Do you have fond memories of a particular drama series or comedy show, but can’t find your favourite episodes? That may be because they are missing from the official archives.
Certain episodes of Doctor Who and Hancock’s Half Hour rank amongst the most wanted recordings by TV and radio collectors but there is so much more, including entertainment, music, current affairs, and children’s – even the continuity announcements and news bulletins are of interest.
Perhaps you have some old recordings which could help fill the gaps in the archives? If so, you can join in the Radio Times Treasure Hunt to restore lost programmes to the broadcast archives.
Many of the stars of television started on radio and so the discovery of their early appearances on radio can be really significant. Since most early home recordings are sound-only, we are partnering with The Radio Circle, run by expert radio historians, who have successfully restored many classic shows to the BBC, for broadcast on Radio 4 Extra.
We’re asking anyone who has recordings of television or radio programmes on old formats (cassettes, reel to reel tapes or even film) to let us know. In most cases, missing programmes date from the 1980s or before but there are some later examples.
If you send us the details of what you have, we will run a check to see whether the programmes in question are missing from the archives. If they are, we would be pleased to pass them back to the broadcasters for digitisation so they can be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
To contact us, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and details of your find.
Many programmes survive because off-air recordings were made using domestic equipment whilst others exist because copies were made for producers or overseas transmission and never returned. Because few people now have the machines to replay these, the tapes or films may well be gathering dust in an attic or garage. If you’re not sure what you have, please see our guide to formats below as that will help you describe what you have.
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Tape and film formats
Here is a quick guide to the formats on which missing programmes may be found:
Audio: ¼” reel to reel recorders became available in the early 1960s and were used by many people to make off-air sound recordings from the radio and television. This was followed by the introduction of the compact cassette (below) by Phillips in 1963. Both formats remained in common use until the 1990s when the Digital Audio Tape was introduced. Radio programmes were also put on gramophone discs for overseas distribution; a practice which continued until the 1980s.
Reel to reel video: the earliest domestic formats date back to the mid-1960s. Peto Scott introduced a reel-to-reel one inch tape machine in 1964 and Sony launched a rival format the following year. In 1968, Shibaden brought out a ½” format.
The broadcasters initially used the Ampex two inch tape format and later changed to one inch tape.
Video cassettes: A series of formats were introduced in the 1970s. Of these, the VHS was the most popular format, followed by Betamax.
- Sony introduced the U-matic format in 1971 (two tapes sizes were used, see below)
- Phillips introduced the N1500 in 1972 (below)
- Sony introduced Betamax in 1975
- Panasonic introduced the VHS in 1976 (below)
- Phillips introduced the N1700 in 1977
- Phillips introduced the V2000 in 1979
- Video 8 and High 8 were mainly used for home movies rather than off-air recording (below)
Film: 16mm film (below) was widely used in television production, but 35mm was also used and a few shows were issued on 8mm for domestic consumption.
Why were some programmes not kept by the broadcasters?
There are a number of reasons why TV and radio broadcasts are now 'lost' from the archives – in some cases, no recording was ever made as broadcasting was mostly a live activity, but also, in an age before repeat showings and home media/streaming was commonplace, there was no impetus to keep recordings and recording over existing programmes was more effective. Some recordings were also lost or have been stolen or damaged.
For more details, visit the BBC Archives homepage.
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