Snail Races

The BBC has been notoriously bad about keeping Archived material as any true Goon Show, Doctor Who, Goodies, and a host of other British Broadcasting programme aficionados know.  Most of these shows have survived because of others besides the BBC.  But others, such as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Not Only… But Also were thought to have vanished courtesy of BBC policies.

In the early 1970s the BBC erased most videotapes of the series. This was common television practice at the time, when agreements with actors’ and musicians’ unions limited the number of repeats. The policy of wiping recordings ceased in 1978. When Cook learned the series was to be destroyed, he offered to buy the tapes but was refused because of copyright issues. He suggested he purchase new tapes so that the BBC would have no need to erase the originals, but this was also turned down.

Of the original programmes, eight of the twenty-two complete episodes survive complete. These comprise the first series with the exception of the fifth and seventh episodes, the first and last episodes of the second series, and the Christmas special. Of the 1970 third series, only the various film inserts (usually of outdoor scenes) survive. The BBC recovered some shows by approaching overseas television networks and buying back copies. A compilation of six half-hour programmes, The Best of What’s Left of Not Only…But Also was shown in the 1990s, and released on VHS and DVD.

It seems that we may have to thank comedian Bob Monkhouse and his pack rat tendencies that we may have copies of some of these programmes, not the BBC management. When Monkhouse died, he had 36000 video tapes! Monkhouse had an early home videotape machine and recorded some programmes, including his show: the “Golden Shot”. There are rumours that there are loads of “lost” material in this collection!

But, my point is that the BBC is pretty bad about making sure that archival material is available. The TV show the Goodies has quite a cult following, but only about half the episodes they produced are commercially available. Of course, their entire ITV series happens to be available on DVD!

The reason I call this snail races is that one can find BBC material online and download it (usually by Bittorrent), which defeats the point. First off, the BBC is moaning about its finances. Secondly, there is a demand for this material from people other than Bob Monkhouse. Sure, the more popular programmes are available as DVD, but programmes such as the Last Duel, Howard Goodall’s The Truth about Christmas Carols, The Silence, The Complete Goodies, Colditz, and quite a few other ones are next to impossible to come by through “official channels”. I know that Colditz hasn’t been wiped off the face of the earth.

A determined person can find this material on the internet. The quality is spotty, of course, yet it will do if you are desperate to watch it.

I have to admit that it is annoying in this age when one can buy instant downloads that the BBC hasn’t caught on. Although, judging from the official iPlayer that any attempt to allow for legal downloads would probably be a fiasco. There still has to be a better way.

Especially since Bob Monkhouse is no longer with us.

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