Audio restoration is a time consuming process, regardless of the quality of the source material. When you have something in the region of thirty hours of material to transfer from one format to another - before you can even think of commencing clean-up work - then it is very time consuming! This is, of course, exactly the situation we faced with The Avengers.

John Wright supplied nine ¼" reels, each one containing as many as 28 episodes. So, Rule One of the restoration of The Avengers was that it was never going to happen overnight. Amusingly, this wasn't the first time we'd gone through this process with the series - we had already made remasters from cassette tapes that we were loaned in 2000. Those recordings were many generations down from the reel-to-reel tapes that providence and John's generosity had laid at our door, and indeed we soon realised that John's tapes were the original source of those cassettes.  However, when comparing the sound quality of John's recordings to our dubs of the cassettes, it was like a curtain was removed and suddenly the actors were in the room with us. For this reason, we were keen to start afresh.

Initial Transfer to Digital

In mid-May 2002, using a borrowed Revox A77 - a ¼" recorder capable of replaying all four tracks of each tape independently - we commenced the process of transferring to a compact disc recorder. While now we would import direct to computer, in 2002 our setup was not sufficiently powerful to perform such a task without falling down on the job. At this stage, only minimal graphic equalisation was applied: the signal was otherwise untreated on its initial journey from analogue to digital. The amount of taped material necessitated the burning of in excess of thirty CDR discs at this early stage.

As the tapes were replayed, we began to realise that some had survived the 30 years since recording extremely well. Others had fared less impressively. This listing gives our rough evaluation for each serial:

  • Serials in Excellent Quality
    A Deadly Gift
    The Super Secret Cypher Snatch
    Dial A Deadly Number
    The Fantasy Game
    The Quick-Quick-Slow Death
    Love All
    The Joker
    Train of Events
    Get-A-Way!
    The Morning After
    Straight from the Shoulder
    Stop Me If You've Heard This
    From Venus With Love
    Too Many Olés
    A Case of Interrogation

     

  • Serials in Poor or Mixed Quality
    Who Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?
    (quite muffled)
    All Done By Mirrors
    (1-3 quite muffled, 4-7 excellent)
    A Grave Charge
    (1-3, 5 excellent, 4,6 quite muffled)
    Not To Be Sneezed At
    (quite muffled)

All serials would require restoration work. Each of those marked "excellent" required noise reduction and minor graphic equalisation, plus a detailed pass for clicks and pops. The others clearly needed additional work.

Train of Events presented a particular problem during its transfer... The serial was recorded on a very thin 2400' tape and we soon discovered that it had snapped at some point in the past. Three and a half minutes into the fourth episode, our hearts leapt into our mouths. A couple of splices went through the tape path (no material missing, so clearly these were pre-Avengers) and we then noticed that a third had come apart and attached itself to the piece of tape it was in contact with. Two sections of tape were pulled through the capstans and somehow attached themselves to the other reel. Not sure what to do - and aware that we might get just the one chance to dub this tape - we let it play to the end, and Episodes 5 and 6 were dubbed without further incident.

We then turned the tape over and played it through to the trouble spot, fearing that fast forwarding or rewinding might cause further damage. When parked at the troublesome break, we took the reels off the player and spliced the two ends back together. Somehow, we were able to do this without losing any material whatsoever. Phew! All that was left was to take the tape back four minutes to the start of the episode, whereupon we were able to dub it without problems - not even a glitch at the splice point. Lady Luck was on our side after all, it seemed.

All nineteen recovered serials were dubbed successfully from John Wright's ¼" tapes, the transfer process being completed on Saturday 1st June 2002.

Restoration and Preservation

Once this process was completed, the recordings were captured as computer files, a serial at a time. Noise reduction and graphic equalisation was be applied using the Cool Edit Pro program. Two versions were then burned to final CDR masters - one with original commercials intact, one without - with the CD quality WAV files also saved to disc. Restored recordings were then placed with the SABC Radio Sound Archive.

by Alan Hayes

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