THE PETER HANDFORD COLLECTION

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About Transacord - The History

1953 to 1961 - The Independent Years

In the immediate pre-Transacord era, Peter Handford bought a portable 78 rpm 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. The company’s name was derived from transcribe and record.

After its incorporation, on 6th lune 1953, Transacord’s earliest record releases were of amateur music events, competitions and the like. These were recorded on tape prior to being transferred to record. For production runs of twelve or less copies, each individual record was created on the disc cutter. If more than twelve copies were required, the master was created on the disc cutter and the copies were pressed from this master by British Homophone. These early records were mainly intended for sale to the artists. These records were issued in generic Transacord sleeves, and whilst no 10” sleeves have come to light during research, the National Railway Museum’s Peter Handford Collection includes several (unfortunately empty) l2” record sleeves that include the following text: “Specialists in all types of sound recording” and “Best makes of tape recorders, tape and accessories supplied”. This introduces another aspect of Transacord, which was that its original services also included the sale and hiring of sound recording equipment, whilst further promotional materials advertise the provision of advice on copyright issues.

Although Peter Handford 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.

What inspired Handford to make railway records was hearing an American 10” LP, Rail Dynamics, a couple of years after its 1952 release. He decided that if a US record company had thought it worthwhile to release a record of railway sounds, then there could be a market for railway records in the UK as well. However, one of the company’s directors, a local solicitor, who had no interest in railways, disagreed with Handford’s vision. As Handford explained, “He announced that he had no wish to be associated with such nonsensical ideas and had to be bought out. LPs were not yet well established in the UK and were viewed by most people of average income as expensive luxury items - it is known that some record dealers sold LPs under hire purchase agreements - so Handford decided to test the market with the better established 78 rpm format. He went on to produce the first two 78 rpm 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. The option was there to increase the production run at a later date, should demand so require. The records were only available by mail order at 10s 6d each, plus 2s 0d postage and packing, and Peter Handford advertised them in The Railway Magazine and Trains Illustrated. An early, undated, promotional release included the following:

"We have been recording sounds associated with steam locomotives which, though now familiar, may be rarely heard in years to come - provided that there is sufficient interest we shall issue new records from time to time. The records are 10", double sided, pressed in filled Vinylite material and can be played on any type of reproducer at the standard speed of 78rpm.

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.

In January 1956, three further records were released. Positive reviews in railway magazines helped the first two of this batch to sell out quickly and these were later repressed, though profit was heavily eroded by the payment of Purchase Tax. The third of the batch consisted of recordings of Italian, rather than British, locomotives, and this didn’t fare so well. It was deleted when the initial press finally ran out. The first two railway records released the previous year were also deleted once they had sold out. The final batch of three new records was released in March 1956 and following further good reviews these were also repressed.

Finding copies of Transacord’s 78 rpm records is difficult, even for those where more than 99 copies were pressed. That said, near new condition copies of The Class A3 Pacific Locomotive and From London (Easton), appeared on eBay in late 2010 and sold for around £11 each - a surprisingly low amount for such rare and sought after records. At the same time, one of the later 10” LPs sold for over £60. Presumably the extreme rarity of the 78 rpm records is tempered by the fact that very few people now have the equipment on which to play them.

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. The first US stereo record appeared in 1957: Pye released this country’s first stereo records in 1958, and Decca and EMI followed suit in 1959. Therefore, in 1958, Peter Handford, ever at the cutting edge of sound recording, bought his first portable stereo tape recorder with money made working on the film, Room at the Top. However, ‘portable’ is a relative term, and once a compatible ‘portable’ power supply was found, the equipment presented many problems in both transportation and the complexities of setting up. So thanks to the comparative lack of portability of the stereo recorder the monophonic equipment was still used a great deal.

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.

In 1960, after the release of fourteen 10” LPs, Peter Handford decided to move away from the 10” format in preference to the now more widespread 12” format. Three new 12" LPs, The West Highland Line, Shap, and The Somerset and Dorset had been produced, after a considerable amount of trouble, in a new pressing factory and were sold, complete with new and improved sleeves which carried a 7"x5" cover picture, for 32s. each plus postage and packing. However, the clash between making and releasing records and working on films was becoming more pronounced. The income from films was still necessary to finance the making of railway recordings, but this left less time to make and edit the recordings, and then produce and market the records. Transacord found itself in a very common position for a small, independent business, in that it needed to expand to become more successful, but the competing activities of working as a sound recordist.on films and the recording and editing of recordings of steam locomotives for record release, added to the production and distribution duties, was restricting the number of records that could be released.

Until this point, the running of the company had been, in Handford’s words, “interesting and enjoyable” but Handford said of this period:

The running of the company had now become a restrictive and worrying chore: there had never been any intention to develop it commercially and there was no inclination to do so now, and a well meaning offer of additional capital was rejected because to accept it, or to employ additional help, would have meant that records would have to be produced under commercial pressure, instead of from personal inclination as and when they seemed worth making.

However, a solution was at hand. 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, due to similar pressures to those now facing Transacord, come under Decca’s umbrella in 1957, though with near complete autonomy as to how Usill ran the label.


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