Paul Howson’s Website

A Film Restoration Diary

Compiling a List of Films and Their Condition

In the previous post I gave a brief history of the Happy/Tarax Show annual Christmas Pantomimes. The surviving film copies of these are the subject of this current restoration project.

Each one of the seven Christmas Pantomimes produced annually between 1957 and 1963 was recorded onto 16mm film. The resulting film copy is known as a “kinescope” or “kine”.

For the 1957 and 1958 productions, recording to film was done at the time of live broadcast. With the coming of videotape circa 1959, it became possible to pre-record programs for subsequent broadcast, and the later film recordings of the Pantomimes were made from videotape.

The collection of more than 50-year-old 16mm film cans containing the kines.

Status of the Remaining Film Copies

Here is a list of the 16mm film copies of the Christmas Pantomimes which are in Denzil’s archive, and their condition:

Year of Production Title Duration (minutes) Optical Soundtrack Condition of Film
1957 Princess Joybelle unknown Listed in Denzil’s catalogue, but reel of film is missing.
1958 Sleigh Bells 50 Variable Density Good picture quality considering its age. Song by Happy Hammond has been excised onto a separate reel.
1959 Merry Make Believe 50 Variable Area May have had segments excised which need to be located and re-inserted.
Film exhibits “vinegar syndrome” and has shrunk and warped. Not playable on standard projector, nor on Spirit Datacine.
1960 Dick Whittington 25 approx The only surviving pieces of this production are multiple takes of the “Sheik of Araby” segment.
1961 Magic Mirror 59 Variable Area Fully intact. Film in good condition. There is an additional print of Act I. Separate 1/4 inch tape of some songs survives.
1962 Golden Princess 52 Variable Density Fully intact. Film in good condition.
1963 Marianne 53 Variable Density Fully intact. Film in good condition. Separate 1/4 inch tape of songs survives.

The Soundtracks

All of these films have optical soundtracks recorded on the edge of the film. Some are “variable area” and some are “variable density”. (Audio quality on 16mm film is limited by the shortest wavelength that can be recorded and reproduced optically — apparently around 6kHz maximum.)

Surviving Audio Tapes of Music Tracks

In the latter productions, musical numbers were pre-recorded in the GTV9 sound studio (“Studio 4”). The performers then mimed to these pre-recorded tracks. Some of these pre-recorded music and vocal tracks from “Marianne” and “The Magic Mirror” survive on audio tape.

My father operated a home recording studio with his own “Presto” disc cutting lathe and he made “acetates” of the pre-recorded music tracks for “The Magic Mirror” and “The Golden Princess”. A short run of vinyl pressings was made from each of these acetates for distribution amongst GTV9 staff. However, the sound quality on these vinyls is poor, so they’re not of much use in restoring the films.

A vinyl pressing of music tracks from the 1962 Christmas Pantomime, “The Golden Princess”. Note the manually typed disc label.

Choosing Which Productions to Restore

The last three productions — “The Magic Mirror”, “The Golden Princess” and “Marianne” — were by far the best and fortunately they have all survived fully intact. These three will be the initial focus of restoration, hopefully for eventual release on DVD.

In the next post we will take a look at the film recording system used at GTV9 circa 1960, and what this can tell us about the images on these films.