Sounds of Railways And Their Recording (1)

Peter Thomas Handford, sound Recordist, Born Four Elms, Kent on 21st March 1919, Died Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, 6th November 2007. Peter Handford pioneered the use of original sound recording in the heady days of the British New Wave. Not only did he record the soundtracks of some of the finest British films of all time, but in 1985, having come out of semi-retirement, he won an Academy Award for Best Sound on ‘Out of Africa’. He also left an enduring legacy to railway historians by recording, and therefore preserving, the sounds of the great steam engines, and ensuring their release on a record label ‘Transacord’ which he himself instigated. He bought a portable 78rpm disc recorder in early 1953 with the intention of recording railways for his own pleasure. He also built himself a tape recorder for increased flexibility in recording. At this point however, Handford became unemployed during a period of film industry downturn. With no film work on the horizon, he saw some commercial possibilities for his recording equipment and started Transacord to transcribe tape recordings onto disc. Although he had bought his disc cutter to record railway sounds, he did not have much time to devote to this pursuit once he had started Transacord, and this was further exacerbated when he returned to work in the film industry. He soon decided to go freelance as a film sound recordist, so as to have the time to make railway recordings, not for pleasure alone, but for release on record. Handford decided to test the market with the established 78 rpm format. He went on to produce the first two 78rpm railway releases in 1955 from recordings made during the previous two years. The masters were created on Handford’s disc recorder and British Homophone pressed 99 copies of each. Sales were encouraging and nearly all copies had sold by the end of the year. feedback was requested on early order forms and response to this suggested that there was an enthusiastic enough market to justify further railway records. 1958 was the year in which the first stereo recordings became available in the UK. It had been possible for several years to record in stereo onto tape with stereophonic recording equipment, but it had not previously been possible to transfer these stereo recordings onto vinyl records. It was four years before Transacord’s first stereo records were issued and several stereo recordings were issued in mono whist Handford was perfecting the recording of steam locomotives in stereo. Roger Wimbush of Gramophone magazine had given an extremely positive review of several Transacord 10” LPs in 1960 and this review caught the eye of Harley Usill, who ran the Argo record label. Argo specialised in spoken word and other specialist, quality recordings. It had started out in similar fashion to Transacord and had come under Decca’s umbrella in 1957. Early in 1961 an agreement was drawn up between Argo and Transacord, by which Transacord would cease to manufacture and sell records, the existing stocks would be gradually run down and any future records would be produced for a new Argo Transacord label. Argo, backed by the superb technical resources of Decca. Argo’s choice to take on Transacord was quickly vindicated from an artistic point of view with almost all Argo Transacord releases receiving a great deal of praise. Sounds of railways and their recording – Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1980 covers Peter Handford’s fascinating career excellently.

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