A Wigan entrepreneur is filling in the entertainment gaps of yesteryear’s British culture bit by bit as he travels the world hunting down long lost TV programmes.
And Philip Morris, founder of Wigan-based Television International Enterprises Archives Ltd (TIEA), is very much in the news at the moment, after he uncovered two lost episodes of The Morecambe and Wise Show, which are set to be aired on BBC on Boxing Day.
Crucially they date from the beginning of what fans and experts regard as the comedy duo’s “golden era” which was their second stint at the BBC between the late 1960s and most of the ’70s and haven’t been screened for almost half a century.
The 50-year-old archives preservation expert spent years hunting the footage, only to finally come across it in an abandoned cinema in Sierra Leone.
Countless episodes of iconic TV shows were thought to have been lost forever after thousands of master tapes were wiped by the BBC during the mid-1970s in order to make space for new recordings.
At the time, the Beeb felt there was no commercial value in keeping old, mainly black and white, shows once they had been screened and perhaps repeated, because there was no such thing as videos and DVDs for commercial re-sale in those days.
But in many cases copies of these master tapes, taken from the negatives, were sent on loan to other countries who were ordered either to return them to the UK or destroy them themselves.
Fortunately for fans of historic shows, this did not always happen and so TV studios, cinemas, archives – many abandoned – in faraway lands have proved a rich and sometimes surprising source for old shows that “slipped through the gaps”.
Among the impressive list of hitherto lost treasures recovered by Philip are episodes of The Basil Brush Show (featuring The Kinks), Steptoe and Son, Manned Bases on the Moon (featuring Arthur C Clarke) and episodes of Doctor Who from the Patrick Troughton era in the late 1960s. Some episodes of
The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were already in circulation, but Philip found most of the outstanding episodes – in a Nigerian television relay station! – allowing the BBC to reissue both serials on DVD for the first time.
Philip initially tried to find the Morecambe and Wise footage back in 2011 in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but was told that they had been destroyed in the civil war along with the broadcast station.
“I had been tracking the first season for some time,” he said. “In the history of Morecambe and Wise it is really important.
“The man I stayed with the first time contacted me to ask when I would be returning.
“I said I was really busy looking for other programs. But then he said ‘did you check the cinema when you were here?
“There was a rumour that the cinema used to borrow shows and show them at the cinema because they were short of films.
“He then got in touch to say that they were preparing to knock the building down but that if I wanted anything I could come and take it.
“So I got a visa and I went to the cinema. All the seating had gone and there were some steel benches with films underneath.
“That’s where I found the Morecambe and Wise films – I was completed elated, as you can imagine. It is my life’s work to recover lost British footage.
“This is a perfect example of their first series.”
The episodes due to be aired next week will include famous sketches such as “Old Donegal”, “Sailing Around the World”, “Eric and the Pools”, and “Hollywood Musical”.
Philip explained that the footage was from a crucial point in Eric and Ernie’s career, who started out with a comedy show on BBC1 made in the ’50s.
“It wasn’t very well written and had nothing to do with Eric and Ernie, they just played their part in it.
“Heading into the 1960s they managed to get their own successful show on ATV written by Dick Hills and Sid Green. It had guests such as The Beatles.
“In 1968 they took the decision to leave ATV and return to the BBC with the promise of colour and 30-minute shows.”
After these shows aired and were repeated in 1969, the master tapes were wiped.
Philip had previously discovered another episode in Nigeria in 2011, but it was too badly damaged for restoration.
Thankfully, the BBC’s research and development team were able to glean some images from the destroyed film.
“It’s really important to me to keep our cultural heritage, and the cultural heritage of other countries safe,” he added. “This is a prime example of keeping that heritage alive.”
When he is not working Philip works as an archives consultant, checking the condition of footage, transferring the relevant equipment to help with restoration among other services.
The Morecambe and Wise Show will be aired on BBC Two at 8.30pm on Boxing Day.