Tuesday, 25 December 2018

MISSING BELIEVED WIPED, BFI Southbank, 15 December 2018

Gems from the BFI's annual archive trawl this year included animated Doctor Who, Morecambe and Wise and Mr Basil Brush (below).

Session 1: ‘Music and More’ 15:15, NFT1
Vince Hill at the Talk of The Town (1969) comes from an era when 40 minutes of television could be sustained just by the gifted vocals of a popular singer (bar one ill-advised and rather surreal detour into impersonating Ken Dodd, which Vince seemed to find a lot funnier than the audience). He discovered a 16mm film recording of this performance at the legendary West End venue in his garage, endearingly enough; recorded when he was in his pomp, with Vince's biggest hit ‘Edleweiss’ (from The Sound of Music) still serenading from the airwaves, the concert was a window on to a slick, easy listening world where hits of the day like the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ could sit alongside Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. After the screening finished, Vince and his party left the building, which moved presenter Dick Fiddy to quip that, after all these years, “he’s still got an entourage.”

The BFI has always had a mutual love affair with the BBC’s evergreen sci fi saga Doctor Who, normally being the first with premieres of new stories and the screening of ‘lost’ episodes. This afternoon’s Who presentation fell between the two, as producers Rob Ritchie and Anne Marie Walsh unveiled a new, ten-minute animated version of the first episode of the 1968 Patrick Troughton story The Wheel in Space.

The animations were devised to replace lost telerecordings of episodes, matched to existing visual material and soundtracks. The Wheel in Space 1 was a joy: the technique has come a long way since 2016’s The Power of the Daleks, with fluid movements of the figures and accurate representations of Troughton’s facial expressions. Best of all, though, was being able to enjoy how skilled the makers of the 1960s episodes were, creating a strikingly odd mood and atmosphere through well judged sound effects. Wheel 1 will apparently feature on a DVD next year, which I’m sure will be well worth waiting for.

The truly bizarre Stars and Garters (1963-65) got another outing this year. Apparently set in a London pub as various acts like Adam Faith plied their trade, its chiefly notable for how clueless the invited East End audience are in front of the cameras are, one guy nearly spilling a pint in terror when confronted by a live python and another wandering into shot to hand round fags when he shouldn’t. The central section vanishes in a blaze of white out, and you can only speculate that whoever originally recorded it finally snapped and assaulted the telecine machine with a hammer.

Some great curios rounded off this session. It you wanted to know how ITV and BBC were perceived in the 1970s, you need look no further than clips from the Saturday morning children’s programmes Multi Coloured Swap Shop (BBC) – posh – and Tiswas (ITV) – punk. The former had Noel Edmonds, while the latter had Sally James ‘shaving’ her chin in a tin bath. Enough said... Finally, a clip from Lulu (1970) featured the late Aretha Franklin singing a truly inspiring, rafter rattling version of ‘Spirit in the Dark’. Heady times indeed in BBC light entertainment.

Session 2: ‘Philip Morris Presents’ 17:45, NFT1
First up in the second session was a chat between Dick Fiddy and Philip Morris, the CEO of Television International Enterprises Archives (TIEA), with all the presentations discoveries TIEA had made during the last few years. Despite his crippling workload of personal investigation into some very obscure TV stations around the world, Morris was upbeat about what might turn up in the future. Intriguingly and tantalisingly, both he and Fiddy looked forward to an event at the BFI in March 2019 they declined to discuss in detail. It might, or might not, be coincidence that it’s the same month as the animated version of the Doctor Who story ‘The Macra Terror’ is released on DVD...

Morris’ first find was the third episode of the children’s series The Basil Brush Show (1968). I love Basil Brush. As soon as you know that Ivan Owen’s fox puppet was based on the comic film actor Terry-Thomas – the dandyish waistcoat, the cravat and the distinctive gap between Basil’s two front teeth are the giveaways – the banter between the chirpy Basil and the show’s presenter, here the very modish ex-Likely Lad Rodney Bewes, is even more enjoyable. Like all the well remembered children’s shows, a lot of the entertainment value comes from when the kids’ show facade fractures and you realise you’re looking at two adult performers trying not to laugh or, in Owen’s case, trying to make Bewes laugh. Owen was a master at it.

This atmosphere of cheerful irreverence was ideal for pop acts of the day, in this case the Kinks performing ‘Days’. Impressively, the sound was very live: the practice of the time was for bands to re-record their current hit then mime to it during the given show (as per Top of the Pops). Until recently, the Kinks’ section had been missing. The restoration is truly stunning, also highlighting – as with Luluthat these were the days when cutting edge rock musicians would happily fill a spot on a light entertainment show, in this case in front of an audience largely made up of well behaved cub scouts.

It has to be said that the episode of Citizen James (1962), ‘The Day Out’, starring Carry On films stalwart Sid James, hasn’t aged well. Today, it plays like Hancock’s Half Hour without that series’ still contemporary-seeming sharp wit. Citizen James had the recurring themes of TV sitcoms of the period, namely humour based around characters on the financial make, or contriving to get off with pretty girls, in this case primarily Carry On star Liz Frazer. (Rather alarmingly for a children’s programme, there was even a sketch in The Basil Brush Show in which “Mr Rodney” paired off with a bathing-suited beach dweller). Interestingly, the reverse was true in some of the surviving clips from the Harry Worth show, as the middle-aged neurotic tried to avoid “a threesome” – yes, that was exactly the phrase used – with two lubricious single ladies of a certain age.

It might not be at all funny any more, but examples like this are a valuable insight into the social history of yesteryear. The same was true of this year’s closing presentation, a 1968 edition of The Morecambe and Wise Show. It’ll be no surprise to anyone that Eric Morecambe’s anarchic deconstruction of the light entertainment show was as funny now as it was 50 years ago (and, watching him now, it’s so obvious how much Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out (1990-91) owed to Eric). In this edition, you could also see the genesis of Morecambe and Wise’s elaborate song and dance routines of the 1970s, as the duo showed off what accomplished tap dancers they were.

was surprising was seeing the national treasures doing a long sketch about the IRA, complete with the complicity of guest star, Irish singer Ronnie Carroll, which climaxed with the gang’s jolly unmasking of a British spy. Never mind that it was set in the uprising of the 1920s, in light of 50 years of turbulent and bloody history in Northern Ireland – which commenced less than a year after this show was transmitted – the sketch now looks as acceptable as someone on The X Factor doing a stand-up routine about the Manchester suicide bomber.

But that’s part of the value of Missing Believed Wiped: seeing how public tastes change, as yesterday’s fripperies and accepted attitudes become today’s no-go areas. It’s valuable and fascinating, almost as important as the recovery of vintage television itself. Long may the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped screenings be the place to see it

Cheers to Dick Fiddy for pulling together a blinder once again.

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