Today: April 19, 2024

Drama Lost & Found


Rare footage of Sean Connery, Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith, Leonard Rossiter and many more discovered after over 40 years.

The BFI has acquired the biggest and best ever single haul of missing British television footage and featuring some of the nation’s biggest and best loved names in film, TV and theatre. A chance find by a US television researcher at the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington DC resulted in the discovery of this extraordinary collection of previously lost British television – not seen by the public since their original transmission.

This unprecedented collaboration between the LOC and the BFI National Archive, the two largest archives of film and television in the world, will return to the UK over 65 unique recordings of British television drama from 1957 to 1969, a key period of British television history. The find will support the BFI’s ongoing Long Live Film campaign, in which 75 of the world’s top missing films have been identified for recovery.

The bulk of the programmes are adaptations of existing literary works (Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Cocteau, Anouilh) and include some legendary names. Rudolph Cartier’s ambitious drama of the painter (Rembrandt, 1969) is a key find and other highlights include an adaptation from 1965 by Nigel Kneale, a re-imagining of his previous adaptation of 1984 and an outstanding collection of plays based on Georges Simeon (non-Maigret) short stories entitled Thirteen Against Fate (only one episode was previously known to have survived) from 1966. The haul also includes two missing Wednesday Plays. The tapes belonged originally to Public Broadcasting Service WNET New York and were broadcast on that network following UK transmission on BBC or ITV.

Steve Bryant, Senior Curator (Television), BFI National Archive said, “The BFI’s “Missing, Believed Wiped” campaign to recover the lost treasures of British television history has been going for 17 years now, but this is by far the largest and most significant collection of programmes we have found, both in terms of the quality and the vintage of the titles concerned. We are very grateful to WNET for having the foresight to donate them to the Library of Congress, to the Library for preserving them and now making them available, and to Kaleidoscope for providing the on-line forum which led to their discovery.”

Among other tantalising details to have surfaced from cast lists are Jane Asher in a 1962 version of Romeo and Juliet; Sean Connery and Dorothy Tutin in Colombe (1960) by Jean Anouilh; Derek Jacobi, Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith in Much Ado About Nothing (1967); Leonard Rossiter and John Le Mesurier in Dr. Knock (1966) (Harley Granville-Barker’s translation of Jules Romains’ satire); and Betty Marsden as Mrs Malaprop in a 1962 version of Sheridan’s The Rivals.

Other famous actors include Mai Zetterling, Patricia Routledge, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Hordern, Jill Bennett, Leo McKern, Wilfrid Brambell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Sallis, Donald Wolfitt, Bernard Cribbins, Viven Merchant, Jeremy Brett, David Hemmings, Susannah York, Charles Grey, Patrick Macnee, Robert Shaw, Ron Moody, David McCallum, Robert Hardy, and Geoffrey Bayldon. Producers and directors are of equally high standing.

As the BFI National Archive celebrates its 75th anniversary this year this news could not have come at a more appropriate time. Special thanks are due to the BFI’s partner organisation Kaleidoscope: The Classic Television Organisation who first alerted us to the possibility of this haul.

The BFI will show selected highlights of the collection during its annual Missing Believed Wiped festival of recovered television programmes on Sunday 7th November at BFI Southbank.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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