January 2020 marked 20 years since I was first involved in a project for Network. I worked at BBC Television Centre and one of the grading suites was booked for a transfer of the film The Day The Earth Caught Fire for an external client, with Network manager Tim Beddows attending. The film was one of the first features acquired by the company which, until then, had focussed mainly on niche DVD releases such as the highly successful Charley Says public information film compilations. The feature was mastered in standard definition from a couple of prints in a single 14-hour day and would be the first time that the title appeared on home video, as well as being seen in its original cinemascope widescreen ratio. This work marked the beginning of an association with numerous Network Distributing projects over the next two decades, culminating in eventually becoming Network’s own colourist as part of its in-house restoration team.
Robin of Sherwood had previously been available on VHS, but it was felt there was definite room for improvement for a Network release over the existing analogue video masters that had been in use for over a decade. So the remastering began of all three series, with an all new digital video transfer comprising shot-by-shot grading from 16mm prints, except for the odd reel where – at the time in 2001 – no film material could be located, which necessitated re-grading and clean up of an old video master. A decade later I would find myself re-visiting Series 1 & 2 for High Definition remastering from newly made interpositives.
Although many classic comedies of the 1970s had either been often repeated or made available via home video, one curiously absent title was The Goodies – the madcap adventures of three chaps that entertained audiences for a decade. Network obtained the rights and set out to address this oversight by commissioning the restoration of 8 episodes for a DVD with the apt subtitle At Last!. The series was a mix of studio video recordings and 16mm film inserts, with the final master being a 2-inch video reel (except for two all film episodes). I was particularly keen to address the incredibly poor condition of the title sequences by calling up the very small amount of existing film material and also copies of any episodes where sequences had been lifted from. Then it was a case of piecing together the best sources of each shot, followed by a grade to even things out and finally manual clean-up.
Another comedy series (of the more gentle variety) I was asked to restore was Sykes, the name of which immediately conjured up the memory of trumpet valves bobbing up and down. This again, was the usual BBC sitcom format of studio video scenes for interior sets coupled with external shots on 16mm film. I wasn’t aware of any film existing for the 1972 series except for the black & white film recording of the wiped episode Journey. It was bizarre then to discover, that although one episode video master had been junked, there were six complete studio recordings remaining in the archives. As I continued to work on Network projects, so my enthusiasm grew in different areas of their releases such as additional content. For example, the studio recordings were keenly utilised, as they not only provided 1st generation pictures for those episodes, but also allowed exclusive extended edits to be produced when I discovered some scenes and dialogue cut for time when compared to the broadcast versions. In addition, I was able to create some “In The Studio” behind the scenes pieces and courtesy of Network, I also had the opportunity to interview Eric in his Orme Court office… a most memorable and enjoyable experience.
In complete contrast to the light hearted world of BBC sitcoms, came the hard hitting police drama series from Euston Films, The Sweeney. With only the odd few episodes having made it onto the home video market, the time was right for Network to get the complete series out and in a remastered form. There was some pressure at the time to follow the trend set by a previous release of mastering in full 16:9 widescreen with commercial breaks removed, but this was swiftly overturned when a demonstration with the original 4:3 framing and the iconic Sweeney ad-caps made it clear that was the best method of presentation. The first series was telecine’d from original 1970s CRIs, a back-up film element somewhat inferior to the original negative but with care produced results superior to the then available analogue masters. Unfortunately, all that survived for episode 1 was a couple of faded prints. Although series 2-4 were mastered from superior newly printed inter-pos elements, the CRIs came in useful when the original 35mm sepmag audio dubs (the source for new 5.1 tracks) highlighted some cut scenes. With the footage long gone from the negative, the back-up element remained complete and allowed for certain scenes to be reinstated in full, such as the elderly character Tug Wilson being beaten up in Taste of Fear.
Later in 2004, I found myself returning to sitcoms with the ATV series George and the Dragon, but with no original video tape material existing the entire series was transferred from available 16mm film recordings. A mixture of prints and negatives were sent in via the ITV assets contact Mark Stanborough (now an important member of the Network team) for transfer to Digital Betacam. Like other comedy series of this era, there were no on screen episode titles which made identification a little tricky, but with the help of original ITC sales paperwork and TVTimes listings the information, was eventually pieced together. Right up to the wire though, it appeared that the “complete series” phrasing wouldn’t be applicable as one episode was missing. Some episodes had multiple film copies, so these cans were checked and just when it looked like we were out of luck, we found the episode needed, mislabelled as another in the last can. It turned out to include an early television appearance by Tom Baker. Another aspect of the transfers, was the ATV identification – care was taken to make sure all the episodes had the appropriate ATV logo front and end that they would have had on original transmission, from the 2-inch videotapes. Being destined for overseas sales, ITC distribution logos were spliced into most of the film reels in place of the ATV ident.
Throughout this time and the following years, I was also producing masters for Carlton/Granada and many of these would end up being eventual Network releases, including Thriller, Strange Report, The Persuaders (later re-visited for Blu-ray), The Secret Service, and Space:1999, the latter being the first archive series I remastered in high definition.
With the improvement in techniques and technology, later HD masters were created via a film scanner as opposed to a telecine, and the resulting non-linear workflow produced even better results for series such as The Professionals and
The ITC series have always been a favourite of mine and in more recent years, after leaving the BBC and joining Network (as did Amanda Whitby, a crucial part of the Network restoration team), we have produced complete series HD masters for Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Department S, The Zoo Gang, Hammer House of Horror, Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons, Joe 90 and Man In a Suitcase. As well as feature film masters for Death Line, Assault, Take Me High, The Smallest Show on Earth, and Sweeney 2 amongst others.
Twenty years later from that initial feature transfer and I still count myself lucky to be a part of Network, with the chance to continue working on classic iconic TV series and feature films.
Jonathan Wood, Restoration Colourist
Use the discount code NETWORKBLOGRESTORATION20 to receive 25% off Robin of Sherwood: The Complete Series (Blu-ray & DVD), Robin of Sherwood: Jason Connery, The Goodies… At Last a Second Helping, Sykes: The Complete Series, The Sweeney: The Complete Series, and George and the Dragon: The Complete Series until 4pm, Friday 28th February.