The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II: Restoring an era

Friday 31 May 2013, 16:51

Jonathan Wood Jonathan Wood Colourist

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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 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 of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and H.R.H. the Princess Margaret 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.

Coronation of H.M.Queen Elizabeth II 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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Hope this important restoration will become available on dvd !

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    This is ground breaking work. Well done to the BBC. Very important restoration. Hope it will soon be available on DVD!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Great stuff.
    Will we be able to see this in HD 1920 x 1080 as BBC Parliament is only 720 x 576.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Re 4 - what exactly would be the point, as the original material is 405 line system A. The fact that it's on 35mm film is irrelevant.

    Out of professional interest Jonathan: is it suppressed, or partially stored, field material?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    tqv- Presumably the point is that even 405-line material would nevertheless look sharper in HD than in Standard Def ?? I'm no expert, but Jonathan Wood says he has carefully adjusted and graded every shot - and presumably that aspect of the image would be seen at its best in HD ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Re 5: I would guess they used Mechau film recorders similar to what was used for "The Quatermass Experiment" which was recorded later that same year - you can barely see the line structure so wouldn't have thought it was recorded using a suppressed field system. The coronation footage looks far superior though to the surviving Quatermass footage.

    Jonathan: Just watching it now and it looks great - well done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    6 - Hardly, it'll just look bigger. The resolution is governed , in this case, by the source material. |Adjusting and grading does not improve resolution, In all honesty grading monochrome material isn't exactly, with great respect to the estimable Mr Wood, rocket surgery. If it's been through wildfire then it will be exceptionally clean, and undoubtedly better than the original transmission, but please remember that 405 was roughly on a par with VHS, and you can't recover what was never there to begin with.

    7 - if it was Mechaus, I'd be surprised .... this page

    suggests "suppressed frame", which would clearly mean "suppressed field", as suppressed frame would mean 12.5 fps, which you would most definitely have noticed :)

    I may have to have a look on iPlayer later

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    PLEASE bring this important recording out on DVD. Here in Italy we couldn't watch any of it today (apart from brief highlights currently on the News site.) It looks wonderful from every point of view !

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Last year, having spent a month restoring the original audio recording of the radio broadcast of the Coronation Service, I can fully appreciate the extraordinary amount of work undertaken by all of those responsible for the restoration of this unique, historical, film recording.

    Having watched the entire programme from start to finish on BBC Parliament, I can say that it has been a triumph!

    Captivating from start to finish!

    It was wonderful to see Sylvia Peters introduce the programme as she did precisely 60 years ago to the minute.

    To all concerned...well done...and thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The local cable channel in my part of Canada has been showing the entire restored programme today (June 2). A great achievement! I remember watching it 60 years ago at age 17 and it has been an affecting reminder of the ways in which the UK has changed. One of the most noticeable changes has been in the way people speak. However, the weather (showery) has not changed much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This was am amazing accomplishment. I watched the restoration in Canada yesterday. Picture and sound were wonderful, and I had a real sense of being present for this historic and ground-breaking media event. I am sure an abridged commercial DVD would be welcomed by many. Congratulations to all involved in the restoration process and to the BBC for making it available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Can't help thinking this technology and effort could be put to better use. Does anyone really care about this medieval event anymore? The fact it's on the Parliament channel suggests there is no great interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Ref the above comment - putting this unique recording on the BBC Parliament channel meant that it could be shown in full and without interrupting the mainstream BBC channel schedules.

    Equally, because of its 'constitutional significance' this channel was the obvious choice.

    Again, my congratulations to all those concerned in restoring (and preserving for future generations to enjoy) this unique historical visual recording of a complete Coronation - the first to be actually witnessed by a monarch's people in 1000 years!

    In passing, if the above did not like the programme....then why not change channel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I really enjoyed the coverage of the restored telerecording. At age 11 I was lucky enough to watch the original BBC transmission.

    Am I right in thinking on Sunday's coverage there were one ot two missed faults. For example, we saw one reel changing over.

    Excellent work BBC.

    Tony Bell

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    Comment number 16.

    I join in the suggestion of a DVD of this important material - but don't cut it too much! It is fascinating for coverage of the preparations, crowds, etc. and location filming in 1953 showing much that is now changed, not just the formal bits. Perhaps separate DVDs, packaged together, corresponding to the programme divisions as scheduled on BBC Parliament on Sunday, can be issued to 'spread the load' and make access to different sections easier. Also the David Dimbleby 'People's Coronation' programme, excellently done. Do it while the interest is high! Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I'm very pleased that most people have liked the results of the restoration work. It was a team effort and assisting with the digital clean-up were colleagues Amanda Whitby and Harvey Williams. I tuned in to BBC Parliament to watch the start of the re-broadcasting of the footage and found the new introduction from Sylvia Peters very moving and felt humbled when she used the phrase "beautifully restored". She looked amazing and when it approached the time for her to link back to herself some 60 years earlier I felt a lump in my throat.

    As far as we know there are no current plans to release the BBC coverage on DVD.

    tqv #5 - you asked about the type of image captured in the film recording, so to answer that it pre-dated the suppressed field technique, utilising modified Mechau projectors and therefore captured both of the video fields.

    Tony #15 - with regard to "we saw one reel changing over" I can only imagine it was the section towards the end of the broadcast where they originally stopped recording due to a transmission break. On the film reels there is a gap that includes the stopping and starting of the film recorders which was left "as is" for the library copy. Although I didn't see that section on Sunday myself, I imagine that may have been left as original rather than re-edited.

    Thank you for your comments.


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