Lost 1970 Les Dawson videotapes saved for ITV

While broadcast TV companies often transmit programmes that contain archive video recordings, they rarely have the means to digitise their video tape archive. So what’s the solution?

sony, cv-2100ace, half-inch, v-60, helical, videotape, yorkshire TV, les dawson, itv

A Sony CV-2100ACE playing back rare Yorkshire TV recordings of Les Dawson from 1970

SimplyDV recently undertook almost 21 hours of transfer of rare 1970 videotape recordings made on Half-Inch Helical Black & White videotape by the former ITV company Yorkshire Television in its Leeds TV studios. It was known that some of the material featured one of the the UK’s favourite comedians, the late Les Dawson.

The tapes were part of a collection of recordings held by David Mallet, the former producer of the Les Dawson Show on ITV in the late 60s and 70s, and both he and the producer of “Forever Les Dawson” were keen to know what the tapes contained. David Mallet had the idea that there would be some unseen material on the 1/2″ monochrome tapes, which turned out to be copies of the long-since lost unedited studio master tapes. The production team was then presented with a problem – who in the UK could transfer them? That’s where SimplyDV came in.

Our task was to transfer the recordings using our specialised equipment to the professional ProRes422 digital video format using a very rare videotape recorder – our Sony CV-2100ACE half-inch helical VTR.

Black & White image of Les Dawson looking at camera

A frame of restored video for ITV’s “Forever Les Dawson” – preserved by SimplyDV

In one recording Les was seen to be fooling around with the audience while technical problems were resolved in the studio. This particular recording attracted Mr. Mallet’s attention and clips made it to the final edit of the programme, which was shown in two parts just before Christmas 2016.

Image of David Mallet viewing TV

Former “Les Dawson Show” director David Mallet viewing archive video for the first time since 1970

Origins of the obsolete Half-Inch Helical video tape format

The first Sony “CV” format VTRs that made it to UK shores in around 1967 were commonly used by higher education establishments and public-sector organisations and were used largely for education and training purposes. They were – by today’s standards – hugely expensive. Only very wealthy people could afford to buy a video tape recorder, and even then they recorded and replayed only monochrome (Black and White) video recordings onto reels of half-inch wide tape.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Broadcast TV companies used these machines as a means of making quick copies of master tapes for internal usage and also for compliance purposes – retaining a recording on a “non-broadcast” format for a short period of time following transmission in order to comply with regulatory licence conditions.

Image of reel of half-inch tape playing on a Sony CV2100CE videotape recorder dating from 1971

Our working Sony CV-2100CE helical scan VTR dates from 1968. This was used to play the Les Dawson tapes during digitisation for ITV Studios.

Today, a large number of half-inch helical videotape recordings exist in broadcast TV, educational, public sector and specialist legacy media archives in order to being in the possession of private individuals. Few – if any – of these have the means to successfully replay and digitise their ageing recordings to either disc or file-based video formats.

What’s more, many of the tapes dating from the late 1960s and 1970s have been affected by a degrading process known as Sticky Shed Syndrome which requires the tape being baked before they’re capable of being played.

Image of half-inch Sony V-60H videotape on desk

A videotape ready to be converted for Na Píobairí Uilleann Teoranta in Dublin.

Throughout 2016, SimplyDV has been asked to bake and digitise a large number of half-inch videotape recordings made on both the “CV” and “AV” helical scan formats, with clients ranging from universities to charities, public archives and television companies. We’ve provided broadcast-compatible ProRes422 or MPEG-4/H.264 video files to the  Doordarshan National (DD1) TV Network India, Shiver TV (part of ITV Studios in Manchester) and Na Píobairí Uilleann Teoranta in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Other commissions have come from organisations in Germany, Italy and Holland as well as various archives and agencies.

For more information on our specialised video transfer and digitisation services, please contact us now.

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