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BFI Acquires Lost Early British Television Dramas Found in USA

13 September 2010




Rare footage of Sean Connery, Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith, Leonard Rossiter and many more discovered after over 40 years

The BFI has acquired the biggest and best ever single haul of missing British television footage and featuring some of the nation’s biggest and best loved names in film, TV and theatre. A chance find by a US television researcher at the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington DC resulted in the discovery of this extraordinary collection of previously lost British television - not seen by the public since their original transmission.

This unprecedented collaboration between the LOC and the BFI National Archive, the two largest archives of film and television in the world, will return to the UK over 65 unique recordings of British television drama from 1957 to 1969, a key period of British television history. The find will support the BFI’s ongoing Long Live Film campaign, in which 75 of the world’s top missing films have been identified for recovery.

The bulk of the programmes are adaptations of existing literary works (Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Cocteau, Anouilh) and include some legendary names. Rudolph Cartier’s ambitious drama of the painter (Rembrandt, 1969) is a key find and other highlights include an adaptation from 1965 by Nigel Kneale, a re-imagining of his previous adaptation of 1984 and an outstanding collection of plays based on Georges Simeon (non-Maigret) short stories entitled Thirteen Against Fate (only one episode was previously known to have survived) from 1966. The haul also includes two missing Wednesday Plays. The tapes belonged originally to Public Broadcasting Service WNET New York and were broadcast on that network following UK transmission on BBC or ITV.

Steve Bryant, Senior Curator (Television), BFI National Archive comments

“The BFI's "Missing, Believed Wiped" campaign to recover the lost treasures of British television history has been going for 17 years now, but this is by far the largest and most significant collection of programmes we have found, both in terms of the quality and the vintage of the titles concerned. We are very grateful to WNET for having the foresight to donate them to the Library of Congress, to the Library for preserving them and now making them available, and to Kaleidoscope for providing the on-line forum which led to their discovery.”

Mike Mashon, Head, Moving Image Section, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress comments

“In the archival world, television repatriations are exceedingly rare. We're delighted to make high quality preservation copies of these programs at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and share them with the BFI and the British public. In the meanwhile, we'll keep looking for more lost shows.”

Among other tantalising details to have surfaced from cast lists are Jane Asher in a 1962 version of Romeo and Juliet; Sean Connery and Dorothy Tutin in Colombe (1960) by Jean Anouilh; Derek Jacobi, Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith in Much Ado About Nothing (1967); Leonard Rossiter and John Le Mesurier in Dr. Knock (1966) (Harley Granville-Barker’s translation of Jules Romains’ satire); and Betty Marsden as Mrs Malaprop in a 1962 version of Sheridan’s The Rivals.

Other famous actors include Mai Zetterling, Patricia Routledge, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Hordern, Jill Bennett, Leo McKern, Wilfrid Brambell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Sallis, Donald Wolfitt, Bernard Cribbins, Viven Merchant, Jeremy Brett, David Hemmings, Susannah York, Charles Grey, Patrick Macnee, Robert Shaw, Ron Moody, David McCallum, Robert Hardy, and Geoffrey Bayldon. Producers and directors are of equally high standing. 

As the BFI National Archive celebrates its 75th anniversary this year this news could not have come at a more appropriate time. Special thanks are due to the BFI’s partner organisation Kaleidoscope: The Classic Television Organisation who first alerted us to the possibility of this haul.

Missing Believed Wiped festival

The BFI will show selected highlights of the collection during its annual Missing Believed Wiped festival of recovered television programmes on Sunday 7th November at BFI Southbank. 

About the BFI

The BFI is the nation's cultural organisation for film, keeping the breadth of voices in moving image culture alive and known. Through its venues, festivals, film releases and online, the BFI inspires people to understand and enjoy film culture, ensuring that everyone in the UK can see the broadest range and choice of films, otherwise not provided by commercial cinema. The BFI reaches an audience of over 7.5 million in the UK every year.

The BFI is a public body part funded by DCMS through the UK Film Council. For every £1 it receives in grant-in-aid, the BFI raises a further £1.50 through self-generated means.

BFI National Archive

The BFI National Archive was founded in 1935 and has grown to become the largest collection of film and television in the world with over 180,000 films and 750,000 television programmes. With specialist storage facilities in Warwickshire and Hertfordshire the archive also boasts significant collections of stills, posters and designs along with original scripts, press books and related ephemera. We are funded partly by OfCom as the official archive for ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five. We record a representative sample of television across Britain’s terrestrial channels and are the official archive of moving image records of Parliament.

BFI Special Collections

Part of the BFI National Archive, Special Collections looks after and makes available collections relating to individuals and organisations involved in the British film and television industries. Highlights of the collection include the papers of Sir David Lean, John Schlesinger, Derek Jarman, Joseph Losey, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Carol Reed, Gerald Thomas, Lord Puttnam, Dirk Bogarde, Muriel, Sidney and Betty Box, the Children’s Film Foundation and Hammer Films.

BFI Mediatheques

Anyone can get access to collections of over 1900 titles from the archive for free at BFI Mediatheques around the UK, currently at BFI Southbank, BFI National Library, QUAD Derby, Central Library Cambridge, Wrexham Library and the Discovery Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

BFI National Archive Online

Our YouTube channel BFIFilms has over 300 items which can be viewed online. [Over 800,000 views have been recorded for Alice in Wonderland (1903) uploaded to coincide with the release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland]. Academic access for higher education is through the BFI InView project. Schools and educational institutions have access to a wide range of material at This is in addition to paid access at the BFI for other research needs.

BFI Viewing Copies

12,000 prints a year are loaned out by the BFI National Archive to support the programmes of 800 venues across the UK and overseas and our DVD label regularly issues selected items. These have included the hugely popular British Transport Films Collection series, the legendary documentaries of The GPO Film Unit and most recently, highlights from the collections of the Central Office of Information.