Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

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MDK
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Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by MDK »

In terms of the known archive, does anyone know the oldest (in terms of production date) surviving complete episode of UK- produced TV drama, whether it be a play or an episode of a series?

And sub-dividing that, which is the oldest surviving filmed episode and the oldest VT episode?

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Billy Smart
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Billy Smart »

Unless anyone knows better, the earliest surviving British TV drama is It Is Midnight, Dr Schweitzer by Gilbert Cesbron, produced/directed by Rudolph Cartier (BBC, 22 February 1953).

John Wyver has written about the production - http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com/2011 ... -bbc-1953/

I'm guessing that episode 1 of The Quatermass Experiment is the earliest part of a serial drama (BBC, 18 July 1953)

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Post by fatcat »

The oldest surviving UK VT is thought to be a Rediffusion play from around 1958 (someone will know the title)
Not a play but this early UK VT probably survived because of Billie Holiday's death a few months later ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by JWG »

Billy Smart wrote:Unless anyone knows better, the earliest surviving British TV drama is It Is Midnight, Dr Schweitzer by Gilbert Cesbron, produced/directed by Rudolph Cartier (BBC, 22 February 1953).

John Wyver has written about the production - http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com/2011 ... -bbc-1953/

I'm guessing that episode 1 of The Quatermass Experiment is the earliest part of a serial drama (BBC, 18 July 1953)
Uploaded by the Alexandra Palace Television Society. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV_lhIwq ... e=youtu.be

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Simon Coward »

Billy Smart wrote:Unless anyone knows better, the earliest surviving British TV drama is It Is Midnight, Dr Schweitzer by Gilbert Cesbron, produced/directed by Rudolph Cartier (BBC, 22 February 1953).
Although the telerecording is of the second performance of the play which was broadcast on 26/02/1953.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Simon Coward »

fatcat wrote:The oldest surviving UK VT is thought to be a Rediffusion play from around 1958 (someone will know the title)
Yes and no. It really depends on the exact wording of the question.

The thing I reckon you're thinking of is Women in Love which was a portmanteau production broadcast on 24/09/1958 and consisting of six short plays each on the theme of women in love, with linking material provided by George Sanders throughout.

Not all of Women in Love survives, some of it was performed live and although recorded, those segments no longer exist, but three of the plays and the Sanders links survive. The only time I had access to some of the production paperwork for WiL was before I'd had the opportunity of seeing what survives of the production, so it's possible I've misinterpreted some of it but I believe the surviving playlets were recorded on 22nd and 23rd September, while Sanders was taped around a month earlier on 20th August. So it's probably more correct to mention the three playlets - "After So Long", "Song Without Words" and "The Stowaway" rather than WiL itself. And I believe that these are the earliest surviving drama productions which still survive as an original 405-line recording.

They are not, however, the earliest surviving taped drama productions to still survive on tape of some kind. Granada's play Mary Broome, originally broadcast 3rd September 1958, survived on 405-line VT until some time in the 1990s when it was electronically (rather than optically) converted to 625-line VT and the master now exists on DigiBeta. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the original 405-line master no longer survives.

Whether there are earlier VT dramas still on some kind of VT I'm not sure. The reason that Women in Love has the reputation it does is solely down to its survival as an original 405-line recording. There may well be a number of productions of a similar vintage which survive as 625-line conversions.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Clive »

fatcat wrote: Not a play but this early UK VT probably survived because of Billie Holiday's death a few months later ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs
Fascinating and such an iconic song and performance. Any idea from what programme or where this is from ? It seems like it may have been recorded as an insert into another programme, judging by the long lead-out time at the end.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Dick Fiddy »

It's from the Granada series Chelsea at Nine.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Spiny Norman »

Simon Coward wrote:...They are not, however, the earliest surviving taped drama productions to still survive on tape of some kind. Granada's play Mary Broome, originally broadcast 3rd September 1958, survived on 405-line VT until some time in the 1990s when it was electronically (rather than optically) converted to 625-line VT and the master now exists on DigiBeta. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the original 405-line master no longer survives....
Did they use much VT then? I would have guessed most things were still done live in 1958?
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by andrew baker »

There are extracts of the Schweizer play on the BFI Screenonline which should be viewable in public libraries. I've seen them without realising it was the earliest surviving play.

By the bye I was intrigued to see Greer Garson's IMDB credits show she had started her career on TV in live BBC plays in the 1930s!

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Clive »

Spiny Norman wrote:
Simon Coward wrote:...They are not, however, the earliest surviving taped drama productions to still survive on tape of some kind. Granada's play Mary Broome, originally broadcast 3rd September 1958, survived on 405-line VT until some time in the 1990s when it was electronically (rather than optically) converted to 625-line VT and the master now exists on DigiBeta. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the original 405-line master no longer survives....
Did they use much VT then? I would have guessed most things were still done live in 1958?
I think Granada got one of the first Ampex Quad machines in the UK. As far as I can discover on t'internet, Billie Holliday recorded that piece during a European tour in February '59 but it was transmitted in March '59. It's a really interesting piece as she died from an alcohol related illness later in the year and she had received poor reviews for her concerts in the previous few years, but at least for that Granada appearence she seemed on top form and the emotions she sings that piece with are beyond criticism.

VT was more important and needed in the US where the broadcasters needed to cater to audiences in different timezones, hours apart.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Clive »

Spiny Norman wrote:
Simon Coward wrote:...They are not, however, the earliest surviving taped drama productions to still survive on tape of some kind. Granada's play Mary Broome, originally broadcast 3rd September 1958, survived on 405-line VT until some time in the 1990s when it was electronically (rather than optically) converted to 625-line VT and the master now exists on DigiBeta. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the original 405-line master no longer survives....
Did they use much VT then? I would have guessed most things were still done live in 1958?
I think Granada got one of the first Ampex Quad machines in the UK. As far as I can discover on t'internet, Billie Holliday recorded that piece during a European tour in February '59 but it was transmitted in March '59. It's a really interesting piece as she died from an alcohol related illness later in the year and she had received poor reviews for her concerts in the previous few years, slurring etc.. But at least for that Granada appearence she seemed on top form and the emotions she sings that piece with are beyond criticism.

VT was more important and needed in the US where the broadcasters needed to cater to audiences in different timezones, hours apart.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Simon Coward »

Clive wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:
Simon Coward wrote:...They are not, however, the earliest surviving taped drama productions to still survive on tape of some kind. Granada's play Mary Broome, originally broadcast 3rd September 1958, survived on 405-line VT until some time in the 1990s when it was electronically (rather than optically) converted to 625-line VT and the master now exists on DigiBeta. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the original 405-line master no longer survives....
Did they use much VT then? I would have guessed most things were still done live in 1958?
I think Granada got one of the first Ampex Quad machines in the UK.
<snip>
VT was more important and needed in the US where the broadcasters needed to cater to audiences in different timezones, hours apart.
ATV definitely had one by February 1959. And of course like the US broadcasters, ATV sometimes had a reason to time-shift if programme was being shown by ATV London in the capital and ATV midlands in the, errrm, midlands.

In Feb 1959 they were recording programmes with VT numbers in the low 300s and at this point were maybe taping 8 to 10 programmes a week, but I haven't come across any reference to earlier taping. Now it may be that that VT numbers continued on from, or were numbered in tandem with, the telerecording numbers which would explain how they seemed to start at in the low 300s. Another possibility is that they'd been taping for six to eight months by February 1959 and I just haven't seen the right paperwork.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Spiny Norman »

Simon Coward wrote:
Clive wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:Did they use much VT then? I would have guessed most things were still done live in 1958?
I think Granada got one of the first Ampex Quad machines in the UK.
<snip>
VT was more important and needed in the US where the broadcasters needed to cater to audiences in different timezones, hours apart.
ATV definitely had one by February 1959. And of course like the US broadcasters, ATV sometimes had a reason to time-shift if programme was being shown by ATV London in the capital and ATV midlands in the, errrm, midlands.

In Feb 1959 they were recording programmes with VT numbers in the low 300s and at this point were maybe taping 8 to 10 programmes a week, but I haven't come across any reference to earlier taping. Now it may be that that VT numbers continued on from, or were numbered in tandem with, the telerecording numbers which would explain how they seemed to start at in the low 300s. Another possibility is that they'd been taping for six to eight months by February 1959 and I just haven't seen the right paperwork.
So when, in the UK, did they switch from live in real time to pre-recorded?
Initially, what were the advantages of VT over film if you're still just recording the live output (assuming that that's what they did in the beginning)?
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Spiny Norman wrote:So when, in the UK, did they switch from live in real time to pre-recorded?
With all due respect that's a bit like asking "When did we switch from LPs to CDs?"

Initially everything was recorded as live in real time but not necessarily at the same time as its broadcast - after all, once you could record the output of a studio, it's immaterial to the process whether it happens simultaneous with the production's broadcast or sometime before.
Spiny Norman wrote:Initially, what were the advantages of VT over film if you're still just recording the live output (assuming that that's what they did in the beginning)?
With telerecordings involving both optical conversion (i.e. a camera was pointed at a type of television screen) and (usually) them being suppressed field recordings, then an amount of detail that was on the original picture would be lost during the telerecording process. So the advantage of tape would be that the result retain that detail, and would look more like a live production than a T/R would. And I would imagine that turnaround was quicker - once you'd finished making a VT recording I would assume that it could be made available for broadcast sooner than a T/R could. But tape cost more than film and the differing standards meant that overseas sales were more likely to require the "universal standard" of 16mm film.

During the period where repeats were unlikely and any sales would have to be on film anyway then arguably, once the programme had been broadcast, there is no benefit to having a VT recording other than the fact that it preserves the production in a state as close as possible to how it would have been seen when broadcast.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by TonyCurrie »

[quote="Simon Coward] And of course like the US broadcasters, ATV sometimes had a reason to time-shift if programme was being shown by ATV London in the capital and ATV midlands in the, errrm, midlands.

[/quote]

By that I presume you mean time-shift from one day to another, since ATV London only transmitted programmes on Saturdays and Sundays and ATV Midlands only transmitted Monday to Friday.

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Post by Tim D »

And here is that A-R Women in Love 405 line videotape.

Image

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Post by Simon Coward »

TonyCurrie wrote:
Simon Coward wrote: And of course like the US broadcasters, ATV sometimes had a reason to time-shift if programme was being shown by ATV London in the capital and ATV midlands in the, errrm, midlands.
By that I presume you mean time-shift from one day to another, since ATV London only transmitted programmes on Saturdays and Sundays and ATV Midlands only transmitted Monday to Friday.
Yes, if a programme was being shown weekends in London and weekdays in midlands. I don't imagine there were too many examples of this, on VT anyway.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

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Billy Smart wrote:Unless anyone knows better, the earliest surviving British TV drama is It Is Midnight, Dr Schweitzer by Gilbert Cesbron, produced/directed by Rudolph Cartier (BBC, 22 February 1953).

John Wyver has written about the production - http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com/2011 ... -bbc-1953/

I'm guessing that episode 1 of The Quatermass Experiment is the earliest part of a serial drama (BBC, 18 July 1953)
Something I've often wondered, but can't see covered in the above article or the old MC article - does anyone know *why* in particular Dr Schweitzer was kept for posterity? Or does nobody really know?

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Paul Hayes wrote:Something I've often wondered, but can't see covered in the above article or the old MC article - does anyone know *why* in particular Dr Schweitzer was kept for posterity? Or does nobody really know?
There may be a specific reason why that one and not the plays either side, but it was something that was gradually gaining momentum, albeit slowly. While people have been fixated on drama in this thread, by this point things like Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy were already being preserved and had been for more than a year, so maybe it was partly the zeitgeist.
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Paul Hayes »

Simon Coward wrote:
Paul Hayes wrote:Something I've often wondered, but can't see covered in the above article or the old MC article - does anyone know *why* in particular Dr Schweitzer was kept for posterity? Or does nobody really know?
There may be a specific reason why that one and not the plays either side, but it was something that was gradually gaining momentum, albeit slowly. While people have been fixated on drama in this thread, by this point things like Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy were already being preserved and had been for more than a year, so maybe it was partly the zeitgeist.
Perhaps, but were they not film productions in any case? So easier to decide to preserve / end up being preserved by chance.

Someone must have taken a conscious decision to commission a film recording of the second performance of Schweitzer, in the days when it would have seemed massively unlikely such a recording would ever be repeated. A test of the new technology, possibly?

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Paul Hayes wrote:Perhaps, but were they not film productions in any case? So easier to decide to preserve / end up being preserved by chance.

Someone must have taken a conscious decision to commission a film recording of the second performance of Schweitzer, in the days when it would have seemed massively unlikely such a recording would ever be repeated. A test of the new technology, possibly?
Easier for the Andy Pandy episodes to be preserved to this day I agree, but they'd been doing live and unrecorded episodes of the series for ages so it was a particular and conscious decision to switch the method of production so that they were preserved and obviously, in 1952 it had to be film and couldn't be tape.

You're also asserting that the decision to commission a telerecording of Schweitzer was unusual. Do we actually have any evidence to support that? Much more familiar and marketable programmes have been committed to T/R and the T/R subsequently junked. Are we making an assumption about the amount of telerecording that went on in 1953 simply because so little survives now? Or do we know for a fact that Schweitzer was the first in that series of plays to get the treatment?
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Post by Paul Hayes »

Simon Coward wrote:You're also asserting that the decision to commission a telerecording of Schweitzer was unusual. Do we actually have any evidence to support that? Much more familiar and marketable programmes have been committed to T/R and the T/R subsequently junked. Are we making an assumption about the amount of telerecording that went on in 1953 simply because so little survives now? Or do we know for a fact that Schweitzer was the first in that series of plays to get the treatment?
Very true, I don't know. But I'd very much like to, if anybody here does!

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Post by Wakey »

andrew baker wrote:There are extracts of the Schweizer play on the BFI Screenonline which should be viewable in public libraries. I've seen them without realising it was the earliest surviving play.
I'm glad someone's seen those clips. I chose them and it was a difficult job - it's a *very* tedious play. I think I went mostly with the film sequences in the end as the quality of those was higher than the live segments (for reasons I'll comment on in another post), which is unusual for a telerecording.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Wakey »

Paul Hayes wrote:
Simon Coward wrote:You're also asserting that the decision to commission a telerecording of Schweitzer was unusual. Do we actually have any evidence to support that? Much more familiar and marketable programmes have been committed to T/R and the T/R subsequently junked. Are we making an assumption about the amount of telerecording that went on in 1953 simply because so little survives now? Or do we know for a fact that Schweitzer was the first in that series of plays to get the treatment?
Very true, I don't know. But I'd very much like to, if anybody here does!
And me. What is interesting about Schweitzer is that Cartier went to the trouble of editing the telerecording to replace the telerecorded film sequences with the original film itself, which obviously greatly enhanced the picture quality (though made the difference in picture quality between studio and film sequences all the more obvious). As someone pointed out, there would surely not have been an expectation of a repeat of the telerecording.* So why bother to do this?

Was it *because* there was plan to keep the recording as a permanent record, for which retaining the highest quality materials makes sense? Or conversely, did editing the record this way to include original film somehow increase the likelihood that it would be retained? I can't actually see why, but Cartier's work around this time does have a better survival rate than most. No answers there, but perhaps points for discussion.

Personally, I suspect it was more chance than anything. Using Cartier as an example again, he made a 'film retention' request for the telerecording of his 1964 production The July Plot, requesting that it was held until 'further notice'. This was superseded by a request from its producer that it be retained permanently for the archive. It was still junked, though happily a copy was recovered overseas later. It doesn't always appear that there was any logic to what was and wasn't kept in the film library, so it may just be by chance that Schweitzer was held. Perhaps the BBC's own archive database might have some notes on Schweitzer, if anyone has access.

*Unions prevented the use of recordings for repeats instead of another live performance - one of several reasons for telerecording the second of two performances, to ensure the actors had to be employed for two broadcasts. Also telerecordings weren't always even considered broadcast quality. A few years after its broadcast, a repeat of the Nineteen Eighty-Four telerecording was declined on grounds of its quality - although as we know it has now been repeated several times.

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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Billy Smart »

The new Doctor Who DVD release (a second edition of the animated Power Of The Daleks) includes (what survives of) Robin Hood: The Abbott Of St Mary's (24 March 1953), starring Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood. Coming four months before The Quatermass Experiment, this must surely be the earliest British television drama to have been commercially released.

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Post by Mark »

Yes, I mentioned it in the 'Is It All Over' thread, but it was just a brief mention, easily missed.

I had a VHS of it for years, thought it was most interesting.

Sadly it's not the episode which Patrick Troughton mentioned, when the slide of Sherwood Forrest had been put in the projector upside down!
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Re: Oldest surviving episodes of UK-made TV drama

Post by Brian F »

Wakey wrote:
Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:01 pm


And me. What is interesting about Schweitzer is that Cartier went to the trouble of editing the telerecording to replace the telerecorded film sequences with the original film itself, which obviously greatly enhanced the picture quality (though made the difference in picture quality between studio and film sequences all the more obvious). As someone pointed out, there would surely not have been an expectation of a repeat of the telerecording.* So why bother to do this?
I wonder if he found or noticed that the film sequences were telerecorded "out of phase" with each frame showing a combination of 2 original frames as seen in many Dr Who episodes. Using the original film would get rid of that. No way of telling if that happened but I believe form the old restoration team forum it was a 50% chance.

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