Missing Believed Wiped / Timeshift (BBC4 / 2003)

First shown on the 29th December, 2003, Missing Believed Wiped is a short documentary from the BBC’s Timeshift strand covering some of the UK’s lost television recordings and the early BBC’s initial efforts to recover their own lost material. Some of the finds they cover are good to see; early, pre-python works by Palin and Cleese and various clips from missing episodes of notable sitcoms are nice reminders of what was lost, and what, in some cases, has been recovered today.

The Palin and Jon’s stone-age patent office sketch from LWT’s The Complete and Utter History of Britain
An early Till Death Us Do Part
John Cleese climbs through a window in a reconstructed episode of Associated-Rediffusion‘s At Last the 1948 Show

They also include the first public demonstration of the BBCs VERA video recorder by Richard Dimbleby – and how, due to, tape costs, they chose not to keep everything that was recorded.

Richard Dimbleby replays himself

Oddly, however, they chose not to mention the vast number of once-missing Doctor Who episodes that had returned to the archive by 2003 or to feature any of the individuals involved in the recovery of those missing Who episodes . While, at this point in the Who interregnum, the BBC were definitely uncomfortable with it’s relationship with Doctor Who and the greater Doctor Who fandom, I’m not certain that discomfort was worth skipping one of the most well known losses or one of the BBC’s biggest, most successful recovery efforts to-date.

The show archive.

There is also a brief mention of the early discussion about digital distribution. Even at this point in time, it was envisioned that the general internet – and broadband in particular – would be important in making this deep archive material available to the general public at large.

While Missing Believed Wiped is 19 years old – and missing discussions later archival, digitisation, and distribution efforts – it’s also a comfortable, interesting look into lost TV and attitudes to this lost TV just after the turn of the millennium.