BBC Parliament to broadcast a remastered version of Sir Winston Churchill's State Funeral - 50 years on

Date: 27.01.2015     Last updated: 09.03.2015 at 09.44
Category: Digital; Archive; TV
How BBC Archives, BBC Parliament and BBC Studios & Post Production collaborated to deliver a complete version of historic footage for the rebroadcast of The State Funeral of Winston Churchill.

Back in June, 2014, as part of the commemorations around the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death, BBC Parliament decided to re-broadcast the original black & white film of The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill

BBC Archives’ was approached to assist with the re-mastering of the programme and during this process discovered that a section from the funeral footage, reportedly featuring two trumpeters inside St Paul’s Cathedral, playing The Last Post followed by Reveille, was missing from a transfer that had been made from the print of the original film many years ago. 

The missing section, of approximately 3 minutes and 35 seconds, was found to be safely preserved on the original film. Up until the 1980’s it was relatively common, although not recommended, for users of the Archive to physically cut sections out of the film to use in their programmes when they had urgent deadlines, such as in current affairs. We think this may have occurred with the print of the funeral which was later transferred to tape and added to the archive holdings. 

BBC Archives wanted to re-master the archive footage and make the complete recoding of this historic event accessible and available. Work began to bring a third partner on-board to undertake the transfer and restoration of the film. 

Having already completed the restoration of the Coronation film footage for the Golden Jubilee of 2012, BBC Studios & Post Production with their specific experience and technical expertise were an obvious choice to join the team. 

In total, 14 reels of black & white 35mm film negatives with mag tracks were retrieved from specialist film vaults at the BBC Archive Centre in west London, where they are stored at 5° C and 30% humidity, and then delivered to BBC Studios & Post Production for work to begin. 

The film negatives themselves were in fairly good condition, but inevitably there was some dirt and scratches. The sound was also of relatively decent quality, however due to the nature of how it was recorded there was a high pitched whistle through much of the material.   

The film was cleaned and then transferred to HDCAM SR tapes using Spirit telecines. Due to the recording being split over 14 reels (over 4 hours in duration) and the difficult nature of the content, ‘joining’ the film invisibly to give a seamless result was challenging for the transfer team. 

Also, the individual audio and picture reels did not match in terms of sync and therefore required re-syncing on every reel changeover. In addition, issues with the monitor, that the film camera was recording, resulted in momentary loss of picture plus twitches and small movements in the image. 

BBC Studios & Post production carried out the noise reduction and graded the pictures during the transfer process. Nucoda Film Master was then used to tweak the picture shape, achieved by warping and stretching the image in order to match the different film reels. 

Following this, the footage was then taken into the ‘dustbuster’ stage for frame by frame blemish removal and to remove monitor twitches. Finally, a quality assessment was carried out by BBC Studios and Post Production before playout to a modern HD tape format that was then supplied to BBC Archives as the completed transfer.  

Back at BBC Archives, with the help of the Archive’s Music Library Team it was discovered that the missing trumpeters were in fact playing The Calvary Last Post and the Reveille.

Watching the rest of the recording, impeccably narrated by Richard Dimbleby, made for compelling viewing. BBC Studios & Post Production did a very good job of reducing ‘hiss’ from the audio plus the results with cleaning-up debris and damage from the picture, without losing the authenticity of the original recording was also impressive. 

In addition to the historic footage of the funeral procession and service inside St Paul’s Cathedral, the film captures a fascinating view of 1965 London, which viewers will find equally interesting when it is re-broadcast by BBC Parliament on the 30th January 2015, 50 years after the event. 



Sir Winston Churchill's Funeral Cortege, leaving St Paul's Cathedral


After leaving St Paul’s Cathedral the procession travels by car to Tower Pier and then along the River Thames by barge with the famous footage of the dockers who lowered their crane jibs in a salute. 

Following this, the procession resumes by car at Festival Pier where it travels past a building works on the Southbank and Richard Dimbleby comments on the ‘new’ Festival Halls that are under construction before the procession continues to Waterloo Station and on by train.   

The completion of this exciting piece of work has been a result of a great collaboration between BBC Archives, BBC Parliament and BBC Studios & Post Production who have all liaised and worked closely together throughout the process to deliver a complete version of this historic footage. 

James Rowland talks to the Today programme about remastering the broadcast for The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill


James Rowland is a Senior Meda Manager BBC Archives' Digitisation Group

BBC Parliament: Winston Churchill's State Funeral  - 50 years on  Available from 0915 on Friday, 30th January 

See a clip from Winston Churchill's State Funeral plus other archive and anniversaries on the History of the BBC's website

On the 30th January follow @BBCArchive and tweet using #BBCChurchill as BBC Archives' tweets "as live" Winston Churchill's State Funeral.