Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ original satirical historical sketch, The Complete And Utter History Of Britain (1969), has been unearthed in the ITV archives, despite previous public consensus believing only the first two episodes survived. The episodes had been mis-catalogued for 54 years, but have now been restored for the world to watch again.
Before Monty Python had us singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, they were still doing satirical historical sketches, but slightly further afield than the Middle East where Life of Brian (1979) is set.
The six episode spoof documentary provided a humorous mockumentary on Britain’s history. This comedy show led to the creation of the ensemble we would recognise today, with Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974) releasing merely 8 months after the airing of Palin and Jones’ show.
ITV told British Comedy Guide: ‘It was found by the ITV Archive team as part of a huge project to fully identify every archive asset ITV holds…through the identification programme we were able to make this remarkable find.
ITV turned to R3store for help, relying on their expert advice and service to provide only the best care to bring back this important piece of history to the public.
ITV told Filmworkz: ‘ITV archives chose R3store to work on this amazing archive find, who took the 16mm telerecordings and breathed new life into them making the show a real treat for an army of fans.
‘These telerecodings suffered from image stabilisation, colour saturation and audio issues, R3store did sterling work by carefully fixing these problems ensuring that the series was available on our streaming platform ITVX.’
Stéphanie Mourey and Richard Watson, part of the team at R3store, told us that the 16mm film was in good condition physically for its age but as it was a tele-recording there were lots of video dropouts printed on the film, some of which were very bad. Typical problems associated with that medium include drop outs ranging from small glitches to completely destroyed frames in places.
In order to fix this, Mourey went through the film physically on the bench to check the film condition and repair any tears in the film, splices that needed to be redone or perforations that needed repair. Before it is scanned on the Scanity, it’s cleaned on the ultrasonic cleaner.
Then Richard and Stephanie started doing automated passes followed by ‘hours and hours’ of manual passes, with the first pass consisting of DVO Alias, DVO Brick Wall, DVO Clarity and DVO Sharpen to remove any video artefacts. Later passes used DVO Steady and DVO Flicker, DVO Dry Clean, DVO Frame, DVO Dust and DVO Fix. For the frames that are badly destroyed, the team works specifically on them to fix them.
The most challenging aspect of this restoration, Mourey tells us, was that ‘some sections were full of drop outs on every single frame so it was very complicated to get a clean picture’. Watson concurs, saying that the original broadcast tape had some badly damaged and destroyed frames creating drop outs. ITV were conscious of this and told the team to do the best they could, said Watson.
Mourey explains that several sections on Episode 4 were so badly damaged, scratched or had drop outs on every single frame, making the digital restoration really challenging. Normally, they could use part of the picture before or after to restore the damaged frame but when all the frames are bad, you have to be creative, taking part of the picture from the same frame for recreating titles for example.
‘I worked on one particular section that was completely damaged, with drop outs, dirt, video artefacts all over the picture and on every single frame so it was a real challenge to restore. After hours and hours of work and using DVO Dry Clean and DVO Dust and Fix over and over, I managed to get the frames cleaned and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my colleagues who encouraged me throughout by telling me I was doing a great job’. Watson separately tells us that she did ‘an amazing job – it was a labour of love to say it mildly’.
Watson has been using Phoenix for around 15 years and ‘finds this overall the best system I’ve used by some margin… I am continually finding ways to use the tools on different and sometimes complex issues’.
Mourey also praises Phoenix as ‘it’s easy to use and the basics are easy to understand. At the same time, you’ve got the possibility with Phoenix to go deeper and to adjust your settings in a more detailed way. Phoenix is good for both novice or expert restorer’.
She enjoys ‘getting a film back in a condition as good as it was when it was first released, comparing the before and after of a project I’ve spent hours and seeing how much my work has improved the film and made it more enjoyable for people to watch. As a restoration artist, you are still an artist, you create a new frame like a painting restorer’.
And what draws Watson to restoration? ‘Every job is different, every day is as well… I honestly get as much satisfaction from restoring someone’s old 8mm home footage as I do restoring an Oscar winning film!’
All six half-hour shows of The Complete And Utter History Of Britain are available to watch now via ITVX Premium.