A number of lost episodes of BBC classic Doctor Who, dating to when the corporation was in the habit of throwing old film in the trash, have been found—perfect timing for the show’s 60th anniversary. But the people in possession of them are reluctant to hand them over, reports The Guardian, because they’re worried about getting in trouble. The implication is that they (or the original owners) were the onetime BBC staffers who rescued film reels and tapes from the skip.
“Some of these collectors are terrified,” said Franklin, who knows the location of the two missing Doctor Who episodes, along with several other newly discovered TV treasures, including an episode of the The Basil Brush Show, the second to be unearthed this autumn. “We now need to catalogue and save the significant television shows that are out there. If we are not careful they will eventually be dumped again in house clearances, because a lot of the owners of these important collections are now in their 80s and are very wary,” he added.
Discarded TV film was secretly salvaged from bins and skips by staff and contractors who worked at the BBC between 1967 and 1978, when the corporation had a policy of throwing out old reels.
If it seems odd that this can’t be easily resolved with a simple assurance, it’s because the sort of people who hold onto this stuff don’t trust them. Britain is a land of ambigious laws capriciously enforced by evil jobsworths, and it has a relevant, if distant history of authoritarian spitefulness around privately-owned prints of films.
[Celebrity comedian Bob Monkhouse] had been in the midst of setting up a film to watch in his home cinema when the knock came. Minutes later, he’d been arrested by detectives from the Serious Crime Squad. The officers then asked him he had any 16mm films at his home, of which he had hundreds at his home. He was told by the detectives that they were having to seize the films. Amongst those taken away were prints of 1933’s Kong Kong, Citizen Kane, missing scenes from Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (he’d found the negative in the Czech Republic), and the sole copy of 1931 British comedy Ghost Train. He’d offered his collection to the [British Film Insitutute] before his arrest, but the-then very different institute had not taken him up on his offer.
Monkhouse was interrogated until four the following morning, as the detectives went through his collection, film can by film can. The entire collection had to be documented, and Monkhouse was required to explain each film, and had he’d acquired them.
This was a long time ago, but collectors haven’t forgotten.