Adapt catches up with my era!



In mounting a rather complex event around Television Post Production, focusing on two and three machine linear Video Tape editing in the 1980s and the momentous changes brought about with the arrival of Avid and non-linear editing in the early 90s, I have finally been able to capture the work of some of the phenomenally talented and pioneering women in the industry for our Adapt Project.

The events we recreated over the last couple of years around 16mm film for documentary and current affairs, and Outside Broadcasts of the 1960s and 70s, all feature mostly men, as, in this era television was very much a man’s world. There were roles for women but as secretaries and PA’s. We captured something of the incredibly vital work these women did, with 16mm film PA Alex Branson responsible for complex overseas documentary filming, and Outside Broadcast PA Jane Whitmore without whom live sports broadcasts may not have made air. But their work was too often uncelebrated and unrewarded. It took a pretty determined and persistent woman to taken seriously enough to take on some of the jobs men were doing.

Graphic designer Nyree Kavanagh was one such woman.

I have just had the pleasure of re-uniting and filming her with the dream machine of her career, an early Quantel Paintbox (the one we managed to locate was a V series with ramcorder).

Nyree recounts how she was ‘blown away by it’ when she first laid eyes on Paintbox and ‘I just love it, just love it’ she declares.

Nyree reunited with Quantel Paintbox (with mitch Mitchell)

Nyree tells the story of how she was employed as a graphics assistant at the BBC in the late 80’s. Stuck in an assistant role for rather too long ‘along with mostly other women’ she recalls, Nyree had to retort to imaginative measures to get her hands on the it. She snuck into the suite at night once the designers had gone home and taught herself how to use it. ‘I had to put the pen back exactly how I had found it, leaving no trace’. This she did for two whole years but even then she was never given the opportunity to work on Paintbox at the BBC, so moved to MTV. Even here, she was still working on Aston (adding contributor names and end credits etc to programmes) and waiting in the sidelines for the main role. Nyree being Nyree took every opportunity to explore her artists talents on Paintbox every time one was signed off for the day, and her big opening arose in 1993 on a Madonna weekend when Nyree’s work- a bold chalk effect to create a vintage wash (even on Madonnas face) was accepted and broadcast.

Working on Paintbox was like ‘being in a candy shop’ she says. ‘The freedom once on it, was unparalleled by anything else.’ Reunited for the first time in over 20 years, Nyree demonstrates the pressure pad allowing for thin or thick lines painting in of skies or a new colour dress, the art of staring ahead while drawing and not looking at your hand, and ‘Rotoscoping’ among many other of its capabilities whereby mattes and cut outs of any part of the frame can be made and then animated.

There was simply nothing like this piece of pioneering equipment, it changed the world of broadcasting forever. News and current affairs were among the early adopters as the speed at which you could paint out unwanted logos or dustbins or whatever from the frame, and to layer in news titles and names and credits, was invaluable. This was quickly by music and arts who saw the artsy potential of such a machine, and it soon became a mainstay on shows like The Late Show. “I don’t think MTV would have been anything like MTV as we know it without Paintbox’ suggests Nyree., ‘ Music videos and features were all Paintboxed to the hilt’.

Certainly Nyree and Paintbox were a powerful pairing, and as we struggle to peel her away from the one we’ve managed to track down courtesy of collector Mark Nia, he is ‘blown away’ too by what he’s just witnessed his machine do! Of course, it had the magic touch of Nyree as its ‘driver’.

Nyree with Quantel Paintbox owner Mark Nia


Meanwhile we also got to celebrate the work of Editor and Producer, Renee Edwardes with whom I worked in the 90s. She was an esteemed editor then with a striking CV boasting some of the best documentaries to have hit our screens. Renee came from an art college background, and worked in film so was very much used to a non-linear way of working. She also spent many years at the BBC where for 16 years, she edited Panorama. Renee’s breakthrough came quite early in her career, and partly down to the clever PR of Spitfire TV whose ad claimed ‘Spitfire was first with Avid, the best-selling non-linear machine in the world’

And ‘Spitfire has Renee Edwardes who has years of offline editing experience and four months on Avid’

Renee thus became known as one of the most experienced Avid editors in the UK, and even went on to demonstrate and troubleshoot for Avid as it expanded its market and became ‘the’ number one edit machine of the industry – a position it still holds!

Spitfire tv ad about Avid and Renee Edwardes


Once reunited with an Avid with similar interface to the one she first used ( an Avid x-press Pro 2004 v 4.3 – actually the oldest working model we could lay our hands on!), Renee instantly started to digitise the provided footage ( from DVCAM!), mark an in and an out,

‘Left hand on the keyboard, right hand on the mouse it’s all second nature’ she says.

And as she makes a couple of cuts in just seconds not even minutes, she declares’ Avid just made sense’.

What Avid did was free productions and editors from the confines of the one shot after the other linear editing whereby changes to the edit were difficult to make without losing a generation of tape ( ie copying it all off to yet another tape and losing quality). The Avid made a digital copy of your footage, the editor organised that footage into clearly labelled ‘bins’ (old film terminology) and so you could access any shot or any piece of sound and edit any sequence in any order and even re-edit it or change it as many times as you liked!

Renee has edited a huge range of documentaries, current affairs and films throughout her career, and continues to work as a successful editor and producer in the industry.

Renee and Nyree were part of a shoot last month for the Adapt Project. (

It films TV professionals re-united with and re-using the original kit they used to work with in the past from 1960s on). This hands-on history methodology is used to interrogate the history of television and how and why TV programmes were made the away they were in the golden era.

Joining Nyree and Renee on this shoot about Post production in the 80s and 90s were: Editors Rod Longhurst, Ross Archer, Bob Lowery. And Jonathan Braham, Ex editor and Producer, Phil Tweedy, Producers Michael Proudfoot and Gelly Sansford, Visual effects expert Mitch Mitchell ROand Librarian Tina Baxter.

Footage will be available on the Adapt website shortly. A few other photos from the shoot follow.

Editor Ross Archer reunited with a beta 3 machine edit


Post Author:  Producer Amanda Murphy
Senior Teaching Fellow, Media Arts RHUL

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