As we move into a new year, it’s worth reflecting on the kind of year 2011 has been for us here at SimplyDV.
There’s no doubt that more and more of you are discovering those old VHS, Video-8 and Hi-8 video-cassettes that have been languishing on shelves, under the sofa and in the attic for a good few years. What’s also interesting is that, thanks to digital TV recording on systems like Sky+, there’s no way of reviewing those old videocassettes once the VHS recorder packs up for good.
If that’s you, you’re not alone! Almost all of our domestic jobs throughout 2011 have come from customers who have found old video tapes lying around and suspect that there’s something valuable on them but have no means of checking. Inevitably, we get asked to copy them to DVD.
There are other customers who do know what’s on their tapes and want us to make the best possible digital transfers of their material before it’s too late. And that’s just what we do.
So – if you have a collection of home video cassettes and you have no way of knowing what’s on them, then you know what do to! Get them to us quickly. One day, they’ll be unplayable – and then it will be too late.
Musician, singer, composer, bandleader, family man and all-round decent bloke Big George Webley left us on May 7th. As a tribute, we’ve restored the video for his first single.
Perhaps best known to many as the creator of the title music for BBC TV’s satirical news quiz “Have I Got News For You” and also as the arranger of the title music for “The Office”, Big George Webley was one of those people you could hit it off with the minute you met him. Not only was he a fun character to be with, but he was brimming with ideas – ideas about music, art, culture, everything. He was a musician (having burned more than his fair share on midnight oil as a Bass-playing session musician in recording studios over the years), a song-writer, singer, arranger, columnist, radio broadcaster and general bon-viveur. He was also a genuine family man, too.
He takes the credit for much more than composing and arranging TV theme tunes; he worked with some of the biggest names in the music business as well as hosting a late-night radio show for BBC London for over 5 years. Before that he hosted the breakfast show for BBC Three Counties Radio in Milton Keynes – and has a Sony Award to show for it. George was always busy. Every time you met him he had plenty to tell you. He seemed always to be on the go.
Sadly, he died on Saturday May 7th. The news was a shock to all of us who knew him or had been acquianted with him.
Back in January 1984, the business I was involved with agreed with George to shoot and edit the video for his first single, “Tasty”, over a cold weekend in late January 1984. It was planned on the Saturday and shot on the Sunday. George’s on-screen persona for the shoot would be a wheeler-dealing cockney wide-boy who was always on the make and who lived life on a minute-by-minute basis. This was George throughout. He lived for the moment – and lived it to the full.
Shooting the video for Big George Webley's "Tasty". (Picture: Steve Baker)
The video was shot on the professional BVU-SP format (based on 3/4″ U-Matic) using a Hitachi SK91 3-tube Broadcast TV camera and recording to a Sony BVU-150P recorder. We didn’t have the means to edit High-Band BVU-SP U-Matic video (and no budget to hire resources) so we copied the rushes to Low-Band U-Matic and performed a rapid edit of the pictures synched to an audio track supplied by George’s record company – Simple Records.
Digitising the U-Matic Master Tape
The video edit master sat in an archive box for over 25 years when we had the idea of digitising it into my Apple Mac and trying to correct the instabilities of a format that has, to be honest, held up pretty well. The only examples of this video to be found on YouTube etc have been digitised from ropey VHS copies, so it was worth doing properly.
The video had not long been digitised and re-synched when the news came through that George had died. The restored version is featured above.
Nice to have known you George – you’re a true inspiration to many, many people.
Setting up the shot with George. That's me on camera! (Image: Steve Baker)
The lady was desperate. The VHS video containing rare clips of her late husband and daughter wasn’t playing properly. Could we help?
It’s not an unusual problem, but you have to sympathise with the client. The big problem with ageing video-cassettes is that they’re getting on a bit. However, VHS and Betamax tapes (not to mention the various professional formats like U-Matic and Betacam-SP) are actually much more rugged than the machines that were designed to play them back so faithfully.
That was a problem faced by Mrs. Hambleton and her family, who live near Southampton. She alerted us to the fact that some of her video-cassettes were faulty – symptoms of which were (by the family’s estimation) a flashing in and out of colour and very wobbly pictures and sound. Was there any way we could put back the colour and make the recording as good as they remember it being?
Well, anyone who has worked with VHS since its inception in the mid-late 1970s will know that the tape is probably in good condition, with the VCR being the guilty party. With that in mind, we ran the tape on our professional-grade Panasonic recorder and switched a few switches to ensure optimum playback. We then fed the video output through our ex-BBC timebase corrector (TBC) in order to stabilise playback and also to correct the colour flashing.
Our suspicions were confirmed. The tape itself was fine – it was the family’s VCR that was at fault. In fact, not to put a finer point on it, it was dead.
We proceded to digitise the tape into our Apple Mac, where additional adjustments were made to optimise pictures and sound, prior to burning a DVD which we then sent to a very happy Mrs. Hambleton – who then ordered an additional four DVD copies of a precious family VHS video featuring the wedding of her daughter – who sadly passed away in 1998. It also featured her late husband who passed away in to 1993.
We like happy customers – and we’re always happy to be of service.
Milton Keynes is perhaps unique in being the only UK town or city whose development has been documented on film and video since its inception. That didn’t prevent some unique film from being consigned to a skip.
Here’s a short digital film which makes use of rare archive 35mm and 16mm film (some of it retrieved from a skip, having been deposited there by agents of local government who had been charged with clearing out storage space and who probably didn’t know what a can of celluloid film was) to reflect on life for newcomers in Milton Keynes in the 1970s and 80s. It was sponsored by Screen South / UK Film Council (now defunct) and Make A Difference (Milton Keynes). Post Production by Colin Barrett (SimplyDV); Produced by Marie Wright (Spellbound Films).
Here’s the film:
My own interest in the Milton Keynes film and video archive stems from my work as a Producer on the city’s community cable TV station – Channel 40 – which broke new ground in the latter half of the 1970s as, effectively, the YouTube of its day in that it facilitated the creation of video programming by members of the local community. With low cost portable video (the Sony 1/2″ Video Rover – or Portapak) starting to become available, coupled with frame-accurate Sony 3/4″ U-Matic videocassette editing now possible, Channel 40 proved that citizens television was possible.
Unforunately, its finite funding came to end and the project closed on 31st July 1979 – but much of its archive survives (in boxes in archive vaults in Aylesbury). The race is on to bring all the remaining film footage and video recordings into the digital domain in order that future generations might be able to see for themselves a fascinating archive depicting the birth of a new city.
Milton Keynes Business Centre
Milton Keynes MK14 6GD
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If you tell us you're not happy with any aspect of our video tape to digital transfer service we'll not only refund your money but you can keep the DVD video copy too.