Frivolous Monsters

Archive TV

This may be of interest to no-one, but I was asked by Ben Ricketts, of the Curious British Telly blog, to contribute to his article on why people love Archive TV. He asked for a couple of hundred words from contributors…I ended up with a thousand. The interesting full blog can be read here with my contribution reprinted below. archive-tv

I’d like to think that my delve into the archives of television was fuelled from nostalgia; trying to relive those moments, or recreate experiences, which surf on the edge of childhood memory…but then that wouldn’t quite be true.

Being somewhat of an odd child, what these days would be more positively termed a geek, I found early fascination with science fiction and programmes about the paranormal and this interest saw me and my brother each being given one of the early compiled videos of seventies Doctor Who one Christmas.

Archive TV? When you’d lived through Davison, Baker, and McCoy in the eighties then you didn’t consider the seventies fodder a different programme: just the same one with a rich history which happened to reach back as far as my Father’s own childhood.

But could I have been accused of being a fan of Archive TV later when in front of the video shelves of Manchester’s WHSmith, before the IRA blew them apart, I recommended a sixties Patrick Troughton story to my brother? No, because even despite me bemoaning it as “one of the black and white ones” there was very little choice at the time and I guided his purchase by pointing out that it was more likely a better decision than the derisory Peter Cushing Dalek film next to it. Thus I got to have my prejudice’s confronted and then compounded when it turned out to be very good.


From there it was hardly a hop, skip, and a jump to lovingly embrace programmes ranging from The Prisoner to Sergeant Bilko, from Captain Scarlett to Star Fleet, and from Bagpuss to Dad’s Army, through benefitting from being brought up in an era where such programmes were afforded repeats; but then these sorts of programmes deserved them because to a dewy-eyed child they were as new and as fresh as they were upon their first broadcast and beheld a status above that of simply Archive TV because they contained the airy quality known only as “that indefinable magic”.

Still, in the notion of Archive TV there is the inherent concept of struggle involved, negating those classics which still appeared on our TVs, with dedication and hard work needed to be applied on the behalf of the viewer through taking the time and effort to track down programmes from the past like Sapphire & Steel, House of Cards, or Abigail’s Party after they’d become available on DVD; collecting chunks of people’s oeuvres such as Russell T Davies’ Century Falls, Steven Moffat’s Press Gang, or Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris’s Nathan Barley; or just by sitting around for long enough until those much-longed-for absent programmes surfaced on YouTube, from some fans old VHS stack, like the motherlode of Bob Mill’s late night ITV classic In Bed with MeDinner.


I myself ended up with an episode and a half of In Bed with MeDinner frozen in the amber of a dusty VHS, after the video recorder was retired and taping quick step had come to an end, and with it being said that the programme could never be released or repeated, because of copyright concerns, I held onto that tape like Billy-o in case I should have the only copy of those episodes…in existence.

It would have hardly have been stocking the Library of Alexandria but does this then make me a fan? An obsessive? A collector, or a hoarder? Depleted TV archives have reaped the benefits from such people, prepared to hold onto what everyday folk would throw away, such as the children in the sixties so beguiled by that indefinable magic of Doctor Who that from the very beginning they were enchanted to record the TV soundtrack every week and to keep them for decades until their value was realised, the original audio-visual gems having being long lost, including one hardy child who, seemingly like Frederick Algernon “Fatty” Trotteville from Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers, had the wherewithal and the clout to take his parents’ TV apart and electrically hardwire his tape-recorder in.

The fact that a number of children did this just suggests that such characteristics are innate, as with the actions of the collectors, and the completists, and the hoarders, through being hardwired to act that way. A small percentage of the population, perhaps, but then it’s people at the extreme ends of these spectra who have been piecing together lost collections of Archive TV for decades with an unswerving tunnel vision.


Despite how I can rationalise my tumble down the rabbit hole my characteristics are surely also innate, defined by my genes, as I’m an introvert, a loner, and introspective – words that are too absolute to be fit for purpose because like the rest of humanity my traits and flaws are just somewhere on a spectrum – and the latter of those has me constantly looking back, trying to understand nostalgia-based images from the past. One such image that I’d carried with me for most of my life was picked up from a visit to a school friend’s house where I witnessed a programme with scientists producing straight bananas.

What was that about?

A 21st Century appeal to the like-minded revealed this to have been from the drama How to Be Cool by the now very famous Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and he kindly told me himself that it was cool to have been reminded of that again because even he had forgotten about the bit with the banana.


After hankering for an understanding, and searching for it all these years, I’d never forgotten about the banana and so somewhere along the line I think I must have become a fan of Archive TV…although I’m just not quite so sure where.


So what does that make me? A fan? An obsessive? A collector? A completest, or a hoarder? And is it Classic TV that I watch? Or are they just repeats? Maybe black and white stuff or old programmes which contain that indefinable magic? Archive TV?

We’re all on a spectrum somewhere, but as Stewie Griffin from Family Guy famously once quipped: “What’s with all these labels, man? Autobots? Decepticons? Gay? Straight? Just pick a few robots and let’s party”.


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8 thoughts on “Archive TV

  1. “And is it Classic TV that I watch? Or are they just repeats?”

    Because I’m old enough to have seen them first time round, they’re repeats. And sadly never as good as I remember.

    Morecambe and Wise iconic Christmas specials. which we faithfully laughed at year after year were particularly disappointing viewed from a 21st century perspective.

    • I’m not old enough and so only knew Morecambe and Wise as repeats. Whilst I did (do?) find them very good I did realise that they were the cherry-picked gems and they weren’t all at that quality. Also the black and white ones seemed a pale imitation.

  2. My dad and I were both scfi lovers, mum and sisters definitely not. Even though we were outnumbered we religiously watched everything we could.

    Every Sunday evening Dad and I would walk up to the local fish and chip shop and buy dinner then eat it on a picnic rug in front of the tv (a huge treat, to my proper English mother dinner was meat and three veg, only to be eaten at the table!) and watch Buck Rogers, Land of the Giants, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica…

    Those family evenings plonked in front of the tv are part of some of my fondest childhood memories, I haven’t gone out of my way to revisit them though. I’d rather remember them through the eyes of a young fan than see the reality of the terrible effects and dubious acting!

    Of course as the rest of the family didn’t have the same taste in tv, that genre of archive tv probably isn’t remembered by them with the same fondness my dad and I have… 🙂

    • I have distant but visceral memories of Sapphire and Steel, but only the bizarre opening credits. With Doctor Who I was frightened and transfixed and it’s odd in that I don’t think I watched it every week, or expected it to be on, as I only remember bits from odd episodes. Again I was transfixed with the early eighties credits that ended with a supernova.

      The similar programme I have with my Dad, to your experiences, is what I ham-fistedly referenced above – just mentioning “the paranormal” makes it sound like I was into the occult – was Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. This programme has stayed with me and over the years I’ve seen some of the “evidence” on there disproved as technology has improved, but there was one bit I kept looking out on the internet for because I wanted to know “the result”.

      The internet failed me until very recently. There was somewhere I remember where it used to rain rocks. Polished pebbles. Every day. Not only have I found account of this, but that it was in Birmingham, where I used to live, so I could have made a pilgrimage to this site. Apparently it went on for years, raining down on three houses in a street, and the Police could do nothing about it.

      Unlike you I am re-visiting the past as I now have that series on DVD! Not watched yet, but I am looking forward, once again, to looking backwards.

      We didn’t really have Star Trek big here. I remember it being on a bit mid-week, early evenings, but I always thought of that as the enemy. Land of the Giants, with its garish colours, was on Sunday afternoons but I never thought much of it. Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica were surely shown once as I remember small bits of them. Although I see the opening to Buck Rogers was a film so maybe that’s all I saw put on on its own. But as I’ve said above I wasn’t in control of TV viewing so who knows what went on.

  3. I have revisited the past – thanks to your article – and now I feel really old so thanks for that!
    ‘Star Trek’ was one of the programmes I watched with my Dad – I don’t remember my brother and sisters being particularly interested and my Mum certainly wasn’t. From a tiny bit of Googling, I believe it was first broadcast in the UK on a Saturday between two series of Dr. Who and then moved to an early Monday evening slot after it proved to be popular. I think it was a little bigger here than you imply but then that’s probably because you weren’t there at the time 😉 . As the series went on and Captain Kirk got more flirty I would laugh to see him getting off with every likely female who came along. He probably wasn’t that old at the time but, to an adolescent, anybody over 25 and a bit portly was not to be considered a romantic interest.
    Another thing I watched with my Dad was, bizarrely, ‘The Water Margin’ a Japanese import with an incredibly memorable theme tune and terrible dubbing. Through no fault of mine, we now have the DVD in the house and my husband and one of my daughters have been watching it. Some series never die.

    • You are not the only one feeling old, I assure you. According to the BBC Genome Star Trek was shown well before my time in 1969. When I remember it, much later, I think the BBC showed it, and not old Doctor Who, because it was cheaper to repeat as they didn’t have to pay repeat fees.

      I have no knowledge of The Water Margin. It seems we all have our special programmes and memories.

  4. I agree. Star Trek was huge here and I believe that there are still ” treky ” conventions
    We watched it avidly for years.

    • I wasn’t there for the first screenings and I was always bitter how the later series (the Next Generation at least) were seemingly thought of as above Doctor Who, in terms of budget and special effects.

      Still, that’s all changed now and the Doctor Who fifties anniversary programme was show simultaneously around the world, and in cinemas in 3D, and made the Guinness book of records.

      It’s Star Trek’s fiftieth anniversary this year. I think they’ve trudged out (or are about to?) some web series. I think they’re flogging a dead horse now.

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