Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Bob's full house yields TV treasure

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Bob Monkhouse in 1987
Monkhouse died in 2003, having suffered prostate and bone cancer
When Bob Monkhouse died in 2003, he left behind not only a comedic career spanning half a century but also a vast collection of private TV and film recordings from the same period.

The entertainer was among the first people to own a video recorder. But he had accumulated reel-to-reel tapes and 16mm film well before VHS and Betamax were invented.

The British Film Institute was asked to examine the material and some of the "lost" gems discovered will be shown this Sunday at its annual Missing Believed Wiped show.

"Many years ago Bob came to Missing Believed Wiped and introduced one of the sessions," says archivist Dick Fiddy.

"He told us he had some items in his collection that were officially 'missing' but which he'd managed to save.

In an ideal world there'd be a comedy museum in Britain in which you could have the 'Bob Monkhouse room' and just go and wander through his stuff
Dick Fiddy, TV archivist
"Tragically he died before he was able to give them to us. But his daughter Abigail contacted us and said we really had to deal with this.

"It's a huge, unwieldy collection which deals with a number of areas. It's not just film and TV - it's cartoons, models, stamps; an amazing collection.

"Initially we found half a dozen TV shows that we knew to be 'missing'."

'Risque' material

Sunday's event, at London's BFI Southbank cinema, features an episode of the 1958 comedy My Pal Bob, which dealt with the prospect of an extra-marital affair.

Michael Bentine and Ronnie Barker in 1963
A trailer with Michael Bentine (left) is among this year's recovered footage

"It looks scandalously risque now," Mr Fiddy says. "It's years ahead of its time in that way, as the word 'adultery' very rarely cropped up in a sitcom until much later on in the '60s.

"But in this one, Bob's been married for seven years and he's got the seven-year itch; the Marilyn Monroe film on that subject was in the news at the time.

"A model moves in next door and he watches her through binoculars when she's in the bath, and stuff like that. It's very non-PC."

The Flip Side, a BBC play from 1966 in which Monkhouse appears as a DJ with a late-night television show, will also be screened.

"The DJ plays music but also engages in right-wing political banter and, while he's playing the records, you realise his personal life is in tatters.

"It's a very good performance. It's not funny, although there are funny moments. It's very much a drama."

Lisa Gastoni, Denis Goodwin and Bob Monkhouse in 1958
Monkhouse (right) played a DJ in My Pal Bob, screened at Sunday's event
The BFI also uncovered a wealth of written material in which Monkhouse "made copious notes" about his vast collection of recordings.

"He had satellite dishes and probably half a dozen recorders whirring away in all parts of the house, some of them on satellite stations that he'd picked up from a moveable dish in his garden," says Mr Fiddy.

"As a snapshot of television at that time, all of this can be incredibly valuable.

"Any collection like this, by accident, also has continuity on. Tapes have weather forecasts, continuity girls, trailers for things. Those things are largely missing before about 1980 and that can be quite interesting."

Pioneering technique

As well as the Monkhouse material, those attending Sunday's show will see long-lost trailers for BBC programmes from the 1960s plus rare Top of the Pops performances which have been unearthed this year.

Clive Dunn in Dad's Army
The restoration technique turned the black-and-white recording into colour
There will also be an explanation of a new preservation technique which can turn certain black-and-white footage into colour.

Black-and-white back-up copies of many BBC programmes were made in the '60s and '70s so the colour master tapes could be erased and reused.

But patterns of colour - known as "chroma dots" - were accidentally left on some of these back-up recordings.

BBC archivist James Insell, who will address the BFI event, began a restoration project after being intrigued by patches of red dots on a black-and-white Doctor Who film.

BBC Radio WM's Ed Doolan explains how he helped to restore Dad's Army episodes

"In a way this is an accidental preservation of the colour information because the people who were making these recordings in the '70s were supposed to be filtering this out," he says.

"Luckily they didn't always do this and it's given us the potential to restore programmes where we thought the colour versions had been lost years ago."

The technique has been used for the first time on an episode of Dad's Army - Room at the Bottom - which is being screened as part of a Dad's Army evening on BBC Two on Saturday.

This edition has not been seen in colour for nearly 40 years.

Further discoveries

As for Monkhouse's material, the BFI and television-archiving association Kaleidoscope continue to sift through thousands of tapes and could yet discover some hidden gems.

"I hope there may be a couple of 'lost' Sunday Nights at the London Palladium in there," says Mr Fiddy.

"In an ideal world there'd be a comedy museum in Britain in which you could have the 'Bob Monkhouse room' and just go and wander through his stuff.

"But until someone opens that, what we're left with is the legacy of a guy who was fanatically interested in this field, and sadly nowhere to deposit it."

Missing Believed Wiped is held on Sunday 14 December at the BFI Southbank cinema in London.

Dad's Army Night is broadcast on Saturday 13 December on BBC Two.

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