Morecambe and Wise – That Riviera Touch (restored)

4 March 2024

Towards the end of last year we received word that ITVX wanted a restored version of the Morecambe and Wise feature film That Riviera Touch to go on the platform. The existing version, a standard definition telecine transfer, was looking a little long in the tooth. It was time to dig into the ITV Content Library and find the best assets to remaster in order to bring the beloved comedy duo into High Definition (and beyond) for the first time. 

Scanning, restoring, colour grading and quality checking a film from an original negative is a lengthy and time consuming process, but the request also came with a challenge; could we turn this project around in time to get Eric and Ernie streaming on ITVX before Christmas?

Let’s meet some of the team responsible for each stage of the restoration process:

Sarah Harrison and Ewan Wilkes, Film Technicians

“We’re both quite young, so we weren’t too familiar with Morecambe and Wise, but when I told my Mum what we were scanning she was like ‘no way!’

In the archive we held a few different assets for this film; a combined print, an interneg, and an interpositive. We scanned a sample of each source to evaluate and ended up going with the interpositive, which was in the best condition and closest to the camera negative.

The film has a lot of rear projection and optical effects during the chase sequences, and they shot on a lot of different formats and used some stock footage, which led to the luminance jumping all over the place. We definitely struggled at times to find a happy medium when setting our RGB levels.”

Sam Gilboy, Restoration Artist

“With each restoration project there are new challenges to overcome. ‘That Riviera Touch’ being no exception to this. Despite our delivered version on ITVX being HD, this was actually scanned and restored in 4K. This very quickly became a lesson in organisation; the need for optimising storage space in order to work efficiently with the hugely detailed images from the Blackmagic Cintel scanner.

A problem inherent in the use of Phoenix – our restoration software, is the automated removal of objects mistaken for imperfections on the film. Broadly speaking, Phoenix is looking for things that might be there in one frame, and not there in the next. This allows for the quick identification and removal of dust and scratches. 

Enter our protagonists – Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, the excitable slapstick duo with their fast comedic movement, signature miming and Morecambe’s repetitive slapping of Ernie’s rosy cheeks. All extremely charming, and in terms of restoration – a bit of an obstacle! These fast movements lead to parts of the image being incorrectly identified as dust or scratches. Removing these false positives by painting the removed sections of image back into the film is a meticulous task that takes up a large portion of the work involved.

Another less common but equally meticulous task was the manual fixing of physical tears in the film that had been taped back together. Thanks to the abilities of Phoenix, giving us the means to borrow sections of different frames in the same shot, I was able to puzzle the image back together in two instances. 

The work involved took an entire day to complete for each shot. It’s odd to have nothing to show for the end result, as nobody (hopefully!) will know the work that went into fixing just those two frames in the film. However, the undisturbed enjoyment of the viewer is always the intended result with restoration, which I believe we achieved just in time for Christmas.”

Silas Dominey, Colourist

“One of the early difficulties I had was getting my head around the contrast between the rich tones available in the new scan vs the (frankly slightly dull) colours in the old telecine transfer. In particular the shadows were extremely desaturated. Suddenly we could see that a lot of characters were wearing navy blue suits when previously they looked completely grey or black. 

This was the first project I’ve worked on using DaVinci Resolve, and I found node-based grading to be a useful and intuitive workflow. Some of the new tools they’ve introduced, such as the Colour Warper, were particularly useful for mitigating the issues in rear-projection shots where there is a big difference between the studio lit subject and the projected background plate.

I think I developed a bit of an appreciation for Morecambe and Wise during the grading process. Yes, it’s a product of its time, but the longer I spent on the project, the more I enjoyed the silly little gags and physical comedy. I also respect the artistry that goes into any film production. You can see that the cinematography is paying tribute to films like To Catch a Thief in some sequences.

I found it quite funny that Eric and Ernie clearly had been sunbathing for several weeks before the production started. They’re supposed to be fresh off the plane from cloudy England but they both have these rich, deep suntans. Apparently nobody stopped them from enjoying the benefits of filming in the French Riviera.”

Nathaniel Cosgrove, Content In Senior

“Our department will handle the quality control for thousands of files that go to broadcast every year. Everything gets put through our automated QC process, which will check for things like black frames, dead pixels, illegal gamut colours, crushed shadows, and ensure that the audio meets European broadcasting standards. 

For a restoration that has come from physical media, it would receive the same treatment as any other file, but we also sit down and do an eyeball QC in our dedicated suite. We’ll watch the film in multiple passes on an industry standard production monitor via the Iris playback system, with hardware vector scopes and Tektronix error logging. Even if you blink and miss something, the error reporting will pick it up.

We try to keep in mind that the film has come from physical media, it might have certain imperfections. We’ll keep an eye out for things like dust, hair and scratches that you wouldn’t find with digital. We also take extra care with restorations because we’re aware that the physical media is unavoidably degrading all the time. We want to get the highest quality master now so that we don’t need to rescan it in 20 or 30 years time.”

Craig Morris, Managing Editor, ITVX

“One of the things we’re really passionate about at ITVX is future-proofing important content for future generations – especially when we have the opportunity to bring back a beloved classic and give it a whole new look.

We’re always interested in finding ways of presenting archive content in fresh ways to audiences, and if it features well-loved entertainers like Morecambe & Wise – even better!

We also realised that as Morecambe & Wise’s work was predominantly TV studio content on tape, it’s impossible to truly remaster it to HD quality, so this gave us a very rare opportunity: to show audiences Eric & Ernie as never seen before – in crystal clear HD!”

Thanks to a great team effort, the newly remastered version of That Riviera Touch went live on the 18th of December, and is available to watch now on ITVX.