The Colour Recovery Chasm

I got this email from Richard Russell a few months ago. It is reproduced here with permission. What is definite is that, for a time the Colour Recovery Working Group Wiki had all of Richard Russell's work removed, though it was reinstated a short time later. Despite what this short programme says, created to publicise the restored Dad's Army episode "Room at the Bottom", the software was created by Richard Russell, and James Insell, whose name is prominent, had only an advisory role. The software has since been used to restore the Comedy Playhouse pilot of "Are You Being Served?" and many episodes of "Doctor Who." At any rate, James Insell cannot really lay the claim to have invented the idea, as I was informed in the summer of 1992 by a BBC Engineer that the black and white film contained colour information but that it was too difficult to extract it; this was 16 years before the Dad's Army episode was restored.
The wiki is a poorer place for the lack of discussion of color recovery, as it now just contains details of geometric correction of images, that is, if the webpage is updated at all. Richard Russell's own wiki is here - Paul Lee

> Please excuse this intrusion into your mailbox. I have an
> interest in the colour recovery process and was startled to
> learn of a so-called "schism" in the ranks.

Out of interest, where did you read that? I don't think I've seen the word 'schism' used in this context, and I don't really think it's very appropriate because of the implication that there are two opposing 'factions'. In fact, the difference of opinion (such as it is) seems to be between just one individual and everybody else!

> If you don't mind me asking, what has happened to cause such
> a fall-out?

In brief, I decided at the beginning of this year that I no longer wanted to be a member of the Colour Recovery Working Group. That decision came about because I was uncomfortable with the role that James Insell wanted the group to have, of being a 'gatekeeper' for access to Colour Recovery technology. His stated intention was that anybody wanting to use the technology would need to submit their plans to the group for approval.

My concerns about that were twofold. Firstly the group was not set up with that function in mind; its members were never asked whether they wished to perform that role and no processes were in place to make it possible (on querying that, James admitted to me that in practice *he* would make the decisions 'on behalf of' the group). Secondly, I considered it would be unreasonable to expect somebody from (say) a commercial broadcaster to have to submit their plans for using Colour Recovery to a group run by James Insell, given that he is a BBC employee and wouldn't be perceived as being independent.

So I asked to leave the group, and James duly deleted me from the list of members and denied me access to the group's Wiki. That should have been that: the group is purely informal (and stated to be so on its home page); it has no affiliation with the BBC and no legal status of any kind. My departure should have had no impact on the continued development or availability of Colour Recovery technology.

However, this is where there was an entirely unexpected turn of events. James reacted to my departure from the group very negatively. He seemed to feel that as an 'outsider' I could no longer be trusted to have access to the BBC-copyright source material that he had licensed to me, and therefore revoked those licences. That left me with a technology which, to all intents and purposes, I could no longer develop because I had been denied access to the source material needed to make comparative measurements of any modifications or improvements.

And that's where we stand today. The technology I developed is still the only practical means of carrying out Colour Recovery from black-and-white telerecordings, and there is little evidence that any alternative technologies are likely to be developed in the near future. It remains available for use by anybody who may wish to, either by me carrying out the work myself (which, to date, I have always done for free) or by being licensed to a third party. I am inhibited from developing it further by the actions taken by James, but to be honest I have no ideas for any significant improvements.

I know that 2|Entertain and those involved in the potential use of Colour Recovery technology for the production of Doctor Who DVDs don't agree with James's position, and they have told me they will be happy to continue to use my services. It's possible that some other potential applications of CR to the BBC's archive material won't now take place, but it may be that financial constraints would have prevented that anyway

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