The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Lost In TV

So last Sunday I attended Missing Believed Wiped at the NFT, an annual event presenting the best, or the oddest, stuff that has been recovered and returned to archives in the last year. Because, as I’m sure we’re all aware, up until about 1980 the guy whose job it was to set the BBC video was a little bit forgetful and tended to take a nap when episodes of Top Of The Pops or Patrick Troughton Doctor Whos were on, and it wasn’t until a Doctor Who fan forced his way into the BBC and threatened to cause a scene unless they stopped using old episodes of Z-Cars for firelighters that they actually got their act together. Or something like that, you’d have to ask Andrew Pixley.

I went last year, I wrote about it, so what wonders did Dick ‘my name couldn’t sound ruder if I tried’ Fiddy have for us this year? Well, to begin with, there were highlights of the Library Of Congress ‘haul’ (a ‘haul’ being the collective noun for missing episodes of television). My thoughts follow.

Colombe – Quite poor sound quality. Peter Sallis looks young. Sean Connery has not yet learned how to act; he would be better described as a grumpy slab of incomprehensibly Scottish scenery.

Romeo & Juliet – An almost unrecognisably young Jane Asher. Very stagey, but not in a bad way. Noticed a joke I hadn’t noticed before. Would watch the whole thing.

Auto Stop – David Hemmings on a studio-bound beach chatting to a girl. Very Angry Young Man, dialogue awkward mix of naturalism and cod-meaningful clunkiness. I get the feeling lots of plays in the 60’s were like this.

Dr Knock – John Le Mesurier and Leonard Rossiter, not sure what to make of this, good performances but out of context it was just confusing. Would watch the whole thing.

13 Against Fate: The Friends – Even more confusing, the beginning of an anthology series, it looked like The Lotus Eaters or somesuch but the direction was awful, very poor grammar, and the writing was pretty dreadful.

1984 - The 1965 re-make, in which Peter Cushing is sadly missed, and Nigel Kneale has decided to ‘jush’ the whole thing up with a comedy opening that looks like something out of The Goodies. Oh no, he’s driven a sand-buggy into a NUCLEAR MINEFIELD! Would watch the whole thing.

Let There Be Light – Very odd this, it’s a drama-documentary by Alan Plater but which starts off as an episode of Please Sir! before one of the characters talks to us, then takes us back in time to see how schools used to be, one hundred years ago. Baffling but intriguing. Would watch the whole thing.

Bath – The Queen Of The West – A travelogue with the original Dimbleby walking around in front of blown-up photographs of the interior of Bath Cathedral. Bath looks pretty much the same now. If it didn’t, this would be more interesting.

Sing Me A Fantasy – Oh god, this was wonderful! Apparently a TV station was losing its franchise, so on the last day, they made this bizarre comedy-musical about a man marooned on a traffic island, only to discover it’s a desert island where Kenny Lynch is making ‘I won’t need sun-tan lotion!’ jokes. Would buy on DVD to watch again and again.

Manfred Mann At The Concorde Club – Either the film was playing at the wrong speed or kids in the sixties were taking some serious drugs. At this point in their career, Manfred Mann were a very dull rhythm-and-blues band. Interesting mainly to see that in the 60’s, kids really didn’t know how to dance.

The Lulu Show – Now, I loved this. People I were with, were bored. I thought it was great. I love Lulu (Mickie Most era only, I hasten to add), I like hearing her do songs she didn’t do on albums, and it’s historically interesting to hear her perform a Eurovision submission by ‘Elton John And Bernie Porpine’. Plus there was a great bit with a conductor doing an insanely jazzed-up version of Downtown; the conductor being the best dancer on the show, even though it featured Pan’s People. Would watch others in this series.

Secombe Here! – A variety show seemingly from the days before the flood. Extremely hard work to watch for most of it, because in those days television was black and white and NO SHADES OF GREY INBETWEEN, so everyone drifts about like a ghost, and variety shows were lots of sing, lots of dance, and not much else. If I tell you the trampoline act was the highlight, you have some idea. But in the middle of that, there was an okay hypnotism sketch with Spike Milligan, and even Secombe’s intro was playing with the format, having him in the audience heckling the show rather than presenting it.

And then at the end, Secombe dresses up in musketeer gear to sing an operatic piece, very well... and then Spike and Eric Sykes come on as musketeers, and the three of them end up having a sword fight. Which is quite funny. And then the rest of the cast on stage pull out swords and join in the sword fight. Then Spike, Harry and Eric take the sword-fight off stage, past the studio cameras – and the cameramen pull out swords and join in the fight. Then members of the audience pull out swords and join in the fight. Then we’re out in the theatre foyer, again, more people pull out swords. Then we’re outside the theatre, Harry or Spike is hailing a taxi, a taxi pulls up, and the taxi driver leaps out with a sword and joins in the swordfight.

Then we cut to the BBC continuity presenter talking to us about the rest of the evening’s schedules and the weather... and then Spike, Eric and Harry leap onto the set and the continuity presenter pulls out a sword and joins in the fight. The fight then moves across the studio to the news presenter, in front of a photo of Big Ben, he pulls one of the hands off the clock and joins in the fight.

Honestly, it was hilarious. Really brilliant, playing-with-the-form stuff, and at a time when television had barely started, long before Monty Python and The Young Ones and Alexei Sayle did a similar sort of thing. I’m not the biggest fan of the Goons, but this was great.

The Frankie Howerd Show – And a bit of a comedown. This must’ve been the last in the series or something, because for a script by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, it was very thin on jokes. The show was, Frankie comes on, waffles, makes jokes about the producer (as Ronnie Corbett would later do in his monologues), talks about being tired, we flashback to the night before where rehearsals aren’t going well, where Frankie can’t sleep and where he has some unexpected guests, and... that’s it. All in all, a bit of a disappointment.

At Last The 1948 Show – A reconstruction of a previously missing episode, bringing together recently found footage, off-air audio and sketches included in a compilation. The most famous sketch was the Four Yorkshiremen, best known because the Pythons did it for their Hollywood Bowl show. Before that, though, were two quickies about Police/MI5 Banquets, Aimi MacDonald demonstrating her juggling skills (brilliant), Cleese and Brooke-Taylor being reunited with a couple of nerds they had met on holiday (very How To Irritate People, particularly the punch-line), a sketch about a dentist being distracted by his dental assistant which then takes a turn for the surreal, and best of all, Tim Brooke Taylor performing the Chartered Accountant dance.

So there you go. In a way, it’s good all these programmes were lost, because if they hadn’t been lost, they couldn’t have been found, and no-one would ever have had the chance to see them again.