Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

The Lost Footage

Feature from 2007

The Film Reel

It seems that most good programmes have suffered under the hands of the BBC archivists, and their seemingly crazy decision to delete or destroy old footage to save money and space. At the time of these culls, destroying film would save valuable space and wiping tapes would allow them to be reused saving thousands of pounds.

The cost of this action goes further than mere money though, with several classics being lost forever. Amongst the casualties are favourites such as Dads Army, Dr. Who, Peter and Dudley Moore and of course, Morecambe and Wise.

As the digital age crept up on us, the BBC began to realise the error of their ways and began to try and locate alternative footage from either private collectors, foreign exports or the general public who by luck captured the moments on cine film or video tape.

By way of apologising to maddened fans, they even paid for expansive restoration work to some of the footage, especially the Dr. Who material. This still leaves a lot of bad quality or completely missing shows yet to find.

Several projects have been set up to aid this, by reminding the public to check their lofts for granddad’s old cine collection, or publicly show the spoils of their efforts so far.

As the release of The Morecambe and Wise Show to DVD approached, it became painfully aware that the complete first series was missing from the BBC archive. This early black and white work, written by Sid and Dick was somewhat of a special. It was their first BBC show, it was their last show in their original roles as set out by Sid and Dick at ATV, it marked the transition to what we know now and it was to be their first colour show.

One of the reasons they moved from ATV was the chance to move to colour for the BBC2 channel. This raises another question, why if this series was in colour, is the remaining footage in black and white?

Exciting news broke that much of the last episode had been mysteriously recovered and internet forums were full of gossip and guess work. Some say the BBC had found the material in their archives, some say it even appear on eBay and was bought by the BBC, but what seems remarkable is that there was no mention of this on the DVD itself.

After 35 years of being missing though, it made it onto the DVD for all to see, giving us a very brief glimpse of that first BBC series from 1968.

So where did the material come from?

After some detective work we finally got to the bottom of the mystery and can now set the record straight.

Tim Disney, a film collector, was the person responsible for getting this footage back and onto the DVD. So it wasn’t the BBC then?

“Most certainly not,” Tim says, “I can confirm that the print was in fact purchased on eBay and nobody seemed aware of it's value, including me. I'd placed a bid on the item hoping that it was a 16mm print of one of the ATV shows. I thought it would make a nice addition to my film collection. I was quite disappointed when it arrived and it appeared to be a black and white 16mm telerecording of a BBC show. Worse still, it only ran for about twenty-five minutes, which had it been one of Eric and Ern's later shows, would have been heavily edited down.”

So, how did he find out it was something or a rarity?

“When I tried to identify the episode on the BBC's database, it appeared to be from the late 1960's. It was only when I checked what the BBC still held in their archives that I realised this episode was missing. I arranged for the BBC to loan the print for transfer to Digibeta and a return to the archives at Windmill Road.”

Did the BBC give us the fully footage then, as it seems there are bits missing on the DVD?

“I purchased a copy of the DVD and have seen the footage. I can confirm that what 2|Entertain have released is an unedited copy of the print I returned. However, I would point out that the recovered print had itself been edited by an overseas broadcaster and this accounts for the show opening with a song instead of Eric and Ern.”

He added; “I'm really pleased that this material is now available for all to see as so many recovered programmes remain in the archives due to rights clearance problems or the lack of commercial viability for a transmission or release.”

And the reason the footage is in black and white?, Tim answers this too; "The reason that only a black and white copy exists is that BBC Enterprises would have made a black and white film recording from the original videotape for overseas sales. The broadcasters that received these film prints were supposed to destroy them after transmission as part of their contractual obligation to the BBC.

Quite often this didn't happen with foreign broadcasters merely dumping rather than destroying the prints which then subsequently would be salvaged by either an employee of the broadcaster for their own personal collection or a lucky collector who would find the dumped film.

The print, now in the hands of a collector would often be sold or traded with other collectors, usually unaware that in the meantime the BBC had destroyed their own colour mastertapes of the series. Film prints of television shows were ten a penny between the sixties and eighties when this was the usual method of international television programming distribution. It was a cheap and effective method of overcoming the varying international television standards such as NTSC, SECAM etc. So film collectors could be forgiven for assuming that the material they held was merely a black and white film recording of a colour programme, that was as they would expect, safe and sound in the BBC archives."

There is an interview with Tim on the BBC programme Time Shift - Missing Believed Wiped, about the recovery of this print for anyone who can get hold of it now. So now we know the truth, and I think every Morecambe and Wise fan will thank him for his work, and for allowing the BBC to transfer it to DVD for public release.

Who knows what else there may be out there, maybe even a print of Running Wild? Only time will tell, helped of course by Morecambe and Wise fans world wide, who are actively searching for material and bringing it to the public.

© 2007