Saturday, December 29, 2012

The East Cheam Repertory Company Presents: Hancock's Forty-Three Minutes

One of the greatest television series that you may have never seen is a series from the 1950s into early 1960s called Hancock’s Half Hour. This series starred comedian Tony Hancock and was a great series which highlighted a couple of things that were not done at the time in BBC comedy but is now very familiar to us. The series which was written by Galton & Simpson would later bring us the great series Steptoe and Son but here they took Tony Hancock and turned him into a character of the series. Tony Hancock did not play any specific character that had its own name, the character’s name was Tony Hancock. In this fictitious world, Tony Hancock often worked for the BBC, just like the real Tony Hancock. This Tony Hancock sometimes had his own radio series called Hancock’s Half Hour, just like the real Tony Hancock. In fact, all the main characters kept their names. In the TV version that was really just Tony Hancock and Sid James. In the series, Hancock may have the same profession of the real Hancock but that’s where it ended. In the TV/radio series, Hancock was talentless; the real one was extremely talented. Sid James was basically a minor criminal and a con man in the series, constantly trying to get Hancock to enter into one of his dodgy schemes.

Watching Tony Hancock and Sid James on Hancock’s Half Hour is simply sublime. I dare anyone to watch 3 episodes and not be taken by the charm and wit of not only the superb scripts but the chemistry between Hancock and James. It is so good. A personal favourite of mine is from Series 5, The Economy Drive. These two performers are at the height of their success in the series. It’s a shame these episodes are not re-ran more as they are so much fun to watch. In 1957 there was going to be a Christmas themed episode that would air of Hancock’s Half Hour. When I originally watched this a couple of years ago for the first time, I figured I would be in for a treat as I have been enjoying the series but never got around to this particular episode. Seeing that it was 43 minutes opposed to the usual 30, I was really looking forward to seeing what trouble Hancock would get into and what sort of scheme Sid James was planning. Sadly, I would be disappointed when I watched Hancock’s Forty-Three Minutes and I had not seen that episode since. Now, the time had come where this episode was picked for my holiday viewing. Now being more familiar with the series, would my views on this yuletide edition change?
Hancock’s Forty-Three Minutes TX: 23/12/57

A lot of comedy utilizing comedians done in the UK at the time of this series was variety shows. In some ways it wasn’t too far off from Vaudeville. I personally am not a big fan of that type of program and prefer something with some continuity that is more along the lines of a sitcom such as Hancock’s Half Hour. Unfortunately, Hancock’s Forty-Three minutes is a variety show with a lot of different acts. The premise of the special still fits into what the core of the series is about. Hancock is doing a broadcast for the BBC from Television Theatre and has stupidly left the booking of the acts to his “business manager” Sid James. As Hancock is on stage, since the special has already started, Sid comes out to let Hancock know that not only does he not have any acts but there is no money left. Sid has basically used the money to buy drinks down the pub. After some banter back and forth Sid let’s Hancock know that he did gets some acts and to start with there are some dancing girls!
Suddenly a chorus line of large overweight women come out dressed as dancing girls can-canning across the stage. Hancock is shocked by what he sees and tried to stop them by putting all his weight behind them. Cue the fat jokes! Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a fat joke like anyone else but this is Galton and Simpson writing this episode. They are some of the best scriptwriters ever. It seems a little too lowbrow humour for me. We will see the dancers back a couple of more times and each time with the same level of quality jokes. What does make me smile though is that there are a couple of times when Hancock makes some kind of fat joke about them that one of them is visibly smiling and is about to laugh. That makes it a little bit better for me.

What else could follow up a fat joke other than a trained monkey in a suit doing tricks on stage,  Now, at this stage if you are a big fan of Hancock’s Half Hour and is reading this, please know that I know what Galton & Simpson were trying to do with this episode. Hancock does not want a program at the level we are getting but these are the types of acts that Sid is hiring. Hancock would see a Vaudeville type program below him yet this would be all that Sid knows. This is a knock on those types of programs with a couple of other things thrown in. This is another example of how nothing ever works for poor Hancock. I do get it. I just don’t enjoy it. To my point at the beginning of the paragraph, I am not a fan of animals doing tricks. That’s just me. The audience on the show enjoyed it; hell even the chimp appears to enjoy it.
Now, there are some funny parts to it. Such as prior to the chimp and his owner on stage, Hancock and two other people (including Mario Fabrizi from The Army Game) juggle with each other which ends with all of them basically throwing stuff at each other which nearly erupts into a fight between them. Max Geldray did a couple of songs with his harmonica. Max was a regular on The Goon Show. We get a fun segment where Sid brings out a paper tearer who leads Hancock to think the man will tear the paper and make new designs out of it. In actuality, the paper tearer just takes pieces of paper and tears them up. Then we get the Keynotes.

The Keynotes were a group of musicians that played with Vera Lynn on her program. They make an appearance on this program as one of the big acts. They sing 2 songs, “Wake Up Little Suzy” and “Gypsy in my Soul”. The good news is that they are talented. The bad news is that they are so cheesy. With every camera angle change, The Keynotes do this sweeping head movement to go to the next camera angle. There is about 4 people doing this and it is hilarious. It isn’t a simple head movement change but more the heads move in an exaggerated way in unison. They went to the Lawrence Welk School of Choreography for sure. I am also aware that this is how performances were done back then; that doesn’t make it any better.
We end this extravaganza with a retelling of The Three Musketeers with special guest John Gregson. It’s the usual sort of thing. The scene is planned out well but different things interrupt the flow of the scene so “hilarious” mistakes are made. For example, John Gregson is “late” to the performance and the part where he should enter the scene in a dramatic fashion is multiple different scenarios so they redo that part multiple times by opening the door where Gregson should be waiting. One of the times it’s the chimp. I am not saying this isn’t funny, it’s just by the time we get to it I am no longer into it. I am bored by the whole thing at this point which frustrates me. I love Hancock’s Half Hour and I love older television. I just think this is a poor effort for the series.

It is interesting with John Gregson in the episode. He is a name that I am not familiar with and I needed to look him up. In some ways, he may be a casualty of the era. I know a ton of British actors but his name was unfamiliar to me and this was even after looking up his credits to see what he has done. This is not to impugn the success and credit of this actor but he is a rare one that I have not heard of before. As I mentioned before this episode had Mario Fabrizi, Max Geldray, John Vere and also Dennis Chinnery who many people will recognize from Doctor Who Genesis of the Daleks and The Twin Dilemma. Chinnery appeared in quite a few Hancock Half Hour episodes and always plays the “straight” man which he does very well. Someone else who plays that role well in this series even though he was not in this episode is Hugh Lloyd. Fantastic stuff!
Although I didn’t think much about this episode, I did treat myself to three episodes of the radio series which were Christmas related:

Hancock’s Happy Christmas TX: 23/12/56
The radio episodes are different from the TV episodes as Hancock not only has Sid James but also has Hattie Jacques (a personal favourite of mine) as Hancock’s secretary Ms. Pugh, Bill Kerr and also Kenneth Williams who plays all sorts of characters in the most brilliant way. In this episode Hancock is very bah-humbug about Christmas but ends up being lumbered with some children at an orphanage to give them a great Christmas. This is not a warm and fuzzy Christmas where Hancock warms to them. In fact the kids end up blackmailing everyone into giving them more presents. The children really make this episode and it is a delight.

Bill and Father Christmas TX: 25/12/58
Bill still believes in Father Christmas even though he is in his 30s. Hancock has to dress up every year as Father Christmas to keep the charade going. Bill finds out only to mentally revert to his 8 year old self due to the huge disappointment. The doctor who is checking out Bill’s condition tells Hancock, Sid, and Ms. Pugh to play along with Bill as if they were his old friends in Australia to help him break out of this. Bill associates Sid and Ms. Pugh with friends he had back home but of course he associates Hancock with a kid he never liked. Warren Mitchell guest stars in this episode.

The Christmas Club TX: 22/12/59
Hancock keeps putting a bit of money away every week with the pub so he can have a nice payout in time for Christmas. This will afford him a nice extravagant Christmas meal. The payout is over £50 which is a huge amount back then. What a shame that Sid accidently gives the envelope with the cash in it to the Police rather than the money they were asking for to give to their charity to help people with nothing. Now Hancock and Sid are the ones who have nothing at Christmas.

Even though the TV and radio series have the same name, there is a lot that distinguishes them from each other. They are both brilliant for their own reasons.  Unlike later TV series such as Dad’s Army and Steptoe and Son that remade the TV episodes in radio episodes, all of the radio Hancock Half Hour episodes are completely different than the TV versions. They are not the same. The only thing they have in common apart from Hancock and Sid James is that they are hilarious. If you haven’t seen the series or listened to the radio series, try and seek it out. Especially the radio series, I think is timeless. It’s a great series especially if you are having a down day. You may want to know that the BBC is an equal opportunity wiper. Both TV and radio episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour are missing. Though to be fair, though some episodes are legitimately missing, I do not know if some were just never recorded because of telerecording technology for the TV series. The show was broadcast live.
Sad News……

Even though it was known he was ill, it still greatly saddens me that Gerry Anderson passed away this week at the age of 83. He had been suffering with mixed dementia. Gerry was responsible for a whole style of filmmaking called Supermarionation. I fell in love first with The Thunderbirds and then anything I could get a hold of that he had his hand in making. The outpouring of sadness from people I have been reading on forums is very nice to see. It is also nice to see that so many people who had met him tell of what a warm and approachable person he was. Very soon, I plan to do a write up about him as I will watch an episode from each of the series that I have of his in my collection. That will be that day sorted and it will be a lot of fun to watch.
Next week: I will write about a series that I have watched and loved for a very, very long time yet has never come up for this blog. I will take a look at 2 episodes of the very classic series Fawlty Towers: Waldorf Salad and The Kipper and the Corpse as I take a master-class in comedy from the great John Cleese!

Have a great week and see you next year!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.

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Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Doctor Who Christmas - The Original You Might Say!

Before there were Sycorax, Racnoss, Flying Titanics, or Flying Sharks there was this simple message form the Doctor from 1965. Merry Christmas to all of you at home!

This simple reconstruction of the end of The Feast of Steven was made by me.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How to Become Prime Minister By Backing the British Sausage

It’s the holidays and I am getting started a little later than I wanted to with writing about the holiday programs I am watching. I guess I got all tuckered out from the video tape trading articles I did. Every year I devote the month of December to watching randomly picked British television but they have to have some sort of Christmas theme to it. It’s funny because I never seem to pick the series that I think would be really good to show this time of year but I am generally pretty satisfied with what I pick. As long as it’s not the Star Wars Holiday Special, then I am alright.

Once I decided to start taking the month of December as nothing but Christmas programs, one episode came to mind immediately and that was Yes Minister, Party Games. I wrote about this episode in a more compressed way back in May as I picked it as part of my article on Memorable Final Episodes. This episode accomplishes a lot in an hour. It is a partial Christmas episode, it is a partial New Year’s episode, but most importantly it takes our character Jim Hacker and elevates him to Prime Minister. Obviously, I did not see this on transmission on BBC2 back in 1984. It would be interesting to know if viewers had any idea that this was going to happen. When watching the episode from the beginning, it gives no indication that by the end of it that Hacker would be the political leader of the UK. Yes Jim Hacker! How do we get there?
Party Games TX: 17/12/84

It had been nearly 2 years since we had last seen Hacker, Sir Humphrey, and Bernard with the end of Yes Minister Series 3. I have said it before; this is what I love about British television. A series can disappear for a few years but come back as if nothing has happened. It’s kind of like real life, we lose touch with people but then we get back together with them as if nothing has happened. Well it appears like nothing has really happened with Jim. Some of his duties may have changes a little bit but he is still a cog in the political machine with Bernard Woolley still with him.
There is an absurdity within the series that makes this so much fun to watch. It is probably even more fun since the absurdity is only mirroring real life. After all this is a satire. There is much going on here that rings very true with the politician at the time. There is a reason why this was Prime Minister Thatcher’s favourite series. The first absurdity is the sheer amount of holiday cards that Hacker needs to sign and based on who the cards are going to Hacker will need to sign the cards differently. There is something else that is troubling Jim. The European Commission, based on new European regulation, wants to have the classic British sausage to be renamed the Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube. Hacker knows that this would be very unpopular, especially for him politically.

For Sir Humphrey, things are going a bit better. Humphrey is meeting with his boss and mentor Sir Arnold. Sir Arnold is about to retire and needs to figure out who is successor is going to be. You see, Arnold needs someone who knows how to ask the “key” questions. Humphrey certainly knows how to do that as he asks Arnold if he has given any thought to what he was going to do after he retires? This question is more to do with what sort of key chairmanships that Humphrey could line Arnold up with that would yield very little work but a ton of money.  Arnold likes his thinking and puts forward Humphrey’s name as his successor. In this episode, as in any other episode, any scene with Humphrey and Arnold are gold. There is nothing likeable about either character yet they are immensely likeable. I also enjoy the dialogue between them as if those two alone are the ones running everything and everyone else is basically window dressing or game pieces moved around strategically.

When it comes time for Humphrey to tell Jim about his new role, Jim mistakes it as if Humphrey is dying. “Humphrey, you’re so terribly brave!” Finally Jim catches on congratulates Humphrey on the accession to Cabinet Secretary. "So Humpy, you are going do to the Prime Minister what you have always done to me......for me." They both decide to let the other staff members know about this new appointment at the Holiday drinks party.  At that party, we find an incredibly drunk Jim Hacker. Everyone else drinks at that party with more control but Hacker is really letting it loose. He gives a speech about Humphrey which is pretty incoherent and is just a general mess. He decides to drive home even though his wife Annie begs him to allow her to drive. Because this is all just good comedy and instead of this turning into a “very special episode”, the next shot is of the Hacker’s driving down the street going about 5 miles per hour. The police pull him over and give him a verbal warning after finding out who Hacker is and what role he has in government.
Hacker is eventually called into the Cabinet Secretary office who is now Sir Humphrey and Humphrey gives him a stern warning. Though, it’s not all that bad. At least it wasn’t like the Home Secretary who was picked up for drunken driving causing an accident with a lorry loaded with nuclear waste. Of course, it was the Home Secretary who initiated the holiday campaign, “Don’t Drink and Drive at Christmas”. The Home Secretary resigns from his position which leads to all sort of interesting events in the episode. Bernard is at the Hacker home waiting for Jim to get back. Annie and Bernard turn on the news only  to find out that the Prime Minister is resigning in the New Year. At that moment, Hacker comes in and all three of them are astonished by the news. All sorts of amazing rumours are going around about the Prime Minister. Jim heard that the Prime Minister was actually a KGB agent. That’s not Bernard heard:

Bernard Woolley: Minister, I've heard something quite different.
Jim Hacker: What?
Bernard Woolley: That there is £1 million worth of diamonds from South Africa in a Downing Street safe, but of course it's only a rumour.
Jim Hacker: Is that true?
Bernard Woolley: Oh, yes.
Jim Hacker: So, there ARE all those diamonds in Downing Street!
Bernard Woolley: Are there?
Jim Hacker: You just said there were.
Bernard Woolley: No, I didn't.
Jim Hacker: Yes, you did! You said you'd heard this rumour, I said is it true, you said yes!
Bernard Woolley: I said yes, it was true that it was a rumour.
Jim Hacker: You said you heard it was true!
Bernard Woolley: No, I said it was true that I heard it!
Annie Hacker: I'm sorry to cut into this important discussion, but do you believe it?
Jim Hacker: I believe I heard it. Oh, about the diamonds. No.
Annie Hacker: Is it impossible?
Jim Hacker: No, but it's never been officially denied. First rule in politics: never believe anything until it's officially denied.

 But the real reason was that the Prime Minister couldn’t stand the Home Secretary who would have been a real contender to hold the Prime Minister office. Now that the Home Secretary is out of the picture the Prime Minister felt that he could resign. Of course Jim knows right away that there are two contenders for the office, Duncan and Eric. In fact, they each meet with him right away. Since Jim is Chairman of the Party, his support would mean a lot to either of them. In fact, they each go as far a threatening him with bad positions within the government if he does not support either of them. Meanwhile, Arnold and Humphrey are meeting about who should be the next Prime Minister. They come to an amazing conclusion. Instead of going with the two contenders who are currently on the table, why not find someone who has no firm opinion and could be moldable…..

Jim Hacker is called into the Sir Humphrey’s office again. There he finds not only Humphrey but also the Chief Whip. Humphrey looked into Eric and Duncan’s MI5 files and found some disturbing information. As Party Chairman, Hacker needed to see this. There was some dicey stuff going on with the two candidates. The three men in the Cabinet Secretary’s office discuss the seriousness of the situation:
Jim Hacker: "Yes, well this is serious."
Chief Whip: "Very serious."
Sir Humphrey: "Very serious."
Jim Hacker: "What could happen if either of them became PM?"
Sir Humphrey: "Something very serious indeed."
Chief Whip: "Very serious."
Jim Hacker: "I see...."
Chief Whip: "Serious repercussions."
Sir Humphrey: "Serious repercussions."
Chief Whip: "Of the utmost seriousness."
Jim Hacker: "Yes, that is serious."
Sir Humphrey: "In fact, I would go so far as to say, that it could hardly be more serious."
Jim Hacker: "Well, I think we all agree then: this is serious."

Finally, the Chief Whip asks if Hacker had any thoughts of doing the job himself. This is a great scene because a lot of what Jim is doing in this scene is exactly why Humphrey and Arnold thought he would be perfect for them as Prime Minister. When he is told he can look into the MI5 files of Eric and Duncan, he whips out his glasses and is as happy as a child with the thought of looking into someone else’s files. Then, after Hacker is warming to the idea of becoming Prime Minister, he is not sure what he should do or how he should respond to questions. Humphrey is, off the top of his said, saying how Hacker should respond to press questions at which point we cut back to Jim writing down all of what Humphrey is saying word for word. Also in this scene playing Chief Whip is James Grout. I adore James Grout especially as Granville in All Creatures Great & Small. Everything I have seen him in makes me smile.
Jim meets with both Eric and Duncan to get them to bow out of the race. These scenes show us a pretty strong Jim Hacker who takes care of business with both of them.  Now, Jim needs to get to work with campaigning for Prime Minister without campaigning for it. He needs to pick something that can be a victory for him. He chooses his battle to save the British Sausage. He creates the illusion to the public that the British Sausage is to become illegal under European regulation. He invites the press in for an impromptu conference in his office to alert them to this horrific turn of events. He eventually gives a passionate speech that is covered by both the BBC and ITN condemning the EEC for making the British Sausage illegal. Hacker speaks with the cadence of Churchill and is actually pretty dynamic. He has a ton of energy in the scene and there is a very realistic feel to that speech. Of course, little does everyone know that Hacker and Humphrey have already met with Maurice from the EEC in which Maurice agrees that they do not need to call the British Sausage the Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube but it can have the name of the British Sausage. Hacker even gets an interview with the great British news personality, Ludovic Kennedy. Things are serious.
Finally, Hacker is called into Humphrey’s office where he is informed his party is voting to see if there are any other candidates to will oppose Hacker for the office of Prime Minister. After Hacker is confused by multiple ringing phones in Humphrey’s office, Hacker is confirmed as the next Prime Minister.

This episode is a triumph for the series. A lot of the episodes show Hacker and Humphrey on different sides of all the issues and forcing out a compromise only to get one or the other out of trouble. This episode sees both of them working together. Humphrey is still scheming to get his way. He doesn’t want Jim as Prime Minister because he respects him. He feels like Hacker will allow him to run the government the way he wants to run it. There is a great feel to the whole episode and what I love about this series is that there are a lot of people running out to different buildings for meeting. People are driven around in other cars to other places and there is a feeling of busy-ness and procedure which I guess adds to the absurdity factor.
I hate to keep bringing this back up but I was amused with myself while reading my blurb on this episode for the Memorable Final Episodes article. Once again, I think of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are two separate series with the same characters. The premises are different. Yet, in my article from May 26th 2012, I clearly forgot my stance on this oh-so-important issue. If I may dare quote myself, “I know I went through a big argument about how Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are one series. I still do look at it that way but this is the final episode of the series to say Yes Minister on the titles but more importantly it is a transitional episode.” Maybe I should be in politics since I apparently waffle back and forth on this. I even link back to an article where I state that I see this as two separate series which I still do!  Let’s see where I stand the next time I look at one of these episodes!
As I also mentioned in the article was how difficult it was to get a hold of a copy of Party Games. On KTCA here in Minnesota, it was years until this was broadcast. It may have been the late 1990s but I think it was actually the early 2000s. I assume the reason this was never imported over here was because it was an hour long episode opposed to the usual 30 minute episode? Here is a possible different theory, knowing how BBC sales, or Lionheart back in the day worked, it’s possible that the episode was available but maybe the station had to pay extra for it.  The episode started to show up in syndication after Lionheart went away and programs were starting to be distributed by BBC Worldwide Americas. Of course, that is a theory and probably not a very good one. Party Games was shown over here in the late 1980s but not on PBS but on A&E.
If I may jog people’s mind here, it may be hard to ever remember an A&E (cable channel in the USA) that did not show Storage Wars, Dog the Bounty Hunter or Gene Simmons Family Jewels. At the very beginning, they showed a great deal of British television. Amongst it was Yes, Prime Minister. Wait though, I was talking about Yes Minister. Well, when A&E started to show Yes, Prime Minister they started with Party Games as the series’ first episode. They went even as far as editing the Yes, Prime Minister credits over the proper credits. I didn’t get the episode of Party Games until the late 1990s for my collection and it was a 3rd or 4th generation VHS copy from the A&E broadcast. Because I am odd, I went about to edit back in the proper Yes Minister opening credits as well as take out the commercial breaks. When I watched it just recently, I can still remember where some of the commercial breaks occurred. I watched this episode from the PAL DVD of Series 3 where the episode is included. It’s where it should be included. It is the last episode of Yes Minister. I am surprised and annoyed to see it is included in the US on the Yes, Prime Minister DVD set and not the Yes Minister DVD set. That is ridiculous! I sincerely hope that it at least has the proper Yes Minister opening credits. Please tell me they do!
I personally prefer Yes Minister over Yes, Prime Minister. When I did some research to see how Party Games was released on VHS and DVD I forgot a couple of things. First off, Yes, Prime Minister had been released on VHS for quite some time. Out of the two series, that one was released first over in the US & UK. Yes Minister was released on VHS in the UK starting in 1994 but didn’t finish until Party Games was released in 2001. In the US, Yes Minister came out in 1998 on VHS but only the first series.

Party Games pressed all the correct buttons for me. It’s a great transitional episode that had a holiday theme without being overly Christmassy. To be honest it is probably one of, if not my favourite episode of the entire series. There are so many great quotes and so many great moments. Of course, they all returned in 1986 with Yes, Prime Minister. I wrote an article about the first two episodes of that series in 2011. Do you want to see it, please check it out here.
The script quotes from these episodes were found on and IMDB.
Update: As things sometimes do, life gets out of control and I have not been able to do what I wanted to with this site for almost a month. Remember back in November I had a competition to win some Doctor Who DVDs. I just want to let everyone know that I did pick winners back in November and their prizes are on the way to them. The winners are:
Claws of Axos Special Edition:
Laura Rynberg
Nick Seidler

Doctor Who Series 7 Part One:
Max Romanowski
Christopher Krisocki

Next week: Even though it will be after Christmas, let’s fit in one more holiday program. I look at an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour called Hancock’s Forty-Three Minutes. Do the extra 13 minutes help this episode?
Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Tape Traders: The More Things Change....

Last week, I wrote an article about a hobby of mine called video tape trading and it can be found here. I was prompted to write about a US perspective of the subject matter in the 2010 documentary Cheques, Lies and Videotape found on the Doctor Who DVD Revenge of the Cybermen. I started this hobby in 1988 and the previous article only covered a few years. Now I finish this up by recounting the 1990s and how I was able to get some really incredible items with the people I met in the US and the UK. I apologize now if this article starts to sound smug or as if I am being a show-off. This is a hobby I enjoy and shows how much passion I have for BBC and other British television programs. Enjoy!

In the 1990s there was this thing called the Internet. Because I am one-minded I didn’t see this as way to socialize but as a way to get better quality copies of Doctor Who episodes. The episodic versions that Mike made for me back in the late 1980s and early 1990s were great but they were down a couple of tape generations down from the broadcast and I was always striving for better copies. To be honest, I am never happy. As a side note about Mike’s copies, I eventually got copies of all of his episodic stories. He was very kind to do this for me. They were originally taped for him in Pittsburgh. The station was WQEX. Before the episode of Doctor Who would air, an on-air personality would introduce us to the episode we were about to see. The announcers never knew what they were talking about and would often mispronounce names and words that were Doctor Who centric. One of the guys who would introduce the episodes was Joe Negri. He may be better known to some as Handyman Negri from the classic children’s program Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. WQEX was the studio this landmark children series originated from. It’s pretty cool!

Anyway through my time on that awesome service called America Online, I found someone in San Diego who recorded all the Jon Pertwee stories for me episodically off-air. I cannot tell you how big of a deal this was. It meant that someone was not making a copy for me from another tape; they were recording something off-air onto a tape which was directly sent to me. It was even cooler because the Pertwee syndication package they were running was the first one in the US to feature both Planet of the Daleks Episode 3 and Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One (both in black & white). Previously, these episodes were poor quality multi-generational copies. In the early 1990s, my PBS station KTCA finally showed something episodically which were the Tom Baker episodes. This was a big chunk of episodes that I could get as off-air copies. Though there were just a couple of problems. First, even though they showed most of the Tom Baker episodes episodically, they skipped showing Season 17 this way so they could show them all as movie versions for a marathon and then showed all of Season 18 bar The Leisure Hive as movie versions. That was intolerable to say the least. Then there was my family who would be kind enough to make sure everything was taping properly. I think everyone who was seriously into recording any TV series fully understands what I am about to say. I remember specifically an issue with recording The Invasion of Time off of KTCA. KTCA decided to air all 6 episodes one Sunday afternoon. The problem was that the convention PolarisCon 2 was going on at that time with Peter Davison being the guest of honour. Anyway, tape one of my recording of The Invasion of Time had the first 20 minutes of Part One recorded at EP instead of SP which then suddenly switches to SP once my mom realized it was wrong  and then when it came time to switch the tape, I was missing all the opening title sequence for Part Four. I know I sound ungrateful but it’s these little quirks with the taping which makes me remember this time of my life so fondly. I remember actually at PolarisCon 2 sitting in the volunteer’s green room where we have that KTCA Doctor Who Marathon playing on a TV in there and in walks Peter Davison. He walks in the room looks at the TV to see Doctor Who playing and then looks at all of us with a look on his face of “Jesus, are you kidding me? Even in here you have to watch Doctor Who!” My friend across the room must have seen the same look because he yells across the room at Peter, “It’s actually on TV right now otherwise we wouldn’t be watching it in here!” He didn’t believe us. One sympathizes.

Through working on conventions and being a part of The Whoniversity while meeting people at other conventions across the country, I was able to meet “higher up” fans who had a nice collection and I was able to get some stuff from them. In 1991 or 1992 The Whoniversity was planning on doing another convention called Pseudo Con II. The year before we did a modest one called Pseudo Con where we brought in John Levene. That next year I travelled with some other folks to WhoosierCon in Indianapolis. All of the UNIT family was there minus Nicholas Courtney but there  I met Doctor Who “historian”  Eric Hoffman. He really wanted to be a guest at Pseudo Con II. We didn’t really have a place for him but he was adamant.  He knew I was very interested in tape trading. In tape trading circles he was known for having the off-air copy of The Dæmons. I got that and also The Tenth Planet from him at one point. The Tenth Planet came from Gerry Davis who was good friends with Eric and the quality was great. I think I wept. It was also said that Eric believed he had an off-air colour copy of The Mind of Evil at one point too but he had amassed so much stuff he wouldn’t be able to find it. It’s a moot point now anyway. The Tenth Planet was always the one story I would continually get from other traders as it was my barometer to see what their collection looked like. People laugh at me but The Tenth Planet is one of my favourite stories.
One of my favourite video stories goes back to Visions in 1993. This doesn’t benefit me at all but I still chuckle at it. It is the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who with Visions being held in November. It was going to run in the UK over the weekend but JN-T brought with him a PAL VHS tape copy of Dimensions in Time. This included Part Two that had 2 different resolutions to the Part One cliffhanger. The big Ron one and I think the Mandy version. This was impressive because they included slates and they were directly from the master tape. It was going to be shown in the main ballroom and I worked as an AV guy in there over the weekend. This area we worked handled all the presentations in the room including if any videos were shown in that room at any time. They were charging $5 a head to let people in to see these episodes. The only reason JN-T even let the tape out of his sight was because we had a PAL VCR back there so we could show the episodes. What he didn’t know was that there were 2 PAL VCRs back there. So the person once known as Dave was checking through the episodes and playing them yet I noticed something interesting. While one VCR was playing, another one had a red record light on recording something else. I looked at Dave and said, “um….what are you recording?” He looked at me and said, “It’s about time you mind your own business!” Sadly, I did.

In 1996 I was particularly lucky when the TV Movie was being made. I was able to get my hands on a rough cut of the film back in early April of 1996. I remember showing highlights of it at a fan function giving people plenty of warning about what they are about to see and maybe they don’t want to watch it. I remember a few people walk outside so they wouldn’t be spoiled. But, I was watching the people who were shocked by what they saw. They were shocked by the footage of the 7th Doctor being gunned down outside the TARDIS and his eventual death on the operating room table. It was fun to see their reaction and that I was able to provide a little snippet of this highly anticipated story to them. I think a lot more people had this rough cut than I thought (but not in MN) but I got incredibly lucky just prior to the TV Movie running on FOX. During this time I worked for a FOX affiliate (FOX 29) and by chance about 4 days prior to the TV Movie airing, someone in Master Control, the room where all broadcasts originate from, called me down to tell me that some satellite feed was coming through regarding Doctor Who. I thought it may have been more trailers like was sent over before. About 4 weeks before, we had a satellite feed come through which was the Electronic Press Kit and trailers for the film. We recorded them for me on VHS and included some stuff that didn’t appear on the DVD set. Never the less, we got a Beta SP tape and started to record the feed. It turned out to be the entire TV Movie uncut, commercial free with complete end credits. I got this days before the broadcast! I had in my hands a brand new Doctor Who in broadcast quality!  I remember going to a friend’s house and telling them my good fortune when someone else chimed in out of nowhere and offered to pay me $100 for a VHS copy of the film at that moment. I decided not to take up the offer.
Speaking of the TV Movie, when the original DVD of the film was being prepared for the BBC, I was able to use my contacts in the industry to get the original Beta SP tape that holds all of the TV Movie EPK material from the FOX network. I asked FOX if I could have the tape and they said yes as it was going to be thrown out within the year. I still have the tape with my contact’s business card taped to the case. I also have a full set of trailers taped from the FOX feed but these are on VHS. I had the Beta SP tapes with the TV Movie transferred to DVD and I still prefer it to the official release. It also has slates. What is my deal with slates anyway?

Slates, or in the UK known as VT clocks or VT countdown clocks, are the bits prior to an episode starting with a clock that counts down to 3 before going to black and the episode starts up. This was able to give the stations running the programs a countdown so the episode would start on air smoothly. I do not know why but I love them! I wish the DVDs were released with an option to see the VT clocks before each episode. This is something that Network DVD used to do with their releases so you could get the first couple of Series of Upstairs Downstairs and watch them with slates if you so desire. I have a quite a few Doctor Who episodes that have slates. I would love to have them all like that. It would be great for losers like me to see a disc released with nothing but slates. If anyone has good quality copies of Doctor Who episodes with slates (even from VHS) let me know.

I started to make more friends at the Visions convention in Chicago. I met a person by the name of Robert in November of 1996. He was working on this new way of presenting missing Doctor Who episodes called a Telesnap Reconstruction along with other people. Sure, these have been around since the 1980s but some interesting things were happening in fandom and Doctor Who at this time. First off, the mantle of fandom was changing in the mid-1990s. The Peter Haining’s of the Doctor Who factual world were making way for the Howe/Walker/Stammers as they were doing more professional writing. On the amateur level (at the time) were people like Richard Bignell and Robert Franks who were taking research to whole new levels and didn’t hold any of it back when producing amazing pieces of work such as Nothing at the End of the Lane. A few years earlier, telesnaps for many missing episodes were found in amazing quality at the BBC Written Archives Center. Then Graham Strong burst on the scene with what we called “Crystal Clear” audios of missing episodes.

For years, if you wanted to listen to missing episodes, you would get a tape and the quality would be horrible. Very garbled and muddy. I remember winning the audio for The Web of Fear back in the late 1980s. The episodes were essentially movie versions but they were recorded on really good tapes. That helped nothing. The quality was horrible. I couldn’t make out what was going on so I really never collected the audios after that. Marco Polo was bad too. Suddenly, these “Crystal Clear” audios showed up and they were important because it covered the majority of the missing episodes and from The Daleks Masterplan Episode 8 through to The Wheel in Space Episode 5, the mic was directly plugged into the TV set giving the audio unbelievable quality. All the other recordings were basically audio camera copies. These were mics set up next to a TV speaker and you could pick up not only the audio of the episode but the audio of anything else that was going on in the room at the time of recording!  What made this even better was that for the first time dub sites were set up around the world through the Internet that would distribute these audios to fans for free. All they needed to do was provide the blank tapes and postage. So by the time I got it, it wasn’t 60th generation copy audio but maybe 3rd generation or so. They did this with the reconstructions too. Not only was all of this going on but we had an unofficial team working for the BBC who were remastering episodes of Doctor Who for the VHS releases. They were doing stuff that we never thought would be possible such as official colour releases of a lot of the black & white Pertwee episodes. For me it was a renaissance of knowledge and fun when it came to Doctor Who.
Robert and I shared our passion for Doctor Who tape trading and would share with each other the new things we would get in from other people. He had some really nice friends in the UK who would send him some of the orphaned episodes in spectacular quality which he would share with me. It filled in some of those gaps. These would also be used for the telesnap reconstructions so fans would get the best quality copies of the whole story. That group really worked hard to give people some really nice quality that was not available anywhere else. I remember when Robert showed me his new copy of The Underwater Menace Episode 3. It was perfect. It seemed like it was directly from the film print. It had a slight green tint to it.

Robert and his friends were getting stuff from the UK and Australia on a regular basis. After a while, I ended up following trends that my friends were setting to be able to get the best quality they could at the time. To start with, I moved from VHS to SVHS in 1997. It was cool to get high quality recordings from other people in the US. This is a bit naughty but I would borrow some of my friend’s pre-recorded NTSC video tapes and copy them onto SVHS for myself. I would add homemade electronic slates to the start of the episodes. What’s the point? None but I still had fun doing it. One of my favorite moments was on a day I got 2 teeth pulled. I went home to rest and a package was waiting for me. Opening it up Robert had sent me a tape that had The Tenth Planet on it. It was the best quality I had ever seen of the story up to that point. It was so good that it was the first time I noticed the cellophane tape holding the jugs to the Cyber-helmet to the actual helmet. I also noticed the human eyes in the stocking cap for the first time. It really was fun to watch but I wasn’t happy with just SVHS especially as I had friends in the US getting into PAL. That was the big step!

Shelf 1 of 8 of British goodies.
PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line. This is the broadcast standard for SD broadcasting in the UK. When I first got into tape trading, I knew of people who actually received tapes from the UK in PAL. PAL had more lines of definition than NTSC and had truer colour to the Doctor Who episodes than NTSC ever did. To be able to enjoy PAL and you live in the US, you need to have a media player (DVD or VHS) and TV that would output PAL. A lot of people had a PAL VCR and converted tapes to view to NTSC. I wanted to view the material in PAL too. So, I ended up getting a Sony PAL VCR, PAL TV and also a Tenlab System converter so if I got PAL tapes and I needed to make copies for friends, I would be able to convert them to NTSC. I also got a second PAL VCR mainly because I had friends who traded in PAL and I wanted to provide them with PAL copies opposed to NTSC. I eventually got a Sima Color Corrector. I found when converting from PAL to NTSC that the colors became very weak and I needed something to not only boost the signal but also bring back in some of the color. It was tricky because one could easily overdue it when it came to the color correction and give it so much color that it would bleed and over saturate. The reds would become too red and overtake the picture. It was happy times because I was able to get copies of things that no one else had and was able to have it in PAL. My collection of Doctor Who grew from tapes from the UK. People were supplying me the orphaned episodes better than I ever had them before and stuff like Remembrance of the Daleks 71 Edit which looked better than the official release of the story. That one still looks good. I eventually decided to get all of the official releases of Doctor Who in PAL. I loved the covers and loved the plastic cases they came in. I ended up getting a complete set of all PAL released Doctor Who on VHS. Everything. The only one I was missing was The Tom Baker Years. Of course this backfired against me as the quality of the official releases was never great. I am not talking about the hard work that came into restoring the stories but the tape stock itself was always a bit suspect. I always had lots of drop outs on the tapes. Even today, my whole system can play PAL. My HD TV is multisystem, I have multiple DVD and Blu Ray players that play anything I throw at it and I even still have my VCRs.

My Tenlab PAL to NTSC converter
One of my favorite releases from the official range was The Ice Warriors set released in November of 1998. It was the first story (since The Invasion) to be released as an incomplete story. It was restored, plus included a mini reconstruction of Episodes 2 & 3, it had The Underwater Menace Episode 3, and it had the amazing documentary The Missing Years. It even had a CD of the audio of the missing episodes and a booklet. It doesn’t get any cooler than that! At that point, we were entering into some amazing territory as fans and how our favorite show was getting treated. Just the excitement around these releases is one of the happiest memories of my fan-life. In 1999, we were treated to The Curse of Fatal Death written by someone whose name I can’t remember. I remember that we had a friend in the UK record a copy off-air of the whole Comic Relief night and overnighted a tape to me in MN from London. The plan was that I would make copies for all of us who traded and send them off right away to different locations around the US and UK. The problem was that our friend sent us the wrong tapes. So he overnighted us rare (at that time) copies of the series Public Eye. So, he sent then sent over the right tapes and I had to make copies for everyone. This wasn’t as simple as making copies of the whole night but more of me running the tapes forwards and backwards multiple times to get to each part of The Curse of Fatal Death and create a coherent story. Unlike the VHS release, the original broadcast was spread out over 4 parts that ran throughout the evening! Even after all that work mistakes are made. One of my favourite things to do is show the stuff I get in whether it is at a video room at a convention or some kind of room party. I get a genuine thrill at watching people’s reaction to something I brought in. I feel like I made their day. When I get shows that are rare, I bring them to parties or viewing events to show other people, obviously I did not make the program but in the case of The Curse of Fatal Death, I did go through a great deal of trouble and expense to make the copies. That week, there was the first big party of a new up and coming convention called CONvergence which is now really big. I was going to bring a copy for every one to watch at their party at MiniCon. Previously I gave a copy to someone who I used to be better friends with only to find he showed The Curse of Fatal Death to everyone prior to me getting there. The copy came from me but that whole night he got kudos for bringing the newest Doctor Who that everyone wanted to see. I could have said something but I thought it would be better if I waited 13 years and write about it in an obscure blog. It may seem petty for me to bring it up here but when you go through the expense of overnighting tapes from the UK, making copies and arranging viewings there are the simple things like being the one to provide the copy for everyone that makes it fun. Granted, it was still fun when we showed it again. There were a lot of people who didn’t even know that it was made so when they are watching it, the room (full of nearly 50 people) cheered when Rowan Atkinson walked out of the TARDIS. They got more excited as the cliff hanger for one of the parts was the Daleks. With each regeneration at the end the cheering got louder and louder until the Doctor regenerated into Joana Lumley and the room exploded into an orgasm of disbelief! It was really, really fun and even writing about it gives me the chills. Wow!

One of my PAL Doctor Who Pre-record VHS Shelves
Speaking of petty there is a couple of schools of thoughts regarding the conduct one has when they have copies of programs that other people want. I have been running video rooms and even viewing groups for many years. I have run video rooms at conventions around the US and helped out on others. In this article,  I have given examples on how people who are collectors can act. One example is Mike who would share with anyone; the other one is like our “friend” from last week’s article that would also provide copies but at a price. There is Gordon who was very particular who he provided copies for sharing. I like to think I fall between Gordon and Mike. There is a curse to running a video room and showing stuff that is not readily available. There are always people who come up and ask for copies. There are a couple of reasons why I cannot make copies of some of the stuff I show. The main reason is that I have been asked by the person who made me a copy to not to share it with anyone else. That doesn’t mean I can’t show it so other people have the opportunity to see it but I cannot copy it. I made a promise. There is also an area that I cannot tell people some of the stuff I have. The people who gave it to me have sworn me to secrecy that I even have it. Don’t worry, these are not missing episodes of Doctor Who but its stuff I am trusted with. It is by no means only Doctor Who; it’s a whole lot of other British television. They trust me and I will not break that trust. This isn’t stuff found on torrents. Has this gotten me into trouble? Yes. I had a good friend once tell me that I became what he despised most in people who tape trade. We eventually made up but this was one reason why I stopped running a local group called the Minnesota Doctor Who Viewing Society. I thought it would be OK to show rare stuff and give people a reason to come to see unique Doctor Who items. Unfortunately, I showed a really nice and rare piece of Doctor Who. A friend asked me for a copy of it and I had to decline because I promised the person who gave it to me not to copy it for anyone. He got frustrated with me and I decided it was no longer worth running the group and soon after stopped. It’s is an interesting question, just because you have something rare and show it are you obligated to share it? Would people be happier not to see it at all rather than having a chance to at least view it? Is it better to have love and lost then to never love at all?
As a side note about the orphaned episodes, I had a friend in the UK and US that provided copies to me from the master tapes. They were as close as I was going to get for high quality prior to an official release. In fact, later on I got most of these again in DVD quality. They are not restored but look great and will hold me over until the DVDs come out.

Some of my Doctor Who DVDs
Like I mentioned above, my collection doesn’t stop at Doctor Who. When I was working at an ad agency in the late 1990s, they wanted to do a new campaign for a beer we had as a client. The creatives who worked on this account were not all from the US and they suggested for inspiration they look to a comedy series in the UK that was huge at the time called Men Behaving Badly. Fallon, which was the name of the agency, bought all the series on PAL VHS. Because they knew I was a fan of British television and because I had PAL equipment, I converted the tapes for them. I loved the series. I also loved that no one else had seen this here before. It was my own little treasure that I shared with my friends. Sure, we had series such as Blake’s 7, Black Adder or Are You Being Served? over here but this was different. It got me interested in seeing what else I could get. Then I started getting copies of other rarities such as Steptoe and Son, Hancock’s Half Hour, and Doomwatch. Series I only heard about and wanted to see were becoming available to me such as the Quatermass serials or Beasts. I started a group called the MN British Television Viewing Society where I would select series I knew people around here hadn’t seen and I would show it. Years later, I still have friends thank me for getting them into British television through this group. I became obsessed with collecting. When Series came out on DVD, I would snatch them up. I have thousands of DVDs in my house and most of them are British television and not all of them are pre-recorded. If you name 5 rare British series that actually exists, I bet I have some episodes of 2 to 3 of them in my collection if not all 5. Once again, I did not collect these by going to a Torrent site. This is all from contacts and friends. This is tape, oops, I mean DVD trading.

For some reason, you made it this far reading this article so I will continue to bore you. Over the past 12 years my pet project has been a Microsoft Access database that catalogs my collection. One of the things I love to do is catalog my collection. I made this database from scratch and I never even knew how to make one. I spent an entire day at my job at Best Buy building this thing instead of doing my work. It is very homemade but it has been a serious part of my collection. Maintaining it and adding records to it is actually relaxing to me. It is so easy to look up what I need to know. I know there are a lot of programs that I could download to do this too but this is tailor-made to exactly how I want to view my collection. I can sort by any number of ways which makes everything fun and it helps me pick what I watch for this blog. Unsorted and with duplicates of older versions of episodes, I currently have 8,758 entries. If I am just looking for unique entries, I have 6,788. There is a ton of stuff I haven’t even logged in yet. Currently there are hundreds of items I have not logged in my database yet. I am able to generate reports that I send to people for trades. Sometimes I will trade and sometimes I won’t. I can’t always give people what they want. I had someone in Australia recently who wanted copies of my Australian Are You Being Served? episodes and that’s one of the things I will only trade for more episodes of that series. We did settle on a trade which got me episodes of Dixon of Dock Green I didn’t have. My master list is currently 885 pages. I have an image below of how one page looks from that report. I have a separate report just for the Doctor Who episodes which is by story. I have these in a book so I can have it as a handy reference. As you can see, it is a much nicer layout. Both of the lists are completely generated from the database. It’s a really cool database! I am very proud of it.

One of the pages from my master Database list. Page 437 of 885.
A page from my Doctor Who list from my database that shows all versions I have of a story.
This is what the main form looks like that I use to enter the shows into my database.
If you read any of my articles, I have an extraordinary interest in British television. Collecting it is my main hobby. I get regular shipments from Amazon UK once a week to every 2 weeks and as you know I do reviews on many different series and receive products from BBC Home Entertainment and Acorn Media. Not only do I buy a lot of British television, I get friends in the UK who sends me discs of a lot of series that I have only heard of or even never heard of before I receive them. I do not have a wish list of series I would like to have in my collection anymore; I have everything I have always wanted to see.  One of the last things I really wanted was Out of the Unknown and I got all surviving episodes from the film prints. Now, I just need to find time to watch all of these series!
I know I am sounding like a show-off; I apologize. From the very start of this article I felt like I have been showing off or trying to be smug and it is truly not intentional. In fact a few times I thought I would stop writing this article all together. Finally, I figured if I was going to tell this story I would tell it my way. I am proud of what I have accomplished with this hobby. Thank you for reading a chapter of self-indulgence. That being said, did you used to trade tapes with people or buy copies? Let me know your story or send me your video list!

Next week: Christmas programming begins for this blog. For the next four weeks, everything chosen will have a Christmas theme to it. I start off next with something that is transitional and merry all at the same time. It is the Yes, Minister episode Party Games!

Have a great week!
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