The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II: Restoring an era


As a colourist with BBC Studios and Post Production's digital restoration team, I am used to handling valuable archive footage.

However it's not very often that something as precious and special as the original black and white coronation footage arrives for me to digitally restore and preserve.

Amounting to seven and a quarter hours, The Coronation Of Queen Elizabeth II is being shown in its entirety by BBC Parliament on Sunday, 2 June 2013, exactly 60 years after its original broadcast.

The central control room in Broadcasting House combined contributions from cameras and microphones

The Queen's Coronation was an epoch-making moment in broadcasting history – it was the first time the television audience exceeded the radio audience. It was also the largest outside broadcast that the BBC had ever undertaken.

In 1953 TV technology was in its infancy and video recording had not been invented, so the only way the BBC could retain a copy of what was transmitted on that day was by filming the output - basically pointing a camera at a 405-line television monitor!

The BBC did this using 35mm black and white film. Recording the broadcast onto film and storing it for 60 years brings its own problems, like dirt and scratches.

These film faults were not part of what the public actually saw on the day, therefore our challenge was to restore the pictures as closely as possible to how people would have experienced them at the time.

The carriage procession passing the television camera on the Victoria Embankment

The 35mm film rolls only lasted around 10 minutes, so an immense 45 film rolls were used in total.

After cleaning the rolls I scanned them to make digital files, taking care to capture the full picture area available.

This revealed more of the image than was seen on previous versions, bringing it in line with the live broadcast in 1953.

I then painstakingly graded each shot, which involves adjusting the brightness and contrast levels to maintain a consistently good looking image, whilst removing film defects, including fine dust, dirt and occasional damage.

On screen: Queen Elizabeth II in full regalia at her coronation

The film cameras which had been pointing at their own TV screen in order to record continuously had each applied their own particular distortions to the original video image. This resulted in big 'jump-cuts' when the film rolls were joined.

The original broadcast did not have this problem so I used a digital effect to warp the image each side of the join to match them as closely as possible and then quickly dissolved between the two reels.

This resulted in a much smoother transition - practically invisible and hopefully achieves the seamless quality of the original broadcast shots.

The final stage was adding the soundtrack. The audio has survived well and you can hear the subtleties of tones, the hush of the Abbey.

The commentary is very gentle, very considered and very regal – it sounds brilliant. I'm pleased with the results – the pictures are sharper, clearer and now much closer to the original broadcast images seen by 20 million viewers back in 1953.

Jonathan Wood is a colourist for The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II begins at 10.10 am on Sunday, 2 June on BBC Parliament.

More on The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:
About The BBC blog: How the BBC documented the Queen's Coronation coverage 60 years ago
BBC News: How the Coronation kick-started the love of television
BBC News: In pictures: Queen's Coronation 1953

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


More Posts