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Delivering hot news or sports very fast 1959

As Senior Film Editor at ABV2 Ripponlea, Australia, I had been introducing into the editing rooms, and, indeed, the whole production system, was the ability to deliver hot news or sports very fast.  This had not been done before.

Film of a sports event could lay overnight in the cutting room for attention the next day.  I decided that it should be made available as fast as possible.  I spoke with the labs who were only too willing to process the film as soon as they got it and send it on to us immediately.

The Cinevex laboratory had been founded by two young men who had worked in Sydney Labs.  They were totally dependent on the A.B.C. for their work.  Fortunately there was enough to satisfy them and make a good living.

One of the first examples was our coverage of the Davis Cup which was a great success and attracted a memo from Ken Dakin, Sporting Supervisor, who said (inter alia): “The fact that the filming did not cease until nearly 6.00 pm and we were still able to have the film on the air at 8.00pm has caused much favourable comment”.  Kip Porteous added his congratulations to all concerned.

We were riding even higher.  Much of what I was doing in this last respect owed a great deal to eleven years at Movietonews where they had always used ingenious means to get film from A to B and then on to the screen.  Famously in 1947, under the heading of The Newsreel Association of Great Britain, Movietone and Pathe were chosen for a special event.  It was the Royal Film Performance.  Pathe had the job of shooting the arrival of guests at the cinema in Leicester Square.  Movietone had to collect the film, process it, edit and re-record the commentary, then make a print.  The people shown in the film were still in the cinema when the film was shown to them.  A triumph, which only needed a bit of ingenuity.

There was a Test Match starting in Adelaide, Australia v. England in January 1959.  Our news department wanted to get material as quickly as possible.  I did some calculations and made some enquiries and then told them that, if we could get some co-operation from A.B.C. Radio in Adelaide (there being no television service there at that time), we could get for them play on the first day, up to tea, on the 6.00pm bulletin.

Adelaide is around 450 miles from Melbourne and flights between the two cities were few.  Fortunately, there was a flight to Melbourne at the right time of day.

They could not believe it and asked me how.  I explained.

The Adelaide cameraman must be accompanied by a journalist who would record every shot the cameraman took including the progressive footage as shown on the back of the camera.  At tea, the cameraman would show the teams going off, just to prove it was tea time.  The cameraman would take the film direct to Adelaide Airport and place in on the flight to Melbourne.  In the meanwhile, the journalist returned to the Adelaide Radio studios and transcribed the shotlist to a Telex which went straight through to the Melbourne news room.  From the shot list, the news editor told me which scenes he wanted to use and, in the meantime, he was able to write the commentary from the shot list of the intended cut story.

Skymaster VH-TAC "Nat Buchanan".

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The film was collected from Trans Australia Airlines at Essendon Airport and biked to the lab where it was immediately processed.  It arrived at Ripponlea at 5.45pm.  I edited it, according to the said shot list, and handed it over to Telecine at two minutes to six.  They used it as the lead story. It was decided that we would film and show highlights of the Test Match in Melbourne. By co-incidence, we had a visit at Ripponlea from the Director-General whose name was Charles Moses.  He had been with the A.B.C. since before the War and he told the story of how he had broadcast the Test Matches taking place in England to the Australian public. This, of course, was before international radio communications made it possible to broadcast direct.

Moses claims that he used an “atmos” disc from a previous Test Match in Australia which ran continuously during his broadcast.  Then he astonished us by saying that he had a ball-by-ball account of play given to him directly from the news teleprinter.  He would read what had happened and then tell it as if he had seen it.  And then there was the question of the sound effects of the bat striking ball.  For this he used a pencil and a cigar box.  I bet you think I am kidding.  He would tap the box with varying force depending on what the batsman had done to the ball.

Well, this was most interesting.  We were asked to film the day’s play and get it on air by 10.00pm.  The only way this could be done was to have the film returned to the lab all during the day.  The first film got to the studios after lunch and I started to edit it immediately.

VFL Grand Final in 1945 at the Melbourne Crick...

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The cameraman was Les Hendy.  He was the Chief Cameraman and he was good.  He was especially good at sports.  He took up post in line with the wicket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Unfortunately, he was not equipped with a sound camera which, in a way, would have been far more difficult to edit.  Sydney sent another cameraman down to get crowd shots and cut-ins.  I insisted that these too were shipped back at the same time as the main camera so that my crowd cutaways would be correct.  Even then we knew the pitfalls of showing a person at a cricket match in the afternoon when he only stayed for the morning – you could get sued.

Back at the studio, we had prepared a sound track to back the whole thing.  This was taken from an outside broadcast of a Victoria v M.C.C. match which had been held previously.  This was already on 16mm magnetic tape and we found whole sections where there was nothing but “atmos” These sections were joined together to produce a continuous run of “atmos” which would be longer than the projected programme.

To inject sound of incidents, we had a wizard on the turntables who could swing in crowd applause at will.

What about the ball hitting the bat ?  Well, we got hold of a dozen or so cigar boxes.  One had to hold the box with the lid held open by the thumb between the lid and the box. while the pencil was in the other hand.  All this according to Moses.  We found the right box and then we had to decide who was going to do the job.  In the end, they all looked at me and Ken Dakin, Head of Sports, said “You are the editor, you’re the only one who knows what’s coming”.

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So all afternoon and evening I edited the film as it came in, bearing in mind that I was editing while the match was still on.  For this reason, when the match took a turn for the better or worse, I had to discard material to make way for what was more important.  There was always something to do to tart up the finished product and we seldom arrived at the telecine and broadcast studio before 9.55pm.  Graeme Cope, the sports writer and commentator had a written commentary for the early part of the programme but he only had notes to work with for the later material and I could never understand how he could do it.  Les Hendy missed virtually nothing and we produced a true highlights programme.

Once again, an outstanding success with congratulations coming in from all directions, even from Charlie Moses.

We did this for six nights in a row.  And then we would do the next series in the same way.

Today, we expect to see pictures broadcast very quickly or even as live broadcast from any part of the world.  Then, five hundred miles might as well have been 25,000 miles.  The pictures had to be physically carried from one place to another.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about the ABC click here.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Colingee #

    Really enjoyed the latest posting, which entertainingly captures the challenges of newsreel production in that era, and realisation that you had to physically deliver material across vast distances to meet any useful deadline. As you suggest,today it is hard to imagine not having ‘live’ broadcast from almost anywhere on the planet.

    Also reminds me that in the same era London evening newspapers raced each other to get the classified football results, printed, packed and delivered all over the country to arrive first on a street corner. The punter only wanted to check his pools coupon and cared less which newspaper it was. Whatever happened to them?

    Like the images too, great stuff thanks.

    February 25, 2011
  2. There was a great deal of ingenuity brought to bear on the problem of getting newsfilm from location to the laboratory quickly. Mostly is was a fast car driven by a speed merchant. When the roads were blocked, they used dispatch riders who could weave in and out of the traffic.

    I remember going to White Hart Lane and, after the match, stopping off for a cup of tea and then driving home, stopping in Chingford to buy an evening paper with all the results in them. This would be little more than an hour after the end of the match.

    At Movietone, it was great fun to be part of the team that faced the problem of speed of delivery of film not only to the labs, but also to the cinemas.

    February 28, 2011

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