Thursday, June 18, 2009

The coverage of the news that BBC Worldwide is to release the recovered soundtracks of several previously-missing editions of the Hancock's Half Hour TV series has been, at best, misleading. At worst, it's been utter bollocks. Take this line from The Times: "They are thought to be the earliest examples of a DIY audio recording made directly from a television broadcast". 'They are thought...' is a handy formulation. It enables a journalist to sound authoritative to the casual reader while admitting to those who know the way these things work that he/she hasn't got a bleeding clue. I can't be certain without making a few enquiries, but I'm sure I've heard of a number of DIY audio recordings from TV that predate these. There was a time when The Times didn't think. It simply reported, and was a better newspaper for it.

Meanwhile, Chortle, which should perhaps know better asserted that "The episodes were first aired 50 years ago, but thought lost forever when the BBC wiped the master copies so they could reuse the expensive tape and save on storage space". The shows in question never went near video tape. They were transmitted live, and telerecorded on 35mm film. These copies were repeated a few months after the first transmission and then junked. You don't 'wipe' film.

The coverage has also been full of the usual emotive nonsense that gets spouted about missing programmes. Back to the Times, this time from the paper's blog: "It's a scandal that the BBC let so much of its programming be wiped or destroyed in the past". Is it? At one time, the cost of repeating a show came close to the cost of putting on a new programme, and union regulations limited the number of screenings that a programme could have. Nobody foresaw sell-through video or multi-channel TV, and the renegotiation of the repeat agreements that eventually occurred. The pressure was on the BBC to use its funding as wisely as possible, and that involved making new shows, not recording and storing old ones that were, to all intents and purposes, unusable. It's sad that some programmes are missing, but it's not really a scandal. We should be glad when lost gems turn up, but retain a sense of perspective - in many ways, it's a miracle that we have as much archive material to enjoy as we do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

As I get older, I find myself less interested in my birthday. The last one I celebrated properly was my 30th, with a party in the back garden. For 32, I contented myself with shouting "Noooooooooooooooooooooo!" at the television as I watched Michael Jackson evade conviction on even the minor charges of giving alcohol to a minor, something he'd admitted to doing. Yesterday, when I turned 36, I ticked the no publicity box and celebrated with a swim in the sea, a takeaway curry and a dip into the bottle of single malt I received in the morning.

From now on, however, I have a real reason to celebrate on 13 June. In the Birthday Honours, an OBE was awarded to Brian Lomax, chairman of Supporters Direct and father of one of my dearest friends. Brian's a life force. He was instrumental in saving Northampton Town FC when the club hit the buffers in 1992, and, subsequently, has shown many football fans how grass-roots activity can see off inept and corrupt management of their beloved team. In the mid-1990s, he almost succeeded in getting me interested in football, after years of hating sport in any form. I liked the singalongs, the pies, the Bovril and Brian's excellent company in the nearest pub after the game, but I couldn't quite work up enough of an interest in the blokes doing things with the spherical doodah. After attending the play-offs at the old Wembley in 1997, and seeing the Cobblers despatch Swansea for a well-deserved promotion, I felt my work was done.

So, from this moment on, 13 June is Brian Lomax Day.