Designer spruces up wartime memories

Richard Seaman-Taylor with his wife Alice Good as new: wartime snap of Richard Seaman-Taylor with his wife Alice remastered for their grandchildren

A BBC East graphic designer has been helping to breathe new life into century-old family memories.

Ben Debuse set up a digital picture surgery as part of the BBC's World War One at Home Tour that reached Norwich last weekend.

While some visitors to the family-focused event tried out as war reporters, made ID permits in the war recruitment office or watched carrier pigeon demonstrations, others headed for the designer's little marquee, pitched outside the BBC's regional headquarters.

Encouraged by Radio Norfolk trails, they brought with them favourite family photographs from the war years - many of them in a sorry state.

'One was torn in two, another stuck to the glass at the front of a frame,' Debuse tells Ariel. 'Some had water damage, others were very faded, but it's astonishing how much you can bring back with Photoshop.'

He worked his magic on pictures of fathers, grandfathers and uncles from the local area - most in uniform, some with their wives, others with their regiments.

They were pictured in Flanders at the grave of their mascot dog, in the Punjab with the Royal Fusiliers, in Norwich as part of the 2nd East Anglian rapid response cycle-mounted team and recovering with other wounded servicemen at a hospital 'somewhere in England'.

'One lady brought in a very funny picture,' says Debuse. 'It was of her granddad about to hit his best friend over the head with a cushion when they were in a hut somewhere in France. The picture had been a 100-year family joke.'

'Harry and friends'. This was taken around 1915 in 40 London Road by J. Bender in his studio. Three servicemen pose for a picture in 1915. Nearly 100 years later, the torn photo gets a new lease of life

There was only one photo that defeated Debuse, who usually spends his days as a graphic designer on BBC Look East or in the gallery as a studio director. 'It wasn't an original,' he explains. 'It was a badly scanned copy of the original, with all the black shades squeezed into one big lump. Unfortunately, someone else had got to it first.'

All the owners were sent digital copies of their remastered photos, as well as before and after composites - and they seemed to like what they saw.

'It is wonderful what you have managed to do with it,' emailed one, with another saying the restored photo was 'miles better' than the original.

The pictures have also proved popular with the audience, with a gallery of them on the Radio Norfolk Facebook page proving the week's biggest hit.

Debuse has already been asked to organise a similar service for BBC South East, when the WW1 at Home Tour reaches Folkestone in August.

The live events - a partnership between BBC Learning and English Regions - started in Suffolk last week, before moving to Norwich on Saturday.

Around 12,000 people visited over the first few days, with the tour set to pitch up at 25 locations across the UK throughout the summer. Next stop is the River Mersey Festival on June 14 and 15.

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