Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday 21 March 2008

How now brown cow?

One of the incidental benefits of digital TV is the revival of the back catalogues to fill all those extra channels of airtime. Once upon a time "It's a repeat" was a mark of the scheduler's lack of imagination. Now, in amongst the forgettable dross that should never have been shown the first time around, we have the occasional pleasure of re-visiting programmes we once enjoyed (or never got to see).

There's the oddity of old BBC series turning up on ITV3 (the Two Ronnies, Pie in the Sky - the one with Richard Griffiths running a restaurant and doing a bit of police work on the side): but what's particularly struck me recently (which I didn't expect) has been the degree of technical change over the decades.

Recently BBC4 has been re-running a production of Jane Austen's Emma from the early 70s. Something has been troubling me throughout, and I've finally realised what it is: the sound.

The difference in the quality of visual presentation is something I've rather got used to as time has gone on (one only has to look at the difference between the lighting in those days and, say, the way Lark Rise to Candleford has drawn on so many familiar pictures from the period). That includes the startling difference between the visual quality of film and videotape until very recently, though it hasn't been much in evidence in this Emma, as it's entirely studio-bound (we haven't got to the picnic on Box Hill yet).

And that's what made me realise what was striking me as odd - it's studio sound, dead and flat in the pauses. But I also realised I can hear every word: the actors are articulating. It's not just me - these days, actors are gabbling and swallowing their words, or letting them be swamped by the accent or the background noise.

But I'm looking forward to another digital channel pleasure tonight: a new series on Sacred Music.

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