How some of the treasures of Walmington- on-Sea were lost – and found again
In the 1960s and early 1970s the BBC had a policy which, to modern sentiments, is almost sacrilegious. When a programme was two years old, and was of no further use to the corporation they would reuse the (very expensive) video tape to record another programme. In this way many great and important programmes were lost – episodes of Dr Who, The Likely Lads and Steptoe and Son were amongst the casualties.
Dad’s Army was largely protected against this unintentional cultural vandalism – the benefits of having a writer-producer – David Croft – on the BBC staff when the requests to re-use the tapes came round. However, even David Croft could not be there all the time, and sadly a number of episodes, including the entire second series, broadcast in 1969, were lost from the BBC’s archive.
It could have been much worse – many programmes lost a far greater proportion of their output. A number of the ‘missing’ episodes were retrieved in later years by the BBC from overseas broadcasters who held transcription copies. In addition all TV episodes were subsequently adapted and recorded for radio broadcast, and still exist in the archive. Nevertheless there remained a hard core of five missing episodes from the second series which were believed to be permanently lost. For Dad’s Army fans it was a grievous blow to lose five episodes from a time when the programme was making the transition from the tentative first steps of series one to the start of its golden age in series three.
When the loss of the programmes, and the long term popularity of the series began to become apparent a search was instituted to try to find copies of the lost episodes. However the programmes had not been broadcast in the UK since 1969, a time when the video recorder was only to be found in professional studios. Knowing these episodes had been broadcast well into the 1970s overseas David Croft was particularly active, travelling widely to search the holdings of foreign broadcasters – Dad’s Army was sold to many countries – but to no avail. There was no sign of the lost episodes.
Concluding that these episodes were indeed lost forever Jimmy Perry and David Croft decided to give the fans a little of what had been denied them, and published the scripts for the entire second series in book form. Published in 1998 Dad’s Army – the Lost Episodes was an instant success with the public.
The Five ‘Lost’ Episodes
- Operation Kilt
- The battle of Godfrey’s cottage
- The loneliness of the long distance Walker
- A stripe for Frazer
- Under fire
And so things might have remained – the only remnant of the second series the episode Sergeant Wilson’s Little Secret. However fate, with a little help from the BBC, intervened. In May 2001 the BBC launched Treasure Hunt – a nation-wide search to unearth programme gems missing from the BBC archives.
The BBC appealed to enthusiasts, collectors and professionals across the world to help in the hunt for missing radio and TV broadcasts. Amongst the missing comedy pieces being especially sought were over half of the episodes of The Likely Lads, about fifty episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour – and of course the second series of Dad’s Army. However, hopes were not high – the likely sources, the foreign broadcasters who would have received telecine copies, had already been searched, and no amateur in 1969 would have had a video recorder.
The announcement came very suddenly on the first of June 2001. Most UK newspapers and press agencies announced that two episodes, Operation Kilt and The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage, had been found on a skip at Elstree studios and returned to the BBC. The announcement had obviously been delayed as by this time the BBC had already determined that the condition of the film was good and had transferred them onto digital tape for permanent archival.
For enthusiasts of course the burning question was, when will we get to see them? Although a recovered episode of The Likely Lads had been screened within weeks of being found no firm dates were forthcoming for the showing of the two Dad’s Army programmes, despite a showing being promised.
Then in mid-September a discrete announcement was made that the annual Missing Presumed Wiped event at the National Film Theatre on the 20th October (which screens the fruits of the last year’s hunt for missing film and television items) would include The battle of Godfrey’s cottage. This screening, seen by a few hundred enthusiasts including Jimmy Perry and David Croft was the first British showing of this episode since 1969. Most of those present were seeing this episode for the first time, and the opportunity to view it on the big screen was wonderful.
Amongst those present at the National Film Theatre were Jimmy Perry and David Croft who watched the screening and said a few words to the audience – Jimmy Perry explained that when negotiations were taking place to make a feature film of the show, he had taken these two episodes (on film) to the Boulting Brothers’ offices in London. He believes that it was these same copies that found their way to Elstree Studios, and ultimately into a skip and from thence to someones garden shed. David Croft explained that even though the BBC were happy to pay a bounty for the return of the films, their finder had remained resolutely anonymous. Also at the showing was a BBC film crew, filming part of a documentary to be shown with the found episodes – at a date still unknown.
Following the screening things went quiet again, and enthusiasts had to wait for news of when the two episodes would be seen again. The answer came in the BBC’s Christmas listings – on 28th December 2001 BBC2 would broadcast a Dad’s Army evening – with a documentary about the lost and found episodes, a showing of the Operation Kilt and The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage, and a repeat of the Victoria Wood fronted documentary – Don’t Panic.
Since then all of the formerly lost episodes have been made available on DVD as part of the series 1 and 2 set and also the complete box set. Three episodes remain to be accounted for: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker, A Stripe for Frazer and Under Fire. In 2008 a copy of the soundtrack of A Stripe for Frazer was found but the picture remains resolutely absent. Hopefully in time to come we will be able to report more finds to fill the gaps.