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Missing Believed Wiped

One of the undoubted highlights of last year for me was my first attendance at Missing Believed Wiped - the BFI's annual event dedicated to showing recovered television programmes previously lost from the archives. Recently I found my notes for the event, and thought it was worth writing up, despite the time that's passed - these programmes have, against-the-odds, survived for decades before being rediscovered. I'm sure they can wait four more months for my ramblings.

Held on December 14th, the evening was in two sections - the first being:

Part One: Monkhouse and More

Some gems from Bob Monkhouse's private archive, introduced, wonderfully, by his family.

The Flip Side (1966)

A Thirty Minute Theatre, starring Bob Monkhouse in a straight role, as an American TV DJ Jerry Janus dealing with the breakdown of his marriage. One of my favourite programmes of the night, this was absolutely gripping. Set entirely in real time, it comprised of Jerry talking to his wife over the phone during the records playing, and him doing the DJ thing - and the reasons for his marriage breakdown slowly becoming clear, as it becomes obvious that he's abandoned all his principles to become a right-wing nutcase on-air. It makes you wish telly would do one-off half-hour dramas these days - no other format would have suited this story better.

Chelsea At Eight (1958)

An extract from Granada's entertainment series, showing a scene from John Osborne's play, Epitaph for George Dillon. If I'm honest, I really didn't enjoy this at all - I didn't think the material was especially interesting, and I thought the acting style came across woefully, at least on television. Admittedly, however, I don't have the context to make a proper judgement - this was only an extract from the play, and more importantly, I don't know anything of Osborne's work at all. The way the audience laughed at every slightly naughty reference - ooh, look, he said "orgy"! - was pretty pathetic, though. It did make me want to see more of Chelsea At Eight itself, however.

Goodbye From A.B.C. (1968)

This is an incredible find; the dying moments of ABC, which broadcast weekend programming for the Midlands and North England between 1956-1968 - this was the North version of the programme. Brilliantly, it survives as the original videotape rather than a telerecording, as it was given to David Hamilton, who presented the show - and he was here to introduce the showing. Lots of great stuff here, including some lovely photos of the ABC studios being converted from a cinema, a great clip of Kenneth Williams on a chatshow, some coverage of a beauty pagent in Prestatyn, and the boast that ABC had brought back the first live broadcast from the Isle of Man - as though it was the remotest spot on Planet Earth. (These last two got some good-natured giggling - good-natured being the key, here. No sneers.) A lovely programme.

My Pal Bob (1958)

This was, frankly, a revelation. A sitcom, with Bob Monkhouse playing "himself" - and the entire plot revolving around... erm, him attempting to cheat on his wife. And it starts with a woman in a bath, and then cuts to Bob looking through the windows with his binoculars. And, when they've stuffed a small child into it, includes the line "What shall we do with this basket?" - the last word clearly designed to pun on "bastard", with accompanying audience laughter. And so on. Tame for now... but for BBC television in 1958? It makes you realise that, groundbreaking though they obviously were, the socially realistic sitcoms of the 60s like Steptoe and Son and 'Till Death Us Do Part were far from the start of more earthy humour in BBC sitcoms.

The whole episode was wonderful, and is essentially a farce - the final scene involves multiple "wives" of Bob being revealed in front of someone from a newspaper, who needs proof that Bob is a wholesome family man so he can win a competition. This would make a beautiful DVD - and Lewisohn in his Radio Times Guide to Comedy indicates that the entire second series exists. I want it.

After a short interval, the second part was:

Part Two: BBC Recoveries

Speaking Personally - Alastair Sim (1952)

Donated by Sim's family, this was a fifteen-minute monologue about, erm, the difficulties of performing monologues, and was widely regarded as one of the highlights of the evening. I enjoyed it, but I think it'd take a couple more watches - and perhaps more knowledge of Sim's other work - for me to fully appreciate it.

Trails Presentation

Marvellous. A collection of specially-made 60s BBC trails - firstly seen by themselves, and then shown again, with an excellently informative commentary from the person who worked in the presentation department at the time and saved these examples (who I've shamefully forgotten the name of; apologies). My favourite was a Monday night trail which was entirely animated, with the programme titles appearing in various imaginative ways, but I've always been in love with 60s graphic design - but there were many other delights, including It's a Square World, featuring a BBC globe in the shape of a cube!

We were told that the pres department often had nothing else to go on but the name of the show - no clips, or anything, hence the use of specially-shot material. So specially shot trails were a neccessity rather than an artistic choice - but if anything, this section proved we need more specially-shot trails for programmes these days. Every single one of these was more interesting than the majority of trails which simply edit a bunch of programme clips together - as well done as that can be.

Colour Recovery Process Presented by James Insell

This was absolutely incredible. This was the process applied to the restored Dad's Army episode Room at the Bottom shown late last year, and is applied to an episode of Doctor Who for an upcoming DVD release. Put simply: some programmes originally made in colour now only exist as black and white telerecordings; copies of the episode made essentially by filming a colour monitor. Some of these telerecordings, orginally used for overseas sales, but now in some cases are the only copies of episodes to survive, still have the colour information embedded into them in the form of "chroma dots" - these dots can now be extracted, and much of the original colour restored to the episode. It's not perfect - but considering the material we're working with here, it's truly remarkable.

It's especially odd from my point of view - I was keeping an eye on Colour Recovery Working Group Wiki, and all of a sudden, it goes quiet for a few months. I thought they might have run into a serious impasse... and then suddenly, out pops a colour version of Room at the Bottom, and clips from loads of other shows!

The talk itself was very interesting; Insell, whilst clearly not a professional speaker, did a remarkably good job in getting the process across in exactly the right amount of detail (enough so things weren't glossed over, but not too technical that the layman audience would get lost). The clips shown included material from Late Night Line-Up, some Tennis footage, and the first section of the Are You Being Served? pilot (the only episode of that series to exist in black and white) - and the results, whilst unrefined by further processing, were incredibly good, especially for a first pass. Possibly the closest thing to magic I have ever seen, and we can only hope that more material is upcoming for either broadcast or DVD release.

Dad's Army Recoveries

A small section this, presented by Ralph Montague. The soundtrack for the restored Room at the Bottom episode was taken from BBC Radio DJ Ed Doolan - and he also had a couple of other missing Dad's Army gems in his collection: a sketch from the 1968 Christmas Night with the Stars, and the soundtrack to the A Stripe for Frazer, a Series 2 episode entirely missing from the archives. Extracts from both of these were played here, set to production photos, and fantastic they were too. A DVD with the recoloured Room at the Bottom, these audio treats, and maybe a couple of (even pre-existing) documentaries would be a must-buy.

The Last Chronicle of Barset - Episode 4: Mr Toogood Travels Professionally (1959)

A costume drama. Somebody commented as we left that "That's 30 minutes of my life I won't get back" - unfair, as it's an interesting example of the kind of serial running back in 1958, and well worth a watch regardless of the quality. Actually, on its own merits, it was fine... but no more than that, and I wasn't exactly aching to see more. Not the best way to end an evening packed with genuinely fascinating programmes,

All-in-all, a stunning evening of entertainment. Hopefully if you were at the event, this was a nice reminder of the evening - and if you weren't, it's a taster of the kind of thing to expect at this year's. Details haven't been announced yet, but do keep a look out - it's well worth it.

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