Videotape in the ’70s (part 2) – Ray Lee


Photo by Tim Savage, no reproduction without permission












Photo of Jim Hiscox in VTB

Editing with Quad

As mentioned earlier cut editing was not feasible for videotape, so all editing was performed using “Dub” edits, and in sequence. The editor would decide which piece he wanted from the play in tape, and a cue point would be marked 10 seconds prior to that on the back of the tape with a china-graph pencil. The electronic editor on the record / edit machine recorded a cue pulse on the edit tape to initiate the electronic editor. This performed the switching sequence to switch the record machine from playback to record at the edit point, and involved careful timing of record and erase circuits, in order to create a seamless join. The Edit machine could work in Assemble or Insert edit mode. Assemble meant joining a new recording to the end of a previous one, and the new recording would then continue until the stop button was pressed. Insert recording was used to add a new section of pictures ( or sound) to an already existing section of recording which had to be continuous. The control signal that is recorded during a standard recording, or Assemble edit, was not re-recorded in insert mode, and as this was the equivalent of film sprocket holes, had to be continuous for a stable playback. This meant that insert edits could not alter the overall duration of a recording, and that the section being inserted had to be the same duration as the one being removed.

Most programmes were assemble edited, starting with the line-up, and VT Clock (in those days a mechanical clock in the studio). Then the opening title sequence, which would often have come from film. VTA was the play machine, which could be used to do simple “on the fly” edits, whereas VTB had the Editec controller which allowed for some adjustment of edit points. The procedure was, locate the in point on the playback machine and wind back 10 sec, marking the tape (physically), locate the in point on the record machine, marked with a pulse, wind back 10 sec and mark the tape physically. Remote the play machine, switch on the editec and then run both from the record machine. If the in point was at a shot change from the player, it was quite important to check the edit point for flash frames. The nature of the colour TV signal meant that editable points were always 2 frames apart, and for a given sync point on the recorder, it was possible that if the in point on the player was on the non editable frame, the machines might sync on the wrong frame giving a flash frame. This was adjusted by physically moving the tape either forward or back from the china-graph mark when re-cuing.

In respect of Quad editing, John Lannin was a master of the craft. I remember him, and I think Steve Critchlow working for several days of edit sessions putting together a title sequence (Might have been for “Gangsters”) which comprised a long series of flash frames, probably no more than 4 frames of any clip. The effect was truly stunning.  There must have been 300 or more edits, and each one needed a 10 second run up, both to locate the shot and to edit it into the sequence, and finally to review it. No wonder it took a long time.

With every edit the recording went to another generation, due to the fact editing was a playback and re-record process. Also because the sequences all had to be laid down on the tape in order, it meant that to re-arrange the order meant another edit, and hence another generation. Ideally the best that could be achieved was 2nd generation, where the final edit was the first edit. For a lot of programmes a first edit was fine tuned by a second edit, leading to 3rd generation. However for programmes like ‘Pebble Mill at One’, inserts would often come from previously edited programmes or shows, so by the time they appeared in a ‘Pebble Mill ‘Highlights programme would be 5th or 6th generation, by which time the recording deficiencies start to become obvious. This has been something of a problem for archives, as often the original early generations have often been wiped, or the original source lost in the trail of hand written records. No wonder everyone welcomed digital recording with the infinite generation promise of fidelity, but that did not come for nearly another 20 years.

Ray Lee

Videotape in the ’70s (part 1) – Ray Lee

Ampex VR2000 Quad machine in VTB, photo by John Burkill (1976)












(Photo copyright John Burkill, no reproduction without permission – the photo must have been taken after lunch – well during VT’s standard liquid lunch!)

The Videotape area adjoined Telecine, so I got to know the VT staff, and something of the operation even before I had chance to actually work in the area. In 1974 there were just 2 VT machines, Ampex VR2000 2 inch. These were known as Quad machines as the recordings were made using 4 rotary heads across the width of the tape, quadruplex recording. VTA was optimised as a play in machine, and VTB as an edit machine. Both were capable of being used as stand alone recorders or players with the studios, and could be used for simple assemble editing, but more usually one was used as a master recorder and the other as a backup at that time, as there was no way of knowing until playing back, that the recording had been successful. There was no off tape monitoring, and a head-clog at the start could render the whole recording useless.

At that time John Lannin, and Tony Rayner were the senior editors, with Ian Collins, John Burkill, and Steve Critchlow making up the remaining VT team. What many people working in TV today fail to realise is that VT machines then needed careful alignment for every tape, and that they required a ten second run up in order to lock up fully synchronously. (Occasionally even 10 seconds was not long enough!). Although cut editing of tapes had been occasionally done in Black and White days, it was not accurate enough (normally) for colour recordings.

There were exceptions. I believe there was a unique recording that had somehow had tape damage that caused the tape to snap, (the transverse rotary heads were not unlike a circular saw if there was a nick in the tape) and John Burkill performed a cut edit to join the tape back together. This involved applying Edivue, a suspension of fine iron particles in solvent, to the tape to develop the tracks and the edit pulse, on each side of the damaged area. Then using a travelling microscope to locate the correct point and place it precisely in the edit block, cut the tape either side of the damage, and finally splice together using splicing tape. Normally a cut edit like this would not play without some glitching, but on this occasion it played almost as well as a standard electronic edit. Subsequently some months later I also had to repair a tape in this manner, and achieved a similar result!

VT was a noisy area. The rotary heads ran at 15,000RPM, and there being 4 heads on the drum a new head entered the tape past the edge 1000 times a second. Added to that the rotary heads were run on air bearings, which was supplied with compressed air, and created a vacuum for the vacuum guide to hold the 2 inch wide tape in a circular arc. The machines did have their own air compressor which could be used (adding even more noise), but generally used compressed air from a central compressor housed away from the area. The same compressor fed airlines to the Telecine cubicles to allow for blowing dust out of the film Gate. So what with whirring heads, hissing air and other general mechanical noise, the monitor loudspeaker was generally quite loud in order to hear the sound.

The VT machines needed careful looking after to get the best out of them, and tended to drift as they warmed up. So the normal course of action for the switch on man was to switch on the machines, check that the basic systems were working, then go and have a coffee while the machines warmed up. There was always a 1/2 hour line-up period scheduled before each booking, to allow time to make the fine adjustments required for the tape. In an edit session using several different source tapes, line up could take up quite a lot of the time. If the tapes came from the same recording session, a quick 2 to 5 minute adjustment may be all that was required, but where there were tapes from several different source machines, (often the case for Pebble Mill at One), 10 – 15 minutes or longer could be required if there was a particularly awkward tape.

Finding the required place on the tape could take a while also, as there were no pictures in shuttle. Tapes were logged on a card that was kept with the tape. The machines had a counter which was calibrated in minutes and seconds, and was surprisingly accurate considering it was a friction drive. On loading the tape, one had to remember to zero the counter, otherwise the times would not correspond to what was written on the card, or worse you could end up logging the incorrect times on the card for a new recording. Tapes were re-used quite a lot, as the tape was expensive, and in order to ensure a clean tape  they were put into a bulk eraser (nicknamed the fish fryer on account of its height shape and the perforated roll lid.) It took about 20seconds to erase the tape, so you had to be certain that you had the right tape, and that it really was ok to wipe it, before pushing the button.

Some compilation tapes were reused without first erasing them, which could sometimes cause confusion when remnants of a previous recording were left in between two logged items.

Ray Lee

Sitting on Quad machines

Photos by Paul Scholes, no reproduction without permission.

2″ Quad machines were substantial enough to be sat on!

This is Sue Robinson sat on the Quad, with Mike Bloore to the right, and Nigel Evans foreground.  The photo dates from 1980 or ’81, when Sue was working in the Planning Department.

The lower photo is of Trudy Stanton.

1″ Videotape Machine


































Photos by Ian Collins, no reproduction without permission.

The photos are of a 1″ Videotape machine, in action.

1″ videotape was introduced in the mid 1970s, and was the broadcasting norm in the 1980s.  1″ machines took up much less space than the earlier Quad machines, and required less maintenance.  You could also spool in vision on them, which was a great advantage when trying to locate a particular clip.

The following comments were on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Christopher Hall: ‘It is an Ampex VPR-6, 1″ C Format machine. VPR-2 machines were probably more widely used, and Sony BVH- 3100 machines were the last ones bought. ‘

Mark Davies: ‘Looks like VTF/MFA to me’

Alan Miller: ‘It’s funny to think how much we welcomed the arrival of the first “C” format machines. I seem to remember that we all thoughtt that at last VT could compete with film editing?’