Two British firms, Cinema Television (CINTEL) and E.M.I. had developed the flying spot telecine by the late 40’s. This system produced the best television pictures at this time and for sometime in the future, always dependant on the quality of the film. Two images of a 4 x 1½ raster were focused on the film gate, one image being obscured alternately by a shutter. The film was moving continuously at 25 frames per second, the field scan being made half by the raster and half by the film movement. These machines became TKs1 & 2 E.M.I. and TKs 3 & 4 CINTEL at Lime Grove. (Telecine was abbreviated as TK to avoid confusion with TC Television Centre which was being planned in the early 50’s just after I joined.)
The E.M.I telecines were dual gauge 16mm & 35mm; the scan tube was mounted vertically and a front silvered mirror allowed the light to be shone right for 35mm and left for 16mm. These machines were also able to be used separately when working with a studio.
The E.M.I. had a green phosphor tube which gave better colour rendition (in black & white) than the CINTEL with a blue tube. The CINTEL machines only changed over to a similar green phosphor when colour was introduced. The CINTEL machine was slightly better engineered, the film gate could be removed easily for cleaning. On the whole the achievable quality differences were marginal. TK1 was the only machine permitted to run nitrate film stock because of its flammable nature and the room’s exit to the fire escape.
16mm gauge was important for natural history producers as the film cameras were lighter and more transportable to remote locations. The quality of the film was not so good, definition and grain, but the film stocks were developed as television expanded both in Europe and America and then in other parts of the world.
Generally this was a time of expansion by the makers of electronic equipment for television. The studios at Lime Grove each had a Mechau machine shining into a television camera of the same type as the Studio. For timing reasons they could not be too far from the studio apparatus rooms which led to some odd little rooms being used, “H” Mechau was up a fire escape above the studio.
The BBC at Lime Grove began to develop a flying spot Mechau which gave better results than pointing at a camera. As CAR originated the pulse chains, all studios and telecine became synchronous, so it was then better to group all the telecines in one area. As well as the flying spot telecines, CINTEL also developed polygon machines. These used refraction through glass to move the image with the film, rather than the mirrors used by the Mechaus.
On the whole both the Mechaus and the polygons suffered from the number of glass surfaces to be kept identically clean - an almost impossible task. The Mechau mirror drum and the polygon were enclosed to keep things dust free, but, because of the mechanics, there was a little oil mist pollution. The access to clean the optics was limited and the poor operator was pushed to clean everything in the line-up.
By the mid 50s Lime Grove had the two E.M.I. channels, the CINTEL 35 pair, three CINTEL 16mm flying spot and two flying spot Mechaus.
In the early days of television there was no news Television but by the 1950’s the BBC Film Unit was producing a newsreel based on the Movietone and Pathè types shown in cinemas. Then the mood changed and it was decided to start Television News at AP (maybe the formation of ITN as the run up to commercial television starting in 1955 had something to do with this). I was sent back to AP with Arthur Dungate in late 1954 early 1955. (Also see Arthur’s web page history of BBC Television ) There were 2 telecines, 16mm & 35mm, with Vidicon cameras. The P&ID Team (Planning & Installation Department) included a young Jimmy Redmond, later Sir James, who moved up the chain, Head of Recording, Chief Engineer Television and Chief Engineer BBC. We would clean the equipment, check it over in the mornings and then wait often until the programme was on the air, so periods of boredom followed by intense activity became the norm. The trial must have been a success, and it was decided to continue News as a separate division, and so Arthur and I went back to Lime Grove.
EMI Flying Spot Telecine TK1 at Lime Grove - 1955
Bill Tucker – BBC Engineer