It’s time the tale were told
1 Dec 2002 0 comments. tbs.pm/1842
At 0525 on 27 October 2002 and throughout that day, LWT held a public celebration of their onscreen identity over the years. Dave Jeffery tells the story of how this event came to be, how it was done and the involvement of two Transdiffusion contributors.
For me it all started when I was working at Yorkshire Television in Leeds. I was just about to catch the 15 bus back to Farsley when, unusually, I decided to check my Hotmail before I left. I was intrigued to see that sitting in my inbox was a message from Gareth Randall, and when I read the contents I was amazed.
Gareth explained that over a “good lunch”, he and some of his friends at “The London Studios” wanted to mark the forthcoming passing of the LWT name from London presentation (due to be replaced by the new branding of “ITV1 London”) in some way. The idea of a start-up had been tentatively mooted, and he asked if Transdiffusion staff editors Rory Clark and myself might like to help out with recreating some items they would need.
I must admit that I was delighted that Gareth had felt able to approach me to work on this project, as we’d had some “run-ins” on the various forums Gareth contributes to in the past and I thought that I’d probably be the last person he’d ever consider working with! However, he was great and it was a pleasure to be involved and I’m delighted to have been able to mend fences.
Gareth had already run some tests trying to use video recordings of the 1972 and 1979 London Weekend idents to make 16:9 versions but he could not trace the original negatives or even a decent print. Even if Gareth had found a decent print, it was unlikely he’d be able to have it telecined with a modern telecine and regraded (necessary as the black background of an eighties print of the LWT ident would probably be pretty blue by now, and the orange would be rather faded too) as the budget for our endeavours precisely zero.
Therefore he contacted Rory and I to see if we could recreate the London Weekend idents that would look like fresh prints from a fairly clean negative. He also enquired as to whether 16:9 versions were possible. They certainly were – I had seen some intriguing tests that Rory had done with some of my Flash files done at 16:9 aspect ratio. Rory had tried things like a 16:9 ATV Zoom and 16:9 versions of 1970s schools clocks and tuning signals. If only they had had widescreen and stereo in the seventies!
Gareth also wanted to have a clock if possible, as obviously none of the original LWT mechanical clocks were available in the presentation suite at LWT. As far as a clock was concerned, Flash was really our only option as we needed it to tell the time up to 5:30am, and the chances of finding a clip of a genuine clock ticking up to 5:30 were very slim. Using Flash also gave us the option of making the clock 16:9.
Gareth hinted that perhaps a programme menu would be nice, as would a “Transmitters In Service” slide and perhaps, if we could find one, we could throw in a picture of Kent House – the famous South Bank LWT studio centre that is nowadays called “The London Studios” – into the mix.
As far as LWT idents were concerned I had three available. The first was the Orange Colour Oval from October 1969. This ident was fine, although the rotation on my version, having been created by computer, was slightly less organic than that on the genuine ident and therefore Gareth plumped for the original ident in this case.
My version of Terry Griffiths’ 1972 London Weekend “River” ident had already been reanimated recently to make it a frame-perfect match of the original. However my rendition of the 1979 version (the one which resolves into the letters L W T) was basically a 12 frames per second version done for internet use way back in 1998. To be honest it was a bit of an archive item itself! It was obvious that it needed to be redone from scratch – and rapidly. Rory supplied me with an MPEG file that I could import into Flash MX to enable me to get the animation frame perfect. This sped the whole process enormously and I was able to redraw and reanimate the ident in about 6 hours.
When animating the 1979 LWT river I was lucky that I’d recently bought a book about typefaces (Encyclopedia of Typefaces, Jaspert et al, available on Amazon.co.uk) to help me with matching fonts, and this purchase paid off greatly. I was able to find out that the LWT font of the sixties, seventies and early eighties was Franklin Gothic. The correct font is important, as the angular cuts on the lower case “e” were an important part of the London Weekend look.
Although the 1979 river looked fine at 16:9, the river extended wildly off to the east on the 1972 version did look a bit odd at first – the stylised Thames is probably crashing into Denmark on the right hand side of the screen!
It was rather tricky to come up with a “Transmitters in Service” caption. As far as basic design was concerned it was up to me to choose the variant I wanted, and so I chose my favourite – the original IBA design from 1973. I felt this one was most appropriate for the job because it was white, blue and gold – LWT livery!
Legally, it would be problematic to include the name “IBA”, as LWT would have needed permission to use the initials and the trademark “sardine tin” logo. Therefore I replaced the IBA logo with an LWT logo and I thought the outcome looked strangely authentic. Rory, Gareth and I had a brief debate as to what to do about the VHF transmitters, and how to denote digital broadcast standards, and we decided in the end to use the phrase MPEG 2 – 576 LINES. The “IBA” problem also meant that Gareth had to cook up an “authority”-less “authority” announcement for Trish Bertram to record.
I was delighted to be asked to provide a programme menu – something that is only seen nowadays if a royal pops their clogs. This caused a problem as the only LWT programme menu slide Gareth had was too elaborate to reproduce in the time available. Rory had a vid-cap from an episode of the early 80s LWT programme “End Of Part One” that featured a joke LWT menu caption in contemporaneous style. However, this one was so plain that it was also unsuitable as it was not “LWT-ish” enough!
Therefore I resorted to making one up. The LW Menu was an utter fabrication on my part. Of course, the lovely thing about this project was that, having now been broadcast, LWT did use a menu like that – it’s an authentic 2002 LWT menu! I simply extended the river in the same fashion that LW used on their cameras in the seventies, and used the Century Schoolbook font used on LWT Productions for Channel Four.
A common part of LWT presentation in the 70s and 80s was the series of slides of Kent House used for out-of-vision continuity. There were none remaining in the LWT archive, and Gareth wondered if Rory or I had one. Well, we didn’t, but we knew a man that did! Rory had the delicate task of asking fellow Transdiffusion staff editor Mike Brown for a scan, without letting on what he needed it for! Mike kindly did some very high-quality scans, and Rory e-mailed them to Kent House – back home after an absence of nearly 20 years.
Finally, I produced a full screen slide of the formed up LWT logo that could be cut to at the special brass stab in “A Well Swung Fanfare”. This had to be safe for 14:9, but not look too tiny at 16:9.
I emailed .swf files to Rory, who then transferred them to video using QuickTime. He then distressed them, as only he knows how, with film grain, gate weave, scratches, lens flare and opacity variation and rendered out the result – a process that takes, literally, hours. Rory also added the relevant jingles for each ident.
As far as the clock is concerned, Rory used a special process to add video fields to the clock to get extremely fluid motion. I work at 25 fps – rather like film, this gives a bit of a juddery motion for moving images. For film recreations, this is precisely what you are after, but for clocks and models it is noticeable that the motion is not smooth enough. However, for reasons that are too technical for me, cranking the animations up to 50fps in Flash doesn’t solve the problem. Apparently you need to add fields not frames, whatever that means!
Rory therefore uses a technique rather like the “VidFIRE” technique used by the Doctor Who Restoration Team to turn film telerecordings into (what look like) 405 line VT. Rory is an incredibly clever bloke – he worked out how to do the technique about ten seconds after watching the first episode of “Dad’s Army” on which the technique was used. I don’t know how he did it, but I do know the clock looked wonderful once it had been processed.
Rory took the TX In Service caption, the static LWT slide and programme menu and lovingly distressed them to look like a real slides in Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro. As we were in a hurry, Rory e-mailed the resulting static graphics straight to Gareth.
Rory popped all the resulting graphics on a VHS for me, and onto a DV for Gareth. After looking at the end results of all the distressing, Rory and Gareth then requested some changes.
Rory requested that I remove the gradient fills from my London Weekend clock. These look great when you view as a Flash file but are a disaster when transferred to video.
Gareth requested I added a long hold to the end of the LWT 79 ident as it now seemed likely that they could run the ident before a programme (although it had not yet been decided which one) and then do the announcement into the programme with the ident held on screen.
Rory had noticed that I had embarrassingly got the UHF channel numbers and polarisations completely wrong on my TX in service card, and also I had listed some transmitters that were now assigned to Meridian. A quick trip to Mike Brown’s “Transmitter Gallery” fixed the channel numbers. Whilst browsing I was interested to see that a transmitter was listed for “Alexandra Palace”. I wanted to include that as it was such a nice television name. I also spotted a transmitter called “World’s End”. How appropriate, considering what was happening! I was unsure whether to put that in, but Rory said it was a must. I did kick myself, however, that I didn’t include “Wembley”, as that was LWT’s original home.
Gareth had also made a comment about the TX In Service caption – I’d listed the digital transmission methods with “channel” numbers but these needed to be removed as it was felt that this might be seen as ranking the diffusion methods in order of preference!
There was a minor problem with the programme menu too. Rory chose to use the Antique Olive font as used on “End Of Part One” for programme names when the Century Schoolbook that I had chosen proved too much for digital encoding (due to thin serifs).
When I had made these changes Rory went through the painstaking task of transferring, distressing and rendering all the files all over again. He not only rendered the files once, he did each file several times with various amounts of distressing. He then made the resulting files anamorphic (i.e. he squashed the 16:9 pictures horizontally into 4:3) and transferred them to a DV, which he sent to Gareth at Kent House all ready for his edit session.
There was one major last minute hitch. When Gareth came to do a test of the finished TX in Service caption he hit a snag. Due to digital encoding problems it looked like it may be impossible use gold on pale blue lettering for digital transmission and that the black and white lettered version of the TX in Service caption would have to be substituted instead. I was just about to get on a plane to Hungary when this happened, but fortunately the problem was fixed and the start-up went ahead with the classier ruled TX In Service card.
I suggested to Rory and Gareth that as we were producing a 16:9 start-up, we might as well go the whole hog and make the start-up stereo as well. The CD “Girl In A Suitcase” featured a stereo version of “A Well Swung Fanfare” that had been lovingly remastered by Lucy Reeve. London Weekend only held a mono version – a KPM library tape that was used for the real start-up. To use the stereo version of the track, the permission of Lucy Reeve was required. Greg Taylor kindly got on the blower on our behalf and Lucy very kindly gave her permission immediately and without hesitation. She also gave us very good advice on navigating the PRS issues that using the stereo version would entail.
When I got to Hungary, I was delighted when I found out that the sound on the start-up had been done by Graham Hix, an LWT staffer from 1968 who had had the task of remixing Harry Rabinowitz’s 1972 recording of the London Weekend river ident into the 1979 version. The authority announcement was pre-recorded by Trish Bertram, whilst the announcement at the end of the start-up by Glen Thompsett was live. Glen and Trish were all for this project, and were incredibly supportive of Gareth’s endeavours.
I was in sunny Magyarország when the start-up was broadcast – I was watching an ancient “Andy Pandy” with my daughter Jenny at the time! The first thing I knew about the reaction to it was a very kind congratulatory e-mail from Lucy Reeve. It wasn’t until I’d had a mail from Malcolm Bachelor that I realised just how kind Gareth had been – he had credited Rory and I in his LWT montage. I was very moved when I saw that – Gareth, if you’re reading this, you’re a really nice bloke. Many, many thanks.
So now it’s all over, I’m thinking about how I feel. I used to be one of those kids, years ago, who used to draw LW rivers with orange and blue felt tips. Loads of them. To actually have animated a real live river that was broadcast before a real live LW programme is an amazing feeling.
I looked at sites like TV Ark with enormous pride when I saw that stuff I’d done with Rory was up on it with all the ‘real’ stuff. And then I suddenly thought – well a tiny bit of my stuff is real stuff now. Back in 1998, I picked up a demo copy of Flash 2 totally by chance at a job interview in Budapest that didn’t work out. The guy insisted on giving me a load of promotional CDs (including a demo of Flash 2) even though I’d refused them a couple of times. It’s funny how things turn out.
Then, the anorak in me thinks about all the firsts (and, sadly, lasts). First 16:9 ITV start-up, first stereo ITV start-up, first digital ITV start-up, first twenty-first century ITV start-up sequence! First TX In Service caption not to feature a regulator name. First 16:9 version of either river ident. First 16:9 ITV station clock. The list seems endless! I think about the great fun of keeping the whole enterprise a big secret, the kindness of everyone involved – Gareth Randall, Greg Taylor, Mike Brown (albeit unwittingly – sorry Mike!), Lucy Reeve and of course Rory Clark.
Then I start to think about why it is I actually got to do all this. And I feel very sad. My thoughts are with all the continuity staff, particularly the announcers, who will no longer be working across the regions as a result of the current changes in ITV. Here’s to them – I hope they go on to find the success they deserve in whatever they do next.
There was, briefly, the tantalising possibility of seeing the whole bank of monitors in the digital TX suite at Yorkshire (formerly Studio 2, where Calendar was originally based) being filled with different start-ups for each of the northern Granada regions. To have Tyne Tees, Border, Granada and Yorkshire start-ups running simultaneously was a distinct possibility at one point, and one of the broadcast engineers at Yorkshire said that if that plan had gone ahead the legendary Redvers Kyle would almost certainly have agreed to come in and record an AA announcement for Yorkshire’s start-up. It got so far as me taking stock of the swf files I had produced for each of these regions.
Sadly, some members of management felt that they were unable to give the tacit “nod and a wink” approval that such an endeavour would have required. Their reasoning was that they did not see the need for such an event, as “these brands are not disappearing”. And certainly, the management at Yorkshire are admirably making very sure that the Yorkshire Television flag is still flying proudly from its mast at Kirkstall Road so they’re obviously not ready to let these historic names bow out just yet!
However, that holds out the faint possibility that were the brands to disappear (maybe only a matter of a year or 18 months) that they may well be prepared to mark the occasion with a similar event. So maybe, just maybe, the start-up isn’t dead yet.