Over the past decade or so, the BBC has made numerous appeals for television programmes that have been ‘lost’. Many classics are no more, with many important programmes seemingly gone forever including episodes of Doctor Who, Hancock, Juke Box Jury with the Beatles early Alan Bennett plays and much more including the BBC coverage of the historic first Moonlanding.
Much of the missing material was ‘junked’ by the BBC in the Seventies. Although this now seems an insane destruction of part of the country’s cultural history, it needs to be put in context for the time. In the Sixties and Seventies, the tape programmes were recorded onto were incredibly expensive as well as bulky to store.
At this time, no-one anticipated the home video market and old programmes were thought to have had their day and would not be repeated. As a result, it was decided to ‘wipe’ large parts of the television archive so that tapes could be reused and space freed up.
The extent to which this was happening was not widely known until some of the early Doctor Who conventions of the late Seventies/early Eighties. Fans requested episodes to show at these conventions from the BBC, it then became apparent that a large chunk of 1960s Doctor Who was lost.
In the years that followed the BBC has made numerous appeals and had some success in tracking down lost episodes. Although many tapes were ordered destroyed or wiped, it’s believed some employees may have ‘rescued’ tapes earmarked for destruction and that they have ended up in private collectors hands.
In the past people may have been put off returning tapes for fear of prosecution from the BBC as they would effectively be handling stolen goods. However the BBC has long now had an amnesty where any returned tapes would be copied, restored and copies returned to the owner. Hopefully this will encourage more people to return material.
Many collectors may not realise they have missing films, two Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s were recently returned by a private collector who had no idea there were any missing episodes. Tapes have been recovered from numerous overseas television stations that bought programmes & kept some rather than destroying.
Overseas sales from the Sixties and Seventies are still being investigated in the hope of more material being returned. Some programmes have been returned by people that had early video recorders, indeed missing episodes of Steptoe & Son were returned after one of the writers found old tapes he’d recorded in his garage!
A lot of material was also recovered after the death of Bob Monkhouse, he was an avid film and television collector and had early video recorders which he put to good use. Lenny Henry’s first tv appearance was returned to the archive as part of Monkhouse’s collection.
In more recent times, it’s been realised that a lot of classic radio programming is also missing. It’s quite surprising to find how recent some lost items are, including Chris Evans first shows for Radio 1. It seems more realistic to expect missing radio programmes to be uncovered due to the ability and affordability of home recording.
The BBC are currently looking for a wealth of material from the Goons and Hancock to Pick of the Pops and the Archers. Local radio programmes are also being sought, so perhaps it’s time to dig out those old tape boxes and have a look at what you have, it may be a lost gem.
For more information on the current BBC lost radio appeal, visit here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio/posts/The-Listeners-Archive-appeal