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Old Television Programming FAQs
How to discover if particular old programmes still exist and how to obtain copies

I suppose a problem is in finding out just what programmes still exist and in what condition.

I am particularly interested in the televised versions of Billy Bunter, the Greyfriars School stories, from the books written by Frank Richards. These starred the actor Gerald Campion in the title role. They are now deemed to be "politically incorrect" and are therefore unlikely to be broadcast ever again but, as a schoolboy myself at the time they were originally broadcast, they gave me immense pleasure, although I come from a very different social background. Another schoolboy series was Jennings from the books by Anthony Buckeridge. Of more general interest I have often wondered if any of the Z Cars police dramas still exist.

Thanks to the effort of the Kaleidoscope team, this is not a problem at all. Between them they have put in several man-years of time examining the records of the BBC and ITV companies to compile their drama, music, comedy, children’s and light entertainment programme guides (see below). These books, each larger than a telephone directory, cover the years from 1950 to the mid-1990s. Looking up Z Cars, I see the vast majority of episodes of this programme survive; several have been shown on BBC television in recent times and one volume has been released on video tape. Neither Jennings nor Billy Bunter is listed on the other hand; I recall the former only as a radio serial and I suspect the latter went out live and was not recorded. Yaroo - it’s not fair, chaps!

How come some collectors manage to find rare old programmes and how can other people do the same?

Old film and open-reel tape recordings can sometimes be purchased officially from the programme libraries of various television companies (not cheaply), acquired legally at auctions when television studios are closed, unofficially from skips and rubbish bins, from the lofts of retired television personnel, at cine collectors’ fairs or by placing want ads in local newspapers or the magazines Loot and Exchange and Mart. A prolific source is the Internet auction site eBay. All sorts of material turns up at car boot sales and collectors meets too.

How can I track down whether a particular old programme still exists?

For most kinds of programmes, the KALEIDOSCOPE guides are the definitive reference works to British-produced programmes; they are used by the archives themselves. You could also approach the archive owners but some of these, the BBC in particular, do not release catalogue information to outsiders as a matter of policy.

The British Television Drama Research Guide 1950-1997
A reference work covering all the major drama series, serials, plays and soaps on all terrestrial channels, including Armchair Theatre, The Bill and Upstairs, Downstairs - includes archive holdings.
ISBN 1 900203 04 9; £25.00

The British Television Music & Variety Research Guide 1950-1997
Overview of British television music and variety shows commissioned by the light entertainment departments of the BBC and ITV companies (such as Wogan and The Old Grey Whistle Test) with full archive holdings.
ISBN 1 900203 06 5; £25.00

The British Children's Television Research Guide 1950-1999
Now spanning two volumes, this is an updated and hugely expanded version of an earlier Guide we released. The new book is so big it has had to be split into two volumes and info is now featured on over 600 more detailed series than before including Crackerjack, Animal Magic, Jim'll Fix It, Teletubbies, Rainbow, Magpie and Runaround. All archive holdings have been updated and all series made by the Children's departments have been included, so drama series such as Grange Hill now live here (with plot synopses). £35

The British Television Comedy Research Guide 1950-1997
This guide features listings for series commissioned by the comedy departments of the BBC and ITV companies, including Steptoe and Son, Man About the House and Only Fools and Horses....
ISBN 1 900203 05 7; £18.00

Other guides are in preparation. Add £5 per book to listed prices (£6.60 for the Children's guide) for postage and packing within the British Isles (these books are monsters!). Please send cheques or Postal Orders, payable to "Kaleidoscope Publishing", to the postal address below. Please be aware that this address is different to the main Kaleidoscope address. Customers outside the UK please make contact via e-mail or at the address below, so that special arrangements can be made for payment and postage. Orders are not accepted via electronic mail. Proceeds from sales of the above books are channelled into financing Kaleidoscope's ongoing activities, and are produced on a non-profit basis.

Kaleidoscope Publishing, 47 Ashton Road, Ashton, Bristol, BS3 2EQ, UK
e-mail: richarddown (at)

As well as these volumes you also need to consult A for Andromeda to Zoo Time - The Television Holdings of the National Film & Television Archive 1936-1979, edited by Simon Baker and Olwen Terris.
BFI Publishing, ISBN 0-85170-420-4, hardback (ring 020-7255 1444 for current price).

Another valuable book for the serious researcher is The Researcher’s Guide to British Film and Television Collections, published by the British Universities Film & Video Council at £28. 234 packed pages listing more than 300 film and television collections in Britain and Ireland.
ISBN 0-901299-68-5.
BUFVC, 77 Wells Street, London, W1P 3RE. 020-7393 1500, fax 020-7393 1555.

Fine, having discovered that a programme exists, how do I contact the owners of this particular archive?

There is a list of television archives on the excellent Kaleidoscope website at address

Please be advised that these companies do not have the resources to reply to casual enquiries from private individuals and certainly not to go on ‘fishing expeditions’ to see if they might have a programme on a particular topic. A cogently written request giving a known programme title and transmission date may bear fruit but the BBC and some other television companies sell copies to the public only if, say, that person or a close relative actually appeared in the programme and then at a substantial price. Some of the ITV regions sell VHS copies of programmes in their archive to enquirers: certainly Pearson (owners of the Thames back catalogue), Granada, Carlton/Central do... prices range from £75 to £265 per show, then VAT, depending on the region.

OK, I hear that but why can't I just pay for a copy of an archive programme?

Two reasons: you couldn’t afford it and it's not in the archives' interest. [reader's voice: Huh?]  Yes. The true cost of finding a tape or film recording, shipping it to a facilities house, having it transferred there to VHS, shipping the master tape back to the archive, raising an invoice, etc. etc. can easily amount to well over £100 and that's without adding any profit element. These companies have invested megabucks in technical facilities and they are not going to waste their investment making the odd VHS tape here and there for enthusiasts, especially if these 'enthusiasts' then circulate pirate copies.

What about legitimate researchers? Can they get hold of copies?

Yes. They can buy viewing copies if they can demonstrate they have been given a commission to make a programme - and a budget! - by another programme company that intends to use archive footage in the new programme. These VHS viewing copies tend to cost £50 a shot and they will have timecode burned in (partly to discourage illicit duplication but mainly to enable the researcher to identify and time shots to be used in the new programme). Some archives may offer similar facilities to non-commercial researchers but most do not.

Fine. How else can enthusiasts get hold of archive programme material?

1. Wait for screenings on television.

2. Buy old programmes released as home video tapes. Don’t forget some old British (and American) programmes not sold here can be had from the USA. Try putting the programme title into an Internet search engine.

3. Attend periodic public screenings such as Missing Believed Wiped at the National Film Theatre, Kaleidoscope in Stourbridge (see the Kaleidocope webpage) and so on (at least you'll see your favourites).

4. Book a personal screening in Television Heaven at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford.

5. Discover a lost treasure on film at a cine enthusiasts' fair or in a junk shop.

6. Put a want ad in Exchange & Mart, Loot, 405 Alive magazine or your local 'free ads' paper.

7. Join othe PPS (Programme Preservation Society), whose members lend each other copies of old television and radio programmes. If you would like more information on PPS, then please send an SAE to the club treasurer Richard Berry at 230 Selsdon Road, Croydon, Surrey CR2 6PL.

8. Use one of the programme trading resources on the Internet, such as: (UK Video Tape Trading Homepage) ("We are collectors of vintage television.......our holdings number about 15,000 episodes, give or take a few thousand. We lost count a long time ago. Our passion is watching and sharing the great programs of the first few decades of TV. On this page you can find lists of the series we have, and the specific episodes of each that we can get to you.") (The TV Connection: television programme tapes for sale plus area for swapping tapes.)

Don’t expect to buy it from television companies' own film & video tape archives; they don’t normally sell to the public. That said, a few ITV companies will sell VHS tapes of old programmes but these are not cheap (expect to pay between £50 and £200 for a single programme). You can occasionally persuade television companies or the BBC to sell you a copy of a programme if you can demonstrate an extremely special reason (such as that you were featured in it at the age of 10).

How can I find out if a film or TV programme has been released on home video? 

As far as the UK is concerned register is maintained by the Videolog organisation, the Videolog database of all video tapes in print. You can view it on the Moviemail site at It's notable that around 20 per cent of all the titles in print in the UK are deleted each year, meaning that every month some 1,000 titles change status. Moviemail offers to obtain any British video tape in print; their phone number is 01432-262910, e-mail: enquiries (at)

Another way to find if a tape has been released in the UK is to try the BBFC website at . They have a fairly good search engine that will also tell you if any cuts have been made to the tape in order to gain a certificate. If tapes are deleted from a distributor's catalogue then try Blackstar Video at . They run a video search facility and are usually very good at locating deleted tapes. They also list a fair amount of older titles from the early to mid 1980s on their regular pages and don't charge postage on regular items.

For other countries, we'd appreciate feedback from you. For the more commercial titles is a good guide for the USA.

Where do I find television programmes and films once issued on video but now deleted?

A company called The Film Vault Search Service claims to be the largest and most successful video search company in the UK, specialising in finding rare and difficult-to-find video tapes. It claims a 92 per cent success rate from around 161,000 titles. Phone 01865-361000 or 361888 or fax 01865-361500. Website is at , e-mail mail (at) . Postal enquiries to The Film Vault Search Service, Unit 7, The Boundary, Wheatley Road, Garsington, Oxford, OX44 9DY. [I have to say that my one and only personal encounter with the company did not bear out their claims; my requests obviously contributed to the 8 per cent failure rate!]

Boot sales and secondhand shops are another source. Part of the problem is that it is illegal to sell commercially tapes that don't carry a BBFC certification; older tapes never had this on them. 

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