Wipe Out: When the BBC Kept Erasing Its Own History

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by shnaggletooth, Jul 26, 2020.

  1. shnaggletooth

    shnaggletooth Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    NJ
    So much great work erased just to save a few bucks.

    Why 60 to 70 percent of all BBC programming produced between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s was deleted.
     
  2. JakeKlas

    JakeKlas Impatiently waiting for an 8-track revival

    Location:
    United States
    True, but I understand the mindset back then. The stuff was considered disposable and the idea of “nostalgia”, “history”, and “The Complete Series on Blu-Ray” simply didn’t exist, especially with the speed needed to create weekly television. I can’t blame them for not being able to see decades into the future, or for having to do what they could based on shoestring budgets.

    That said, it does pain me that we’re missing a good chunk of early Doctor Who and I remain hopeful they’ll still unearth the remaining missing episodes.
     
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  3. shnaggletooth

    shnaggletooth Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    NJ
    But there was broadcast syndication even back then. Very short-sighted and stodgy BBC management of the time. It wasn't until the mid-70's, after US public television began broadcasting things like Monty Python and I, Claudius, that the BBC finally realized what a mistake they had made. We have all the Monty Python episodes available only because the Python guys went out of their to save their own work from the BBC.
     
  4. Chilli

    Chilli Pretend Engineer.

    Location:
    UK
    Whilst in hindsight it was a terrible thing to be doing I can completely understand it given the cost and size of 2" tape. The BBC would not have been the only ones though perhaps not on that scale. We had a tape blanking machine when I was at ITN, you can't just keep everything.

    The issue is both better and worse now. On the one hand a nicely catalogued digital archive will last forever, on the other hand material can't sit in online storage for more than a day or so in broadcast world so a proper archive workflow needs to be in place. Many production companies went through a period of just dumping rushes etc onto usb drives. Imagine the mess that would be in the end.
     
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  5. Paul_s

    Paul_s Forum Resident

    Location:
    North England
    Hope ITN kept some archival footage of Trevor McDonald with News at Ten (best news host ever) :D
     
  6. Pizza

    Pizza With extra pepperoni

    Location:
    USA
    It’s hard to predict the future. How about all the TV actors who got paid for a couple of airings of an episode? Home video didn’t exist.

    And many Tonight Show eps are gone. It’s not hard to justify what was done at the time. Tape cost money and there was a constant need. Such choices will continue. You take your best guess.
     
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  7. Chilli

    Chilli Pretend Engineer.

    Location:
    UK
    Oh they had quite a substantial archive and realised the value of it too! Taking new staff down into the basement with miles of shelving of 8mm through to digibeta was always a way to impress. They used to run their own archive sales site ITN source but it looks like it's now part of Getty images. Getty Images

    And yes, Sir Trevor is an absolute legend. :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2020
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  8. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    NS, Canada
    Maybe some Alien race has captured all the broadcasts....
     
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  9. Solitaire1

    Solitaire1 Carpenters Fan

    Considering how many stars there are out there, it is possible. I remember a story on a show (I think it was Amazing Stories) where aliens came to Earth in the 1990s in search of Milton Berle because they had just received his television broadcasts...from the Golden Age of Television.
     
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  10. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic

    Location:
    Britain, Europe
    I’ve thought long and hard about this. In 1969, with colour television clearly the future in Britain and elsewhere in the world, the prevailing mindset was that a b&w programme had no value. Factor in the requirement to remunerate the artists involved, as per Equity agreements, and it looked like a decision no one need waste any brain wattage over.

    HOWEVER - it was clear, even by 1968, that some of those programmes were of great cultural importance. This one, for example:

    Madhouse on Castle Street - Wikipedia

    I think by 1968 even a few ‘square’ people knew that Bob Dylan wasn’t just a flash in the pan. David Warner had also established himself as a major actor. The programme contained probably the first broadcast performance of Blowin’ In The Wind, a song that was already a standard by that date. Yet even that couldn’t save the lone surviving copy from junking.

    The preservation of programmes had nothing to do with the sales to America or ‘Masterpiece Theatre’, or whatever: BBC programmes were sold to other countries long before all that kicked off and if some episodes of Doctor Who survived it was often because those countries didn’t return them, as per agreements with the BBC.

    I’m still a bit mystified as why the BBC saw fit to preserve every single episode of Blue Peter, while really important programmes were junked. Who made that decision, I wonder?

    Don’t know what the British Film Institute’s capacity was in the 60s, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to farm stuff the Beeb had no use for out to them? They’ve been considerably better at preserving the BBC’s heritage than the corporation has been itself.
     
  11. Slackhurst Broadcasting

    Slackhurst Broadcasting Forum Resident

    Location:
    Liverpool
    I'd guess Blue Peter's high survival rate was largely due to the influence of its highly efficient long-time producer Biddy Baxter.
     
  12. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic

    Location:
    Britain, Europe
    Almost certainly.

    I read that directors and producers were allowed to request that certain programmes they made should not be junked. Barry Letts put in such a request for The Daemons (though I think only a b&w copy was retained). Others probably shared the same mindset as the junkers - ie, what’s the point when it’ll never be shown again?
     
  13. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    One hour of videotape cost more than $300 back in the 1960s and 1970s, so a lot of it boiled down to economics. Terry Jones has told the story about how a technician/friend at the BBC warned him that they were about to erase the master tapes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, so he frantically drove over and "abducted" the tapes to preserve the series. This proved to be a good idea, because soon after the show found new life in syndication on PBS stations in America, and eventually was very successful on home video. That was one of the happier stories about a show that they managed to save at the last minute.

    The Unknown Hero Who Saved Monty Python's Flying Circus From Being Erased

    This picture on Twitter claims to be of some of the Python master videotapes...

    [​IMG]
     
  14. daglesj

    daglesj Forum Resident

    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    Thing is 75% of what they wiped was probably of little interest anyway and would never have been aired more than twice if that.

    Sure some gems were lost but a of long forgotten old men in tweed suits smoking pipes talking about seed prices probably went too...which meant other gems got recorded and they still survive.
     
  15. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    NS, Canada
    But now all our posts are theirs, for near eternity.
     
  16. Retro Music Man

    Retro Music Man Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) were notorious for this, too. Almost all of the first five years of the legendary music show Countdown were erased in the early '80s. It's a similar story to the BBC and the mess they made of the Top of the Pops archive.

    The worst thing is that, whilst the BBC adopted an archival policy in 1978 - around the same time that home video was emerging - the ABC waited until 1984. So anything that survived before that is just by chance or luck.
     
  17. formbypc

    formbypc Forum Resident

    It wasn't just the TV programmes. Many of the BBC radio sessions recorded by renowned bands of the 1960s and 1970s, on audio tape, have been lost.

    As an aside, in the mid-1980s I found myself, with a few other guests, at the home of the sound engineer for a famous band of the time; floppy hair, in the "new romantic" vein is all I'll say; he produced a couple of audio cassettes that he'd recorded from the mixing desk at recent gigs, which generated some awe amongst those who actually liked that stuff.

    I can clearly recall another guest saying words to the effect "That's a piece of history you've got there", and the engineer's immediate response;

    "So are the newspapers".
     
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  18. Slackhurst Broadcasting

    Slackhurst Broadcasting Forum Resident

    Location:
    Liverpool
    Newspapers do keep their archives. And casually-recorded live tapes have been a selling point for a lot of reissues...
     
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  19. Pizza

    Pizza With extra pepperoni

    Location:
    USA
    “Old Men in Tweed Suits Smoking Pipes Talking about Seed Prices” is coming to Netflix
     
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  20. daglesj

    daglesj Forum Resident

    Location:
    Norfolk, UK
    Never get a third season though!
     
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  21. seacliffe301

    seacliffe301 Forum Resident

    Quite a depressing story, one that's occurred more than just at the BBC. I once was working with a producer from ABC (US) who told me he was fairly confident that many if not most of the "In Concert" music series were wiped to reuse for
    "The Dating Game". Unbelievable.

    Regarding the "Doctor Who" series, I actually have some history with that series. In the early 80's, my first job in television was working in the duplication department of a major teleproduction facility. Most of what we did was spot duplication of car commercials, but much was program content as well. One of our largest accounts was with Lionheart Television, creating copies of "Doctor Who" for syndication across North America. We were regularly sent 2" dub masters, all in NTSC, of the various seasons for duplication. This activity went on nightly, for years. While I only had minor interest in the series, one of my colleagues was a fanatic. He regularly made copies for his home library, I'm sure obtaining a copy of every episode that was ever sent to us. As I am still in contact with him, I am curious to hear what he has to say about the voids in available episodes and if he was ever aware of this explanation.
     
  22. seacliffe301

    seacliffe301 Forum Resident

    I can still remember the aroma of cracking open one of these cases. If we could have only captured it in a bottle.
     
  23. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    The famous "3M Blue Shippers"! I knew them well, particularly in the 1-inch videotape days. In today's world of HD and 4K and digital files and all that stuff, videotape boxes are very quaint and nostalgic.
     
  24. longdist01

    longdist01 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL USA
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020 at 12:20 AM
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  25. For the BBC it didn't help that the actor's union Equity purposely priced repeats well over the original fee for a performance and a repeat or two. This way, they figured, it would be cheaper for the TV channels to always make new shows and not flood the schedule with cheap repeats.

    As well as the cost of video tape (re-usable) there was also a limit on how much room they had at the time for storage. Most shows sold overseas were sold on 16mm film until the mid-1960's when colour shows were more important for North American markets. Even then, 16mm was the main selling format until the end of the 1970's.

    According to Wikipedia (but I can't find the exact article, so citation needed!) it was after they played a clip program in 1978 to celebrate the BBC's 50th Anniversary that they were contacted by a lot of people wishing to see these old shows they they started the archive.

    On a different note, nothing was sent to the British Film Institute because most of it didn't originate on film!

    As I'm in Australia, I could probably tell a different (worse!) story but I mainly know what I knoe due to "Doctor Who". And I know about the "Countdown". In fact, they still wipe stuff periodically over here, I believe. At least until 2000. A great source of obscure music videos, "rage" played a tribute for Roxette when Marie died two years ago. They had five videos. Two of which were from the TV show "Countdown Revolution". "It Must Have Been Love" was the newest song they played.
     

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