Saturday, 12 May 2012

Missing Believed Missing

The size of a misfortune is not determinable by an outsider's measurement of it but only by the measurements applied to it by the person specially affected by it. The king's lost crown is a vast matter to the king but of no consequence to the child. The lost toy is a great matter to the child but in the king's eyes it is not a thing to break the heart about.
Mark Twain

When I was a child, videos were a rarity (due to expense, not technology) so I cherished my video. Taped in long play off the telly, it had six hours of Thomas the Tank Engine, SuperTed and Fireman Sam, and so at age four it was the greatest prize possession in the world. Then one day I accidentally taped over one of the episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine with Bodger and Badger. Oh no! It was gone, all bar the closing shot of Gordon the Engine going over a viaduct bridge as the sun set. I didn't even have an episode title, and it was before the days of cramming all those stats to memory. For years, I sat up watching all the repeats of Thomas, waiting to see the episode I had lost. Finally, when I was about ten, I found out it was called Better Late Than Never.


Now, if I want to admire the lovely model work again, I can just go onto YouTube. (The lovely *modelwork*, not the absymal CGI remakes!)

This was my missing TV horror as a child, but it had a happy ending.

It prepared me for my horror as an adult, finding out that the BBC had also taped over or wiped episodes of a vast chunk of their archives, even Doctor Who. Only this time UK Gold didn't pop along with a last minute anxiety saving repeat.

So this article focuses on lost art that lack of existence means something to me personally. It will be merely a drop in the ocean compared to all the many millions lost.

An anthology series concerning horrific matters, you say? Sounds like it will be right down my street. Twenty three episodes were filmed, of which two exist today.

Well, that's a bugger. At least there was nothing really good lost in tha...

Including in the missing episodes is the story Boys and Girls Come out to Play, a wonderfully creepy tale starring Peter Jeffrey and a young Sarah Sutton. I first heard of this about six years or so ago when Keith Topping raved about it. Since then, it has been brought up in my presence several times.

The plot as I can get the jist of is roughly as follows: Sutton plays a girl who begins to dabble in drugs and sees the ghosts of Victorian girls in the street. Her dad, Jeffrey, is a cop who takes bribes but beats himself up mentally over it. Sutton and a pal start to take part in smaller crimes which become bigger ones, and when the pal gets cold feet, Sutton kills her.  Her dad is the policeman on the case for the "missing girl" and begins to suspect something is up closer to home. Yet, when questioned, Sutton's killer line to her dad is: "I won't tell them about your secret if you don't tell about mine."

How it develops from there is a bit murky, as forty year old memories argue with each other over detail. It does sound fascinating though, and would allow us to see Sarah Sutton in a whole new light. Her performance was said to be first class. Peter Jeffrey, who was involved in George Sewell's first episode of Secret Branch accusing Sewell of taking bribes (he was innocent, don't worry), now gets to play the other side.

There was rumours of this existing recently, but they seem to be just that: rumours.

Other interesting episodes gone include "Deliver Us From Evil" with Sir John Gielgud as a priest in harms way, and "The Haunting" which seems to have been loosely based on the Borley Rector hauntings, a story which I'm no doubt sure Mandy will regale you all with on her blog at some point soon.

One of the two episodes that is left, Killing Time, does include a superlative performance by actor George Cole, however. Small mercies.

Similar to Menace was Dead of Night. I've seen the strange Exorcism tale, and two others exist (one, Return   Flight, was written by Robert Holmes). A further episode was filmed but not used under the Dead of Night banner, and still exists. You may know it as The Stone Tape. For all that we do have, four episodes remain missing.

No, seriously. Man walking on the moon was a historic moment, but you wouldn't know that for all the care that was taken of the footage. Both ITV and BBC wiped their full coverage of the landings, and although off-air recordings of the BBC version was found a few years ago, it was found to be unrestorable or watchable quality. We have roughly 10 minutes of footage from 27 hours worth of BBC coverage. The event James Burke called "the greatest media event of all time" has little left.

Burke was said to be on fine form on the BBC, explaining the technicalities of the mission with great ease and aplomb to the watching audience.

Over on the ITV, it was circus time hosted by David Frost, with, as British TV History suggests:

"Between news updates from ITN, David Frost hosted a Moon Party in front of a studio audience at London Weekend Television’s Wembley centre. Guests included Dame Sybil Thorndike (actress), Roger Bannister (4-minute miler), Dr. Desmond Morris (zoologist), Wally Herbert (Arctic explorer), Quintin Hogg MP, AJP Taylor (historian), with entertainment from Peter Cook, Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Lulu, Mary Hopkin, Sammy Davis Jnr., Hattie Jaques, Eric Sykes (1) and Engelbert Humperdinck. (2) The author Ray Bradbury had also been invited, but he took exception to the style of the programme, and walked out of LWT before appearing. (3)"

 Now that sounds compelling and brilliant, which are not terms often used to describe ITV produce these days. AJP Taylors infamous declaration that the whole thing was a hoax is especially something I'd have liked to see. It's not often the finest historian of the 20th Century (not named Mum) got something wrong!

ITV also Quatermass himself, Sir Bernard Lovell, showing up from time to time to do interviews. (Lovell, for those interested, is still with us at the grand age of 98, and by accounts still of sound mind though frail.)

Of course, given NASA themselves lost their own copies of the moon landing at one point, we can't blame the BBC or ITV too much for this. Be thankful at least some record of the historic achievement exists.

Other TV Musings
- Doctor Who. You knew it'd be mention. There will never be a missing episode found ever again for the show, not in any of our lifetimes. Especially not a Troughton with Cybermen on the moon. You might think that's an attempted jinx. I couldn't possibly comment.

- The 1960s versions of Casting the Runes and Lost Hearts. The 3 minutes that survive of Runes make it look stunning, and possibly better than Night of the Demon. The Lost Hearts adaptation is completely gone, but reputation claims it was scarier than the lauded 1970s Lawrence Gordon Clark version. Which, given that is meant to be "the scariest thing ever", would have taken some doing.

- Nineteen episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, and ten of the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes stories. Including the wonderful Dancing Men.

- Many episodes of Take Hart, wiped by Adam Lee in 1993 on his own decision. There was TV shown since I was born that no longer exists. It doesn't need a man as brilliant as the sadly departed Tony Hart to mourn that decision.


For one who doesn't believe in vampires, you've taken a sudden interest in them!
Arthur Hibbs

A film I was lucky enough to see a "recon" of some years ago, but the actual thing would have been most interesting to see. It's a Lon Chaney film par excellence, with a solution to the supernatural plot that borders on the insane. Chaney plays both the antagonist and the policeman set to solve the case.

Bill Everson claimed it wasn't one of Chaneys finest films, but what little we could make sense of what exists suggests it could have been a cult classic in modern geek circles, if an MGM fire in 1967 hadn't wiped it off the face of the Earth.


If I could envy any man for successful ill nature I should envy Lord Byron for his skill in satirical nomenclature.
Sydney Smith

Burned by the Executor of his Estate after consultation with his friends, for fears it would ruin his reputation. Whilst we can guess what it would have contained - this was Byron after all - I would like to guess, given the  book will never show up to prove me wrong, that it consisted of Byron telling us where the dragons were hiding in Europe, and how to communicate in friendly terms with them. Given this would be the Greatest Book Ever, it was clearly thus burned to give all literature, before and since, a fair shot.

Or it might have just been about debauchery.

But we can't discount dragons either. Ahem.

An autobiographyis an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.

Quentin Crisp

Literature history is full of such things. We only have two books in the Trojan cycle. And we are missing pretty big events in the "missing episodes", like the death of Achilles. Luckily, the Ancient Greek versions of TV Without Pity were on hand to recap the episodes for us, so we have the jist if not the substance. Anything written by Socrates or before him is gone. What is left of them live on in the ancients telesnaps and off air recordings.

Music too. Recording and writing music down as we know now it is a relatively recent idea.

The whole nature of what we have lost, as a civilisation, was summed up in brutal fashion:

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter's Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet."
Carl Sagan, Cosmos

It is the not knowing that kills you.

I myself have lost works, lost on floppy discs, Amstrad failures, and sometimes losing the only handwritten copy of the piece. This includes, I am saddened to say, everything I wrote before 2005, as well as 99% of all poetry and articles I have ever written.

What can I remember is lost?

Leper Messiah, a tale about a shipwrecked couple who wash up in a community seemingly brainwashed by an excommunicated priest. A girl disappeared in the area, which no one seems to want to talk about, and her ghost showed up at one point. There was some mysterious fires, and the wife of the couple disappeared. It was written originally for English, and was considered too dark to mark on first draft, which I loved. I think a copy exists on Floppy Disc at mums, not that we have any way of getting into those discs if they are still usable. I recall re-reading this one around 2005 and thinking it had actually held up surprisingly well.

The Night Before, a tale of every day folk getting on with their lives and their loves, with the punchline that it was Hiroshima the night before the bomb was dropped.

Another Nail in the Wall, a strange piece about a scientific experiment going wrong, and the dying last few seconds of the universe looping forever. It was described by showing a man hammering a nail into a wall for a picture.

There were others, but they were drafts and some incomplete before they got lost. Of those three, Night Before is no great loss. Another Nail was bizzare, and made The Deluge look straightforward. So it goes. I wont rewrite them.

The first copy of the poem Innocence is gone too. A rewrite did happen, since the first was praised by the RSPCA.

But before this gets too bogged down in Stories I Have Tried to Write, we'll end it there.

Also recommended:

The first part of my and Jon Arnold's team roundtable articles looking at Euro 2012.

A rare chance to hear me reading my acclaimed Daddy Kicked Doggy into the Fire. (And in the comments, a rare chance to see my Dad deny responsibility for a fictional event. Hehehe)

The Watcher, one of the more popular stories of late.

A defence from last year of accusations of sounding like a Tory.

The Outpost has nearly 100 views without my having done anything to promote it, so rather belatedly, there's a link there.

Finally, my Better Half has started writing herself, and the product can be found at her Ghostly Aspects site.