“Lost” British Dramas Found at Library of Congress

A large number of British dramas, including a 1960 program starring Sean Connery, have been “found” at the Library of Congress and have been or will be returned to the British Film Institute. There isn’t all that much information available at the moment but based on the news reports I’ve read, it seems the programs, produced in the United Kingdom from the late 1950s through the late 1960s, were sent to PBS station WNET for use locally or perhaps for for inclusion in PBS programs like Masterpiece Theatre. Many of the programs are standalone dramas but others are episodes of weekly series, like The Victorians and Thirteen Against Fate. At least two of the dramas were broadcast as part of NBC’s DuPont Show Of The Week.

According to The Guardian, the dramas “are understood to have been sent out to WNET for broadcast and later stored in the TV station’s collection inside the Library of Congress, where they were recently catalogued with British assistance.” How long they’ve been at the Library of Congress is unknown. For more information and a list of the recovered programs visit the Kaleidoscope website. Here‘s a BBC News article about the recovery.

Based on the terminology I devised a year ago, these programs were never truly lost but instead were simply missing (the end result is the same: nobody could watch them). They were all known to have been filmed or taped but no recordings were known to exist.

What will happen now that recordings have been found? Some screenings, perhaps, and maybe a few DVD releases. It is unclear whether the actual films and tapes are being sent to the BFI or just copies; if the originals are going to the BFI hopefully the Library of Congress will retain copies.

If anyone can shed some light on how WNET and/or PBS used these British dramas please let me know. Were they all actually aired here in the United States?


8 Comments

  • Jeff Wildman says:

    A few thoughts come to mind when reading the various articles about this “find”.

    1. How many of these discovered programs are ones that do not already exist in the BBC archives?
    I’d imagine that the unspecified number of 2-inch copies are the most likely to be desirable since the BBC may only have retained a kinescope in their own archives.

    2. This “discovery” was kept hush-hush until copyright issues were dealt with. I always find it interesting the sudden emergence of copyright claims to discovered vintage television material by networks and producers who carelessly erased, lost, or disposed of their works decades earlier. Suddenly, they are interested anew if they smell a buck in it for themselves.

  • Phil Zacher says:

    You are so right. The same thing happened to It’s a Wonderful Life. It was in the public domain for years and shown 5 or 6 times a year. Now that the Capra family owns it they rent it out to NBC for 3 hour showings at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It;s crammed with commercials, network promos and NBC stars talking endlessly about the movie. I know, it’s also available on DVD but it’s just too bad that it can’t be more widely available.

  • Herb Finn says:

    While it’s refered to as the WNET collection, properly it’s The National Educational Television (NET) collection.

    WNET was the sucessor of WEDT Channel 13 New York and National Educational Television (Which was the pre-curser to The Public Television Service.)

    They purchased these programs (mostly on 16mm Telecines/Kinescopes) to be show on NET network and offered them lby duplicate kinescope “bycycling”,and/or eventall coaxal feed to the member stations. (I’m sure will find out if NET idents have been added to the shows or not!) Since some of the shows date as far back as 1957, it pre-dates WEDT when the network was based out of Ann Arbor,MI (Founded in 1952) They moved operations to NY in 1961,and WEDT went on the air in 1962.

    Eventually NET was replaced with PBS and WEDT/NET merged remaining opperations into WNET in 1970.

    At some point the collection of 16mm films/Telecines/Kinescopes and Video Tapes of National Education Television was donated to the Library of Congress – where they were recovered.

    As for the “copyright issues” , they had nothing to do with greedy producers or companies, but with figuring out who owned what – there were several companies besides the BBC with material in this collection,and several of them had merged or been aquired or even dispanded since the shows were produced – that is why they had to bring in Kaleidoscope along with the BFI.

    Any 2-inch material will most likely be NTSC conversions of PAL format,or transfers of The 16mm prints made by NET in the late 1960’s.

    (“It a Wonderful Live” has a quazi-copyright restoration on it due to the original story,script and other elements combined to give it protection – and it’s Paramount via ownership of the Republic Pictures Library who makes money – Not Capra’s estate.)

  • RGJ says:

    Herb, thanks for the additional information. I was thinking that these were perhaps found in the NET collection rather than a separate, standalone WNET collection. The Library of Congress has had the NET collection for decades, I believe, so if it is only being fully cataloged now who knows what else remains to be uncovered on shelves and in boxes.

    I’d be interested in knowing how much of the NET collection is open to researchers. Or anything more about these particular programs. Were they set aside because nobody knew how to identify them when the Library of Congress first received the collection? Has any of it been added to the online catalog? Hopefully more information will be forthcoming.

  • Phil Zacher says:

    Thanks for clearing that up about It’s a Wonderful Life,

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Before 1962, there was NO “educational television station” in the New York Metropolitan area. Channel 13 was an independent commercial station, WNTA, formerly WATV, until National Telefilm Associates bought it in 1957. They had hoped Channel 13 would be the cornerstone of their “NTA Film Network”. By 1961, financial difficulties forced NTA to put the station up for sale [they finally shut down Channel 13 that December, and it was off the air for an extended period of time]…Educational Broadcasting Corp. “won” the license, acquired the station, and signed on as WNDT in September 1962.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    ..and, irony of ironies, National Telefilm Associates acquired the rights to “It’s A Wonderful Life” for TV distribution in 1956, reissuing it through the ’80s, when they were acquired by Republic Pictures…who was eventually acquired by Viacom/Paramount, who controls all rights to the film; after “It’s A Wonderful Life” tanked at the box office, Frank Capra sold his “Liberty Films” unit to Paramount in 1947, acquiring the rights to the film, which they eventually sold to NTA.

  • RGJ says:

    Here‘s a press release from the Library of Congress about the discovery.

Leave a Reply to Phil Zacher Cancel reply