Saturday, April 28, 2012

How I returned something to the BBC.....sort of!

After I wrote my article for A for Andromeda, I promised my next article would be about the BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Tom Baker. I found myself getting into a bit of a writer’s block about it. I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say about it nor could I get excited about program. I wrote probably about a page and a half about Episodes 1 & 2 but it was really flat. It would take me hours to get just as far as that. I decided I needed to let this one go. I am no professional writer but if I can’t publish an article I felt like I put the best effort into, then I just need to step back. I will say about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that I watched it from a recording that was done at the time of the original broadcast of the series on BBC1. It included the BBC continuities which made it fun. I own almost as many different versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles as I do The Five Doctors. Sadly, I couldn’t muster the excitement of writing about this serial though if it is picked again, I will give the article a go once again. While doing some research into this ill-fated article, I did make a fascinating discovery.

Before I talk about the discovery, the month of May is traditionally a time where I look at a final episode in a series or a season depending on what I have and what exists. The first one will be the final episode of series two of Sherlock The Reichenbach Fall. It’s funny how I cannot escape the world Sherlock Holmes at the moment! I will publish that article around May 12th. So for the May 5th article, I will publish one of my “banked” articles. What is a “banked” article you ask? Well, you probably didn’t ask but I will tell you anyway. When I watch something for my blog such as a TV series, I may try to find something else to watch or listen to for contextual reasons or because I know I might enjoy it plus it fits what I am watching. For example, if I am watching a James Bond film, I will also listen to the film soundtrack plus any documentaries I have so I can get fully immersed in the experience. Conversely, if I am watching something Disney related, I may watch or listen to something that doesn’t exactly tie into the episode or film I am watching but it’s in the same genre. My point is I am also writing articles on these little “side” gems. They are not as long as the main articles but are still good but I keep them off to the side and not publish them. I figured I would publish them if I picked something to watch that I already did an article on or to fill a gap when I am not writing. These are meant to be built up over time so I can keep this blog moving and not have too many long periods of absences. This is the case for next week and what I am about to go into here is the result of me picking something that I was going to write for one of my “banked” articles.
One of the best purchases I have ever made was the Kaleidoscope’s Guide on BBC Drama, ITV Drama, and Comedy. Basically they are huge electronic books that detail all of the series that fall into these genres, give cast details and, what I love, the archival status to these programs for Radio & TV. To learn more about them and purchase them, go to I get a ton of programs from other collectors and I love checking to see the archival status on the programs. When I was preparing to watch the Tom Baker The Hound of the Baskervilles, I decided I would also listen to one of many Holmes stories I have in audio and I started to check through my folders of what I had. I came across a folder in my Sherlock Holmes library that was titled BBC. Inside that folder was a radio play called The Valley of Fear. I thought to myself, this would do and just for fun thought I would check the Kaleidoscope Guide to get some more information on it.

The Kaleidoscope Guide listed the serial as 90 minutes and broadcast on 31/12/1960. It was a BBC radio production for BBC North Home Service and it stars Carleton Hobbs as Sherlock Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson. The oddest part of the entry for the program showed that the production was missing from the BBC archives! I think anyone who is into any kind of British Television or Radio archival programs would love to be able to hand something over to the BBC that was missing. I needed to make sure that what I had matched the listings in the guide. I went through the program. First the duration of my file was 1 hour and 22 minutes. Going to the end of the file, the credits certainly do list Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley as Holmes and Watson respectively. This matched what was in the Kaleidoscope guide. Obviously, the guide must be mistaken. My next step was to get in touch with Kaleidoscope and check to see if it was a mistake. Before I did that, I thought a good way to know if it was a mistake or not would be to go to sites where you are possibly able to download stuff perhaps generally unavailable if you know what I mean. I went to a few that are well travelled and this version of The Valley of Fear was not among them. If it was at one of those sites, I could have told Kaleidoscope that they made a mistake in their book but now I could go to them saying I might have something that was missing. Even with the facts I mentioned above, why would I even doubt that I have something rare or missing?
You may have picked up that while I was describing the above events, I keep using the word “File” oppose to recording. What I have is an MP3 of this radio production. If something is a missing BBC program from the 1960s, I hardly imagine that it will be found on my computer as an MP3 file! That was what I knew would make it impossible that it would be truly lost. So how did I come across this file? I obtained it on April 30, 2002. Almost exactly 10 years ago. It was through a peer 2 peer service which I can’t remember the name of but it wasn’t Napster. It had a monkey or gorilla name to it. So if I had it, surely others did too. Yet, as far as I could tell, it was not available anywhere else. I would soon have the answer.

I got in touch with Chris Perry at Kaleidoscope. I wanted to see if the entry in the guide was an error. You could imagine my joy upon hearing that it was indeed missing! In fact Chris had to do a little bit of checking to verify it was indeed gone. The problem is that it is known that poorer MP3 copies exist of this production.  Another gentleman got a hold of me which I believe was from Kaleidoscope, Charles Norton, to let me know they would be happy to get a copy or the original if it was an off-air recording or the original tape. I let Mr. Norton know that it was an MP3 file (which I originally told Chris too) . At that point, I sent Chris & Charles the radio play so they could hear it themselves. Charles did get back to me and wrote:
“Although the recording is a little better than some Mp3s I've heard, it still doesn't seem to be any better than that which is currently in circulation on the internet.”
This certainly is not surprising. But I hope the BBC archived an MP3 copy of this in its archives just because it does technically exist. Regardless of the quality, this serial does in fact exist and it should be noted as such. Even in the Kaleidoscope guide for future volumes, the entry for The Valley of Fear should note this radio production as existing and perhaps as a footnote it can say it exists only as a poor quality MP3 file.  It is not broadcast quality but it is listenable.
In fact, I wonder how many people who are reading this may have a copy of this story too and probably have no idea it is missing. Maybe you know someone who recorded it on a reel to reel in 1960 and they still have the tape or you recorded it from a reel to reel tape to make a back up. Maybe you have the original recording where these MP3 files came from. The production is missing and if you have it, let us know. If you have a file of this production on your computer, listen to the section of my recording below. Is it better than mine? Is it clearer? If so, let me know at or contact Kaleidoscope It’s out there. Let’s return it to the BBC!

Next week: Next week will be a banked article I wrote back in 2011 at the time I wrote the article for During Barty’s Party. I examine the unofficial pilot for Beasts with looking at the episode of Against the Crowd:  Murrain.
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Dave G said...

Just goes to show that people sometimes just don't realize what they have. Even though Valley of Fear wasn't truly missing, it still makes for a good little story.

I ook forward to eventually reading about Baker's Hound.

Greg said...

I think more so the point of my story was that the radio proudction should be publicly classified as existing. Hopefully now it will be.

Good to hear from you. I thought you disappeared!