Missing Believed Wiped, BFI Southbank, 16 December 2017

The annual showcase of rediscovered archive television promises some bumper treats, writes Rob Fairclough.

This year’s exciting line-up features some of the UK’s most-loved television personalities, including Warren Mitchell, Cilla Black, Jimmy Edwards, Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison, together with the television debut of a young Pete Postlethwaite.

Lost for 50 years, Till Death Us Do Part: Sex Before Marriage, originally broadcast on 2 January 1967 on BBC1, sees Warren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett, one of the UK’s most controversial television characters, rail against the ‘permissive society’. Although the existence of this missing episode from the second series has been known about for some years, with the print in the hands of a private collector, previous attempts to screen it have been refused. Missing Believed Wiped is delighted that access has now been granted for this special one-off screening. Sex Before Marriage features guest star John Junkin alongside regular cast members Dandy Nichols, Anthony Booth and Una Stubbs.

Following last year’s successful screening of a previously lost episode of Jimmy Edwards’s popular 1950s school-themed comedy Whack-O!, this year’s Missing Believed Wiped includes the 1959 episode The Empty Cash Box. Written by Frank Muir and Dennis Norden and starring Jimmy Edwards as the caning-happy headmaster, the episode was originally broadcast on BBC1 on 1 December 1959.

A genuine national treasure and much-missed performer and presenter, Cilla Black is remembered this year with a rare screening of an episode from Cilla, her previously lost 1960s’ BBC pop/variety show. Screened in full for the first time since its original transmission on 26 March 1968, Cilla features performances from Roy Hudd, The Dudley Moore Trio and Cilla herself. It’s a fascinating record of ‘60s pop culture.

Fans of TV horror are in for a treat with the recently disinterred Late Night Horror: The Corpse Can’t Play. Originally broadcast on 3 May 1968 on BBC2, this is the only surviving episode from the BBC’s spine-tingling anthology series of atmospheric chillers. Set at a children’s birthday party, an uninvited guest delivers some unusual and horrifying variations on the usual party games. Screened here courtesy of our colleagues at The Kaleidoscope Archive, The Corpse Can’t Play was directed by Paddy Russell, one of the first two women directors in BBC television. Her impressive broadcasting career spanned 40 years, with work on classic shows including Z Cars, Doctor Who and Emmerdale. She sadly died earlier this year.

During the 1970s, a key strength of the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham was its ability to unearth exciting new acting, writing and directing talent. Running between 1973 and 1978 for ten series, Second City Firsts’ half-hour original dramas proved highly influential, launching a spectacular range of regional talent including Willy Russell, Mike Leigh, Mike Newell, Julie Walters, Brian Glover and Alison Steadman.

Another great find, Second City Firsts: Thwum, originally broadcast in 1975, features a young Pete Postlethwaite in his earliest television appearance. This sci-fi themed play sees UFO fanatic Bernard (Paul Moriarty) trying to convince skeptical reporter Duffy (Pete Postlethwaite) to report on the imminent landing of an alien craft. This almost complete copy – two minutes are missing – was recovered from a domestic video recording kept by director Pedr James (Our Friends in the North, Martin Chuzzlewit) and we are delighted that Pedr will be joining us to introduce the screening. He’ll reveal the fascinating story behind the production, Pete Postlethwaite’s debut and the tape’s survival.

As well as screening rare complete productions, Missing Believed Wiped offers a chance to view recovered clips with a wider cultural significance. Highlights from a recently digitized video collection include a set visit to the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) for Granada Television’s children’s cinema show Clapperboard, hosted by Chris Kelly. In addition, there are rare interviews with Doctor Who’s Peter Davison, discussing his thoughts on being the Fifth incarnation of the legendary Time Lord, as well as influential BBC visual effects designer Mat Irvine (Blake’s 7, Doctor Who, The Tripods), who talks about Blake’s 7’s iconic spacecraft, the Liberator.

A late addition to the schedule is an extract from a recent discovery, an episode of the influential ITV police drama No Hiding Place, found in Australia. Attracting over seven million viewers at its peak in the mid-1960s, the series became ITV’s best-known police drama of the time, making household names of its principal cast. Hailed for its authentic portrayal of law enforcement, the show has an important place in the history of British independent television production.

Of the 236 episodes produced by Associated Rediffusion, only 20 complete instalments were previously known to survive in Britain. The show’s success meant it was sold to other territories, including Australia, where it was transmitted on the ABC network. Detective work from The Kaleidoscope Archive led to the positive identification of the episode Two Blind Mice (Series 2, Episode 5) in the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. First broadcast on 2 June 1960, the episode is notable for being the 2nd earliest known surviving story, as well as for a guest appearance by future Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton.

As usual, the BFI would like to thank our Missing Believed Wiped colleagues at The Kaleidoscope Archive for their help in recovering some of these previously missing television gems.

❉ Tickets for both Missing Believed Wiped sessions on Saturday 16 December are on sale now; Session 1 takes place at 12.45pm, with Session 2 at 15:00pm, both in NFT1. A joint ticket option is available.

❉ Read our review of Missing Believed Wiped 2016 here!

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