Shaking hands across the Pond

SMPTE has chapters all around the world, but not in the UK. I concluded it had something to do with the Boston Tea Party, but that's not the case
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If you don't live in the UK, you may be unaware of a curious situation: You cannot attend a SMPTE chapter meeting. SMPTE has chapters all around the world, but not in the UK. When I travel, I often attend SMPTE meetings, and they are always friendly and informative.

As a member of SMPTE and an avid reader of the journal, I often wondered why there was not a chapter in the UK. I was told that in the midsts of time, the British Kinematographic Society (BKS) and SMPTE had agreed not to operate in each other's territory. I concluded it had something to do with the Boston Tea Party.

It turns out that there was a simpler explanation. SMPTE was founded in 1916 as the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE). The members of the UK film industry have a similar interest in standards and wanted to set up a branch in the UK. In 1931, it was mutually agreed that the British would set up a separate society, the BKS. In a gentlemen's agreement, they agreed not to operate in each other's countries.

Both societies have since embraced television. In 1950, SMPE became the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) so that it could cover the entire gamut of motion imaging. The BKS made a similar move to become the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society (BKSTS).

In the intervening years, we have seen SMPTE become the predominate international standards body for our industry, whereas BKSTS has developed its strengths in the more practical aspects of production with a strong emphasis on training.

I once asked why there was no SMPTE UK chapter, and I felt like I had committed some dreadful social gaffe. We are all engineers, and we all work in television, so what's the problem? AES operates in both countries, so what is the big deal with film and television? In a world of global media companies, multinational manufacturers and international standards, it makes sense to have societies that have a global view rather than national, and SMPTE fits that bill. I felt that the Brits had been disenfranchised from this global engineers' community.

Finally, sense has prevailed. BKSTS and SMPTE have agreed to joint membership. No longer do the British have to feel separate from the rest of the world, and I believe that has to be a good move.

BKSTS has done sterling service in the development of good practice in the film community, from production through to theatre distribution. Both societies have similar aims. I must congratulate them on finally agreeing to this cooperation.

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