THE M & E OF THE WORLD
INTERVIEW WITH EDDIE MONTAGUE
By Paul Hayes
As the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who approached in November 2013, many and various parts of the BBC took part in the celebrations – including the BBC Local Radio network.
In my job as a producer at BBC Radio Norfolk, I was placed in charge of our section of the commemorations, producing a series of features in which people who live in Norfolk told the stories of their involvement with or connection to the programme.
On the Sunday after the anniversary, we broadcast a special compilation of these features, called "Norfolk’s Doctor Who Stories".
While this was being transmitted, the station received a phone call from Eddie Montague, a former BBC film editor now living at Stalham in Norfolk. He told a colleague of mine that he had been involved in preparing Doctor Who episodes for overseas sale in the 1960s.
While it was too late to include Eddie in any anniversary features, when I spoke to him a few days afterwards he was only too happy to record an interview telling the story of his brief involvement with aiding Doctor Who on its journey into foreign languages…
ATV to BBC
Eddie Montague: “I did my national service, came out in 1958 and worked for ABC television, and then Associated-Rediffusion, and ATV. At ATV I was an assistant editor on The Strange World of Gurney Slade with Anthony Newley (). Then I did a couple of jobs in Wardour Street, and applied for a job at the BBC in 1962 as an assistant film editor, and worked with David Attenborough on the Adventure series as an assistant.
"I carried on doing that and I worked on Z-Cars, and I made up to film editor in 1964. This was at Ealing Studios initially, but after I made editor I moved to White City and the BBC Enterprises building in Kensington House, Shepherd’s Bush."
1966: Doctor Who
"This job with Doctor Who was a short-term temporary affair, because at the BBC you never knew what you were going to work on next. The sheets would come round and say "you’re working next week on documentaries…"
"I edited the first Horizon that went out ["The World of Buckminster Fuller" , which aired on 2 May 1964], then I edited Whicker’s World [which ran on the BBC from 1958 to 1968], the Paris fashions, and then I was sent off to do this one stint on the series of Doctor Who, doing the music and effects tracks [M&E] for overseas sales, then moved on to sport and worked on the 1966 World Cup. [] So quite diverse really!
"This was just a one-off, they needed somebody to do this job for Enterprises. My name was on the list that following week so off I went for about five or six weeks and did it, and then off to something else.
"This was with William Hartnell, black-and-white. The only episode I can remember he was reduced in size and they were sort of walking through grass in a garden and the grass was up to their heads. That’s one of the ones where I did the M&E tracks, it was that series. ([This would be Planet of Giants [])
"I never did M&Es for Patrick Troughton, but that doesn't mean they were never made. [] At that time the department responsible for all these home and overseas sales was BBC Enterprises. (My wife, Jill, was a film librarian working closely with them at that time.)
"I think the reason for no M&E tracks [were made for stories other than the ones he worked on] was because nobody thought that Doctor Who was that important; [it was] just another children's programme. I think [one] reason was that when they were recorded in the studio, the music and background effects, ambiance, etc, were played in from the sound gallery and recorded together with the dialogue and spot effects. Just one big "married print".
"The only other series I worked on at that period was one called Mogul, about oil companies [1965-1972], I remember doing some M&E tracks for that, and another one called I Spy or something [], all in black-and-white around that same era. And I remember the two or three months I was on Enterprises, or seconded to them, I did M&Es for those other two."
Creating the Music / Effects (M&E) Tracks
"I’d get the episode and view it and then I would go through it on a synchroniser and zero the footage. Back in 1964/5 we had a viewing machine in the cutting rooms called an Acmade. We used to joke that it sounded like a German domestic. Steenbecks were around but rather large and the cutting rooms rather tiny.
"For editing or sound laying I always used a four-way synchroniser and a "mute head", a pedestal affair operated by a foot lever that ran only picture, so you could look at two takes at once - one on the sync and one on the mute head, so I’d make a note from the original track of every music bridge and sting, where it went from and to on the footage counter, and how long it was in seconds, and make a note of every spot effect like door slams, gunshots, things that had to be laid in-sync. And I’d go through and make up a little chart, work out what spot effects I needed, go to the gramophone library, get those effects, transfer them to 16mm magnetic tape.
"I’d already been to Boosey & Hawkes in Wardour Street and got a selection of non-copyright music, of different lengths, and I had them all transferred and laid out. I’d slowly go through the whole episode and wherever there was a piece of radiophonic music, a bridge or a sting say 10, 15 seconds long, I’d just go along until I saw “Ah, that one’s 10 seconds,” and lay that one in at exactly the same point as the original music was from the BBC.
"I didn’t know if I could use the original music. I’m sure if I had been able to, they would have told me, “go there and you can get those tracks.” I was told to get non-copyright tracks. []
"So that would lay down all the music. Spot effects, again, I would lay another track with effects that had to be in sync. Everything else – ambience, background noises, footsteps… all these were added at the end of the week. I had one week to do each episode, and on a Friday we had a dubbing theatre in St John’s Wood ([]), and we would take the tracks with us, and the dubbing mixer would get it all set up.
"Then, if there was any outdoor ambience or atmosphere wanted which wasn’t specific like storms or thunder or things like that, he would just hang an open microphone on the fire escape outside the building, and just pick up the noise around St John’s Wood, and have that microphone feed that sound in as background ambient sound. For footsteps, we had large trays in the dubbing theatre, and some were filled with sand, a bit of shingle… One was filled with lots of screwed-up 16mm film, and if you walk through it and it’s done properly it sounds as if you’re walking through grass or reeds. And we would just stand there, look at the screen and try and walk in-sync with the people on the screen. And the dubbing mixer would play about with it and put it all together.
"So by the end of the day on the Friday, the end of the week, we would end up with a complete music and effects track, ready so that any foreign company that would buy it, all they had to do was add their own dialogue. Everything was complete."
"The language dub would usually be taken on by the overseas broadcaster, they would add it themselves with their own actors in their own languages. I don’t think it was done by Enterprises – all right, the BBC had the ability to do that, but the complexity of laying it in in-sync, and trying to get the dialogue to match the lip movements with a foreign language, is quite an art." [].)
"In fact, I worked – before I joined the BBC – for a company called De Lane Lea (see Official Website), and that is exactly what they did, they voiced English programmes into foreign languages, and foreign programmes into English. They had a system, a technique – which was quite amazing – of writing the dialogue down on a strip of clear 35mm film, transmitting it horizontally at the bottom of the screen, so the words went along the bottom of the screen, like a subtitle, and there was a bar. And as the word hit that bar, the actor would say it, and it was already in-sync with the lips on the screen because that had been prepared. And they could do quite a lot in a day, just by actors reading and acting and just saying the word as it hit that bar as it was going along, and it would be in-sync. It was an amazing thing, so that was quite a sophisticated method."
The fruits of Eddie's labours back in 1966 can be heard on the alternative language audio tracks of The Aztecs, Planet of Giants and The Web Planet DVDs. The replacement music cues and stings can be heard – and are very noticeably different from the original music cues and sound effects.
- ^ That Eddie moved onto the 1966 World Cup after his stint at Enterprises means his work on the M&E tracks would have been completed prior to July of that year (the 1966 World Cup was held from 11 to 30 July). That means the handful of early William Hartnell stories would have had their M&E tracks commissioned and completed probably during the second quarter of that year. BBC sales documentation records that the first sale of Doctor Who to a country that would have benefited from the newly-completed M&E tracks was to Thailand, who aired the series from August 1966. Venezuela was the first with the Spanish dubs, airing from February 1967, and Tunisia, with Arabic dubs from April 1967.
- ^ a b "M/E. TRACK AVAILABLE" is marked only on the sales documentation for serials from the first two seasons, with the exception of the historicals Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, The Romans, The Crusade and The Time Meddler. There is no indication that such tracks were created for any subsequent seasons.
- ^ Most likely The Spies, which is named in the 1967 BBC Handbook.
- ^ "The surviving Arabic print of The Aztecs part four features music cues said to be similar to those from the 1964 French television series "The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe".
- ^ Very likely to be at the Radiophonics Workshop building on Delaware Road.
- ^ The actual dubbing sessions were undertaken in Mexico for the Spanish soundtracks, and Beirut, Lebanon for the Arabic dubs.
With grateful thanks to Paul Hayes and Eddie Montague for allowing BroaDWcast to publish this interview
Interview and text copyright © Paul Hayes and Jon Preddle (2013/2014)
Photos © Eddie Montague and used with permission
Duplication of this interview, text, photographs and web-page is not permitted without joint written consent of the original authors and web-site holders.