The medium of television and film has become central to our culture. It is the most popular, varied and watched form of entertainment in the world, amassing hundreds of thousands of hours of output. Television offers us a fascinating historical snapshot of our times, from politics and society to the changing world around us, television will be an invaluable tool for generations of historians and researchers to come. Yet there are sizeable chunks of it missing from archives the world over, including the United Kingdom.
“I had always taken the view that television very much reflected the society we live in, how society behaves, and its values, and so on, and also reflected what we had of knowledge, information, and entertainment.”
Former BBC Archive Selector Sue Malden (1978–1983)
The BBC didn’t always ascribe to this view. The Corporation had no policy of archiving material until as late as 1978, meaning that a considerable portion of the Beeb’s output from the 1930s until the late 1970s has been lost. Junking of the material was even happening as late as the 1990s when Archive Selector Adam Lee junked a whole range of classic children’s television. BBC programmes wiped by the Beeb before 1978 include United, Out of the Unknown, Quatermass, Jukebox Jury, the Apollo 11 coverage, Hancock’s Half Hour, Dixon of Dock Green, Dad’s Army, Z-Cars and too many more to list. It was standard policy for the BBC to wipe master copies for re-use and the wiping of the Doctor Who masters began in 1967 (see table below).
At the time of broadcast, videotapes of all episodes were sent to BBC Enterprises (now BBC Worldwide) where a film recording clark by the name of Pamela Nash arranged telerecordings of each episode to be created and made available for overseas sales via the use of a Kinescope. BBC Enterprises was in its infancy in the 1960s yet was already selling its output abroad to countries that had inferior systems of broadcast and unable to use videotape, primarily in the Commonwealth. When a purchase was made, a copy would be struck from Enterprises negatives or a copy would be sent on from another broadcaster (bicycling). There were no exceptions to this process besides the Doctor Who Christmas special episode The Feast of Steven. A complete set of prints (besides Feast) were held at BBC Enterprises until 1972, despite the majority of the Hartnell and Troughton master tapes having been wiped by 1970. BBC Enterprises continued to make black and white telerecordings of Doctor Who well past the shows debut in colour until the very end of the Pertwee era.
The junking of Doctor Who at BBC Enterprises began in 1972, the last year that full set existed. With no proper storage facilities and piles of film from over two decades of television cluttering up corridors, storage was nearly chaotic. Cupboards, offices and floors were used for storage, cans were mislabeled, and paperwork was in disarray. Ideally, film should be stored upright in a sealed can at a temperature in the low 50s, not anything like the conditions at BBC TV Centre.
Things came to a head when the BBC was paid a visit by the London Fire Brigade who quickly declared the masses of videotape to be a fire hazard. Threatening to write a negative report, the BBC was in danger of not gaining a certificate of insurance which would have shut their premises if the tape was not cleared.
Having an archive was considered an unviable luxury and Pamela Nash subsequently ordered the destruction of all material that the BBC no longer had rights to sell. Doctor Who was stored in two distinct locations as it was never intended for storage on videotape at BBC TV Centre. The sites were The Brentford Film Library (35mm films) and BBC Enterprises’ (16mm monochrome film for overseas sales) located at Villiers House in Ealing, London.
The Brentford Film Library officially junked only five episodes, The Power of the Daleks 6, The Wheel in Space 5, The Ice Warriors 3, The Crusade 1, and The Celestial Toymaker 2, despite the latter two being on 16mm film as opposed to 35mm film. The film library only made a point of keeping select episodes as they believed BBC Enterprises held the negatives, this was not the case however as Villiers House was the scene of the destruction of the majority of the BBC’s holdings.
Episode after episode of Doctor Who and other greats of British television was ripped from their canisters and tossed into skips bound for the garbage dump. They were thrown into furnaces and sliced into pieces. So efficient was the destruction that a machine was explicitly built to cut film along its entire length.
“[Pamela Nash] didn’t seem to care — she had been destroying all the prints, all the negatives and all surviving master copies. Just incinerating them, destroying them — they were lost forever. I had seen all the cards showing when she had junked all the episodes. They had held every single episode of ‘Doctor Who’ up until 1972.”
Ian Levine, former Doctor Who consultant and prominant fan
All film was marked by importance, a fact that saved Doctor Who for a short while… but not long enough. Although concentrating on black and white film, to begin with, soon enough the situation became so bad that the junking moved onto the colour Jon Pertwee era, his first four seasons decimated just as Hartnell and Troughton already had been.
The role of Pamela Nash remains a controversial and divisive one even today, though Doctor Who Restoration Team member Paul Vanezis suggested that Nash shouldn’t be singled out as the villain of the piece.
“Ian Levine is very bitter about Pamela Nash, but in fact, Doctor Who was just a victim of circumstance. It survived a lot longer intact than most other BBC shows of the period. She worked for Enterprises which did not have a mandate to keep anything permanently, and the BBC did not have a policy of retaining any material whatsoever. It’s easy for us to moan about it now, but I think we should be thankful for what we’ve got….and continue searching.”
Paul Vanezis, 1999
While as Doctor Who fans we, of course, focus on what is missing from our archives the cultural scar goes far deeper than that. There is no hope that much of this material may ever be found or replaced. Yet Doctor Who fans are also key to the hunt for missing television, their publicised search for episodes during the 1980s and 1990s, not to mention the enormous publicity for the Philip Morris finds, has pushed the issue of missing material firmly into the spotlight. Speaking in 2012 Dick Fiddy of the British Film Institute gives credit to fans for kickstarting the hunt for missing television.
“Even though the Doctor Who fans have been much maligned over the years, in many ways they are the people that kickstarted the whole missing television programme revolution. When one of the archivists at the BBC first started to assemble a rational archive for the BBC, she found a lot of the Doctor Who’s that were missing from the shelves were actually held by overseas sales departments. So she got quite a few back in the end.”
Dick Fiddy, British Film Institute
That archivist was Sue Malden. As the emerging VHS and Betamax markets began to be seen as a potential source of revenue, the potential was seen in exploiting the Corporations rich heritage of broadcasting, and the BBC Film Library was turned into a combined Film & Videotape Library.
“When I became the first archive selector for the BBC, what was important for me to do was to raise the issues about archiving among the broadcasting community, particularly the BBC, making managers and producers aware of its importance and having a policy for deciding how and what should be kept, and effectively carrying that out.
So, I spent a lot of time working on refining the policies which had been drafted as part of the work in support of BBC archiving. Then, I spent a lot of time planning, advising, and working on the process of putting things into place, and so on. So, when I finished doing all that, I kind of looked around me, and thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do next?’ And I thought it would be useful to take one well-known, seminal television series and analyse just what had happened to it, how often had it been broadcast, when was it broadcast, how many programmes had there been in the series, and how many of them survived in the archives. And those that didn’t, was it possible to find out why they didn’t? And then, if necessary, find out where they could be recovered. And I happened to choose Doctor Who, which was amazing really.
To me, Doctor Who was one of those key significant series which was a milestone in television history. Everybody knew about it. It had touched so many people’s lives, and it had gone on over several different generations as well. So, I set about finding out how many Doctor Whos were in the archives and how many had been transmitted in the first place, and then I saw I had got quite a lot that were missing. So, it seemed a good idea to actually try and find out if there was any way of finding out why they were missing, what had happened to them, and then what could be done to recover them.”
Sue compiled a list of what still existed in the archives, it made painful reading. It was discovered only An Unearthly Child, Doctor Who’s first story, existed in its entirety from the whole of the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton era and only Jon Pertwee’s debut in Spearhead From Space could be added to that number for Doctor Who’s entire first decade. The butcher’s bill can be seen in the table below.
One of the first people that Sue Malden came into contact with was Ian Levine.
In January of 1977, Ian had made contact with the BBC by way of a family friend — BBC PR man Terry Sampson. Put in touch with Arthur Jearum of the Non-Theatric Sales Department, Ian’s intention was to buy copies of Doctor Who episodes for his expanding video collection. Levine’s inquiry was initially rejected, but after some pressure from Sampson, they relented and sold Levine Jon Pertwee’s Frontier in Space for the princely sum of over two and a half thousand pounds. Levine and others became involved in the burgeoning tape trading scene. Still, they were eager for Hartnell’s and Troughton’s, something the BBC wouldn’t sell them due to a copyright issue that only allowed material from the past seven years to be sold. Not to be deterred Levine made inquiries and eventually found an “in” at the BBC Film Library.
Levine was allowed to view films for the purposes of future sales and was given access to the records, being disappointed by the shocking state of the archive. Believing that there must be more material somewhere at the BBC, Levine made inquiries around the Corporation and heard a rumour that BBC Enterprises at Villiers House held more episodes. The priority first, however, was securing the episodes at the Film Library. After being told he would need special dispensation from Equity and The Writers Guild to circumvent to 7-year rule, Levine duly got the required clearance and was allowed to purchase the material for personal use.
It has been a long-held fan believe that in late 1977 the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) had reached an agreement with the BBC to purchase the William Hartnell story Galaxy 4 to show at their Panopticon convention, presumably for 1978 (the first Panopticon taking place on August 6, 1977). The legend says that DWAS told the prints for the episodes had been destroyed just three months prior. The group, however, had been refused permission before the 1977 event to purchase episodes. They didn’t inquire again to BBC Enterprises until January of 1978 for the coming August. They were told that the story had already been junked without a timeframe given for their destruction. The tale that they’d been junked just three months prior enraged Levine and quickly resolving to purchase what was held at the Film Library, his eyes turned to Villiers house.
Taking the trip to Ealing with John Bridger of BBC Film Library Sales in the spring of ’78, Levine found dozens of episodes of Doctor Who, many which didn’t exist in the Film & Videotape Library as well as cans from Out of the Unknown and others. In the middle of the floor of the film vault he found 28 cans marked “withdrawn, de-accessioned and junked,” removing the white masking tape that surrounded the cans Levine was horrified to find that the first Dalek serial was inside. Marked for junking was not only the negatives but also the prints and a set of Arabic dubbed negatives and positives, his quick reaction saving them from junking the very next day.
“When we were looking for ‘Doctor Who’ episodes, there was a rumour going around that there were loads of them being held by BBC Enterprises. Finally, I arranged for someone from the BBC to take me down to see what was there. I walked in and saw the first Dalek story about to be junked, and I felt a mixture of horror and elation. I think the horror took over, and I threw an absolute fit. We found the woman [Pamela Nash] from BBC Enterprises who was in charge of destroying these prints, and we went running into her office, and she said ‘Oh, no-one wants them, they’re just old black and white prints’, and I got really agitated and went ‘I want them!’. I’d just got clearance from the BBC to buy these episodes, and here they were being destroyed!”
The outraged Levine quickly contacted Sue Malden who he says “knew nothing about it”, getting the BBC archivist to put an end to the destruction at Villiers House.
“I contacted the head of the BBC Film and Videotape Library, Sue Malden and got her to issue an order to Pamela Nash telling her not to destroy any more Doctor Who films. We saved all the episodes that were still there, but she had destroyed over 150 episodes over the previous five years, pointing out that the rights to sell the episodes had expired.”
Speaking to Sci-Fi Now in 2014, Sue Malden tells a different tale.
“I remember us getting printouts coming into the library, showing videotape that was being wiped. My boss at the time found out that this sort of thing was going on and managed to get into the loop so that these printouts came to us and we could then start marking them with stuff for retention — overriding the production department’s decision to get rid of it. For the first couple of times of us doing it nobody took any notice of our decisions, but eventually we got that going… I went and spoke to all the heads of production and engineering, explaining that now we were going to be keeping more videotape and I was going to have responsibility for that. I can certainly remember engineering people saying, ‘Well what on earth do you won’t do that for? Why on earth do you want to keep these tapes?’…The first part of the job was stopping the wiping, rather than actively going out and looking for things that were missing.”
It should be noted that both Sue Malden and Ian Levine’s statements are partially compatible. As Sue Malden was appointed BBC Archive Selector in 1978 and the last recorded Doctor Who junking at Villiers House was in 1976, Malden would not have received reports of Doctor Who being junked. She could conceivably have known nothing about it if that refers singularly to Doctor Who as opposed to the process as a whole. It should further be noted, however, that the interview in question neglects to mention to role of Ian Levine at all.
Despite the official position being that junking came to a halt, the destruction of film continued past the long-established date of 1978 in an unofficial capacity. One member of staff at Villiers House was “vindictive enough” to gloat about their role in the junking of material until being reprimanded by the BBC. Doctor Who was amongst the programmes that were junked during this period. Whether this included episodes and material that is now considered missing from the archives is currently unknown. Paul Vanezis, however, brought some light into the dark and has highlighted one fan who worked at Villiers House who at the time who would anonymously send endangered Doctor Who to Sue Malden following the directive to end the process of junking.
Reviewing what existed at BBC Enterprises, it was found that The Daleks, Inside the Spaceship, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, The Sensorites, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Space Museum, The Chase, The Ark, The Gunfighters, The Mind Robber and The Seeds of Death were all discovered in their entirety. It was 60 episodes more than were currently held at the Film and Videotape Library. Sue Malden pressed further and the first four seasons of the Jon Pertwee era were also recovered as black and white telerecordings.
The state of the archive in 1978 was appalling with 150 episodes of Doctor Who being destroyed in just six years. Still, the situation was not nearly as bad as it might have been had it not been for the work of Sue Malden and the quick action and tenacity of Ian Levine. The first two seasons of the show remained relatively unscathed compared to seasons four and five, thanks mainly to their being brought home from BBC Enterprises. While it must have been shocking to see the sheer scale of damage that had befallen the history of the show, there was new hope as the hunt for missing Doctor Who got underway. For these events alone, Doctor Who owes Sue Malden and Ian Levine a debt of gratitude.
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