Tony Drinkle on the technological changes he has seen

By the end, well before that finished really, everything was being transferred to tape, the features and everything. One particular thing I remember, which probably wouldn’t happen these days, but it’s one of those things that stick in your mind… quite often we wouldn’t get a film until the day it was going out because another company would be playing it, and they would send it off. There was a transport company who used to collect and deliver films, based in London. and all the films had to go down there, after we transmitted them, they would all be sent down to this place, and they would say, send them to Anglia to play a day later or something like that. But occasionally there would be one, say Yorkshire would be playing it one day and we need it the next day, so not a lot but sometimes you would get a film on the actual day of transmission, so a bit of a rush, not to put you under pressure like, the usual thing, you join it together – on average you get about 10 cans – but each part, if it was in four parts you would have four spools, each part on a separate spool, and you would go in the theatre and watch it, and while you’re putting it in the spool as well you’re timing it, so by the end, so you’re like, this film runs 106 minutes, that’s fine, but you might need 1’08 so you get on to presentation and say, “We’re two minutes short,” so they would work around filling that two minutes, or the other way, it might be two minutes over, so I’d have to take two minutes out then.

I remember we got this film, The Mask of Dimitrios, I think it was. An old black and white 1940s film. And like I said, we used to get a lot of prints that have gone round the cinemas. Unless they were really badly scratched and terrible, they used to go out – I don’t know if you remember seeing scratched films and stuff like that – but sometimes you just had to say, “Dave, the print’s terrible, I don’t think we can play it.” It was okay if you had a day or two spare, but if it was the last minute… anyway, this one came in and I was viewing it, and it must have been 15-20 minutes from the end and it went way out of sync, really out of sync, and it seemed a long time – 20 or 30 seconds – and there was no way you could cut it out, it was a vital scene right near the end of the film. So I said to Dave, “You can’t play it.” In fact, I think it was before Dave. Anyway, whoever it was… luckily – and I got a brownie point for this – I was watching the telly the night before and something had broke down or gone wrong, and straight away the announcer had said, “Sorry about the fault, bear with us,” type thing, so I thought, “Why not play it as it is and put this caption over?” which is what they did in the end1 it was the only way I could think about getting it – putting the caption up to hide the picture but still hear the sound. So that’s what they did.

Another big problem – Dave Black solved this one – when we were playing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. They didn’t like putting features out on the network because they used to always get better ratings than the main programmes, but they always liked to put a network one out on Boxing Day and Easter Monday. So Raiders of the Lost Ark was being transmitted for the first tie. I mean, different companies used to take turns; one film was being networked, say Thames or Yorkshire, and then we would do one, and we got lumbered with Raiders of the Lost Ark. But apparently, it’s supposed to have come from Spielberg, that whenever it’s transmitted for the first time, you weren’t allowed to cut it. And chipping in again, a big help as well, I can’t think when this came in now, but it was a very big help to us, and that was when tele cine got this new equipment, and we had been transmitting films at 24 frames a second, so that’s how it went out, and then we got this equipment, we found out that you could adjust the speed. And they found out that if you went up to 25.26 frames a second, you didn’t notice – the sound wasn’t distorted and you couldn’t tell. So you could transmit at 25 frames per second rather than 24, so that meant if you had an hour programme you could save two minutes, so if a programme was two minutes over you could just speed it up and you didn’t need to edit it, which was a big help. So getting back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was running over – and this is Dave Black, I had nothing to do with this, I’m not getting any credit for this – if ever you see Raiders of the Lost Ark, the end credits run for about five our six minutes, but we couldn’t cut them off, we weren’t allowed. And they are just white on a black background, very slow for about five minutes. So Dave Black came up with the idea of transferring the end credits separately so they could play the sound at the normal speed but speed the end credits up, which he did – and that gave us the time we needed. So the complete film went out, including the end credits – that was always a favourite, if something was running over, if it was only 30 seconds or a minute but the end credits went on and on, we always used to fill a form in which had the running time on for each part, and also you had to decide where the breaks would be as well. Nowadays the breaks just pop up – half the programmes that come on now, we’d have had a right telling off for putting the breaks where they go now! So it had to be at the end of a sequence, or ideally at the end of a scene where it just fades out, then fades in again. So on these forms we had to fill in, we had to give a description of what was happening , like, “So-and-so says to so-and-so: ‘Right, I’m going now.’”. Then you used to measure how much time there was from the last dialogue to him walking out, it might take 10 seconds, so then the transmission controller could fade the picture out and roll the commercials. I forgot what I was leading to! I as confusing myself, babbling on. But yes, basically if there was a feature film and there were a lot of end credits, you would say there are three minutes 30 end credits, and the transmission controller would decide when to fade out, but we couldn’t do that with Raiders.

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