A decade ago, it was unheard of to hear a voice that could be described as “incredibly human”.
Yet for those who watched the BBC documentary Elevator, it’s the story of the rise and fall of one of the most iconic television shows in history.
A landmark series that aired for seven years on BBC1 from 1992 to 1996, it follows the rise of elevator salesman Neil Armstrong and his team as they struggle to build the first man-rated elevator.
The programme’s first episode featured an interview with Neil Armstrong, in which he spoke of the invention of the first human elevator in 1968.
“I was sitting in the elevator when the world changed,” he said.
“It was the first time in history that a man and a woman could walk on a plane together.”
But while the series was an important moment in the history of aviation, it also left a deep impression on the BBC’s executives.
In the late 1980s, the corporation decided that the elevator’s voice, produced by the BBC Radio 1 radio station, should be replaced with a new character.
This meant a major change to the way the BBC was presented, with programmes now featuring an announcer rather than a character.
And in the process, a whole generation of BBC employees came to see the show as one of their greatest creations.
“If you could see the BBC as a network, it made a lot of sense,” says Mark Lomax, who worked at the BBC for five years and became the programme’s executive producer in 2002.
“You’d see a story unfold, and you’d know that the voice of the presenter was not the same as the voice that was on the screen.”
So when the programme was first broadcast in 2000, it marked a turning point in the way BBC shows were produced.
“We thought it would be quite cool to see our programme get replaced,” says Lomay.
“And that’s exactly what happened.
It’s a story of one man’s dream coming true, and a series that was produced by one man.
It was an incredibly ambitious programme, and it was produced in a studio.
We’d been producing shows for five or six years before Elevator came along.”
Lomays team was already well aware that the BBC needed to make a change, so they approached the company’s chairman, Martin Goldsmith.
But the change didn’t come fast enough.
“Martin was a very smart man, and he understood that if he said something to the effect of, ‘Oh well, this is a very ambitious programme’, he would be sacked,” says Brian Dickson, who was working on the show at the time.
“But Martin wanted to keep the programme.
And he said, ‘I’ll do it.
They have to say, ‘Yes, this isn’t a very good programme.’ “
It’s the moment of truth for the BBC.
It tells the story not just of Neil Armstrong’s life, but also of the development of modern technology. “
But there’s a lot more to Elevator than that.
It tells the story not just of Neil Armstrong’s life, but also of the development of modern technology.
In a way, Elevator represents the rise, and fall, of our society.
It is also the story that helped inspire people to think that technology is always going to be able to improve on what humans have been doing for thousands of years.”
Loma Prieta’s family, who live in Australia, bought the programme in 1998.
They had the privilege of watching the first episode in person.
“There’s this wonderful sound that you get when you see this very human, very human voice,” says David Lomas, who works as a producer for the programme on the ABC.
“People say, well, they’ve heard the sound, and they’re like, ‘It’s human!’
In 2001, the BBC decided to take the series to an independent studio, and Lomas’ team was tasked with making sure the show had the best possible audio. “
That was the moment we knew that we were onto something.”
In 2001, the BBC decided to take the series to an independent studio, and Lomas’ team was tasked with making sure the show had the best possible audio.
“The BBC has this extraordinary facility that they can put together a programme, but there’s not a lot you can do about the sound quality,” he says.
“Because they have so much technology, they have to go out and get the best equipment.”
The team began by going back to the source of the sound.
“They had this very well recorded microphone, and the microphone was made by a company called Audiotec,” says Dickson.
“So they were recording the sound of a computer that had a microphone on it, and that was what we were going to record.”
Audiotec had this wonderful microphone, which they put on a microphone in the middle of the floor of their studio, which is in a building next to the BBC headquarters.
And then, when the sound was recorded, they turned the sound up to 100 decibels, which was