Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Technical details - it's a start!


In my archive, this film - with sound effects but no commentary from my stepfather Jack Hargreaves - is categorized as JH776 ‘Planting a vine’, Out of Town, week 35, 31 Aug 1972. It's the first time it's been seen in 41 years, and for most of us the first time in colour because so few had colour TV in 1972.

What Francis Niemczyk has been able to send me so far – 31 July 2013 - is a DVD he’s made of just over 14 minutes of Stan Bréhaut’s 16mm film for an Out of Town episode titled, on the can, ‘Planting a vine’.
The film I sent Francis was from an archive of hundreds of Out of Town films I hold in a lock up in Birmingham. The film is in positive negative with a magnetic tape on its left side, holding the dubbed sound effects, and perforations on the right hand side. The film on the disk, which I’ve ripped to stream on Vimeo, carries dubbed library sound effects – tyres on gravel, bird song, car engine, hammering, digging and outdoor 'filler'. What, of course, is absent is Jack’s commentary, his live studio musings from his ‘shed’ in the Southern Television studio at Northam in Southampton, the title and credit music at start and finish and before and after the mid-episode commercial break. Out of Town was broadcast for half an hour early on Friday evening over 20 years between 1960-1981.
We are now hoping to synch the ¼” reel to reel sound tape that accompanied the film so as to get closer to a proper OOT episode, though we will always be missing the film of JH in the studio that came at the start and sometimes the end of each episode.
We should have the sound including the title and credit music but no picture. Except for later versions of Out of Town between 1980-81 (recently published by Delta) the studio part of OOT either went unrecorded (except for sound) or the recordings have been lost. So this is a start.
Francis selected this film which he hopes to match to its corresponding sound tape of JH from a batch of film-tape pairs that had been catalogued by Roger Charlesworth when the collection was at South West Film and Television Archive. This is a pilot to see if we can get on with digitising and synching all the matched tape-film combinations in the archive. It's been pointed out to me that most viewers would in 1972 have seen this film in black and white. Colour TV came to the UK in the late 1960s but few people had colour sets in 1972.
Location film from a 1972 Out of Town programme which most would have seen in black and white
Email from Francis Niemczyk:
Dear Simon. I dug out the quarter inch tape deck that I have normally used in the past at the end of last week, but unfortunately it developed a replay fault, giving a very low output level (the OOT master tape was fine - it did not get damaged: the fault appeared to be in the replay electronics of my machine). I have another quarter inch tape deck - stowed away under some boxes - that I will get out as soon as I have a chance this week, to transfer the master tape: apologies for the delay.
In the meantime, I posted you a DVD transfer of the accompanying 16mm film for the sound tape - 'Planting A Vine' (c. 1972) - so this currently just the picture with the sync sound elements from the commag track (there was no sepmag track with this particular film): ie, it is currently without Jack Hargreaves's commentary.
I had a look at the vimeo copies for the OOT collection (many thanks for those): the moving of the collection and the 'exploding bait' sample transfer. There may be some problems 'synching up', as the commentary appears to include a mix with the film sound effects (the transmitted sound basically): the problem being that the quarter inch tapes would appear to have no sync reference to the picture, so the sync is liable to drift with respect to the 16mm film inserts (although a lot of the film sound is general sound atmosphere - birdsong, etc - there are some 'spot effects', such as nails being hammered in, seen in vision). Using vari-speed on the commentary sound masters might be a possibly: did you have any particular techniques that you used on the 'exploding bait' transfer?
Will be in touch. Best wishes, Francis

Dear Francis. Thanks for coming back to me.  You are now learning things about this material that took me several years to begin to understand, especially while film and tape were still at the South West Film and TV Archive (SWFTA) in Plymouth.
I would suggest you try contacting the person who made the ‘exploding bait box’ episode - Roger Charlesworth, husband of Jennie Constable - both at the SWFTA. So far as I know Roger, and colleague Graeme Spink, used a machine that could play tape and film simultaneously so that he could synch them to one another so that my stepfather’s commentary (delivered live in studio at the time of broadcast) matched the location film. A Steenbeck. Here’s a bit about my first encounter with the process.
Note please that there will be a section of tape at the start and usually at the end of each episode for which there are no images. These sections are  when Jack was talking to camera in studio.
In the 'exploding bait box' episode we arranged to insert still images of Jack (for about 1’40”) before the location film begins. In the case of that particular film there was no need to do the same at the end as the location film segued into the final credits without a return to Jack live in studio.
 How we add images to these studio parts of the sound tape, where there’s only sound, can be discussed later. All you need to know at this stage (I think) is that these sections of sound without image exist, so that you do not waste time searching for a non-existent image to synch to the 16mm film with its sound effects. Roger and Jennie at SWFTA  have been very helpful to me both in temporarily looking after my stepfather’s collection and in helping me move it to Birmingham and, of course, in putting together the ‘exploding bait box episode’ with Graeme Spink also at SWTA on their Steenbeck machine. Equally familiar with this material is the man to whom my stepfather entrusted the collection just before his death in 1994 - his friend Nick Wright. Nick was a film academic working at Bournemouth and Leeds and is retired. When Nick moved house he no longer had space for the archive and moved it to SWFTA - about least twelve years ago.
Finally there is David Knowles, a technical production expert who worked with my stepfather at Southern TV and who also knows a lot about this material. He lives on the Isle of Wight. Dave is ever telling me that the problem of synching is ‘easy'. He was the one who added the library sound effects to each location film and will no doubt know all about synching the ’spot effects’ with Jack’s commentary.
I hope very much that your alternative tape replay machine works OK.
I will await the DVD with just the library sound effects (dubbed on by David Knowles or a colleague long ago).  Of course I’m delighted to have anything of my stepfather’s material saved to disk but without his commentary it is impossible to use. The location film is of course vital to the whole but the essence of Out of Town is the voice and presence of my stepfather.
We will also need to plan how to add the theme music you hear on the 'exploding bait-box' film to the start and end of each episode, This was a vital feature of each episode of Out of Town.
I read the following in your letter with some amusement. '...the commentary appears to include a mix with the film sound effects (the transmitted sound basically): the problem being that the quarter inch tapes would appear to have no sync reference to the picture, so the sync is liable to drift with respect to the 16mm film inserts (although a lot of the film sound is general sound atmosphere - birdsong, etc - there are some 'spot effects', such as nails being hammered in, seen in vision). Using vari-speed on the commentary sound masters might be a possibly: did you have any particular techniques that you used on the 'exploding bait' transfer?' It took me several years to begin to understand what you have learned in a few hours! i.e. how this material had been put together or not, as the case may be!
My stepfather did not want a sound team disturbing his expeditions into the countryside to make Out of Town episodes. It had to be just him and his cameraman Stan Bréhaut.
Stan filmed with an Ariflex and of course no sound. Library sound was added later to the edited film in the studio and approved by Jack.
That film - with added sound effects - would be played on a monitor in the studio as he went out live. For reasons I do not quite understand but for which I’m enormously grateful, Jack’s studio commentary before, during and after the location film was kept on the ¼” tape you have attached to each can of 16mm film. At SWFTA they realised there was no synch reference and did indeed have to use something like the vari-speed technique you mention to get an accurate link to specific sounds like a gunshot, a gate closing and the other ’spot effects’.
I did try to explain all this when we met at Chris Perry’s BBQ but I think you had to see the problem directly to get a sense of the challenges of trying to synch Stan Brehaut's location film (with added sound effects) to my stepfather's studio musing. I do hope so much that you can tackle this. Do call me or better some of the other names I’ve given you in case they can help. Do you need some working expenses at this stage?
I am hoping so much that you are the person that can bring my stepfather’s material back to life! Best wishes. Simon
'Planting a vine' - a still from Out of Town, week 35, 1972


The DVD arrived in the post this morning and played on my laptop. The sounds were at first almost inaudible but then Jack gets in his car and drives to buy some timber. There's muted birdsong - a blackbird - and the other sounds to which Francis refers in his email. Digging, hammering ever so slightly out of synch.
"So can you match Jack's taped commentary to this?" I said to Francis on the phone this morning
"I'm working on it, Simon. I'll let you know later today or tomorrow.".

  • David Hunt So pleased to see it at last. Very good quality picture.
  • Simon Baddeley Thanks David. Let's hope the commentary will marry. I'm waiting a call from Francis. By the way I've just mailed you the postcards.
  • David Hunt Thank you Simon for the cards. Looking forward to seeing this episode with JH's commentary, good luck with the audio sync.
  • Ian Wegg There is an important point which clearly you already understood but others (including me) had not … that the sound effects dubbed onto the film soundtrack are also on the programme magtape. As you say on the blog, this presents a challenge in synching the sound to film. Good luck to Francis, I’m looking forward to hearing the result.
  • Simon Baddeley Hold on Ian. You're assuming I know more than I do. I read Francis' email (on the blog) but what is the significance of the 'programme magtape' that Francis and you mention. That's anew concept for me. S
  • Brian Lambert Amazed by the picture quality
  • Ian Wegg I think you know more than you think you do Simon, you explained the problem yourself. Had the tape contained only the sound of Jack’s voice doing the commentary there would have been no problem synching, a second or two out either way wouldn’t notice. But because it contains the same sound effects as the film it will need to match exactly. Where, how or why these tapes were made is a mystery!

    By the way, I see from the DVLA website that Jack’s Land Rover seen in the clip is still on the road. First registered Jan 1965 and taxed till next February!
    7 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • David Hunt I wonder who now owns JH's series 2?
    4 hours ago via mobile · Like
  • Simon Baddeley The only explanation seems to be that a tape recorder was running in the studio from start to finish of each episode. This would explain Francis' reference over the phone two days ago that the 'planting a vine' sound tape included a number of false starts during countdown. If it was going out live I'm not sure how they could afford this but no doubt all will come out in the wash. The point is that the recording picked up not only J's talking from the 'shed' but his talking over the library sound-tracked location film with all the synching challenges that presents, tho' I suppose it's a positive in terms of lining up commentary with film. But having said that, I wonder if we - Francis - might fight it easier to digitise the film without its sound and synching that entirely silent film to Jack's audio-taped commentary. S

  • Adam Bootle Finally home and able to watch this film. Great to see that it hasn't been over processed and brightened or saturated to death. It looks of its era which is how it should be. Great film.
  • Simon Baddeley I am still waiting on Francis tho. It's good to be sharing this project as we proceed. I greatly value your interest and comments and support when I'm feeling disappointed. Three years ago the search for original Out of Town material was greatly aided by an informal 'JH Committee' most of whose members are on these FB pages. Two members of that 'committee' (see names and a summary here from May 2011) gave especially valuable technical advice and taught me so much about how the programmes were put together. I take this grasp of the process so much for granted now that I can forget that many, like me originally, had little or no idea how TV was made in the 1960s and 70s and certainly not how Out of Town was made. Jack with his colleagues wanted to get out into the countryside (and other places) as unobtrusively and inexpensively as possible. Stan and Jack were really pioneering a kind of outdoor filming that is taken for granted now and of course made easier by far more sophisticated technology. I like your point Adam about the lack of processing and brightening. It really grows on me; that plus the realisation that we are seeing in original colour what few in 1972 could see. Please please let's get the sound synch of JH now!

*** *** ***
Yesterday I took a train to Lancashire to see Paul Peacock. I cycled into town, and made my way through the changing space of New Street Station. The old entry is blocked. We enter a new concourse via Stephenson Street and descend by lift to the platforms

There's a resolution about continental trains I miss here. British trains seem to do a lot of umming and ha-aing as do those that wander between them and accumulating passengers adjusting their space on the  narrow platforms of New Street as indistinct news of 'an obstruction on the line near Stafford'', "the late running of an earlier train", "youths on the line", "signalling problems outside Coventry"...people wearing tabards might or might not know the future. I wonder if to check or trust the information to hand, the words on my ticket.
I was going by a mix of train and bus to see my friend Paul Peacock living on the edge of Rawtenstall. I know Paul through opening up my stepfather's files, stored in our garage, so he could write a biography of my stepfather, published in 2005. It's more or less out of print but Paul is republishing an ebook.
He's slowly getting to live with the aftermath of a heart attack in April, pacing himself; interested but not preoccupied with interrupted harmonies of body and mind that can no longer be taken for granted. Diana laid out a lovely lunch of cold meats, watercress salad, fresh brown and white bread, tasty cheeses and pickle. Over the phone Paul did an interview about weather for a cable channel. He and Diana make growing and cooking films on the internet, especially via the magazine City Cottage
"The internet is vast and hungry for content" 
Paul had arranged to meet me on the Witchway Bus from Manchester
"It's a steep hill up to our house"
I coasted back down the hill leaving before our conversation became exhausting.

  • Simon Baddeley They got the collie - only 5 years old but in emaciated wormy condition from a neglectful breeder - and he and the much much older dog - near 17 years old - have become the greatest of companions.
  • Paul Peacock It was great to see you, Simon. I am sorry I couldn't last the whole afternoon. A sleep followed your departure. Hope you got home without incident. Love to all.
    12 hours ago · Unlike · 1
  • Simon Baddeley It was great seeing you. The seeds you gave me will soon be planted (if the season's right). Thanks for your encouragement re my allotment! Love to all

At Rawtenstall bus stop I was mindful that the bus driver from Manchester had been hesitant to allow an unbagged bicycle on board. I got away with it on his discretion, Coming back I bought a large black bag at an ironmonger and began to wrap the Brompton chatting the while to an old lady who looked like an angel who got up to help the wrapping.
"I like your bike. Very handy"
We spoke of ailments. I told her my age.
"I'm 95. I'm going to Burnley. You?"
"Manchester, but I've come from Birmingham today"
"Oh and you're going home now. I hear alright. it's my eyes...I've got macular degeneration"
"I get floaters," I said "I thought they were birds or flies until they crossed the whole sky with a glance" "Here's your bus to Manchester. Nice to meet you. Bye bye"
In Rawtenstall it feels comfortable to be unsmiling. This is a town without toothy grins, more pursed lips bowed in polite avoidance of untoward optimism.
My train was ready at Manchester Piccadilly. We hurried, via Stockport, Stafford and Wolverhampton, back to Birmingham.
Add caption


I was engrossed in George Crabbe's Peter Grimes. Reading and rereading this grim story of a dreadful character...his original portrait slightly obscured by Benjamin Britten's famous opera

With greedy eye, he looked on all he saw,
He knew not justice and he laughed at law;
On all he marked he stretched his ready hand;
He fished by water and he filched by land.

The poem is one section in a longer work called The Borough. Grimes, a fishermen who's three exploited abused apprentices die in suspicious ways, ends his life in haunted isolation. Well deserved but there's a judgement on the community too. They asked too few questions about the boys that Grimes employed. The story which I'd not read before sticks in my mind, not least for the way Crabbe depicts the bleak tidal marshes in which Grimes lives and miserably dies. I suspect every community has a Peter Grimes. He's a kind of test. Magdalena Luczak, Mariusz Krezolek?
It was sunny and warm further south. I wandered up New Street the sun dazzling over the Town Hall...

...then joined the Birmingham Mainline canal, cycling via the Soho Loop to Richmond Hill and home. 
**** ****
Sunday 4 Aug - an email from Francis Niemczyk:
Dear Simon - have transferred the quarter inch tape, and then carried out the lengthy process of re-synching the sound with commentary to the pictures (where they exist), using some stills from the film inserts to 'cover' the sections without pictures: this took several hours to adjust for sync! (Basically, I used the studio sound - with commentary and sound effects - for everything, apart from where the commentary recording ran out: here I used the film sound for the last minute or so, followed by an earlier recording of the theme music at the end.) Will try and get your DVD of the complete 'restoration' of the episode in the post to you tomorrow (also including copies of the film inserts without commentary and the unedited studio sound recording). Best wishes, Francis
Planting a vine

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