Michael McCarthy received the Lifetime Achievement award at last year’s RTS Craft & Design Awards in recognition of a career that is entering its seventh decade.
Since starting at the BBC in 1961, he has worked on some of the UK’s most loved shows, including Dad’s Army and Morecambe and Wise.
In a new RTS London film, It’s All About the Sound, McCarthy discusses his career at the BBC and as a freelancer with Strictly Come Dancing sound supervisor Richard Sillitto, a colleague over many years.
McCarthy is renowned for his work on sitcoms and light entertainment programmes: “I didn’t enjoy drama. There were many more technical problems because of the complexity of the artists’ movements… boom shadows and trying to get sound out of people standing in corers, which some folk seemed to enjoy tremendously. I found that quite tedious, really. I just want people to walk on, speak up and walk off.”
Sound effects, he recalls, came from 78 rpm records, “which you would cue up and hopefully play the right one. I didn’t on one live drama. I was supposed to play a foghorn and a horse galloped past – perhaps that’s why I didn’t do any more drama.
The first Dad’s Army script he read made little impact on McCarthy: “It’s only when the producer, director and cast come together, and work on it and produce the characters, that it comes to life. I wouldn’t be able to see that from the script.”
For the Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials, he recalls, “something was always pulled out of the bag”. One such instance was composer André Previn’s appearance in 1971, when Eric uttered the legendary line: “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”
“Suddenly.” Said McCarthy, “this wonderful sketch unfolded, in front of our eyes
McCarthy was also on sound for the famous The Two Ronnies’ “four candles” sketch. “I hate hearing it because, to me, Ronnie Corbett always sounds off mic,” he says, laughing.
The sound supervisor has two BAFTAs, one in 1984 for his work on, among other shows, The Two Ronnies; the other, two year earlier, for The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.
The RTS London film, It’s All About the Sound, was produced by Terry March and Philip Barnes. To watch the film and listen to RTS London podcasts, go to: https://rts.org.uk/region/london