Remastering Fawlty Towers
BBC Studios and Post Production remastered and restored all twelve episode of Fawlty Towers, for a special anniversary DVD edition released by 2entertain, which sees the pictures at their best quality yet.
Widely regarded as one of the UK’s all time favourite sitcoms, the last DVD box set was made in 2001. However, advances in decoding and noise reduction technology combined with BBC Studios and Post Production craft skills, have enabled the picture quality to be greatly enhanced for the new version.
The original episodes were recorded on colour two inch Quad tape and were then transferred across to composite digital D3 in the 1990s when the BBC consolidated its archive.
The D3 tapes preserved the PAL composite signal extremely well and since 2001, the BBC Research and Development team has developed a Transform PAL Decoder, which produces the best possible component signal from these archive recordings. This provides pictures for subsequent grading and noise reduction with virtually no cross-colour. Cross Colour is where you get fine luminance detail around the chroma subcarrier frequency off 4.43Mhz, so that things like wallpaper patterns or pin-striped suits suddenly take on a rainbow effect of magenta and green flashing colours. This can be an issue with some decoders, however, thanks to BBC R&Ds Transform PAL Decoder technology, small details in sets and costumes which previously would have been lost – for example, the 1970s wall paper and the pattern of the cloth on the tweed jacket which Basil wears in the early episodes, can now be seen clearly and cleanly.
In addition, the BBC Studios and Post Production Telecine team was able to locate and access a few more film insert rolls from the original recordings, which were re-transferred. Despite the majority being the original TX prints, which have now faded, it was possible to produce a far improved picture with better detail, colour and contrast. Generally the film frame was scanned to be less zoomed-in than the old transfer helping slightly with the grain side of things but also giving more image area, for example extra details around the sides.
The new film inserts available included the opening sequence based around the Fawlty Towers hotel and sign, with the series title and credits. The captions were electronically keyed onto the background film live via the studio vision mixer during the recording of the episode and the source of the key was from one of the cameras looking at a design of white lettering on black card. Due to the difficulty of having a suitably authentic caption source to use, these opening backgrounds have never been re-transferred before. However, Colourist Jonathan Wood went the extra mile with the new version to rebuild and replace the title sequence.
He took a frame grab of the original composite image (caption plus background) and using a paint program, he carefully replaced the background area around the caption with black, to leave the original lettering on its own. This provided a source to re-key the captions over the new telecine transfer, ensuring that the style of black edging and the timing, in terms of fading up and down, perfectly matched with the original. This painstaking work ensured that a much more crisp, stable and colourful image to be achieved.
Jonathan says: “The challenge was to improve the picture quality of the titles recorded over 30 years ago, whilst ensuring that they remained authentic and felt real. Fawlty Towers is loved and cherished all over the world and the audience would certainly notice if they looked artificial in any way.”
Lesley Johnson, Head of Production, 2 entertain says; “We are very pleased with the result. The crisp detail of the restored video together with the additional colour revealed through the film inserts, has reinvigorated this much loved classic series.”
The new DVD is expected to be released on 19 October 2009 and will contain commentary by John Cleese on every episode, as well as remastered video and audio.