Last updated : 19th March 2014
DVD and Blu-Ray packaging and associated screenshots reproduced by kind permission of Network.
Over the last twenty years The Professionals has enjoyed a number of release waves on domestic videocassette and DVD across several countries. However the new releases from Network - on Blu-Ray, DVD and downloadable from iTunes - aren't merely a passing of release rights from one company to another. Network has gone far, far beyond that, providing the ultimate in picture quality with current technology, as the screenshots throughout this page clearly demonstrate!...
How are the new versions able to be so superior to all previous releases? As described in the Episode Guide, although series commissioners London Weekend Television made digital copies of all the episodes in the early 1990s, the means and method to do so severely restricted the quality of the end result. Primarily age-related decay and general wear-and-tear of the "source" film prints meant significant loss of colour richness, light-and-shade and detail...
Additionally the then-new copying equipment had teething troubles which introduced further problems, notably colour "bleed" and a weird "gauze-like" effect. With Network's freshly-created prints, however, these problems have finally been eliminated. For example in the later title sequence, Lewis Collins' credit had a pronounced "ghost" effect. This problem simply doesn't exist with Network's remastering. Notice also that while light tones are far better represented, dark colours are, too: black is now truely black!
The historical underlying problem with VHS/DVD products and television repeats has been the lack of available film camera negatives. As "sacrosanct" elements sealed away in air-tight containers, theoretically these are the ideal source for creating pristine new (digital) prints. However their whereabouts over the last twenty years became shrouded in mystery. Indeed when enquiries were made with LWT, some of their employees suggested that they had been lost!
From that point TV transmissions and VHS/DVD releases were limited to these flawed prints. However as television moved on and some other vintage TV series, for which the negatives were still available, underwent High Definition remastering, this further served to highlight the poor visual quality of the existing Professionals material. From Joe Public's perspective, how could it be that a product from the 1970s was visually inferior to many shows produced a decade earlier? With no film negatives available to create fresh prints, no significant improvement could be made. But all that was to change...
As Contender Video's DVD license for the show came to and end during 2012, the enterprising Network used its contacts to try to unravel the negatives mystery. It soon transpired that in the mid-1990s London Weekend Television had sent the negs and other elements for each episode to the British Film Institute for safekeeping. (What's still not clear, however, is why this vital information was not more widely known amongst LWT's own staff!)
Now with the negatives "rediscovered", a genuine remastering exercise could be undertaken. A joint project between Network and the BBC was launched to combine their hardware and expertise. A comination of carefully-stored negatives being in largely good condition and High Definition film scanning equipment was able to produce new prints with far more detail and colour accuracy that was even seen on the original transmissions in the 1970s, let alone in subsequent years!
All that said, the colours still needed some attention after each episode print was created. Despite residing in air-tight canisters, some colour fading does occur with negatives. Also variances in the original manufacture of the film stock caused slight inconsistencies in colouration from one scene to another when the episodes were shot. This was probably not noticeable on televisions thirty years ago but today’s technology would expose such issues. So the BBC has addressed this through the use of software tools.
And the improvements don't stop there. Since 1977 we've literally not been seeing "the bigger picture"! When LWT originally ordered the film prints to be created from the negatives, what we got was a rather "curtailed" image. As can be seen in the screenshots below, the new prints provide a noticeable increase in picture area, notably down the right-hand side and along the bottom of the frame. We're going to be seeing things that were even absent from the original transmissions! Notice the additional bodywork we see on the Rolls-Royce here:
But the bonuses continue, including:
- For fans of Laurie Johnson, every incidental theme is available "in isolation", so you can enjoy those funky riffs without the dialogue and other sounds!
- The 1996 Channel 4 television documentary "Without Walls: The Professionals" containing interviews with Brian Clemens, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins (amongst others) speaking exclusively about the show.
- Hundreds of previously-unpublished still photographs taken from every first season episode, including Anthony Andrews as Bodie in 'Old Dog with New Tricks'.
- Readable scripts for ten of the first season episodes.
- A 180-page booklet covering the production history of the first season by renowned television historian Andrew Pixley.
Finally, the most important question for fans who live outside the UK. Network has acquired the worldwide rights for the series, so overseas buyers will be able to purchase them with no concerns over Region Coding. Further information on this to follow soon.
Overall, then, Network’s new set of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs - available from 17th March 2014 from iTunes and 31st March 2014 for the DVDs and Blu-Rays - not only offer fabulous (nay, awesome!) picture quality and extras but at around just GBP23, they are tremendous value for money!
For fans yet to purchase a BluRay player, Richer Sounds is an excellent source - the staff at their Preston branch being very helpful indeed when I bought my Sony BDP-6000 from them!
Many thanks to Tim Beddows at Network. You can read an interview with Tim on the remastering process here.