Esther Dean on the challenges of moving from black and white to colour tv

At the time when you first started work, television was in black and white. What kind of challenges did that bring for you?

Well the big thing with black and white was something called the grey scale. You had to know. It all had to be done in shades of black, white and grey. If you had a bright orange or red or green, you had to know what colour they were going to come out. You might have something that, to the eye, looked different, but everybody might end up looking the same muddy shade. It was a very interesting exercise. I’m very glad, in a way, that I started that way. It was quite a good training and it got your eye into things. It was quite interesting.

And what happened when it moved to colour?

Oh god, there were so many discussions about what was going to work. Would blues start shouting out? Because of course the cameras weren’t all that good and they were video cameras, mainly, that we were using at that point. Whites would sing out. So you tended to have to dim things down to take the edge off things. Most whites, you would have to make them be cream, and things like that. I think it was more fear, actually. When we came to doing it, we very quickly seemed to manage.

One of the worst things is strobing. Sometimes a tweed jacket at a certain point clashes with the number of lines and it will start to strobe, but it won’t strobe at every point. All that sort of thing could be quite tricky.

We used to have terrible problems doing Crown Court with the sound men because they always used to say that the starched tabs and collars they were wearing were interfering with the sound. I used to get very cross because they used to bully some of the lower-down people working on it and they couldn’t really stand up to them. I had had enough. Then I realised they were using Sellotape to stick the mics on and all that sort of thing. And it was that making the noise. And they went on complaining. Then I discovered that the wire, the poor chap was treading on it. It was the sound men who were… Sometimes it was a problem because silk can “shoosh” and can be problematic, and it is difficult for sound men.

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