The following is a guest post by Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image Section of the Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division. You might already have seen news about this fascinating discovery of scores of old British TV broadcasts, but we wanted you to know the full story about just how the programs were found:
It was, in the end, a combination of serendipity and dogged research. Toss in a web database maintained by a dedicated group of British TV obsessives, and the result was the discovery in the Library’s collections of nearly 70 teleplays previously considered lost by the British Film Institute. Included in this amazing group are early performances by such notables as John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, and—two years before he achieved global fame as James Bond—Sean Connery.
(Clip from Colombe, BBC, 1960. Directed by Naomi Capon.)
But the story of how these programs came to be in our collection to begin with and later discovered is as interesting as the shows themselves. In the 1970s, WNET/Thirteen in New York donated to the Library more than 20,000 reels of 16mm film and thousands of videotapes that were broadcast on National Educational Television between its founding in 1954 through its replacement in 1967 by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). During many of those years, NET imported several British dramas produced by companies like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Rediffusion, Thames, and more, and these all came to the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
Flash forward to the present, when Moving Image Reference Librarian Zoran Sinobad and independent researcher Sam Serafy set about combing the Library’s Shakespeare-related film and video holdings. Among the adaptations they discovered were a 1967 BBC production of “Much Ado About Nothing” (based on the stage direction of Franco Zeffirelli) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from 1958, another BBC broadcast.
Serafy was intrigued by the presence of the two BBC productions in the NET Collection. Like their American network counterparts, the BBC and other UK television companies only infrequently kept copies of their broadcasts during the 1950s and ’60s (most famously, there are 108 missing episodes from the first six years of “Doctor Who”), while at the same time there is a great deal of popular interest in Great Britain for the recovery of “lost” television. Serafy, a British native, went to lostshows.com, a website devoted to missing UK television programs, and found that both “Much Ado About Nothing” and A Midsummer Night’s Dream” were both listed as missing.
(Clip from Much Ado About Nothing, BBC, 1967. Directed by Alan Cooke.)
His interest piqued, Serafy spent his spare time going through the NET Collection inventories, noting anything that could possibly be a missing British teleplay. He was joined in the hunt by Sinobad, and over time the two collated a list of 68 shows that the lost shows database claimed were missing. Serafy contacted Kaleidoscope Publishing—the owner of lostshows.com—and they immediately informed Steve Bryant, the Senior Curator of Television for the British Film Institute.
The end result is not only the Library’s first ever repatriation of television programs to another country, but the largest such repatriation in history. We are now producing new digital preservations of all the programs, which exist in a variety of film and video formats, at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va. The British Film Institute will receive high-resolution 50mb MPEG-2 copies for its collections, while the original elements remain with us. Of course, patrons in the Motion Picture Reading Room can see all the shows as well.
By the way, we’re planning to show Sean Connery in “Colombe” at the Packard Campus Theater sometime in October, so check back for more details.
[Ed. note: BFI's statement is here.]