With the release of BBC’S Bleak House (1959) by Simply Media, a fantastic adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, producer/director Paul Vanezis tells us about his exciting discovery of lost episodes, and shares his thoughts on archive television. .
How did you come about finding the 1959 Bleak House?
Back in 1984, I wrote to Cyprus TV and asked them if they had ever shown Doctor Who, and if so, did they still have any copies on the shelf. When they wrote back, they told me that they still had 13 episodes, and three of those turned out to be the missing ones. But when the BBC got the films back, they never asked if any other BBC films were also there.
I went there in 1989 and brazened my way in. They let me go down into the basement into a room called 'The Grave', so called because it was a truly unpleasant resting place for redundant film. Amongst a lot of other films, I found the whole set of Bleak House and twelve episodes of Z Cars. All were missing from the BBC's shelves. They were returned to the BBC the following year.
Have you had any other discoveries?
All sorts. The most recent were three lost episodes of my favourite TV series as a teenager. It was called Look! Hear!, a regional music programme presented by Chris Phipps, Ann Butcher, Toyah Wilcox and John Holmes. John had copies hidden in his spare room!
But I also found what we think is the earliest surviving colour recording made by Thames Television, from Christmas Eve 1968. It's the rehearsal of a Christmas Day show that was actually broadcast in black and white, Horne A Plenty.
Then there is a lovely transmitted pilot made by BBC Bristol. The Scrumpy and Western Show, which was presented by Adge Cutler and the Wurzels. There was a lot more in Cyprus though, including some plays, some episodes of a series called Katy with Susan Hampshire. Too many to recall really, about 200 films.
Why do you think television shows from the 1950s – 1970s are looked back on so fondly today?
As people get older, they get nostalgic for the past. Programmes are fondly remembered because they were watched in simpler times when people felt they were happier and the jokes were fresh. They were also, in the main, very well written and performed.
What were your favourite classic shows from that period?
There is a fabulous play that the BBC made called Rogue Male from the mid 70's starring Peter O'Toole. It's about to be remade with Benedict Cumberbatch. I enjoyed Timeslip and Escape Into Night which ATV made in the early 70's and I watched both avidly. One of the series I found in Cyprus was a Francis Durbridge thriller The Desperate People which has recently come out on DVD. I got really interested in Durbridge after that and they still stand up well.
If you could see any classic TV shows brought back today, what would they be?
I'd like to see a remake of Vendetta. It was quite a cool series starring Stelio Candeli who basically had a grievance with organised crime. Fabulous fun, action series made by the BBC. One of the creators was Brian Degas who I worked closely with on a series I worked on at the BBC called Specials, then subsequently Nimrod, (later renamed Virtual Murder). Virtual Murder would also make a good release. I have kept some of the edit masters.
Are there any shows that you would like to see get a DVD release?
Lots. Man of Straw is a quaint 70's serial directed by Herbie Wise and starring Derek Jacobi. That would be fun to see again. ATV made an interesting and very unusual play called Friends in Space. There are a lot of ITV Playhouse shows from the 70's and early 80's that were only shown once and deserve a wider audience.
How do you see the future of archive television going?
If you mean about releases, I think there is a dedicated audience for archive TV and lots of opportunities for thoughtful releases.