A few weeks ago I was thrilled to accompany parrot_knight to the my first Kaleidoscope event since 2009. 2016 has turned out to be grim in plenty of aspects, but in terms of recoveries of lost television it’s been a proverbial annus mirabilis.
Proceedings kicked off promptly at 10 a.m. in a stadium seated lecture theatre on the Birmingham City University campus. This in itself was a significant upgrade on viewing facilities compared with the modest charms of Stourbridge Town Hall – indeed, it’s the first event I’ve been able to take indecipherable notes on the items screened as I’ve been watching them. Reconstructing my scrawl at this distance of time is a restoration challenge in itself, so here goes.
10.15 It’s the Bachelors – with Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies, Len Lowe, The Mike Sammes Singers, The Bachelor Girls and Jack Parnell’s Orchestra. Filmed opening credits of the Irish trio on the road in an open top vintage car promises music and hi-jinks a la the Monkees. It’s not quite that – the clowning is left to a very fresh-faced ‘Parrot Face’ Davies, with a centrepiece sketch that with a bit of tweaking could have been run as a Muppets’ Veterinarian’s Hospital skit. (“I remember you Nurse Dooley, Barts, 1959.” “Oh really?” “Yes, I never forget a nose job.”)
This episode included all the adverts in the commercial break, and it was fascinating to see who was buying the air-time and what the intended target market would have been. I may have mixed up the adverts screened with those shown later on, but Farley’s rusks, Lucozade, Radiant washing powder and Watneys were among them, I think – so, the Mums’ demographic.
10.45 Till Death Us Do Part – Intolerance. The fourth episode of the first ever season, which was previously only represented visually by a much anthologised clip. The full episode surprised me by beginning without the opening titles – instead we’re straight into the final minutes of the 1966 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, which had taken place on the 5th of May, about two months before this episode was first shown. I imagine that when the first season was planned there was always going to be a script pitting Hammers’ fan Alf against his Scouse git son-in-law, and Liverpool’s cup run (and the final result) was too good an opportunity not to work in to the show. This is just the fourth episode of the first season, but already the team dynamic of Warren Mitchell, Dandy Nichols, Una Stubbs and Anthony Booth is tight knit. Warren Mitchell’s Alf says the unsayable, but is always challenged by Tony Booth’s Mike and Una Stubbs’ Rita, and is also condescended to, made to feel uncomfortable and, in this episode, left without a voice for the first few scenes, having shouted himself hoarse at the match.
11.15 Coronation Street – untransmitted promotional film. A curio from the Granada vaults ; in 1972 this was apparently part of a pitch to get the programme sold to America. (One of my memories of a holiday in Canada in 1982 is watching an episode of the show from the late 70s.) Shot from a first person POV, the viewer is an American businessman flying into Manchester, eyeing up the dolly air hostesses and remarking on the local sights of interest from the back of his cab, before arriving outside the Rovers’ Return to be welcomed into the bar by Annie Walker. As she points out various regulars clustered around at various tables (Jack Howarth’s Albert Tatlock looks like he’s on his fifth pint of mild at this point) we segue into various vignettes. I have no idea if these are scenes dropped in from preceding episodes’ storylines or filmed specially for the promotional trailer ; either way, it was a treat to see the 1972 versions of Bet Lynch, Emily Nugent and Ken Barlow, who wore his 70s hairdo and jacket with particular aplomb.
11.30 Swap Shop – two extracts, 1977 and 1978. It’s funny how things live on in the memory. I vividly remember seeing Noel Edmonds’ wander out of the studio he was in to gatecrash a camera rehearsal of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and particularly recall Windsor Davies’ barely breaking character as he beams with pride to the millions of children watching at home. Watching this and the Leo Sayers interview nearly forty years later made me wistfully nostalgiac for a time when the BBC TV Centre was exactly that ; the hub of a shared broadcasting world which the audience were invited in to (e.g. via the phone-ins). To end on a random note, I think I spotted a bit of Doctor Who computer set dressing on Noel’s desk pretending to be a telephone switchboard.
11.45 The Martin Loach Collection – recoveries from early formats of VCR tape of shows, clips and continuity : highlights included a formidably eloquent Dick Gregory mesmerising host David Frost and fellow guest Bob Newhart with his lived experience of challenging racism in the Deep South, and his protest strategies against Vietnam. The end of an episode of The Newcomers revealed to me that Robin Bailey had been in it (a soap seems to be so unlikely for such a measured, aristocratic thespian.) Holiday 69 offered out some perplexing competition prizes ; first, a carousel slide projector, which is nice enough, but the runner-up gets a weekend in Rotterdam? A Tomorrow’s World reporter has fluent conversations in Japanese, unsubtitled, as he reports on the popularity of U-Matic video recording, and imagines a future where homes have video libraries of esteemed cultural performances.
12.15 Intermission and the discovery of a vending machine that takes contactless payment – as featured on Tomorrow’s World, I’m sure, if the programme had not been cancelled.
With the lights up I was able to make some proper notes on Dicky Fiddy and Chris Perry in conversation – it was not a surprise to learn that some of BFI box sets are released with no hope of making a profit (although Out of the Unknown wasn’t mentioned specifically) as their production fulfils the BFI’s remit. It was a bit of a shame to hear that Dick Fiddy’s role was going to be up in the air as the BFI restructure. I hope he is able to host the At Last the 1948 Show ‘box set’ he wants to do at some point, given that the commercial exploitation rights are now in the hands of Reelin’ in the Years Productions in the US. Crowdfunding releases of archive television seems to be one of the ways forward to get the programmes out of the archive - but rights (and particularly music rights) are an obstacle.
12.55 Oracle Promo / 1.10 Jason Robertson Teletext transmissions began in 1975, using the two ‘overscan’ lines at the top of the TV picture to carry information for the text pages. The ITN promo film stressed how useful this would be for the man of business, provided he doesn’t mind squatting down on his haunches to change three rotary dials on the bottom corner of his wood panelled TV set. Jason Robertson has customised software running through a raspberry pi that can recover the slightly corrupted overscan lines that have been recorded on vintage Betamax, VHS and V2000 cassettes. So, for the first time since transmission, we can see whole collections of Oracle and Ceefax pages and they were originally sent out. Follow him at @grim_fandango on Twitter to see results.
If this sounds a bit dry, then it wasn’t - seeing headlines from 1975, 1976 and 1979 in that authoritative BBC Micro font in high definition on a big screen gave them immediacy which perhaps the yellowing pages of a newspaper doesn’t have. (I was tickled to see that, as in 2016, you could visit the West End to take in The Mousetrap and No Man’s Land forty years ago.)
For the first time outside a select band of early adopters in the mid 70s, we can read these headlines (some in classic teletext ‘click for more here’ such as AUSTRALIANS FACE DOWN DUO) and even appreciate the colours they are displayed in (although the very earliest colour schemes remain a matter for informed conjecture.)
1.45 Intermission by now the lecture theatre’s air conditioning was struggling with the challenge of two hundred or so people and their winter coats, so this interval was very much appreciated. Demand for sandwiches outstripped supply, although not before a particularly good chicken tikka one was sold to me.
2.15 Do Not Adjust Your Set / 3.00 Colour Me Pop More skits that have aged really well, I think, from David Jason, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle. This differed from the episode shown at the BFI in 2013 by having more for Denise Coffey to do, but the Captain Fantastic film insert seemed very familiar. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, dressed as Sons of the Desert, perform Noel Gay’s 1931 song “Ali Baba’s Camel” : “You've heard of Ali Baba, forty thieves had he /Out for what we all want, lots of L.S.D” (Vivian Stanshall ostentatiously holds up a money bag at this point.) Following an introduction from producer Steve Turner, we then saw the surviving rushes of the film inserts from the Bonzo’s episode of “Colour Me Pop”, and by now the sleep deprivation, early start and airlessness of the room conspired to make this off-the-wall spoof of a fly-on-the-wall documentary a chore to sit through.
3.30 The Avengers – Tunnel of Fear Perhaps the least expected and most anticipated return of the year, an episode from the first ever series with Ian Hendry’s Doctor Keel pairing up – somewhat diffidently at the start – with Steed. I’ve only ever seen Anthony Bate play Establishment figures (most notably Oliver Lacon in Tinker, Tailor) so his physical, rough diamond performance as an escaped convict was a pleasant revelation. John Kruse’s script gives Steed a chance to visit the dressing up box as well as display the sang-froid of an experienced agent of the state, and there’s a domestic strand to the story which was, I think, rare territory for the series to explore. Add to this some confident direction by Guy Verney (exploiting the night time setting for maximum effect) this is a very strong episode, well worth a second look (which was provided at the BFI a few weeks later.)
4.30 Late Night Horror – The Corpse Can’t Play A chilling and efficient expansion of John Burke’s short story “Party Games”, which I first read at an impressionable age in the anthology “Alfred Hitchcock – Stories that Scared Even Me”. A well directed child cast (not surprising, Paddy Russell is keeping them in line) are convincing as they torment a fatherless outsider in one room, whilst a nearly but not quite blithely unaware mother prepares the jelly and ice cream in the kitchen. Originally in vivid 625 line colour (heaven knows what the key props in the final scene looked like) this is still pretty powerful in black and white.
5.00 Under Manning It seems as if there is an ongoing campaign via events like this to rehabilitate this series, which I vaguely remember being thrown out on a Sunday afternoon slot by Southern TV. Charles Collingwood’s Miranda Hart style looks askance to the camera as the contestants and host live down to his expectations are pretty amusing, and I now know that Ned Flanders’ Leftorium actually existed, thirty five years ago, in Farnham.
5.30 The BBC South Interviews Filmed inserts of well known performers and comedians with the connection, it seemed, of being in rep in Bournemouth for the summer when they were filmed for South Today. The relaxed camaraderie of Morecambe and Wise contrasts with Peter Cook’s eyerolling when Dudley Moore is asked about jazz. Poignantly, Warren Mitchell, filming (I think) “All the Way Up”, knows that he’s always going to be associated with one role, even as he’s on location for a movie which he hopes will break the typecasting.
And that was the end of a very full day. Since then “Intolerance” has been released by Network in their “Till Death Us Do Part” collection, “Tunnel of Fear” has been screened to an appreciative audience on the South Bank, and perhaps Jason Robertson has come a little closer to his Holy Grails of Teletext.