brought out these really huge … one-inch VTRs, which were terribly unreliable, but they [gave] one to each of the four Beatles, and John and Ringo and George each decided that they didn’t know what to do with them, so they gave them to me”. 

In the interview, Hoppy acknowledges the influence of Brice Howard, of the educational cable network KQED in San Francisco, where in January ‘70 he saw Howard’s colour experiments in multitrack recording; ‘eye blasting’ in their impact, as I quote in the book.  I had met Brice Howard in San Francisco in October 69 while researching my book Experimental Cinema and had brought back a typescript copy of Brice’s Video Space, which I gave to Hoppy in November, prompting Hoppy’s January visit. Hoppy continues: 


Brice’s [Video Space] manuscript.. was a really inspirational piece of visionary poetry about video, and what it meant, and what you could do with it. That’s why the first programme that we made for the BBC was called Video Space, and all my gang were turned on by this manuscript that I’d brought back.[!]  BBC 2 hadn’t been around very long and that was where the progressive people were. There was a programme called Late Night Line Up. One of the directors there was Tom Corcoran, and somehow we made contact or he had heard about us …. Anyway Tom Corcoran said ‘Why don’t you bring a bunch of people along and we can make this studio available to you and see what you can produce’ in some time he’d booked. This was one of the BBC2 production studios, a small one with its own production gallery. We were recording onto 2 inch… [Sue Hall ‘..in COLOUR! That didn’t happen again for 15 years!’]  So, what we did was to treat it like a happening.  …. Not knowing what was going to happen was really part of the thrill. So we got a bunch of people together including Richard Neville who was the editor of OZ and some musicians and friends and hangers-on and some of us were technically minded. We ‘roughed-out’, not a script, but a who-would-do-what-when. Different people were on different bits of equipment which none of us had ever seen before. Cliff was a BBC cameraman so he actually knew how to operate these huge pedestal cameras…. So we did one take that lasted 20 minutes and played it back and had a look at it then we did another take which again lasted 20 minutes. Unfortunately all that remains is a rather battered copy of one of the two takes. But it was very exciting for us because we were doing visual feedback. There was a light show there, done by a friend of ours called Dermot Harvey, who did light shows with rock bands and other things. There was a studio discussion, but we also experimented in the control room with a vision mixer, and there was an elementary synthesiser and colouriser and stuff like that”.  

And here’s the surviving take of [or extract from] Videospace and an image from ISIS magazine (June 1970) of Cliff Evans with a BBC camera. 


VideospaceJohn ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, 1970

Cliff Evans with a BBC camera, ISIS magazine, June 1970