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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 09:13 GMT
'Lost' gems from the TV archives
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

He was a swash-buckling Edwardian crime-fighter who lay encased in a block of ice for 64 years before being dug up in "swinging sixties" London.

Gerald Harper, Juliet Harmer and Jack May in Adam Adamant Lives!
Workmen dug up Adamant (left), 64 years after a rival froze him
He survived his ordeal - so it was ironic that the one thing which eventually silenced Adam Adamant was poor filing.

One episode of the BBC's answer to The Avengers, which ran for two series in 1966 and 1967, was thought lost forever - until it was discovered in 2003, in a wrongly-labelled case.

Moments like these are cherished by Dick Fiddy, an archivist who co-ordinates Missing Believed Wiped at London's National Film Theatre.

The project seeks out classic TV programmes which "disappeared" during an era when material was rarely recorded and tapes were often discarded.

'Odd places'

"There are private collectors who buy and sell film, and because TV programmes are often on 16mm film, they'll turn up at fairs all over the world," explains Mr Fiddy.

"There are people who used to work on the shows and kept a copy. There are foreign archives which were supposed to wipe or destroy them.

Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth in 1973
Stars Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth will be reunited with their TV past
"Some of them just turn up in very odd places. There's a well-known story of Doctor Who episodes turning up in a Mormon church, and to this day, no-one knows how they got there.

"Material is held in the wrong archive - for instance, both America and the UK had a television company called ABC, and Canadian television returned material from ABC in the UK to ABC in the US instead."

Most broadcast archives are now being digitised, and this "spring-cleaning" has yielded even more material, he says.

Prosecution fears

A "general amnesty" by the British Film Institute aims to protect people who may have made illicit copies of material over the years.

"A lot of people with material were worried about handing it back to the BBC or ITV. They were worried about prosecution.

"We will make a copy and give the original tape back to the owner - that was our deal."

Graham Chapman and Roger Brierley in Out of the Trees in 1975
Out of the Trees was feared lost for almost three decades
Sometimes restoration is tricky, Mr Fiddy says, picking a programme which was screened on Saturday as an example.

"Out of the Trees was a pilot - intended to go to a series - written by Douglas Adams and Graham Chapman, starring many of the people that would go on to be in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

"It went out, but was junked almost immediately afterwards.

"It had been recorded by Chapman at home on a very old-fashioned, primitive video machine.

"Recently, his long-term partner, David Sherlock, mentioned to me that he had this old tape, and could we play it."

It took two years to transfer because a customised player had to be built, Mr Fiddy says, with the entire process filmed in case the tape "dissolves after one play".

ITV initiative

Another "very important find" has been a whole evening of ITV's output from 1964 - and now Mr Fiddy and the British Film Institute are also involved with ITV's Raiders of the Lost Archive.

"Stars are reunited with their TV past. So you get Bruce Forsyth and you show him a bit of television that he thought was lost or he could never find, and you do the same with Michael Parkinson, Cilla Black and so on.

"We all want the same thing - to get as much of this stuff back as possible," he says.

The cast of Til Death Us Do Part in 1967
'Til Death Us Do Part is one of the most significant finds, Mr Fiddy says
So, what have been the best moments in the 13 years of Missing Believed Wiped?

"For me, the most important things have been 1960s episodes of 'Til Death Us Do Part."

The show, starring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, was "just fantastic" at that time, he says.

"All the controversy, all the harsh stuff was in the '60s and very little of it survives.

"But recently two or three episodes have turned up, and every one of them underlines just how brilliant a programme it was.

"There are so few of them that, for me, that's the biggest and most important find."

Missing Believed Wiped 2006 was screened at the National Film Theatre in London on 2 December.

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