John Hale's credit from the first season
episode "THE LINK-UP"
Recently, we were contacted by Mr John C C Hale, BBC Dubbing Mixer (now retired),
who worked on every episode of Shoestring. He very kindly agreed to provide an
overview of his work on the series. This is reproduced below and is a fascinating insight
into the post production process.
Having been one of the BBC Dubbing Mixers responsible for mixing the detective series
Target, I was requested by the production team for the newly planned detective series
entitled Shoestring. When the first series of about a dozen 55 minute long episodes
was finished, a second was commissioned and I was again selected to perform all the
post production sound mixing for it.
From the dubbing point of view the design of the final sound track for Shoestring
(together with all the preparatory or "pre-mix" stages) was highly innovative. Before
starting mixing the first episode, and roughly at the same time as it was being recorded
on location, the Dubbing Editor (who subsequently produced the many synchronous
soundtracks (with colourful "cue-sheets"!) for me to mix), Jerry Leon, and I had a
meeting at which we explored our combined strategy for the complicated nature of the
soundtrack essential to the viewer's enjoyment of Shoestring. Of particular importance
was the authenticity of the output from Radio West - this output being an almost
continuous link from scene to scene throughout each programme.
We devised a system whereby all the sound which emanated from Radio West, no
matter in which location it was heard, would be layed-up on six separate soundtracks
which alternated with the first three being used for scene A while the second three would
perform a similar function for the next scene B, and so on.
It may surprise readers to know that all the "output" from Radio West, be it speech (e.g.
the voice of Eddie or the DJ), or a jingle or a record being played (these record titles
were usually selected earlier in the cutting room) would come to me "flat" - with no
"equalisation" or "distort" present. So, as well as mixing the components mentioned
above on the three tracks, I fed each composite mix (i.e. the mixed tracks for each
scene) through various forms of "distort chains" which I had set up on my mixing
[The BBC had just acquired a very comprehensive customised Neve dubbing console
without which it would have been virtually impossible to mix Shoestring.]
The "distort chains" I set up, and through which the Radio West "output" was channelled,
ranged from "richer and fuller" sound than real life (used when we were in the Radio
West control room containing monitor loudspeakers), through telephone filters, car
radios (of various sorts depending on how posh the car was!) to a very thin and wispy
sound which was supposed to be emanating from Eddie's headphones while he was in
the Radio West studio - actually created by me feeding the mixed output through a small,
cheap(!), unbaffled loudspeaker suspended in front of, and picked up by, a microphone
some three feet (1 metre) distant.
The rest of the soundtracks provided by the Dubbing Editor for me to mix comprised: 6
for sync speech (i.e. from location) plus post-sync dialogue derived from a previous
session when the actors came to my dubbing theatre to record extra lines or, more
rarely, lines unclear from the location recording; 6 for close-up and mid-range sound
effects (e.g. tyre squeals; telephones ringing; doors opening etc.); 4 for background
sounds (e.g. traffic, bird song or people muttering in the reception of Radio West); and 2
or 3 for the specially composed music links and title music ... which, with the 6 previously
mentioned "Radio West output" tracks, equals about 24 altogether!!
The exact number would vary slightly from episode to episode - and, in addition, my
assistant frequently replaced or augmented sounds supplied by others "spun in" from
non-synchronous sources such as vinyl disks (no CDs in those days!) or quarter-inch
Each episode of Shoestring was allocated three days for dubbing, this being
apportioned as follows: Day 1: Premix dialogue (I paid special attention to the
intelligibility of dialogue using special compression techniques which I developed), then
record post-sync FX; Day 2: Premixes of FX (separately re-recorded and balanced to,
but not mixed with, the dialogue and Day 3: The Final Mix - when all the component
premixes are combined with each other and the background FX and the all-important
specially composed music.
The pre-mix sessions would be attended by the episode Director, the Dubbing Editor
and assistant and possibly the location Recordist. His presence was invaluable (if he
could spare the time away from his next production) so that we could discuss all aspects
of the "sound chain" - from location, through editing to dubbing - which was of benefit to
On the day of the Final Mix (the sound mix I produced for the viewer to hear at home),
just about everyone would cram into the dubbing suite. As well as my dubbing crew of 6
(assistants, projectionists - the picture was on 16 mm film in those days!) - and assistant
recordists (who monitored the output of the magnetic film recorders), there would usually
be: the episode Director; the Producer (Robert Banks Stewart); the Production
Manager; the Musical Director (George Fenton); the Chief Film Editor (Bernard Ashby);
the episode Film (picture) Editor; the Dubbing Editor (Jerry Leon); the Production
Assistant; possibly the Location Recordist and various other assistants.
It takes a lot of people to make a detective drama series - and they all seemed to want
to witness the huge impact the final soundtrack was to have on the film they had all been
working on for weeks previously! The trouble was that so many people crammed into
the dubbing theatre mixer room both changed the acoustics of the listening environment
for me and were not always as disciplined as they should have been about things like
simply keeping quiet!!
Indeed, earlier on (until I became wiser through experience) it was not infrequent for
those present to chip in with well intentioned though inappropriate comments. For
example the Producer often wanted the actors' voices higher in "the mix" while, at the
same time, the Dubbing Editor would want his carefully layed sound FX higher in the mix
and, on top of that, the Musical Director would want "his" music to be louder! I quickly
realised that this was an impossible situation as, if I increased each component, the
result would be just the same mix only LOUDER!!!
Now, in broadcasting engineering terms, we had only 26 decibels of dynamic range
available between the quietest and loudest sounds that we could transmit, so to
increase the overall gain was not an option. The solution? Simply politely to ignore all
requests and mix the sound to the standard of level I knew was right. In my book there
was only one person who I would allow to override my decisions on the balance: the
Director - and he would usually think twice before doing so as he had worked with me
before and knew my standards were high!
Throughout the two series of Shoestring I met many of the actors and actresses
(usually when they were called in to re-voice some of their lines). Almost all were a
pleasure to work with.
Later on, towards the end of Series 2, we heard that a feature film had been proposed (I
was asked to mix it) but, and I may have formed the wrong opinion about this, we got the
impression that Trevor [Eve] was neither keen to do this nor a third series.
Are there any things that, with hindsight, I would like to have changed regarding the
sound? Not really - except that it would have been an even greater challenge - and
improved the enjoyment of the programme - to have mixed the sound in stereo ... but,
alas, stereo had not fully evolved at that time and it would have to wait until my
pioneering efforts of stereo on an episode from Series 2 of Bergerac - the first six
series of which I mixed, together with some episodes (and all the bumper Christmas
editions!) of the remaining three.
The reason for my being unavailable to continue mixing all the Bergeracs? My next
project...all but one of the Agatha Christie's books of Miss Marple with the late Joan
Hickson. All memorable and classic high quality detective drama series ...completely in
a class of their own - and, for me, covering perhaps the best ten years of my life as a
senior BBC Dubbing Mixer.
Our sincere thanks and all good wishes to Mr Hale.
Nick Stewart & Dene Kernohan, 25 May 2003.
Eddie and Erica in "THE LINK-UP"