Not every archive rediscovery is a dramatic recovery from an outside source such as a film collector selling a print on, or an original programme maker mentioning that they made an off-air recording of one of their shows. Many, perhaps the majority, of recovered programmes never actually left the archives, but have existed as mislabelled tapes, films only held in negative prints, or recordings only kept in regional outer offices.
One of the plays that we are screening in the ‘Drama She Wrote’ season at BFI Southbank, Andrea Newman’s Love Story: Home for the Holidays, had been thought missing for many years, only reappearing in a recent stocktaking of ATV holdings in the ITV archive. We only came across its survival by chance when we were double-checking some other plays as possible choices for the season. While 14 out of 128 Love Story (ATV 1963-74) plays are listed as missing in the 2010 edition of the Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Research Guide, its online successor TVBrain now only records four as lost.
Programmes that are recovered within the archives tend not to receive as much publicity as those that have been returned from outside them. Archive holders don’t like to publicise inadequacies of their own archiving and cataloguing, and there is little commercial point in publicising discoveries of black-and-white television programmes that remain highly likely to stay unseen. But dozens of ITV drama programmes have resurfaced without any announcement, save for their TVBrain entries being amended, in recent years. Here is a list of ten significant dramas previously listed as missing that I have come across while crosschecking my records.
01 Nov 1960 Play of the Week: Square Dance (Anglia, w. Joan Morgan d. George More O’Ferrall)
Anglia was one of the most assiduous ITV regions about preserving their drama archive, with only a handful of early plays lost to posterity. This was one of their first productions, of particular historical value because of its rare female authorship. Described by the TV Times as “very much a woman’s play”, Square Dance is an ambiguous story of marital suspicion.
14 Feb 1961 Play of the Week: The Plough and the Stars (Granada w. Sean O’Casey d. Cliff Owen)
Sean O’Casey has not fared well in British television archives, with neither the 1967 BBC2 production of this play nor the 1973 Stage 2 version of Shadow of a Gunman known to have survived. This is the earliest O’Casey production to exist, performed by an Irish cast, including many veterans of the Abbey Theatre.
26 Sep 1961 Play of the Week: Barchester Towers (Granada w. Giles Cooper from Anthony Trollope d. Stuart Latham)
Over two decades before the BBC’s celebrated Barchester Chronicles serial, Granada produced a lively-looking single play of Trollope’s second Barchester novel. The enticing cast includes Douglas Wilmer, William Mervyn, Ambrosine Phillpotts and Basil Dignam.
30 Nov 1961 Television Playhouse: A Resounding Tinkle (Granada w. N. F. Simpson d. Paul Almond)
It seems outlandish that ITV could ever have broadcast a version of a demanding absurdist comedy recently performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre, but we now have the opportunity to witness proof that they once did. This has a remarkable cast – Geoffrey Bayldon, Tenniel Evans, Joan Hickson, Dinsdale Landen, Billie Whitelaw.
02 Jun 1964 Love Story: The Wooing of Miss Watson (w. Edna O’Brien d. Rex Firkin)
This intense two-hander is an important work in Edna O’Brien’s career as television dramatist, demonstrating the versatility and range of the Love Story series.
06 Sep 1965 Play of the Week: Strife (Granada w. John Galsworthy d. Howard Baker)
The earliest of three productions of Galsworthy’s tin miners’ strike tragedy (also made by the BBC in 1975 and 1988), with Fulton Mackay and John Phillips playing the intractable union boss and mine owner.
11 Oct 1966 A Choice of Kings (Rediffusion w. John Mortimer d. John Frankau)
To mark the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, Rediffusion commissioned a prestigious new chronicle play from John Mortimer, starring Michael Craig as Harold Godwineson and Julian Glover as William of Normandy.
13 Jun 1967 The Stories of D. H. Lawrence: Strike Pay (Granada w. John Hale from D. H. Lawrence d. Richard Everitt)
Another Edwardian story about the consequences of a strike, the discovery of this play means that five episodes of The Stories of D. H. Lawrence are now known to survive. Extracts from a further two editions were also found at the same time.
06 Feb 1968 Sarah (Granada w./d. Pat Lagone)
A fascinating looking early exercise in documentary drama, publicised with this synopsis:
How many girls go to London every year, drawn by the lure of the big swinging city, the place where it’s all happening? When they get there, straight from school, how do they cope with the sometimes wonderful, occasionally weird, world outside? Ex-Fleet Street reporter Patricia Logone, who produced the programme and also wrote the script with Patrick Garland, is the mother of a teenage daughter. She has a private, as well as a professional interest in the plight of the young in the so-called permissiveness and confusion of the 60s. “Sarah is a composite character,” said Patricia. “She is drawn from many 17- year-old girls, including my own daughter. She is any young girl beginning a new life in a strange place.”
10 Aug 1977 The Rocking-Horse Winner (HTV w. Julian Bond from D. H. Lawrence d. Peter Medak)
It seems surprising that a half-hour filmed drama of Lawrence’s story starring Kenneth More could ever have been listed as missing, but it is reassuring to see that it is now restored to the archives.
(with thanks to Simon Coward)