BBC Productions from the 1960s and 1970s

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by takeone, Apr 17, 2004.

  1. takeone

    takeone Guest

    Lately, I've been watching a lot of BBC television productions from the late
    60s and 70s. Those were the days when they shot on videotape in the studio
    and on film on location, both interior and exterior. The quality of the
    film footage ranges from acceptable to awful. Some of the Monty Python and
    Faulty Towers film is badly scratched and decidedly low resolution. Most of
    the All Creatures Great and Small film is fairly good, but I just watched an
    exterior sequence that is very overexposed, and some of the interior footage
    is underexposed, and not in an effective way to achieve saturation.

    What film equipment and stock did the BBC use back then? I assume it was
    16mm. Did they record the sound directly on film? The sound is not
    especially good. I'm surpised that the BBC's technical standards weren't

    takeone, Apr 17, 2004
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  2. takeone

    manitou910 Guest

    Until US producers and networks began co-producing certain UK series,
    terrible audio was par for the course in British TV productions,
    especially anything with sequences shot outdoors. However, even the
    interior soundstage audio was often pretty bad, with dialog volume
    levels fluctuating as mic booms followed actors with varying degrees of

    Produced as recently as circa 1990, "A Summer's Lease" was near ruined
    by bad audio. IIRC none of the outdoor dialog was looped and ambient
    noise practically destroyed the audio which, for the most part, was
    technically amateurish.

    Ditto, unfortunately, for most UK and Euro movies, unless they were
    being backed directly by major Hollywood studios (eg, Columbia or MGM
    for David Lean's jumbo films).

    For movies, however, the problem often was bad looping, making all the
    actors sound dead and disembodied.

    I'd speculate the trend was a persistent leftover from post-WW2
    austerity which cas a shadow until well into the 60s.

    manitou910, Apr 17, 2004
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  3. As an ex-BBC lighting cameraman, I can tell you that most material was shot
    on 16mm Eastman Kodak negative stock.
    I forget the emulsion number right now, but it was always being improved.,
    though I still shudder when I see some of the old material being broadcast
    these days!
    Sound was recorded usually on a Nagra 1/4inch tape.
    At the time, there didn't seem to be so much of a difference between the
    film and video mix. I wonder if it's more noticeable today because our
    receivers have got that much better.

    Robin Davies-Rollinson, Apr 17, 2004
  4. takeone

    takeone Guest


    I enjoyed your Web site and you certainly found a fun way to make a living.

    A couple of years ago I read that Britain was on an aggressive schedule to
    switch over to high definition television within a short time, with digital
    radio to follow. Is most TV programming over there now produced in high
    definition video? It will be interesting to see if it soon completely
    replaces film for American television production.

    I love the look of film, but everything changes and you have to accept it.
    The powers that be keep forgetting to get my approval before proceeding with
    these sorts of things.

    takeone, Apr 18, 2004
  5. takeone

    takeone Guest

    It's interesting that BBC productions tend to either look superb, or like a
    junior college television production class project. In general, they seem
    to put more money and effort into dramas than comedies, and their in-studio
    productions are usually better than location shoots. Be that as it may, I
    still love the BBC.

    takeone, Apr 18, 2004
  6. takeone

    LaoFuZhi Guest

    Personally, and this is just a personal opinion, I can see a partial
    re-birth for 16mm as the need to produce with Hi-Def in mind leaks slowly
    (like a dodgy battery) into the mindset of the average British producer....

    Two dozen years almost exclusively on tape and I'm fiddling with a load of
    old Bolex for my next load of ramblings over the hills.... Quite liberating.
    And in the absence of any REAL direction for HD in the UK about the only
    rational direction to take....

    and FWIW I tend to think that the poor quality of repeated old programmes is
    down to bad archiving. Often VT was erased in the name of economy, negs were
    dumped and all that remains is off-air recordings, stuff that's been in
    folk's loft for donkeys, cutting prints etc...... The notion that audio was
    routinely bad and we were 'saved' by the septics is, quite frankly, a load
    of old bollocks..... And a downright bloody insult to some very finae and
    able engineers.... But then septics are prone to that!

    Fact is many an important programme still exists ONLY because someone hadn't
    the heart to destroy it. took it home (in a tescos carrier bag) and stuck it
    under the potting compost for 20 years...... Or recorded it in 1968 on
    pieces of old knotted string dipped in cow dung and iron filings...... NOT
    the best long term storage strategy but......
    LaoFuZhi, Apr 18, 2004
  7. takeone

    LaoFuZhi Guest

    You have to bear in mind Jim that there was and remains a 'pecking order'

    Things we consider classic now... fawlty towers.. Dr Who etc, were
    considered quite disposable in those days.........

    My other post alludes to problems archiving some of this material but often
    they weren't given the 'best' kit to work with either. Not a huge priority
    with the lab boys and certainly not stuff that would finfd it's way onot the
    best TK chain....

    I trained in EFP with an ITV Company and by the time I joined (late '79)
    film was dying near stone dead. Where in-house labs existed they were dark
    dank depressing places of mystery... Where troglodite creatures roamed the
    corridors, chemical stained, whailing and revenant-like...... In years to
    come ghosthunters will chase reports of sounds like film-rustling....... (as
    opposed to chains rattling)
    LaoFuZhi, Apr 18, 2004
  8. takeone

    takeone Guest

    and FWIW I tend to think that the poor quality of repeated old programmes
    When one of our local televisions stations celebrated its 50th anniversary
    it became known that they had saved very little news or entertainment
    footage from the early days. Broadcasters don't seem to see themselves as
    history archivists. They don't want to foot the cost of storing and
    indexing film and tape that doesn't have much commercial value, so they just
    chuck it. One well-known example here in the States is NBC's destruction of
    the first ten years of Tonight Show tapes. When you look at the list of
    guests on those shows, it's heartbreaking to think that their appearances
    and performances are gone for good. I don't know for sure, but I'm willing
    to bet that the television network news departments discarded most of their
    early footage. We only see a few clips from that era and they are of
    monumental events, like space shots and assassinations. What was considered
    mundane news back then might be very interesting to us now, but much of it
    is gone for good. Hopefully things will improve in the digital age.
    Digital storage takes much less physical space and will consequently be less

    takeone, Apr 18, 2004
  9. takeone

    Jerry. Guest

    AIUI some production might well be going over to HD, delivery within the UK
    is staying LD, although there is a push towards digital delivery (both via
    satellite and terrestrial transmission) - unfortunately the people who
    decide these things have decided that we (the viewer) want more channels of
    low technical quality than a few channels of high (HD) quality is seems....
    Jerry., Apr 18, 2004
  10. takeone

    LaoFuZhi Guest

    Sadly they possibly have a point; given the nature of what is
    produced.......... And watched!

    But it seems unfortunate that there's no real push towards HD on DVD......
    LaoFuZhi, Apr 18, 2004
  11. takeone

    dylan_j Guest

    Hardly, I think it has more to do with archiving, budgets and
    differences in production style. The mix between studio video and
    outdoor film was something that was never really done in the US, where
    pretty much everything was doneeither on film and OR on video in the
    studio (I think I saw ONE episode of "Married, with Children" that
    used film for a location shoot). That means all those old episodes of
    Quincy and Battle Star Galactica etc were done right up to broadcast
    on 35mm, even to the mid 1980s. Since then, some time in the late 80s
    or 90s they would and been transferred to video probably by a High
    quality telecine or film scanner, the BBC stuff has stayed on
    videotape and thus has not benefitted from the upgrade if you will.

    One the other hand, the mixed media BBC shows, the film segments were
    transfered to video at the time, probably on some kind of pretty
    primitive film chain, and haven't had the second chance and sprucing
    up that the big budget US TV shows have had.

    Seondly, just like the movies, even a big show in the UK has probably
    less than a quarter of the budget of an american show. The pilot
    episode of The Office was made for £90,000. What's the cost of an
    american sitcome pilot? $1-2million? Most of the big network shows
    were produced by the same studios that produce hollywood movies, and
    even had access to the same backlots and studio space as those movies.

    Thirdly I would say that there is a difference in production styles
    between the UK and the US. Becuase of the dominant influence of
    hollywood, that was the style in the US, that seemless whole. In the
    UK it was split between the studio work and the location film units,
    with different crews, even different directors sometimes. The location
    crews were often also documentary crews, and therefore a more rough
    and naturalistic style was their chosen approach, also tied to the
    influence of documentary realism on british TV production, preferring
    imperfect but natural some rather than looped and totally fixed studio
    overdubs. The dead sone you refer to is a prominent feature of italian
    and german cinema which preferred that style to the less technically
    perfect (which I'm assuming you refer to as amateurish) direct sound
    preferred in French and British cinema.

    dylan_j, Apr 19, 2004
  12. takeone

    manitou910 Guest

    Your comments are valid (especially that US TV production had/has access
    to movie production facilities, and bigger budgets), but do not negate mine.

    It was the audio for "A Summer's Lease" which I described as amateurish,
    not British cinema.

    I'd agree that, on average, the audio for British and French movies from
    the 1960s was better than Italian (I haven't seen enough German films to
    comment), though I'd hardly describe it as "technically perfect".

    manitou910, Apr 19, 2004
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