This is an archived website which has not been updated since 2002.
Some information may be inaccurate or out of date.

Television Technostalgia
A broad and absorbing interest

Attitudes towards television have changed a lot. Until the 1980s the subject was dismissed by many as an ephemeral and rather low-brow form of entertainment whilst broadcasters generally felt uneasy about screening their heritage of old programmes for fear that more ‘sophisticated’ audiences might ridicule their older output. The coming of Channel Four, new satellite stations and the rise of home video have all created an insatiable demand for programme material, while a more enlightened attitude in the media has conditioned us to appreciate old television in a positive manner.

Pioneer groups such as Wider TV Access and now Kaleidoscope proved there was a demand for viewing old programmes by arranging public screenings, whilst the opening of the MOMI and Bradford museums have also made an interest in old television respectable. Today there is no shortage of books, societies and conventions devoted to old television. Archive recordings are screened on television and can be bought on videotape, whilst the BBC and the National Film and Television Archive have had success in tracking down ‘lost’ programmes and returning them to the archive. Kaleidoscope and Missing, Believed Wiped are the titles of annual conventions devoted old TV in general, whilst specialist groups hold their own events related to Doctor Who and other telefantasy programmes.

Screenings of old programmes

KALEIDOSCOPE, West Midlands. Kaleidoscope has been organising screenings of classic British television since 1988 to critical acclaim. All proceeds go to charity. A wide range of programmes is shown at events held periodically in central Birmingham. For further information send SAE to Kaleidoscope, 93 Old Park Road, Dudley, DY1 3NE.

NATIONAL FILM THEATRE, South Bank, London, SE1 8TL (020-7815 1374). Regular seasons of old television programmes, plus discussions and debates. The special annual presentation 'Missing, Believed Wiped' of lost classics rediscovered has become an institution.

Collecting and restoring old TV sets

This is an absorbing and not necessarily expensive hobby. Technical and safety considerations mean that electrical restoration should be handled only by qualified people. Even though there are no longer any transmissions on the 405-line standard, converters can be had to adapt these old tellies to modern programmes and video recorders. You will find plenty of information on this website!

Television music

There is a strong interest in old theme tunes, production and presentation music, whilst even test card music has a keen following all of its own. Thirty years ago for instance ITV played popular and classical music from commercial albums, whilst the BBC played light music which was recorded specially for test card performance. Because the BBC's music was not for sale in the shops a cult following grew and CD albums of original test card music have been released. Specialist groups exist to channel the interest in television music and allied matters such as the films shown for trade test transmission purposes in the early days of colour TV in this country.

Television commercials

Many (but not all by any means) old TV commercials survive, well back to the 1950s and 60s in fact, but this does not mean they are ‘accessible’. One of two advertisers (such as Brooke Bond) have released videotapes of classic commercials, and programmes on television such as Carrot’s Commercial Breakdown and Washes Whiter have examined the subject.

Copyright still subsists in these commercials as well as other rights of the actors, music and musicians employed, which is why it is sometimes very difficult to get clearance to show them again on television. For obvious reasons, copies of old commercials are released only on a controlled basis and to organisations who can satisfy the copyright owners of their good intentions (and who can solve the rights issues without incurring the wrath of one of the parties involved). This applies to some extent for all old television and film material. In addition, some of the organisations mentioned do not have the means to provide copies and are not prepared to delve into their holdings without serious money and a letter of commission from a TV programme maker up-front. This makes it difficult for the serious but non-professional researcher.

Commercials made since, say, the mid-1970s were formerly archived by the ITV Association, formerly the ITV Companies Association, and this collection has now been moved to the Museum of Film, Photography and Television in Bradford. Many are still kept by the original advertisers or, more commonly, their advertising agencies. Yet more are in vaults at Pinewood studios, abandoned or forgotten by their owners (but Pinewood are not empowered to destroy them or release them to anyone else). Finally, some are in the care of the History of Advertising Trust (an underfunded organisation) whilst others have been catalogued and copied by an organisation called The Advertising Register (they who supplied the ads for the BBC-2 programme Washes Whiter a few years ago).

The best book on the subject, richly illustrated, is The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show by Jo Gable (published by Michael Joseph, 1980). It is now out of print but can be found in second-hand book shops or ordered through a library.

Television archaeology

So poorly was the early history of television preserved that museums and archives are relying on the public to rediscover lost treasures. Regular screenings of old television programmes are held at the national Film Theatre in London under the title Missing, Believed Wiped; these are lost programmes on film which have been rediscovered once more, often by enthusiasts searching through attics and junk shops. The so-called Intermediate Film Process camera used by Baird in 1935/36 turned up a couple of years ago in a cine collector’s garage and it was indeed fortunate that this unique artefact was recognised by another collector – and saved for the nation. Other rare items have turned up in house clearances.

Must-have books

AVENGERLAND by Anthony and Annette McKay (£4.95 by mail from Time Screen, 88 Edlington Lane, Warmsworth, Doncaster, Yorks., DN4 9LS). Ignore the title, this book contains photos, maps and descriptions of locations used for filming nearly 400 different episodes of TV series from 1958 to the present day. At last you can find the name of that deserted airfield or charming old pub!

BOX OF DELIGHTS by Hilary Kingsley and Geoff Tibballs. Masterpiece research combined with gifted, sympathetic writing, covering the 1950s to the 1980s. Programmes, personalities and even favourite commercials are all included, plus a Where are they now? section.

BRITISH TELEVISION by Tise Vahimagi. Monster illustrated paperback from the Oxford University Press, £12.99. Detailed entries on more than 1,100 favourite TV programmes from 1936 to the present.

Other recommended titles are:

BOXTREE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV DETECTIVES by Geoff Tibballs, Boxtree. Covers more than 250 series of TV detective programmes.

BUYGONES - A Celebration of Past Tense Products and People, by Victor Lewis Smith and Paul Sparks, Banyan Books Ltd, 1988.

CLASSIC BRITISH TV by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, Guinness Books. In-depth study of over 100 classic and well-loved programmes.

COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TELEVISION PROGRAMMES by Vincent Terrace. Barnes/Yoseloff (USA). USA programmes only, but many of these crossed the Atlantic of course.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV SCIENCE FICTION by Roger Fulton, Boxtree. Nearly 600 pages covering 40 years of BBC and ITV programming.

FIFTY YEARS OF TELEVISION by Vincent Terrace, Cornwall Books (USA). Sold at MOMI bookshop in London, covers American TV series from 1937 to 1988.

GOLDEN AGE OF CHILDREN'S TELEVISION by Geoff Tibballs. Titan Books. Large format paperback covering the years 1950 to 1975. Difficult to fault, except the bungle over Captain Pugwash.

HALLIWELL'S TELEVISION COMPANION. Paladin. Very comprehensive 'bible'.

ITV ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ADVENTURE by Dave Rogers, Boxtree. More than 3,200 entries on adventure series transmitted on ITV over the past 32 years.

TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS by Paul Gambaccini, Network Books (BBC). Covers every hit BBC and ITV programme since 1960. Not to be confused with...

TV'S GREATEST HITS by Anthony Davis. Boxtree Books in association with Independent Television Books. Valuable compendium.

Back to Information index