AP mast (2K)

DIRECT TELEVISION from ALEXANDRA PALACE

by Arthur Dungate

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Here is the News . . .

When News & Newsreel started in 1954, being run by News Division from radio, it was decreed that nothing was to be added that hadn't actually happened on the news story. So no music, no sound effects etc. Just the bare bones, which meant that often it was largely just still pictures with a Voice Over, "Frozen Radio" as someone called it.

Jet fly-over (4K)

But eventually they did get over this drawback, and one day around 1960, when we were dubbing a news story about aircraft, and it contained an interview with a Group-Captain Chester (or similar name), it was discovered that in editing, part of the man's title had been cut off the sound, reducing him to "plop" Captain Chester..... Well, what to do about it, the Group-Captain would probably object..... Can't we "hide" it somehow?" someone said, and I found a disc of a jet fly-past, to spin in just at that crucial moment.

And they used to say that the News shouldn't be "fixed".....

newsreader (8K)

On one occasion the news set in the studio had two phones on the desk. One was the normal PBX phone and the other was a direct line to the USA.

When it came to that item, the newsreader picked up the wrong phone, saying "Is that New York?" whereupon the PBX operator answered "Business or Personal?" to the very startled newsreader.
[Note: PBX = Private Branch Exchange]

phone rings (9K)


fireworks (3K)

The studios at AP weren't fully soundproof and it was a bit embarrassing on Bonfire Nights. People would gather on the terrace outside and save the noisiest fireworks for when the news was on the air.....

news studio (5K)

Eventually the Park was closed to the public on bonfire nights, much to the relief of everyone.....

fireworks (2K)
BTR2 recorder (7K)

Silence please!

The news title music was on 1/4" tape, and for some reason I can't now remember, was played from a BTR2 in the studio itself. To prevent the loud 'clunk' which occured when the tape machine was stopped, the few seconds of music was on a 10 1/2" NAB reel which was filled up with blank leader tape, thus the reel could play silently for up to 30 minutes.

Cablefilm

Before the days of satellite communication, the quickest way to get newsfilm from the USA to London was to fly it by standard passenger jet airplanes. This would take about 5 hours. Then in 1959 the BBC's Research and Designs Departments jointly thought up a way of using the Transatlantic Telephone Cable. This had a narrow audio bandwidth which was adequate for voice telephone calls but completely useless for picture signals.

The way to send pictures down the cable was to scan each film frame very slowly and send the resulting signal over the cable, thus the bandwidth needed was only from 0.5 to 5.6kHz which the cable could carry. I think it was about 30 seconds of black & white film would take around half an hour by this method. At the receiving end the pictures would be displayed on a cathode ray tube which had a long delay time and then photographed on another film. The system was reversible so that pictures could be sent in the other direction as required.

The sound was another matter - to get synchronisation between picture and sound the recording at one end had to be copied at the exact same speed at the other. To achieve this, we at AP had recorded several minutes of tone at 3kHz on 35mm magnetic film, and sent half of this to NBC in New York, keeping the other half of the film at AP.

In our film transfer suite at AP one of the 35mm sepmag recorders was modified to run on a 50Hz tone source the frequency of which could be accurately altered over a small range. The 3kHz tone films were attached to the beginning of the sound reels at both sides of the Atlantic.

By voice message over the cable, one side would tell the other to start and the speed of the AP machine would be adjusted by accurately comparing the local and cable-received tone with a special measuring device (a "Flutter Meter"), which is a device which can measure to a fine degree small variations in a recorded frequency of 3kHz.

By this means it was possible to match accurately the speed of the one running in New York, at least over the time span of the short length of the news film. When the tone ended, the receiving side would switch over from replay to record, and copy the sound of the news clip.

The quality of the resulting newsfilm items was "bearable" which was deemed acceptable from considerations of speed and topicality.

NO silence, please....

On one occasion when working this system and sending to NBC, after telling the operator in New York to start, I forgot to change from the microphone to the film replay and sent a lot of silence across. At NBC the operator had to walk along a long corridor from his cable termination point in order to start his film recorder and so with having had to repeat the whole procedure I may have helped him to get more exercise than he had anticipated.....

Unfortunately, I have no recollection at all of the actual items that were sent or received over the cable. What I do remember was that at the weekends there was a compilation of news events and, although by that time the actual film would have arrived from USA, the compilation still used the inferior quality cablefilm!

Fortunately this primitive system was rendered obsolete when satellite transmission became possible during 1962 (initially using Telstar).

Cablefilm - a Postscript

I have now discovered that in the Transdiffusion archive of "On This Day in broadcasting History" are these entries -

17/18 June 1959
Cablefilm technique (transmission of news film sent by wire, recorded on film, perforated and telecined), developed by the BBC, is tested in a transmission from London to Montreal, Canada.

26 June 1959
Cablefilm used for the first time west-to-east to show the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada by Queen Elizabeth II. First transatlantic television transmission by telephone cable using slow speed transmission equipment constructed by Designs Department at Research Department and known as Cablefilm. The occasion was the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway jointly by the Queen and President Eisenhower.

To Edit - or not....

One summer during their holidays some university students were employed as editing assistants. One of them was heard to remark on seeing one of the News film editors editing a story on 16mm film, "If you join it up at the end, why cut it in the first place?"

Holiday relief?

The dubbing mixer at AP at this time was John Colomb but when he was on leave a relief mixer would take his place for the week, as arranged by the recording staff office at Ealing.

On one occasion Bob Saunders was doing relief work; I called him "Holiday Relieving Fellow" after a joke in a recent Peter Sellers tv show.

For some reason the telephone line in the mixer room appeared on the jackfield and one day I quietly disconnected the line, picked up the phone and pretended to phone the office in Ealing. When the secretary "answered" I said "Who is this mixer you've sent to us this week? What? That is no mixer, that is Bob Saunders? Oh no, I don't wish to know that!" and put the phone down. Poor Bob was agitatingly jumping up and down saying "No no no, you mustn't, don't say that!". He calmed down when he realised I had been speaking on a dead line....

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