Telecine – Ray Lee (Part 2)

Telecine, BBC Pebble Mill

Photo by Ivor Williams, no reproduction without permission. Photo from 1971, of the Rank Cintel  16mm Flying Spot Telecine Machine.

The majority of inserts to Midlands Today, and Pebble Mill at One were on film in those days (mid 1970s), as this was before lightweight cameras, and film cameras were at that time the best means to obtain location shots. Studio inserts were often recorded on VT then played in live quite often without editing. Film was much easier to edit then.

The process of getting a news story involved a film camera crew going out, shooting on film with sound onto tape. The tape also recorded a pilot tone from the camera to allow re-syncing of the sound after editing. The film (usually reversal film) then went into Film processing while the tape was transferred to Sepmag using the pilot signal to lock to the sepmag bay, thereby giving the sound track frame for frame correspondence with the film. The two parts then came back together in the film cutting room, where the film editor selected the parts he wanted using a Pic Sync ( basically a set of about 4 sprocket wheels on a shaft, with an illuminated mini projector on the far end to see the film images. The sepmag track (or tracks) would be on the nearer sprockets. On either side was a film bin. Often a “wild” track sound was recorded (not sync to pictures) in order to add additional effects and bridge edit points. The Clapper board was used to sync the sound and picture together with giving details of what item this was. The film editor would look for the first frame on which the clapper was completely closed, and align that with the clap on the soundtrack, thereafter the sprockets would ensure that the sound and picture remained in sync.

With news stories there was not usually time to go into dubbing, so the edited film and sound track then came straight to TK and one hoped that the edits on the sepmag would hold together.

Where time permitted a dub the sound was often tracklaid. This allowed sound to be carried over an edit to smooth the effect. In this case the sound was edited into 2 or more rolls with film spacer being used to make all the rolls the same length. Each roll would have a leader spliced onto it with the familiar sync cross and then a 12 second count down.

At the dub, the film projector and the sound rolls on the sepmag bays would all be locked together electrically so the they ran synchronously. The machines would be laced and set with the cross in the projector gate and on the sepmag sound head, and then the lock button pressed which linked everything together. Due to the nature of the electrical locking, very occasionally the sepmag bay would go into runaway, and one needed to hit the stop button fast, otherwise there was a danger that the film sprockets would be damaged, and a lot of film could end up very quickly on the floor!

Dubbing involved balancing and mixing the soundtracks together, adding any voice overs, commentary, and spot effects, and recording the whole sequence onto a new continuous sepmag track. At the end of the process there would be a single continuous sepmag track and a single edited picture track, which could then be played by TK into the studio.

The process was the same for network programmes on film, although in this case the film was usually shot on negative film, and a rushes print made. This is what the editor used to compile the required shots and soundtracks. The edited rushes were then returned to the lab for a print to be made from the original negative, using the rushes edit to align the required shots. The lab also graded the pictures at this stage to match the exposure and colour balance to some extent. This print was termed the “answer print”. This was usually the one used be dubbing, and sometimes also for transmission, although some programmes had a Transmission print made as well. The answer print basically gave an opportunity to the producer to change his mind, and for the lab to further trim the grading of pictures, although as it entailed quite a lot of expensive processes, in later years the answer print was quite often the transmission print as well.

By the time it got to TK there was usually a picture roll, and a sepmag sound roll. In a few cases (usually prints of commercial films) the sound was an optical track on the picture roll, in which case there was no separate sound. However this gave rise to problems if ever the film needed to be cut and spliced as the sound head was separated by 16 frames from the film gate so the picture would change, and the sound continue, only to change about half a second later.

In the case of news it was not uncommon for the editor to rush in with the film and sepmag rolls with very little time to get it on the machine before transmission. The one occasion I particularly remember involved me, and I think Jim Gregory, lacing the sepmag and picture rolls simultaneously, hitting the lock button and running the machine without even pausing on the “10” while Tom Coyne padded until the film hit the screen. Usually there was a little more time, and quite often we had a quick rehearsal, prior to the programme going out.

R. G. Lee

Paul Richards – TK Operator












Photograph by Paul Scholes, no reproduction without permission.

The photo is of Paul Richards, TK operator (now deceased). It was probably taken in TK A.

TK, stood for Telecine, it was the area in post production that allowed for footage shot on film to be viewed on video equipment.

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook Group:

Stuart Gandy: ‘TK was the second department I rotated into as a TA back in 1980. I was at first astonished at the sheer speed that Paul Taylor and Jim Gregory could lace up the machine. But they had to be able to. When TK was used for Midlands Today, it was quite common for the news film to arrive sometimes only seconds before on air time. Many times I can remember Milton Hainsworth rushing around to TK with the reel ready for lacing. In those days the filmed stories were edited into a continuous piece of film.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘One of the great tragedies of the use of film on regional news,especially in the 50s and 60s is that the original negative film was processed,edited and transmitted from TK which means that after only a few showings there was no way of getting a good quality archive copy which is why news clips from that era are of such poor quality. Shame after all the frantic and skilled work which was expended on getting newsfilm ‘on air’.’

Peter Greenhalgh: ‘I spent a few months in TK with Paul, Jim, Gregory, Dave Scholden, and John Duckmanton when I was a trainee about the same time as Stuart (1981). I remember it being a close, friendly team, and Paul gave me lots of good advice. I wasn’t allowed vinegar on my chips in the canteen though… I too remember how fast those guys were. The Sondor bay got me every time. If you forgot to move the top arm out of the way, when you got halfway though lacing it, it would rip the sepmag out of your hand and spool it back onto the reel!’

Peter Poole: ‘I didn’t know negative film was used for news. How was audio recorded? I remember reversal film being used in the 1970s. The quality of commag audio was poor. The TV farming programme was also shoot on reversal film due to its topical content. I often worked on the live TX from Studio B on Sunday mornings. Back then TK and VT needed a 10 second run up. The directors and PAs needed to run TK and VTs on time. If not the presenter would have to ad-lib to fill the gap. No wonder programmes from that time look rather slow.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘The negative film was used in the black and white period of the 50s, when regional TV news was started, and into the 60s up to the point when colour was introduced using as you say reversal film system. Black and white film used commag stock for sound, recorded in the camera and, this was often cut under pressure and any voice over links added usually live. Later there was a system called SEPMAG which, when the original camera audio had been copied across to the separate reel of film, enabled independent editing of pictures and sound and hence the introduction of dubbing suites. Unfortunately for news purposes it wasn’t always possible to re-unite the audio and picture onto commag so the separate reel had to be ‘locked’ or synchronised with the picture projector….a very hazardous and hair raising experience not only for the operators in TK but the studio director who would be often waiting for the ‘all clear’ that the locking up had worked !!’

Refurbished Film Sound Transfer Suite – Peter Poole

Photos copyright Peter Poole, no reproduction without permission.

These photos from the early 1990s, show the Film Sound Transfer Suite which was a very busy area. Its main use was to transfer audio tapes to SEPMAG. The tapes were recorded on a Nagra tape recorder together with a pilot tone signal. This was needed to ensure that the audio was synchronous with the picture. At a latter time a DAT recorder with time code replaced the Nagra. The Transfer Suite also housed a collection of “Library  Music”. These discs were produced for TV and radio programmes and not commercially available. They had interesting titles such as “Links Bridges and Stings”. A full collection of BBC sound effects were also available.

Peter Poole

Film Sound Transfer Suite – Peter Poole

The Film Sound Transfer Suite
I took the first photo in 1976 shortly after joining the BBC. It shows me (Peter Poole) in the dubbing theatre’s machine room which housed the Perfectone SEPMAG bays. It was also used as the film sound transfer suite when time allowed. As the the number of programmes produced on film increased the dubbing theatre was in constant use. Also a dedicated transfer suite was needed to cope with the increased output. The second photo was taken in 1978 and shows me (Peter Poole) in the new transfer suite. The BBC’s policy was to buy British equipment if possible. This  resulted in Pebble Mill being the first and probably the only BBC broadcast centre to buy PAG SEPMAG bays. They were somewhat unreliable. I will never forget pressing the stop button and watching a thousand feet of SEPMAG film being thrown across the room. I was very pleased when the PAG bays were replaced by Perfectone bays.
The photos were taken using a tripod and self-timer.
Peter Poole