"You are a half-wit," he said impolitely. "I keep telling you - the professional producers use 35mm, that's the width of the film, but for educational purposes and cine society work 16mm is used. That's all. We've got sound and silent 16mm projectors and a 35mm silent projector, so we can use two sizes and sound or silent when we like. Do you think you can take that in? Or are you absolutely daft?"
(Sylvia Little, Castle School on the Screen, Lutterworth Press, 1949, p47)
The first step in the post-production process was to transfer
all of the material from Hi8 format to Pal-VHS. This meant first that I
could view and review the material without risking tape damage; and second
that I could use a domestic video player-recorder for this process. The
transfer was a simple procedure, since the camera could be plugged directly
into the back of the video player-recorder to achieve this. I then had
to log all of the material and to make some initial decisions about selection
before transcribing all of the footage which I might use during editing.
Next, I was ready to create the editing script. I felt
that it was important to begin the technical process of editing with as
clear a picture as possible of the final outcome, in order to be able to
concentrate first on artistic decisions during the editing; and second
on how to integrate the material, given that, as the principal function
of the film was to present my research, artistic decisions did in some
cases have to take second place to achieving the desired narrative. (In
fact, I had begun the scripting process much earlier, when creating the
shooting script, and I would recommend this strongly to other researchers.)
It was also important to create an editing script before beginning the
editing itself because I intended to edit the footage digitally, using
the computer-based system Avid for the Apple Mac. Since storage space was
necessarily limited, it made sense to pre-select material; this also made
sense from a financial point of view, since the suite was expensive to
When I began the post-production process, I was concerned
about the final length of the film, since it seemed to me that fifteen
minutes would have been ample for a student production, but that at least
an hour would be needed to present the material, which would necessarily
put a strain on the "reader's" attention span. This meant that I needed
to take the pace of the film into account when structuring it.
I knew that I was telling two stories:
the story of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, told by her biographer, Helen McClelland;
and the story of the fans and their centenary celebrations, told by the
fans themselves and by picturing their events. I decided that I wanted
to tell the story as far as possible in their own words, rather than putting
my own construction on it. This seemed to me to be more in keeping with
feminist research methodology, and also more in keeping with the open nature
of hypermedia, where the "reader" has a greater opportunity of drawing
their own conclusions. (This latter was, of course, the reason why I had
used video to "show" the research as far as possible rather than simply
"telling" the "reader" in the first place.) I therefore decided to limit
the narration to brief introductions to scenes.
In order to use the internal structure of the footage
which already existed, I decided to structure the material chronologically
during the editing, both in terms of the story of Brent-Dyer's life and
the story of the fans and their celebrations. I also decided to use the
device of the "school picture" which had been taken by the fans as the
image which began and ended the film. The fans themselves talked about
feeling like "old girls of the Chalet School" (Austria 1),
and I wanted to show the reality of the "school community" which had grown
up around the fans' reading experiences of the fictional school. I therefore
opened the film with the taking of the photograph, finishing the scene
with the photograph itself (Opening Sequence),
and closed the film by panning around the faces of the women in the photograph
many of which the "reader" would have come to know better during the duration
of the film.
In order to integrate the two stories as much as was possible,
I divided McClelland's contributions into four scenes. (Because I had made
some initial decisions about the structure of the final film before shooting,
I had already ensured that the content of each scene would be suitable
for this purpose.) In order then for the "reader" to make sense of the
narrative, McClelland needed to begin it. As the biographer, McClelland
was also the Chalet School "expert" rather than me, and I wanted to make
this quite clear to the "reader".
Using McClelland's footage at the beginning of the film,
though, was problematic, in that there is very little action in the scene,
so I was concerned about losing the "reader's" attention. However, I hoped
that the footage of the taking of the "school picture" which opens the
film would provide sufficient intrigue for the next few minutes. In addition,
as McClelland's first scene begins by introducing Brent-Dyer's centenary
and the popularity and longevity of the series (Elinor 1; Intro 1),
I decided to illustrate this latter aspect by cutting the scene with footage
of the book sale held as part of the centenary events, thus making it very
clear that the women pictured valued the books enormously. This, I felt,
would provide sufficient intrigue for the "reader" to continue.
Following this scene, I felt that it was logical to introduce
the books themselves, since the "reader" of the film would naturally be
asking more about the fiction which could provoke such passion. It then
seemed logical to begin with the opening of the first book, The School
at the Chalet (Intro 2),
where the idea of the school is conceived by its fictional headmistress
(I edited the extract for brevity). I decided to illustrate this scene
with the artwork which had been used on the covers of the different editions
of the book during the century. This would show the "reader" how the series'
illustrators, and thus its readers, had imagined the world of the Chalet
School. It would also show that the series had been reconceived using contemporary
imagery by its publishers as the real world of school changed, rather than
being presented to its readers as a set of historical texts.
Next, I felt that it was important to introduce the fan
club, Friends of the Chalet School (FOCS), and its members. First, I felt
that it was important to introduce girl members reading the books today,
since the series is, after all, written for children, and at the time over
100,000 copies of the paperback editions were regularly being sold each
year; the majority, presumably, to girls. I had recorded a series of disjointed
comments from the girl fans
and had no footage of them doing anything else but talking, so I transcribed
these comments before creating a "conversation" about the books (FOCS
This begins with the girls talking about their first introduction to the
series, which for most was reading The School at the Chalet from
which the preceding scene had been taken. They then "talk" about their
reading habits, showing their passionate love of the books, before "concluding"
with a discussion about their favourite characters and the reasons for
Following this, I felt that it was logical to introduce
the adult fans, and to stress that most of the club's members fell into
this category. Fortunately I had been able to interview the Australian
founder of the club, Ann Mackie-Hunter, when she had visited the UK, together
with Gill Bilski, who had begun the club in the UK. This scene, FOCS
therefore tells the story of the founding of the club and why Mackie-Hunter
had felt motivated to do this. It also stresses the international nature
of the club and of the series. After this, I felt that it was logical to
introduce the centenary celebrations and the reasons why Polly Goerres
and Clarissa Cridland had felt motivated to organise them (FOCS 3).
After these introductions, I was able to continue the
narrative by cutting between McClelland's story about Brent-Dyer and the
story of the celebrations themselves. I decided to begin the story of the
celebrations with the Hereford weekend in April 1994, since the events
which had really begun the celebrations, at South Shields earlier the same
month, had both been beset by technical problems in terms of my filming
and duplicated events which took place at Hereford in terms of the content.
Filming on the Friday night in Hereford had also been problematic, so I
decided to begin with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque outside Brent-Dyer's
former home and school in Hereford by Mayor Elect Kit Gundy (Hereford
This would show the fans en masse, thus stressing the popularity of the
books as well as introducing the fans to the "reader"; the police shown
controlling the traffic would stress the importance of the event; and Gundy's
personality and appearance would underline its "Britishness".
Since Gundy had actually known Brent-Dyer, I followed
this scene with an interview between Mackie-Hunter and Gundy, which I had
recorded immediately after the plaque unveiling (Hereford 2).
This is the first scene where Brent-Dyer is described by someone who had
known her, since McClelland had only began her research after Brent-Dyer's
death. As Mackie-Hunter rather than myself interviewed Gundy, the fans
also had control of the process, which I felt was in keeping with the feminist
and postmodern nature of my research methodology. Mackie-Hunter's thrilled
reaction to hearing about Brent-Dyer also tells the "reader" more about
the nature of Chalet School fandom.
In reality, fans had gone on from the plaque unveiling
to view sites associated with Brent-Dyer in Hereford. However, I had chosen
instead to go ahead to the sites which the fans were due to visit during
the afternoon, which were associated with the fictional school during its
years in England. Rather than showing the fans on the visit, I decided
instead to use the interview which I had carried out before the fans arrived,
with self-described "literary detectives" Beth and David Varcoe who had
researched and published a commemorative guide to the sites. While the
Varcoes tell the story of how and why they had carried out their research,
the scene also introduces the "reader" to the fact that the fans were interested
in these issues, and to snippets of information about the content of the
books (Hereford 3).
It is also, unintentionally, a humorous scene, and I felt that all of these
elements were necessary to the pace of the film at this point if the "reader"
was not to lose interest.
Keeping to the chronological order in which I had filmed
(but omitting some of the footage on the grounds that it duplicated material
in terms of content), I followed this with a scene about mother-daughter
relationships with the series, using an interview with Jenny and Rachel
Davis (Hereford 4).
For lack of any alternative venue, I had carried out this interview in
my hotel bedroom, although I hoped the impression would be given that it
was the room in which the Davises themselves were staying. (In fact their
home was close by, but this would have been too difficult to explain when
showing a gathering of fans from all over the world.) I had been very limited
by the setting during the filming, particularly as Jenny is disabled and
did not wish to show parts of her body on camera. I had also made the technical
error of leaving the camera on auto-focus: this meant that the focus "slipped"
whenever either of the Davises moved slightly. Fortunately, however, alongside
mother-daughter relationships with the series, the scene illustrates the
fact that many of the fans regarded their fandom as a "guilty secret",
and the confessional, video-sdiary style of the footage suited this perfectly.
Continuing to stick to the sequence in which I had filmed,
the next scene shows footage of the team quiz which the fans had held on
the Saturday evening, illustrating the fans' detailed knowledge of the
books. However, I principally used the scene to begin to show deeper reasons
for their fandom, using the interview with Folly co-editor Sue Sims
as a voice-over (Hereford 5).
I introduce Sims in terms of her editorship and her huge collection of
the books, leaving the "reader" to believe what they wish about her as
a result. In the interview itself, Sims then talks about the fact that
she would have hated to go to a boarding school in reality; and analyses
why the series still provides her with a fantasy of wish-fulfilment.
Following this I decided to show the dinner which followed
the quiz (Hereford 6),
concentrating on the after-dinner speech made to the fans by Luella Hamilton,
a former pupil of Brent-Dyer's. Again, this provides the "reader" with
a first-hand description of Brent-Dyer, this time from the perspective
of her as a teacher. It also introduces Brent-Dyer's internationalism and
opposition to fascism, and the intriguing (I hoped) fact that two of Haile
Selassie's granddaughters had been pupils of Brent-Dyer's. As with the
fandom, I wanted to begin to show the deeper aspects of Brent-Dyer's life,
and to encourage the "reader" to begin to take the Chalet School phenomenon
I ended the Hereford footage here (the events had actually
continued the following day). At this point I felt that it was appropriate
to introduce the "reader" to more facts about Brent-Dyer and the Chalet
School series, and so I returned to McClelland (Elinor 2).
Here McClelland tells the story of Brent-Dyer's trip to Austria which inspired
the series, and how McClelland herself discovered the real sites disguised
behind the fictional names which Brent-Dyer had given them.
Next it was logical to move on to the next centenary event,
the trip to Austria in May 1994 organised, not by Friends of the Chalet
School, but by Daphne Barfoot, editor of a smaller fanzine, The Chaletian.
It seemed appropriate to begin with the story of how and why Barfoot founded
Chaletian, and why she had organised the fan visit to the Austrian
sites. However, since I also wanted to show the visit itself, I decided
to use the interview as a voice-over (Austria 1),
accompanied by footage of the fans travelling, like the fictional schoolgirls,
by lake steamer. Since Barfoot refers to the fans feeling "like being old
girls of the Chalet School", I decided to cut from here into the second
extract from the books themselves, at the point where another fictional
journey was being recreated. I used the extract from The Princess of
the Chalet School, again edited, to accompany footage of the fans travelling
down the valley by steam train (Austria 2).
Continuing with this footage and footage of the river
walk which followed, I cut from the extract to an interview with fan Anne
Thompson, also used as a voice-over (Austria 3).
This introduces the "reader" to another fan and to the reasons for her
fandom; it also introduces the "reader" to the fact that Catholicism was
represented in the books, and that this was regarded as being extremely
unusual in reality. Since Thompson talks about Joey Bettany, the principal
heroine in the series, as being an "eternal schoolgirl", I decided to cut
from this comment to another extract from the series,
also from The
Princess of the Chalet School (Austria 4),
used as a voice-over accompanied by continuing footage of the river walk.
This provides the "reader" with yet more information about the content
of the series, as well as re-stressing the importance which the fans laid
on visiting the sites which had inspired fictional episodes.
From here, I felt that the "reader" would be ready to
listen to a deeper analysis of the importance of the Chalet School phenomenon
and why this had not previously been recognised, from Rosemary Auchmuty,
the foremost academic expert on girls' school stories. However, I felt
that the "reader's" attention would be easily distracted if this was simply
accompanied by footage of Auchmuty talking, so decided to use the bulk
of the interview as a voice-over, accompanied by footage of the fans walking
at yet another site which had inspired episodes in the series (Austria
From this interview I decided to cut again to a relevant extract from the
series, this time from Exploits of the Chalet Girls, used as a voice-over
alongside continuing footage of the walk (Austria 6).
Following the Austrian scenes, I decided to continue with
footage of the exhibition which had been organised by fans in Edinburgh
from May-June 1994, since there was no relevant information about Brent-Dyer
which needed to be imparted to the "reader" first. I began this sequence
with an interview with Polly Goerres and Clarissa Cridland, explaining
how and why they had curated the exhibition, before cutting to footage
of the exhibition itself (Edinburgh 1)
and continuing to use the interview as a voice-over. From here I moved
to an interview with a fan, Lilian Smith, who had created one of the exhibits,
a Chalet School tapestry (Edinburgh 2).
I wanted to make several points in these two scenes: that the phenomenon
was taken seriously enough by the outside world to have been given exhibition
status; that the series had inspired many fans to create associated arts
and crafts work; and that Brent-Dyer's publishers, Chambers, were based
in Edinburgh. I completed the sequence with footage showing a fan meeting
at Edinburgh, including an interview with the group's organiser, Fen Crosbie
At this point I wanted to show the "reader" more about fandom outside of
the centenary events, as well as challenging some popular misconceptions
about the nature of fandom.
At this point it seemed logical to return to McClelland's
story about Brent-Dyer and her Chalet School series, particularly since
the change in pace should now be welcome to the "reader". (The fan footage
was actually quite "fast", partly due to the fans' obvious enthusiasm;
and partly due to the fact that the organisers had to set a very fast pace
in order to keep to their schedule.) In this scene McClelland explains
how Brent-Dyer had moved her fictional school following the outbreak of
the Second World War, first to Guernsey and then to England; how she had
tackled the growing-up of her heroine, Joey Bettany; and about her other
connections with Guernsey, both real and fictional (Elinor 3).
From here it was logical to move on again to the next
of the fan events, a weekend in Guernsey in September 1994. I decided against
using the bulk of the footage which I had obtained, first because the content
duplicated points which had already been made; and second because the poor
weather conditions had meant that much of the technical quality was poor.
I therefore began the sequence with a scene introducing the fan visit,
using footage of the visit itself accompanied by a voice-over from Polly
Goerres and Clarissa Cridland (Guernsey 1).
I then continued with the footage, accompanied by a voice-over from an
interview with Mo Everett, a fan who had organised the weekend locally.
Since I had footage of Everett introducing the fans to various Guernsey
sites, I hoped that this would clearly identify the speaker. Everett explains
her own passion for the books; how she had identified the local sites which
had inspired fictional episodes; and how she felt about belonging to the
fan network (Guernsey 2).
The scene also stresses again the importance which the fans assigned to
visiting the sites.
I had now reached the final sequence of the film. I began
by returning to McClelland's story of Brent-Dyer's life, from the lack
of success and closure of her school; to her increased output as a writer;
and finally to her death in 1969 (Final Years 1, Elinor 4).
I followed this by cutting to the final event which had been organised
by the fans, a memorial service held on the twenty-fifth anniversary of
Brent-Dyer's death on 20 September 1994. I began with footage of the fans
gathering outside the church, including Clarissa Cridland speaking about
Guernsey, before using a voice-over by Cridland explaining the background
to the service (Final Years 2).
At this point, I also wanted to introduce the "reader" to the fact that
Brent-Dyer, despite her fame, had been buried without a headstone, and
that the fans had decided to rectify this by buying and placing a stone
I then used footage of the fans processing into the church,
before concluding the scene with an extract from a speech to the congregation
by Brent-Dyer's heir, the actress Chloe Rutherford. This personal reminiscence
returns the "reader" to Brent-Dyer in her personal life, and includes a
vivid description of her appearance and personality. From here I cut to
footage of the headstone itself, accompanied by a voice-over from Polly
Goerres (Final Years 3),
whom I reasoned should now be familiar enough to the "reader" to need no
introduction. The final shot in the scene shows a close-up of the card
which accompanied the flowers that the fans had put on the grave; both
this and the voice-over emphasises the fans' enduring love and respect
for Brent-Dyer as an author.
I began the end sequence of the film
by returning to the "school picture" which had been taken at the Hereford
weekend, panning slowly around the faces of the fans while the credits
appeared over them, and resting on my face in the front row to emphasise
my closeness to the fans. This shot I had had made professionally by a
rostrum camera company, and was actually the one with which I had the greatest
difficulty. First, the company did not produce footage of the correct length.
On the second attempt, they carefully excluded one of the fans, Helen Aveling,
a wheelchair user, from the photograph, when I specifically wanted, first,
to include all of the women in the photograph, and second, to make the
disabled fans as visible as possible to emphasise the integrated nature
of the club. Finally I solved this by going to the studio and standing
over the operator while the shot was made; this did not endear me to the
company, but it is a course which I would certainly recommend to others
(particularly women, since the all-male nature of the company may well
have had something to do with my experiences).
Over this shot I used four extracts from interviews with
fans, none of whom had appeared in the film before. These speak progressively
of the reasons why fans love the books, from their "happy endings" to an
entire philosophy of life; the diversity also stresses that fans have different
reasons for their passion. I then concluded the film by cutting to a photograph
of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, accompanied by her name and dates of birth and
death; this stresses the anniversary element of the film. I accompanied
this shot with a voice-overed quote from the Chalet School series, one
of several spoken by the main heroine Joey about "always being a Chalet
School girl". This I felt summed up the essence of the fandom, and its
importance. From here I faded to black.
When I had created the editing script
from the transcripts of the footage, I was ready to begin the "off-line"
edit. First I had to transfer the footage again, this time from Hi8 to
the broadcast standard tape Beta SP, to create the "rushes" tapes from
which I would work. There were two reasons for this: first, Hi8 is inherently
unstable; and second, my camera was not capable of time-coding the shots
- a process which assigns an individual code to each frame of video - so
this needed to be added to the footage before editing. However, I was also
able to adjust the image and sound quality during the transfer, leaving
less to be done at the final editing stage.
This transfer process was carried out under the auspices
of VeT (Video Engineering Training), where I had previously taken a three-day
course in using the editing system, Avid. Unfortunately, however, the process
was fundamentally flawed, partly due to my lack of experience. What I should
have done - and what I recommend to others - was first to have transferred
much more footage than I required, and second to have divided the process
into two stages, adding the time code last by "striping it in". In fact,
due to my misplaced desire to save tape stock (the stock turned out to
represent only a tiny portion of my expenditure), I only transferred exactly
those sections of footage which I wished to use in the final film, adding
the time code at the same time.
My mistake became apparent when I came to the next stage,
digitising the footage on to the computer-based editing system, Avid. Due
to the method of time-coding which I had used, the time code was broken
between each section of the footage. However, the computer did not read
the actual time code of the footage when digitising it. Instead, it relied
on the Beta SP player to identify the time code at the beginning of each
and then assumed that all of the code from then on was continuous and added
its own code to the data files accordingly. Every time there was a break
in the tape, therefore, the time code on the files went out of synch with
the time code on the tapes. Since no-one in the building had previously
understood how the digitisation process worked, it was some days before
I realised that this was happening, and then only because I had chosen
to digitise the footage with the time code showing over each frame (a course
which I would recommend to anyone editing digitally). I then had to redigitise
the material, stopping the process manually between each piece of footage.
Following the successful digitisation, I had to organise
the footage by naming each "clip", and then by breaking it down into named
sub-clips of individual shots. These could then be viewed by their first
or last frame, and/or by their names. As I had already produced an editing
script this was a fairly simple process; this was fortunate, since good
organisation of the material was crucial to the continued success of the
After this, I could begin the editing process. Needless
to say, the final script as it appears here
has changed since the editing script, principally by being shorter in order
to keep the length of the final film down to around sixty minutes. Aside
from this, though, the principal difficulty which I found was in lack of
material which could be used for editing purposes: "cutaways" of details
etc. This is often a problem for novice film-makers, but had been compounded
in my case by being disabled, since both my physical energy and my ability
to move the camera around in the crowds of fans was limited. (Two people
with different physical abilities would really have been required to capture
the best possible footage of the events, which is why I initially sought
I also had problems with editing the sound track as a result of difficulties
(largely arising from inexperience) during the recording. In addition to
problems with poor sound quality, I had also omitted to record a "buzz
track" of background sound at every location; this meant that I had few
"natural silences" to use in the edit.
However, despite these difficulties I successfully completed
the "off-line" edit, and I was then ready to move on to the "on-line" stage.
Here the gender politics of the film and television industries became a
problem, alongside my lack of experience. VeT were extremely helpful in
advising on the process, but despite it being an organisation controlled
by women, the workers did not know of any on-line studios which were run
by women and which would therefore be sympathetic to the project (my finances
necessarily being limited, along with my confidence). In addition, while
I wanted to carry out the final edit digitally using an on-line Avid system,
which I felt was most appropriate to the research as a whole, few studios
then possessed them and so the price was out of my reach. I therefore settled
for a tape-based studio, which offered me a "cheap" deal for a basic job.
During the tape-based on-line edit, a master tape is first
produced from the rushes tapes using an "autoconform" process. This process
is controlled by a computer, using a file of information or Edit Decision
List (EDL) from the off-line edit which lists the time codes and order
of the selected footage. Following this, an editor creates a second tape,
adjusting the image quality as the picture is transferred and adding captions.
Since the autoconform process took place overnight, I did not arrive at
the studio until the edit itself began. Here I discovered that the autoconform
process had taken considerably longer than the studio had estimated, and
that I had less time for the edit as a result.
When the edit began, though, I noticed several points
where the time code was incorrect. At this point I was told that the errors
were due to the way in which the material had originally been digitised,
since, unknown to most off-line editors at that time, digital editing was
known to involve time-code inconsistencies. My previous experiences, however,
meant I knew perfectly well that no such inconsistencies existed, and I
continued to complain. But no notice was taken of me - the only other woman
in the building appeared only to make the coffee and to answer the phone
- and the errors were left. I then moved on to the "sound dub" at the same
studio, where the levels in the sound track are harmonised and the quality
is improved as much as possible. Due to the previous delays, this process
was left unfinished, so I left the tapes with the studio. As I left, the
autoconform editor came in, smelling heavily of drink, and blamed the company's
equipment for the problems which I had had.
The following morning I complained by fax to the studio,
asking that the errors be corrected and the dub finished at their expense.
Two days later, I was due to show the film at the first Chalet School conference,
and I had no more credit available to me. Their response was to refuse,
and also to refuse me access to my tapes unless I paid cash in full for
them that morning. I had no choice, and although the union Bectu pursued
the studio on my behalf for many months, they were unable to obtain a refund.
I then needed to find a studio which could finish the dub at least at short
notice, and was lucky enough to find a sound studio, Wild Tracks, which
would carry out the work the next day. Whilst also controlled by men, here
I was treated with nothing but respect, and later I was provided with free
access to the studio for a day to complete the work to a higher standard.
Following this experience, I decided to try to carry out
a second on-line edit myself, using Avid. Unlike a tape-based on-line edit,
this would be a very similar experience to using the off-line equipment,
with the major difference being the quality of the picture. I had no more
credit available to me, but in September 1995 I was granted free access
to Avid's own studio to attempt the edit. Unsurprisingly, though, there
were problems: I had not used the system for ten months; had never carried
out an on-line edit before; and in addition the equipment was not working
properly, which only became apparent when I had to finish the process.
As a result, the footage was unusable, and it was only in September 1996
that I was able to obtain access once more to complete the edit successfully,
with technical support from one of Avid's own editors. In fact, when I
had learnt how to use the equipment and understood the concepts, I found
the process itself surprisingly easy. I knew better than anyone else when
the picture had reached optimum quality, and had no difficulty using the
captioning programme because of my previous work in desktop publishing.
I did, however, find the digitisation process slow because I had not transferred
enough material on to the original rushes tapes, and so the computer found
it difficult on occasions to identify the starting point of my footage.
The final work which I carried out on the film was to
replace some of the narration. Originally, due to the tight time-scale
to which I was working, I had recorded all of this myself. Obviously my
inexperience was apparent, but I felt that it was important that I should
introduce the film, since overall I was the author and I wanted to make
this explicit to the "reader". However, on repeated viewing of the film,
I felt that a separate voice should be reading the extracts from the books,
since this was the voice of Brent-Dyer herself. I was fortunate in persuading
the actress Kate O'Mara, whose mother, as a child actress, was a friend
and inspiration to Brent-Dyer, to re-record the extracts. This process
was in itself problematic, since O'Mara's schedule meant that this eventually
had to take place in her dressing room when she was appearing in pantomime,
in January 1997. However, I felt that she was a highly appropriate choice,
and was extremely grateful for her cooperation.
Due to the post-production process being so lengthy -
26 months - I was able to obtain feedback on the film before it was finished,
which meant that I could take this into account if necessary during the
final edit. In fact, the only changes which I made were to the narration
and captioning, but I still feel that it was important to allow fans the
opportunity of commenting on and influencing the final work and to ask
for professional feedback as well, and I would recommend this course to
I first presented the working copy of the film to fans at the conference organised by Bettany Press on 3 December 1994, projecting it from a VHS player. At the beginning I introduced the film in the context of my research, making it clear how it would eventually be used. At the end, I then explained a little about the editing process, and what effect this had had on the images of the fans and their events which are presented in the film.
Speeches have been shortened, interviews edited, apparent conversations created out of individual bits of material. People who appear to laugh or watch an event were indeed doing so, but at different events to the ones seen here, at different times.
When the camera clicks at the beginning it is a sound effect, put in to replace the original click as it wasn't loud enough. And when you hear birds singing by Elinor's graveside at the end, they are a commercial recording called Birds in Town, put in because they sounded truer than the real thing.
What the film does do is to represent reality, and to reflect impressions of the centenary, the Chalet School series, the woman who wrote them and the women who love them.
Fortunately, the response of the fans was overwhelmingly
positive. Following this screening, I offered to make professionally duplicated
VHS copies of the film available to them, and more than two hundred women
eventually asked for these, despite the fact that I had to charge them
£17 each to cover my costs (I also gave copies to the FOCS library,
so that everyone with access to a video player could gain access to the
film irrespective of income). Somewhat to my surprise, the majority of
these women wrote back to me with their impressions of the film. From these
letters, it was clear that there were several different reasons for their
For some, the film provided them with a record of the centenary events:
A masterpiece! It brought back lots of happy memories.
I enjoyed it very much and found it very representative of my impressions of FOCS, even if I have never made it to Pertisau yet.
I dropped everything when it arrived and sat riveted, reliving Hereford especially. Well done!
Thanks for an excellent tape, makes us want to go back again to Pertisau.
There aren't good enough words to describe it! I shall watch this until it's worn out; watched it last night and brought back so many memories. Wish it was two hours long! 1000s of thanks.
For others, the film provided them with a substitute for attending the events:
Even though I did not take part in any of the celebrations, the video certainly makes you feel involved. The part about the Edinburgh exhibition is very good and I now feel I have a permanent reminder.
As a Chalet fan and a Folly reader it was so interesting to me to see so many other "normal" people. As for the Tiern See! . . . Many thanks for the chance to see the place it all started.
I have enjoyed it very much indeed and it really brought the Chalet School alive to me. It is lovely to have and will always be a joy to look at.
For some of these women, the opportunity to see the fans and events through my eyes was welcome because their own impairments prevented them from ever participating in similar events.
I enjoyed the video enormously. Due to chronic illness, I cannot attend meetings, so it was much appreciated.
For some other women, it was geographical location which meant that they were unable to attend events and to meet other fans.
It's wonderful to see people in real life and especially Pertisau other than just in photos.
I enjoyed the video very much and it was fun to see faces and names together!
I enjoyed it enormously, especially the clips from Tyrol and of Helen, who I must say looks nothing like I imagined.
For the majority of fans, it was the representation of themselves and of the sites which gave the most pleasure, but a minority of fans referred instead to McClelland's scenes about Brent-Dyer herself.
What a brilliant tribute to a very special lady! Congratulations on a true masterpiece.
A detailed discussion of fandom can found in The Fans
of Girls' School Stories.
In order to get feedback from other academics, I put forward
the working copy of the film to the 1995 Women's Studies Network conference,
where it was screened repeatedly in a room set aside for videos. However,
lack of disabled access meant that in the event I was unable to attend
myself, so feedback was very limited.
I also sent a working copy of the film to Roland Keating,
Editor of BBC2's Bookmark series, who had originally turned down
my programme proposal since: "popular as [Brent-Dyer's] stories are, I
don't really feel there is enough in them to sustain a full-length documentary."
After viewing the film, he wrote back to me that, in his opinion, the film
was: "A remarkable illustration of what the latest technology makes possible,
and an enjoyably informative documentary in its own right." The Chalet
School phenomenon had proved to be much bigger than either of us had expected.
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