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Brush Up Your Shakespeare: Right Back Where I Started From

Yay! I’m back at BBC Ealing. I’m so happy! I run up the stairs to the room with all the FOMs. “Hi Fred, hi Derek, hi Simeon. I’m an editor now!”

Simeon is the film operations manager for editors. We go down the stairs to the BBC canteen. He can’t wait to tell me about the strange and wonderful ways of BBC editing.

“Stefan, we’ve got Ampex VR1000 videotape recorders. Right? Well, they cost £40,000 and are bloody useless. Video editing is a disaster. You can’t splice the 2-inch tape. They say you can, but in practice you can’t, and it ruins the tape anyhow. The show you’ll be working on, The Wars of the Roses, is a 35mm telerecording [kinescope or kine in the United States] from live cameras.”

Hey Bra’ What’s Da Kine?

“A telerecording [kine] is film. Film, we all know and love. A 35mm synchronized camera shoots a 405-line cathode ray tube. It shows a negative image so the processed film is positive. Are you following me?

“Peter Hall, the boss of the Royal Shakespeare Company, wanted to do it on the stage at Stratford on Avon. A bloody stupid idea, if you ask me. They had to pull out seating and completely rebuild the sloping stage to make it flat. Why? They could have done it in our TV studios. We had to run in land lines to the center and record it as a 35mm telerecording. Madness…

The Wars of the Roses aired on BBC1 in April 1965.

“To complicate everything, they shot each sequence four or five times, moving the six cameras to different positions. Each pass, the director called the shots, so the cutting is different. Eight weeks shooting with over 50 BBC staff on location and who knows how many RSC people. Did I say ‘madness’ already?”

Binge Television 1965 Style

“All that effort and it winds up in a room here in Ealing, cans and tapes from floor to ceiling. Three three-hour programs—a nine-hour marathon to be broadcast over three days. And it’s all yours, my boy!”

“Gee, thanks, Simeon. But don’t you have a real, full-time editor?”

“Frankly, no one wanted the job. We dumped it on Nobby Clark, but Shakespeare is not his thing. You understand Shakespeare, can do Shakespeare, can’t you?”

“Sure. ‘If she says your behavior is heinous, kick her right in the Coriolanus.’”


“No, Cole Porter.”

Fire Burn and Keller Bubble

I meet Nobby and look at the half hour he has cut. There’s a freeze-frame that stands out. I try to be tactful.

“Nobby, you can see the film grain suddenly stops on the freeze.”

“I know. I had to extend the scene.”

“Then what you must do is find a spot where you can run the film back and forward, back and forward. That way the film grain keeps moving.”

“Brilliant. You take over. I will look after labels and cut the M&E rolls. Peter Hall and John Barton will be in this Friday night to review our work—no, I mean, your work.”

Nobby has backed out, it’s my baby. I have five days to prove myself before they come.

Fear no more the frown of the great.

To be continued.