Only previously available on DVD (from old print transfers which suffer from poor definition and colour), ‘The Zoo Gang’ is the latest series to be updated in Network’s ‘ITC in High Definition’ range. Based on the book by Paul Gallico and featuring the outstanding cast of John Mills, Brian Keith, Barry Morse and Lilli Palmer, ‘The Zoo Gang’ tells the story of four ex-WW2 resistance fighters re-convening in France to battle crime and injustice, nearly thirty years after the end of the war. Guest stars for the series include Peter Cushing, Roger Delgado and Ingrid Pitt, and the show is peppered with many familiar ITC supporting faces.
Get The Picture
Much like the protagonists at the start of the show, the film elements for ‘The Zoo Gang’ were initially split across two continents. In the UK, the ITV library held the first episode’s 35mm original negative (previously transferred for Network’s Retro-ACTION! release) but only a 35mm colour reversal internegative (CRI) for the other five episodes. CRIs were an innovative, cost-saving picture element devised in the 1970s by Kodak that removed the need for a positive intermediate. Correctly stored, they can provide satisfactory images but unfortunately CRIs can also have a tendency to fade quite badly and often give an uneven field across the frame, making definition poor and grading difficult. The all important 35mm original cut negatives were eventually located across the pond, in a storage facility in Los Angeles. After a careful examination of the inventories there, the original negatives for the remaining five episodes and any other relevant elements for the series were called over. Interestingly, the negative for one of the episodes (African Misfire) was still labeled with its original shooting title (Leopard), and the production numbering on the cans meant a slight revision to the broadcast order (Lion Hunt is now fifth on the release):
A Negative Condition
The original 35mm negative for the series was in one of the worst states of all the ITC subjects so far tackled by the Network team. The general condition was much poorer than expected with a proliferation of in-camera dirt and the stock not only had the usual fluid marks common to archive negative of the era (manifesting as purple spots on the scanned image) but also sections of multiple dirt spots (showing up as white specks) and cyclic marking throughout entire reels – this is all incredibly time consuming to remove. In some episodes, small sections had actually been replaced by intermediate stock (maybe due to damage of the E/K negative at the time) and the cutting was variable, with buckling and heavy marking around many joins. Being a straight cut negative, the fades and dissolves were poor dupe stock and required extensive clean up and processing for flicker (and sometimes movement).
One example of severe damage from time of production can be seen from the episode ‘The Counterfeit Trap’. The sequence involved Barry Morse driving a car down a street (holding two bodies in the boot) with cut backs to a Gendarme on his bicycle. It was hoped that the CRI (produced in 1973) would have been printed pre-damage and could be used as a replacement – actually it was missing not only the shot, but also the entire sequence, suggesting that the scenes were never seen on broadcast. Due to the severe nature of the damage (ripping across the entire frame), the shots and audio have been seamlessly edited so the sequence is re-instated but the offending shot has been removed and it no longer detracts from the viewing. The raw, damaged sequence can be seen as an extra on the Blu-ray.
Making The Grade
Colour balancing of the series was challenging, mainly due to the varied lighting when regularly cutting from location work to studio based sections. Whereas many of the ITC series are very set based (with the usual telltale stock shots trying to inject an international feel), ‘The Zoo Gang’ was actually filmed on location in the French Riviera for a month, giving a far more lavish look but also giving the usual outdoor issues (fluorescent lighting, variable weather, under-lit night-time exteriors). Matching dupe dissolves and fades to the original negative shots can also be problematic but methods devised by Archive Colourist Jonathan Wood were applied that make some of the transitions much less noticeable than they are in the existing SD transfers. In fact, the DVDs are so crushed in places with little detail that the additional clarity is amazing:
Several cans were located for the main titles, including one with many individual rolls that appeared to be (on first look), the original title sequence elements:
Sadly, these were not the pieces used in the main title sequence but instead a B/W cutting copy of the full shots, with the actual section used in the titles missing. It does show the remainder of the shots though (with clapperboards) and is presented as an extra on the Blu-ray. There were also some takes with the clapperboard labeled ‘The Counterfeit Trap’ but the scenes are actually from ‘The Twisted Cross’ – again, these are presented on the disc.
Both texted and textless versions of the generic title sequence were used to produce the main title (some shots were found to be better in different elements) with the animal graphics being fully restored with now eye-popping colour. The end title text, graded incorrectly white on the DVD version, is now back to the original yellow it was intended to be.
No Sound For Surround
The 35mm original magnetic tracks for the series had long since perished but newer copies of the separate three track dialogue, music and effects magnetics had been retained in the UK giving hope that a 5.1 mix could be produced. Unfortunately, due to either poor storage or duplication, when the audio was examined it was discovered that many of the reels were unusable with missing sections of sound and poor audio range so were not suitable for a full surround mix. Transfer of these elements was not wasted though as sections of the DMEs were salvaged and re-mixed to produce a superior mono soundtrack: the final mixes on the existing standard definition transfers, from print transfers were very poor, with muffled and distorted audio and have now been improved significantly. The distinctive French flavoured main theme for the show (by Paul and Linda McCartney) was transferred from the original magnetic music masters and has been replaced on all episode main and end titles, giving superb fidelity.
Unlike most older ITC series (such as ‘Department S’), ‘The Zoo Gang’ does not feature a pre-title sequence prior to the generic main title. Instead, more in keeping with US television serials of the time, it has a 30 second ‘teaser’ trailer, showcasing action from the up-coming episode. Whether this was always used is debatable (it’s known that ITV and the BBC often used to remove these prior to screening US shows) but they were certainly seen in some cases when ’The Zoo Gang’ was broadcast. The existing standard definition transfers were variable – some had the teaser and some didn’t but for this Blu-ray release all the sequences were located and re-constructed from original footage (in the case of ‘The Counterfeit Trap’, the footage did not exist as a edited film element, only as SD video).
As well as the 30 second teasers, there were also 60 second trailers produced – these are also presented as extras but are basic transfers with no manual clean up so it’s able to see the massive difference between the dupe footage and the original negative.
An Overdue Return
Remastered to the same high standard as other recent Network ITC releases (Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Hammer House Of Horror), this under-rated mini series is now ripe for re-discovery in glorious High Definition.