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Monday, May 30, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 10

"Photomechanical transfer" is a printing term describing a process for producing photographic prints or offset printing plates from paper negatives by a chemical transfer process rather than by exposure to light. Amongst designers and editors, it is common practice to call the glossy printers' proofs that are produced by this method PMTs.

For a long, long time, I had no knowledge or understanding of PMTs, or for that matter of Photostats (although, it's my believe that they are one and the same thing – “a rose by any other name” and all that jazz ). I certainly knew of them, as the weekly pasted-up dummies supplied by printer Eric Bemrose were littered with these strange images, giving both the printer and the editorial staff on Eagle a clear visual interpretation of what the finished pages would eventually look like. The PMTs pasted onto the dummy pages were produced by following the designers’ written instructions, so if anything had been incorrectly marked-up or wrongly sized,  it would show up as an error on the dummy.

Anyway, as far as I was concerned, PMT machines had strictly been toys for the sole use of printers, so it it was quite a surprise to discover that not only did Hamlyn Books have two updated versions of the Grant Projector (as made by AGFA-Gevaert) that, housed within their specially darkened-out room towards the north-western corner of the big open-plan art-department, also had the facility of being able to produce PMTs.

In Part Nine, I described (in admittedly wearisome detail) how, by placing a piece of artwork onto the Grant’s moveable platform, I was able to obtain an image that was to the exact size I wanted to fit into a specific area. With this part of the process already done , it was time to create a PMT print.

With all overhead lighting having been turned off apart from a pair of dull-red bulbs, it was now safe to remove the A3 sheet of light-sensitive negative paper (or the smaller A4 sheet if the final picture was not all that large) from its doubly-wrapped packaging – black plastic bags inside sturdy cardboard containers.

I won’t say that the exposure was hit-or-miss but it took time before one got the hang of just how much exposure to give it. Three or four seconds was about right for quite small reductions whereas enlargements of 200% or 300% would be at least ten times that long. You need to understand that these PMTs were being used as a guide only and weren’t destined for one of the Royal Photographic Society's Fellowship Distinction Examinations, so a little too much or a little too little really didn’t matter all that much.

With the exposure over and done with, the paper negative was removed from the “Grant”, was married-up face-to-face with a paper positive of the same size and taken over to the processing machine.

The two sheets were encouraged to follow a pre-designated path through a series of rubberised rollers and plastic guides. Although the negative and positive sheets had been “married up” earlier, on feeding them into the processor, a chromium-plated bar about 1/8th of an inch thick immediately separated the two so that their journey through the processor could be made independently. Unlike photographic printing where the print is immersed in two entirely different chemicals – one being the developer while the other had ‘fixed’ the image (so that it would hopefully stay that way) – “PMTs” had just the one single, rectangular bath of liquid—filled to a level indicated by the manufacturers—to go through and that was the end of it. From beginning to end took little more than perhaps 45 seconds

The two sheets – the light sensitive negative and the chemically impregnated positive – ran independently along these plastic guides so that the two were kept well apart while the liquid chemical in the processing bath was given the opportunity to carry out its job, and they were only paired up and squeezed together again in the final moments by a pair of squeegee rollers as the processed sheets emerged towards the rear of the tank.

With the processed pair held between fingers and thumbs, it was advisable to give it a good 30 seconds before prising the two sheets apart – if you were too quick, the chemical reaction between negative and positive might not have been fully complete.

It was rather frustrating that these negatives could be used only the once and were then thrown away – for, should you need a second or more copies, you had to go through the whole procedure all over again.

The positive (which had been the “mechanical” side of the process) was not light sensitive and was simply stored in a clear plastic envelope on any shelf that was convenient. The positives weren't washed out in clean water afterwards either but just left to dry, ready for use when required.

I’ve not mentioned it before, but these Grant Projectors came with two lenses of differing focal lengths – there was the standard lens for producing prints that ranged anything from 30% up to 300%  (as previously described in Part Nine), and then there was the second lens which allowed far greater reduction or enlargement—something in the region of between 12% and 1,500%. This second lens meant that 35mm colour transparencies could be enlarged up to 1,500% or perhaps even a smidgen higher.

When obtaining PMT prints from these colour slides, the Grant’s main lighting system needed to be changed, a complex procedure involving the pulling out of one plug and the shoving in of another! Due to the huge enlargements, the exposure needed for these often ran into several minutes – anything between five and fifteen. And this is where I come to the main point of telling you all this story.

I’d had a week off from work but had not gone away – I had stayed at home to carry out a few odd jobs (such as—and I’m not joking—building a swimming pool!). It was mid-week, probably Wednesday, and I planned to drive to Hamlyn House getting there at around 7:00 in the evening, by which time, I hoped, everyone would have gone home for the night.

Well, they almost all had, but when I entered the art room, I noted with some trepidation that, in the far corner (and directly opposite to where the repro cameras and PMT machines were housed), Brian Trodd and Glynn Pickerel were still hard at work toiling over their premium book projects. Undeterred, I tippy-toed the short distance over to where the darkroom was while hoping like mad that neither Brian nor Glynn had plans on using the darkroom facilities that night.

I remained inside that darkroom for a good three hours, for I’d had a large number of PMTs to produce – over a hundred. On finally emerging, I saw that both Brian and Glynn had already gone, and, with my bundle of illicit prints wrapped in an empty black plastic bag and tucked securely under my arm, I took the lift down to the ground level reception area. However, in attempting to open one of the two fully-glazed entrance-way doors, I was horrified to discover that they just wouldn’t budge – I was well-and-truly locked in.

Knowing that Hamlyn House also had an emergency exit stairwell, I’d gone back up to the eighth and tried again – but the emergency fire exit doors at the bottom were stuck fast and wouldn’t budge either.

From the eighth floor, I could see that lights were burning away on many of the upper floor levels of Astronaut House, the multi-office block on the other side of the railway track where a spill-over of staff from Hamlyn House were located. So I placed a call and spoke to the caretaker / receptionist outlining my current plight. With that, I returned to the ground level reception area and waited for his arrival. But when he came, he was not alone – for with him were six or seven boys in blue who had turned up in two Panda Cars with much flashing of lights.

Through the closed doors, I clearly heard one of them ask, “Do you recognise him?” to which the caretaker grudgingly replied, “Yes, I think I do. I think he works here in the art department.”

Five minutes later, I was back in my own car driving back to Farnham and occasionally going through a giggling spasm. However, the really amusing tailpiece of that little caper was that for several days following, there were in-depth enquiries as to who this unknown person that had infiltrated Hamlyn Books was. They never did find out, for I was officially on holiday for a few more days and therefore wasn't around to be asked.

During my time at Hamlyn’s, I did get involved in a handful of extra-curricular photographic jaunts. The pictures and article shown above had been typical of a “chicken and egg” conundrum – I cannot recall now if I had just taken a load of pictures of my son and daughter with some of their school chums . . . following on from which the article had been put together, or whether the text had been written first and I’d then gone out and captured the shots. Sometimes it happened that way – anyway, it was a good excuse to grab a few snaps of the kids while enjoying ourselves by munching through a pile of fish-paste sarnies!

The editorial section on the 5th floor had consisted (amongst others) of Chris Spencer, Tessa Bridger (who I suppose was the senior Sub-Editor), Peter Robins and Graeme Cook . . . although this latter pair had officially worked full-time on Hamlyn All-Colour Paperbacks. There was actually a fifth whose name was Susannah Holden and it was with her that I’d passed a couple of interesting afternoons up in London.

Following our two ventures out, Susannah had written an article about Vidal Sassoon’s Hairdressing Salon in Baker Street for the Daily Mirror Book for Girls called “Crowning Glories” . . . although it was a bit of a shame that the “Father of Modern Hairdressing” himself hadn’t been present which would have made the exercise just a tad more riveting. The other piece she wrote was called “The Twenty Pound Walk”, where, I note with interest, she used the pen-name Sue Kirkpatrick for reasons best known to herself.

Out of the blue, Chris Spencer approached me one day to say that Graeme Cook had been sent an invitation to fly from nearby RAF Northolt and go down to RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. For some reason Graeme couldn’t go and had wondered if Chris would care to take his place. The assignment was to write an article about the Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber which had had a key role in the sinking of the pride of Germany’s fleet – the Bismark. It would appear that one had just been lovingly restored back to its former glory. Chris would write the story and he hoped that I would go along with him so that I could take a series of pictures.

On another day, Graeme Cook suggested that he and I should drive up to Catterick in Yorkshire where the White Helmets motorcycle display team had their base and where they carried out their intensive training. The original plan had been that we would travel up in Graeme’s car, but at the last minute, he rang through to say that as his car had been rendered unserviceable, would it be OK if we used mine instead.

On the drive up and seeing the sights as offered by the Great North Road (the A1), Graeme related how, two days earlier, he and his wife had had yet another domestic argument. It would seem that his wife had gone upstairs in a fuming rage, locked the bedroom door and, on spotting a concrete hollow block (although Graeme didn’t actually explain why a concrete hollow block would have been lying around in their bedroom), she had opened the window and thrown the block fair and square down onto the front windscreen of his car. Thus rendering it unusable until he found the time to get it fixed.

At Catterick, we were introduced to Sergeant George Garside and, although Graeme seemed to have been readily accepted as being “one of the boys”, I got the clear vibes that Garside considered me to be little more than a toffee-nosed snob. Anyway, after being given some lunch in the Sergeants’ Mess, we were each kitted out with waterproofed denims and a pair of heavy boots. Graeme had already warned me that the conditions at Catterick were likely to be muddy and I’d taken my Wellington Boots with me—which I'd left outside Garside’s office.

Much of the fun we’d had was with Graeme haring here, there and everywhere on the slopes of an exceedingly muddy assault course while I did my best to (a) stand upright and (b) capture the action being presented to me. With that part of the procedure over, it was now time to meet with Garside’s White Helmets display team who, thankfully, were in the middle of practicing their “four-leaf clover” routine on firm ground that was nice and dry by comparison and covered in oodles of nicely-mown grass.

This part of their act proceeded thus: In the form of a cross and perhaps twenty-feet apart, four 8-inch high wooden ramps were positioned so that the rider – having ridden over one – was momentarily propelled about three feet into the air along with his machine and would remain airborne for a second or so. The trick was that two riders coming from opposing directions (say north and south) would pass each other whilst aloft – this was followed a second or so later by another pair of riders doing much the same thing but from an east/west direction. With a team consisting of eight, ten or twelve riders, they went round and round, leaping over the ramps thus forming a “four-leaf clover” pattern.

Photographically – and as seen from ground level – the chorographical magic of the manoeuvre was lost, for, ideally, it would have been best seen from either a helicopter or the second floor balcony of a block of flats. But as neither a helicopter nor a block of flats was at my disposal, I opted for the next-best thing – which was to ride pillion on one of the participating machines.

Garside readily agreed, but as I was about to sit astride the machine that he’d chosen for me, he said fairly forcefully: “No, not that way – you have to travel backwards!”

“Backwards?” I gulped (I could almost feel the smirk he had been doing his best to conceal).

Still backwards I went, and it was probably the most frightening thing I’d ever attempted – the reason being that with the camera held in one hand and nothing to grab onto with the other, each time the rider surged forward for his forthcoming flight over the central point, it was only by clenching my knees tightly around the bike’s framework that I prevented myself from taking a tumble. I managed to fire off a few shots, but all in all, they were pretty unusable.

At the end of the ride, Garside asked pleasantly:

“Did you get what you wanted?” probably knowing fully well that I hadn’t. So I said to him:

“I’d like to go round again, but this time, I shall face forwards and shoot over the driver’s shoulder.” The smile upon his lips died as he was forced to concede that perhaps the “toffee-nosed-snob” hadn’t been such a wimp after all.

But Garside had the last laugh. Approaching London after our long return journey down the A1, it suddenly occurred to me that my Wellington Boots were still sitting outside Garside’s office. Hey Ho.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: In Part Eleven, big changes are in the air as I take my leave from the book empire of Paul Hamlyn and return back into the world of comics.

(* Many thanks to Phil Rushton for scans of the Fairey Swordfish feature.)

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