Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

What is being kept for posterity

From The Doctor Who Cuttings Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search


PAUL MADDEN, television officer of the National Film Archive, explains for Television Today readers how programmes are selected, acquired and preserved — and how many are being lost.

BURIED towards the end of the Annan committee's report is a radical proposal (albeit weakened by qualifications) that "all recordings of transmitted television programmes should first be offered to the National Film Archive, if they are no longer wanted by the broadcasting organisations themselves."

Annan has the distinction of being the first government inquiry into broadcasting to admit the archival value of television programmes, and in the wake of controversies about the BBC's wiping of programme videotapes, to recognise that archiving had become an issue, worth attention, however minimal. As Peter Fiddick wrote in The Listener "the archive question has surfaced somewhere near the top of the second division (of issues), and held its place."

The National Film Archive began collecting television programmes in the fifties (it kept, for instance, the Television Newsreel on behalf of the BBC). The NFA was created in 1935 to fulfil an original object of its parent body, the British Film Institute (founded two years earlier). namely "to maintain a national repository of films of permanent value." Significantly that repository was intended to include fiction (feature) films and non-fiction films (newsreel and documentary material), unlike most archives abroad.


Today the main purpose of the NFA remains to collect. preserve and make permanently available a national collection of moving pictures. which have aesthetic value and/historical or sociological value, as records of contemporary life and behaviour. Post-war, moving pictures came to signify not only films made for the cinema. but programmes made for television. as television developed into the dominant mass communications medium (annexing the functions of other media. and pumping out entertainment, information, and education). and the recording of programmes (on film or videotape) became the norm.

In 1959 the British Film Institute changed its Articles and Memorandum of Association to specify a brief for television and this was followed by the formation of an Archive Television Committee to advise on the selection of programmes for preservation.

The Annan committee itself set up the Aunt Sally, that it was currently technically possible to record everything, and therefore by implication possible to archive everything; they then warned that the financial and practical problems posed by storage, indexing, copyright and access, as the collection "grew and grew," would turn dream into nightmare. Early in its history the NFA realised the impractical nature of keeping all films (particularly when financial resources were not forthcoming). and opted for systematic selection, in order to establish priorities for acquisition. recognizing that any selection process for the future would have built-in defects.

The NFA's television committee was modelled after its three well-established committees, advising on the selection of cinematic film. These are substantially the same committees which exist today, consisting of voluntary members and meeting at two-monthly intervals to consider current films and/or television programmes. The feature films officer is guided by the general committee: the documentary films officer by the history and -current affairs, and science committees; and the television officer, by the television committee.

Television programmes are considered by all four committees, depending on the relevance of the programmes (e.g. Horizon would normally be discussed by the science committee. Chronicle by history). These latter committees lay more emphasis on the content of programmes, whereas the general and television committees are more likely to emphasize treatment or style (content of course cannot properly be divorced from form). The bulk of television programming is considered by the television committee. i.e. comedy and entertainment, drama, non-fiction, arts, children's. regional, and bought-in programmes: apart from the two major categories of news and current affairs, and sport. which are the province of the history and current affairs committee. There is little pre-selection of programmes for consideration (which accounts for the thickness of committee papers!). Staff however can and do make specific recommendations (which may be overturned).

The ultimate responsibility for monitoring of programmes falls mainly on the television and the documentary films officers — a mammoth task given that literally any programme transmitted in the UK. whether British produced or otherwise. may legitimately be considered as being of potential archival value. No-one can watch everything (even when videocassette recorders are used to avoid channel clashes), and, in the absence of many more staff, committee members, who view extensively. are invaluable.


Committee members are usually chosen for some general expertise and/or knowledge of particular areas of programming (although free to comment on any programme) and not as representatives of particular companies or bodies. The television committee includes amongst its members Richard Cawston, Barrie Gavin, Renée Goddard. Grace Wyndham Goldie (also a member of the history and current affairs committee), Leslie Halliwell, Penry Jones, Verity Lambert. Philip Mackie. Peter Morley, Berkeley Smith, as well as three television critics — Sean Day Lewis, Peter Fiddick, and Philip Purser (who for many years chaired the committee). The HCA committee includes Paul Barker, Jerry Kuehl, David Nicholas. George Scott. Anthony Smith. John Tisdall. as well as Dr. Roads (of the Imperial War Museum) and historian Professor Donald Watt (of the ISE).

Discussions can be remarkably frank regarding the background to. and the deficiencies of. specific programmes (especially where members have been personally involved). Advice is also sought from outside individuals and bodies, e.g. writers or producers may be consulted about individual episodes of series; the Jazz Centre Society is frequently consulted on jazz programmes.

In the current year as one might expect NFA committees selected a wide range of television programmes for a variety of reasons. It would be possible to devote an entire article to the whys and wherefores of the selection of particular programmes. However. all reasons for selection are contingent on the answer to a single basic question: "is there any conceivable reason why the loss of the film or television programme in question would. in the near or distant future, be regretted?" This is deliberately open, designed to stress the inclusion, rather than the exclusion, of material.

The science committee thus numbered the following amongst its selections: examples from series such as On The Move (BBC), Help (Thames) . Sky at Night (BBC); Angela Pope's controversial Best Days for Panorama; Anglia's Survival Special: Come into My Parlour about spiders. and the complete series of Badger Watch.

Amongst selections by the history and current affairs committee were the following: examples from Pot Black 77. The Centenary Test, The 1977 F.A. Cup Final, The European Champions Cup Final; The Royal Heritage series (BBC); Grampian's Blow-Out at Bravo; The London Programme on the National Front (LWT), BBC Scotland's coverage of the Scottish National Party Conference; David Frost's interviews with Nixon, Ulster's Ulster — The Right to Strike; Mike Apted's Twenty-One (Granada) Yorkshire's Goodbye Longfellow Road, and The Case of Yolande McShane.

The television committee selected examples: from drama series such as Hard Times (Granada), Crown Court (Granada), The Duchess of Duke Street (BBC). The House that Jack Built (BBC), The Sweeney (Thames), Raffles (Yorkshire), Dr. Who (BBC), When the Boat Comes In (BBC). Romance (Thames), and soap opera Garnock Way (STV); of US series Happy Days, The Bionic Woman, and Charlie's Angels; from children's programmes such as The King of the Castle (HTV), The Tomorrow People (Thames), The Phoenix and the Carpet (BBC), Play Away (BBC); from Parkinson (BBC). Russell Harty (BBC); from Robin's Nest (Thames), Rising Damp (Granada), The Good Old Days (BBC); one off plays such as BBC's Professional Foul, and Spend, Spend, Spend.


The above represent only a small fraction of the total number of programme selections.

Systematic selection ensures that as much as possible of current television programming is at least assessed for its archival value. It offers different committees the opportunity of considering programmes from differing viewpoints. since there are bound to be overlaps of interest, particularly in nonfiction, between committees — a programme rejected by the history and current affairs committee might well be selected by the television committee.

It is also common practice to reconsider material retrospectively. perhaps previously rejected. in order to ensure that sufficient selections have been made on a subject or from a long-running series: BBC's Dr. Who, and Softly, Softly are two recent cases.

The all ton common dangers of retrospective selection is that programmes may already have vanished. The television officer has further opportunities to re-consider material. when offered collections of past television programmes (e.g. when an ITV company loses its contract).

The National Film Archive is now the largest department of the British Film Institute, consisting of acquisitions (including the three specialist officers). preservation, cataloguing, production library, viewing service. and stills, posters. and designs; employing 62 people full-time (and 25 part-time) and in the current year enjoying a total budget of approximately £1,140,000.

Sadly. archiving operations are expensive. and can only become more expensive as the collection grows. The NFA, since its inception, has always been bedevilled by lack of money in comparison with the vastness of the fields it covers. Unlike some foreign archives, it does not enjoy the advantages of statutory deposit, whereby a copy of a television programme would be deposited in the NFA automatically. Anne's recommendation is a much diluted version.


The Archive has three vault sites. the oldest established at Aston Clinton (Buckinghamshire) which is the chief preservation centre, Berkhamsted (where television programmes are stored, both film and videotape), and a new remote nitrate site at Gaydon (Warwickshire). The provision of such facilities and associated staff obviously consume a large part of the budget.

The nitrate problem is only one of the three major preservation problems the Archive faces — the others are colour film and videotape. Colour film dyes eventually fade, and television's heavy use of "fas4 reversal film stocks, which already show green when re-used. bodes further ill for the future. Videotape is such a comparative newcomer as a recording medium in archival terms that no-one can be certain how durable it will prove. and there are already a bewildering number of formats — any format may rapidly be rendered obsolete by technological change and innovation; e.g. 405-line videotape on which most tape programmes were recorded before 1970.

The NFA has selected in Into over 6.000 BBC programmes and over .3.000 ITV programmes. and has acquired almost 1,000 BBC programmes and over 2,000 ITV programmes. The greater success rate achieved with ITV programmes is undoubtedly due to the annual grant the NFA receives from the television fund of the ITCA (to which all the ITV companies contribute). The grant was first given in 1969. and then stood at £10.000. enabling the Archive to purchase all its ITV selections for that year — the only occasion 100 per cent of selections in any sphere of Archive interest has been acquired.

Colour was introduced noon after and film immediately. Inflation has also taken its toll, although It must he admitted that selections have also increased considerably. In 1976-77 38.5 per cent of all ITV programmes selected was purchased with a grant of £25,000 and a further 4.5 per cent was purchased with £5,000 provided by the Archive. The grant currently stands at £30,000.

In the same period Archive internal budgets for the purchase of television (BBC, some ITV, and foreign programmes) have risen to the current figure of £26,500; higher than the allocations for feature, and non-fiction film.

In contrast us the ITV companies the BBC has always claimed to be keeping an archive of its own — a claim somewhat vitiated by the apparently random destruction of many of its programmes in the sixties, some of them NFA selections, and the accidental survival of others. When this claim has been challenged, paradoxically the BBC has defensively countered that under the Charter its duty is to use the revenue derived from licenees for making programmes to be screened, not for archiving. This is a rather narrow interpretation of a Charter liberally interpreted elsewhere.

The NFA has always maintained that the tax-payers who finance its operations are the same licence holders who pay for the BBC. Day-to-day co-operation with the Corporation, however, via the film and videotape library at Brentford has never been better. The BBC is perhaps painfully aware of the archive issue, as witness the formation of an Archives Advisory Committee (however limited its brief). It retains more programmes (muny of which the NFA would like, but cannot afford, to purchase) than in the past, and it does offer to the NFA the few programmes it is not itself retaining which are NFA selections.

Ideal preservation material consists of the original negatives (if a programme was shot on film) or the master tape (if videotape). In practice television companies keep master material in order to service sales or repeats. The NFA television officer (who is responsible for acquiring all television selections) will purchase intermediate printing material plus separate optical sound track if film) or a duplicate 2" broadcast standard videotape (if videotape).

Film programmes from the BBC generally cost £500 per hour (the NFA enjoys the benefit of the BBC's large discount with film laboratories) and £750 from ITV. Videotape, which is duplicated in-house, comes much cheaper at £150-£200 per hour on average. Handling charges are waived by both the BBC and the ITV companies.

Preserving material is one very necessary function of an archive's work. hut It should not obscure the real raison dater of any archive; to make its collection available. There is no virtue in keeping programmes at great cost merely to gather dust. Availability entails the expense of making further copies for viewing purposes, since preservation master copies would soon deteriorate through use. It is certainly not possible, with stretched resources, to have viewing copies of very single programme preserved, and here demand is serviced

The NFA is subject to the Copyright Act, 1956, and is only permitted to make programmes available for viewing, i.e for research or study, on its own premises. Any other use, commercial or must be referred to the copyright owner. Television agreements between broadcasting organisations and industry unions and their members, whether writers or performers, preclude the non-broadcast use of television programmes.

Past television material is notoriously unavailable, even where it exists, because of the daunting task imposed by the clearing of rights (the British Television Drama retrospective at the National Film Theatre in 1976 illustrated both the NFA's determination to make its collection more widely available. and the difficulties in so doing). As the British Film Institute pointed out In Its submission to the Annan committee, copyright restrictions are the single most inhibiting factor on the growth of interest In television as a medium for study and appreciation, and the BFI is even now actively pressing for some form of blanket arrangement would permit non-theatric screenings and use in education.

Caption: One BBC single play kept by the NFA is Up The Junction shown in 1965 as a Wednesday Play. Left to right are Cleo Sylvestre, Geraldine Sherman, Carol White and Doreen Herrington.

Caption: CAROLINE HUTCHISON, JOHN PRICE and PAUL COPLEY who play the three people whose lives are reflected in Sean McCarthy 's The Turkey Who Lives On The Hill. a Second City Firsts production from Pebble Mill. Produced by Tara Prem and directed by Alex Marshall, the play will be seen on BBC-2 next month

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Madden, Paul (1978-01-05). What is being kept for posterity. The Stage and Television Today p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Madden, Paul. "What is being kept for posterity." The Stage and Television Today [add city] 1978-01-05, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Madden, Paul. "What is being kept for posterity." The Stage and Television Today, edition, sec., 1978-01-05
  • Turabian: Madden, Paul. "What is being kept for posterity." The Stage and Television Today, 1978-01-05, section, 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=What is being kept for posterity | url= | work=The Stage and Television Today | pages=12 | date=1978-01-05 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=What is being kept for posterity | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>