Frankie Howerd: The Lost Television Pilots – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

188964_large.jpg

The third of the Kaleidoscope releases out this week, Frankie Howerd – The Lost Television Pilots offers easily the best value, both in terms of running time and content.

First up is episode three of Up The Convicts (although since it was the first to be recorded it does qualify as a pilot). Up The Convicts was a short-lived (four episodes) series made for the Seven Network in Australia. Howerd is Jeremiah Shirk, a convict transported to a penal colony in New South Wales and put to work as the servant for a wealthy couple. Essentially Up Pompeii in different clothes, it’s a typically raucous fifty minutes of Howerd at full throttle.

The script might be corny, but Howerd was a past-master at spinning gold out of the thinnest material. His trademark style – pausing to berate the audience, either for not getting the joke or for reading dirty innuendoes into his innocent words – is present and correct and he seems to enjoy bouncing off the cast (Frank Thring is especially good value and it’s nice to see Wallas Eaton pop up as well).

f2.jpg

The plot of the episode is pretty thin. His thoughtful mistress arranges a marriage for him, but Jeremiah doesn’t (as he hopes) get to grips with a beautiful serving wench, instead he’s presented with a nightmare vision of a plump woman who never stops eating. But the story isn’t really important – when Howerd’s on, he’s on.

Although all four episodes are reported to exist, only episode three is included in this release – which is a shame, as based on this example I wouldn’t be averse to seeing the rest. Apart from a few brief seconds of tape damage, the videotape is in pretty good shape.

1976 was a busy year for Frankie. Apart from Up The Convicts in Australia, he was also to be found in Canada, where he made The Frankie Howerd Show. Another short-lived series, this DVD contains the pilot and first episode, which you have to assume are the only survivors from the thirteen made.

Frankie is a British ex-pat living in a run-down Toronto boarding house overseen by landlady Mrs. Otterby (Ruth Springford) and her son (Gary Files). Other residents include Wally Wheeler (Jack Duffy), a surly man with a shady past, and Denise (Peggy Mahon), an attractive young woman who inevitably catches Frankie’s eye.

f7.jpg

The series finds Frankie in typical form, bursting through the fourth wall at regular intervals – either to once again berate the dirty-minded audience for seeing innuendos where (he believes) there are none or to apologise for the poor performances of his fellow cast members. Nobody could work an audience like Frankie – had he played a sitcom in the traditional way (ignoring the audience) then the results wouldn’t have been half as interesting.

Mind you, it’s very much a series of its time. The pilot features several Indian stereotypes of an incredibly broad nature (one cast member browns up as Mr Singh, an employment exchange worker who attempts to find Frankie a job). It’s a breathtaking (for all the wrong reasons) performance, but it’s hardly unique from television of this era. As with Up The Convicts, if you like Frankie then you’ll like this – predictable it might be, but Frankie’s never less than a delight.

Although The Gong Show was a popular American format, there was never a hit British version – despite two seperate attempts to launch a series, both with Frankie as the host. The second pilot, made by Channel 4 in 1985, was transmitted to little acclaim – whilst the first (included on this disc) was produced by Southern in 1977 and appears not to have made it to air.

f9.jpg

Barry Cryer, who worked on the programme, noted in his autobiography Butterfly Brain that it didn’t really play to Frankie’s strengths. But whilst Frankie does occasionally feel a little adrift as the host, he’s always good value when interacting with the diverse range of performers. Frankie’s also in his element when crossing swords with the three panellists – Madeline Smith, Russell Harty and Diana Dors (especially Harty, who seems to relish being mean to some of the contestants). And with Caroline Munro as a hostess and Bella Emberg as the stone-faced scorer, you can’t say that the show lacked star quality.

As always with The Gong Show, there’s an incredible grab-bag of performers. From an elderly lady (decked out with a glittering union jack hat) singing God Save The Queen (she was quickly gonged off by all three) to a young eighteen-year old lad tackling Sweet Caroline very credibly via a middle-aged singing muscle-man you can’t deny that there’s something for virtually everyone (and that’s only scratching the surface – I won’t spoil the surprise of some of the odder acts).

This is an enjoyable curio which – had the fates been different – could easily have run to a series. Although it appears to be sourced from VHS, the picture quality is more than watchable.

The set is rounded out by three interviews (listed as special features). All were recorded at the same time – around 1978 – when Howerd was in America plugging his appearance in the Bee Gees’ ill-fated film version of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Hand. The first – with Merv Griffin – runs for 10″32′ whilst the second – with Mike Douglas – runs for 8″06′.

The most substantial is Ryan’s Roost (27″50′). This one looks to be sourced from VHS and is in black and white, which might be the reason why it was relegated to special feature status. All three have moments of interest, although Howerd – without a British audience to play off – does at times appear to be a little diminished.

Any admirer of Frankie Howerd will find plenty to enjoy across these two discs. Highly recommended.

Frankie Howerd – The Lost Television Pilots is available now. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Rare Chills – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

164454- Chief Crazy Horse Sleeve.indd

Rare Chills collects together two spine-tingling tales. First up is The Fearmakers: The Shadow of Death. Easily the most obscure of the two, I’ve been able to track down very little information about it. The pilot for a proposed series, it was shot on location at Warwick Castle and featured just two actors – Jack Woolgar and Barry Stokes (Woolgar also introduced the story and was one of the producers, so he was clearly a man of many hats).

It’s an odd little piece. Every trick in the book is utilised in order to create an oppressive atmosphere – we’re at a deserted baronial house late at night, the wind is whistling and the thunder is crashing down – at the same time we are observing a man called Booth (Woolgar) searching for something.

Eventually he finds his prize (a diamond) but is later confronted by a younger man – Weaver (Stokes) – who also claims ownership. A brief tussle for supremacy then takes place, but the victor will have to face the supernatural forces which have been unleased by their actions ….

The Shadow of Death is content to take its time. Woolgar wanders around the house by himself for the first five minutes before finding anything and it’s only when Stokes turns up mid-way through that things really start moving. That it was made on a tight budget can be surmised by some of the shot choices, which don’t always match up to the previous ones (if the production ran out of time or money that would explain why they didn’t get all the coverage they wanted).

The plot is a little vague. If Booth stole the diamond sometime in the past, why did he hide it in the house? And how did Stokes know that Booth would return on that night? The mysterious shadow creature which stalks the house is never explained either.

c3

The print quality is passable, although there’s intermittent damage on the right hand side. A decent time-waster then and worth watching for Woolgar and Stokes, but the story is rather thin.

Much more substantial and enjoyable is Mrs Amworth. It’s certainly loaded with talent – adapted by Hugh Whitemore from the story by E.F. Benson, directed by Alvin Rakoff and starring Glynis Johns (not a bad line-up at all). The original short story by Benson can be accessed here.

Johns gives a lovely performance as the titular Mrs Amworth, a charming lady who’s recently moved into a sleepy English village. A hit with the residents, she’s quickly become the talk of the town, although a recent epidemic has set Francis Urcombe (John Phillips) pondering.

It seems too fantastic to be true, but could the kindly Mrs Amworth really be a vampire – flitting from person to person and draining their blood? Less of a moody chiller than The Shadow of Death, Mrs Amworth still has a few shocks along the way (mixed in with a few amusing moments – or at least I assume they were intended to be amusing). The notion of a vampire hiding out in a bucolic English village is an irresistible one and with the likes of Derek Francis offering strong support, the thirty minute running time clips by most agreeably.

This production of Mrs Amworth will probably be familiar to many, since it escaped onto the internet a few years back. The DVD release does offer an upgrade in picture quality – although by no means pristine (the colours are rather washed out) it’s certainly the best presentation of the materials I’ve seen so far.

A mixed bag then. The Shadow of Death might be the rarer of the two, but it’s Mrs Amworth which really appeals and makes Rare Chills worth a look.

It’s slightly surprising that there’s no contextual information about these programmes supplied with the DVD. Network’s range of curated releases – under the banner of Forgotten Television drama – includes substantial viewing notes which places the programmes in context. Some sort of background on these two dramas – The Shadow of Death especially – would have been welcome. Who made them, how were they lost, how they were rediscovered, etc. Hopefully future releases will contain some info – even if it’s only a brief note on the interior of the DVD case.

Rare Chills is released today by Kaleidoscope, RRP £12.99. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

c10.jpg

Steptoe and Son (1965 American Pilot) – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

164454- Chief Crazy Horse Sleeve.indd

Most people will probably be aware of Sanford and Son, the successful US version of Steptoe and Son which ran for a total of 136 episodes during the 1970’s. But an earlier attempt (by Joseph E. Levine in 1965) to adapt the series for the American market has remained, until now, little more than a footnote in the Steptoe and Son story.

This was due to the fact that no recording was known to exist – until, that is, researchers from Kaleidoscope stumbled on a film print in Ray Galton’s basement. This is touched upon in the brief special feature, which we’ll come to later, but what of the main course?

Whilst Ray Galton and Alan Simpson have a prominent “created by” credit on the opening titles, their voices are largely absent. Although the half hour does feature a squabbling father and son duo called Albert and Harold who run a rag and bone business, it has a very different feel from the BBC Comedy Playhouse pilot, The Offer.

That was a claustrophobic two-hander, whereas this is more expansive (there are a number of other speaking parts, most prominently Jonathan Harris). Albert (Lee Tracy) is still the manipulative one, but Tracy doesn’t have Wilfred Brambell’s air of pathetic defeat. Instead, Tracy’s Albert is a spry sort of chap, happy to hang out at the local café (singing along with the local beatniks, no less).

s2.jpg

Aldo Ray’s Harold has the same sort of put-upon air that Harry H. Corbett excelled at, although Ray doesn’t really have long enough to make his mark. There are a few brief moments when his anger comes bubbling to the surface though – had the show gone to a series then this might have been an interesting area to develop.

One part of the pilot which isn’t very effective is the soundtrack. The incidental music is very much in the “waa, waa, waaaaa” tradition – hammering the comedy points home with a lack of subtlety. The laugh track (I’m not sure whether it was canned or actually a genuine audience) also seems a little off.

Although Harold does call Albert a “dirty old man” several times, the context is quite different from the British original. It’s nothing to do with his lack of hygiene (this Albert is always very dapper) instead Harold’s cursing is aimed at the way his father always manages to outsmart him (with a “waa, waa, waaaaa” on the soundtrack, no doubt).

Although you might have expected Phil Shuken’s teleplay to be an adaptation of The Offer (and some of the pre-publicity suggested this was so) the pilot is a totally different story. Although Harold is keen to leave, he’s pre-empted by Albert who signs the business over to him. Of course this is only a ruse and the status quo is restored at the end after Albert tricks Harold into burning the agreement. Harold expresses mild exasperation at this – but there’s no room for the emotional distress displayed by Harry H. Corbett (“I can’t get away, I can’t break free”).

In one way it seems invidious to keep on referring back to the BBC original, but if it wasn’t for the Galton and Simpson connection then this pilot’s appeal would be very limited indeed. As a curio for those interested in Steptoe or G&S then it’s certainly of interest – provided you’re not expecting something as bleak and impressive as The Offer then it’s a diverting enough half hour.

Shot on 35mm film, either it’s undergone some restoration work or Ray Galton’s basement was the ideal place to store film materials, as it looks very nice with only a few intermittent seconds of damage here and there. The sole special feature is a four minute excerpt from the Kaleidoscope documentary The Native Hue of Resolution.

This sees Ray Galton and Tessa Le Bars (G&S’s agent) venturing down to Ray’s basement, where they just happen to stumble over a film can. No doubt this was a moment staged for the documentary, but it’s still nice to see them rummaging around this room of treasures for a few minutes.

Steptoe and Son is worth a look, but with a running time of only thirty five minutes it’s an expensive buy. If these archive releases continue, then there might be some merit in collecting various orphaned titles together – that would be one way of offering decent value for money.

Steptoe and Son – The “Lost” Unaired 1965 American Pilot Episode is released by Kaleidoscope on the 13th of August 2018, RRP £12.99. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

s4.jpg

Missing Believed Wiped Special Event at the BFI Southbank – 11th August 2018

M&W Be Wise 3

Below is a press release from the BFI, detailing the archive treats from the upcoming Missing Believed Wiped event at the Southbank this Saturday. There’s plenty of interest, not least the fact that Hartley Hare will be in attendance! Hopefully the material featured will find a wider audience at a later date – either via television rebroadcasting, online streaming or DVD releases.

For more than 2 decades the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped has showcased rediscovered television material returned to the archives via Kaleidoscope, the classic TV archive based in Birmingham. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the organization. To celebrate this special milestone and long term partnership with the BFI, Missing Believed Wiped has handed the reins over to Kaleidoscope to programme this 2 part summer special at BFI Southbank on 11 August. Reflecting on their 30th birthday, Chris Perry, Kaleidoscope CEO, commented, “For 30 years we have been finding lost television. Today is a great opportunity to showcase the many finds made since 1988, which have included The Avengers, Crossroads, Out of the Unknown, The Likely Lads and Top of the Pops.”

Screening a wealth of screen rarities and rediscoveries from the archives as well as presenting Kaleidoscope’s latest exciting finds, this curated programme will include a previously unknown 1963 Morecambe and Wise public information film, one of the earliest drink drive campaign films, and lost episodes of classic children’s television including early Ivor the Engine in black and white and an episode of Pipkins, starring Hartley Hare. Missing Believed Wiped audiences are also in for a rare treat with the first public screening of The Séance, a ‘lost’ untransmitted 1978 single drama from acclaimed playwright Jack Rosenthal (Yentl, The Lovers), directed by Renny Rye.

Started in 1988 by a group of college students, Kaleidoscope is a unique archive repository for lost television footage, working alongside the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped, BBC Treasure Hunt and ITV’s Raiders of the Lost Archive in helping to find, preserve and catalogue the nation’s television heritage. Over the years Kaleidoscope has collaborated with the BFI on programming Missing Believed Wiped, researching archive DVD releases and returning significant finds into the National Archive. Like the BFI National Archive, which looks after one of the largest and most important collections of television in the world, Kaleidoscope stores one of the UK’s largest private archives of British television with over 750,000 items, including The Bob Monkhouse Collection and the Jeremy Beadle Archive, alongside various holdings from both the BBC and the different ITV programme archives. Kaleidoscope also operates a flourishing publishing company, runs TV Brain (the television database equivalent to IMDb) as well as making archival television programmes and a recently launched DVD range.

On 11 August Missing Believed Wiped host David Hamilton will reflect on Kaleidoscope’s achievements from the last 30 years with 2 celebratory sessions introduced by special guests including ITV children’s television favourite, Hartley Hare (aided and abetted by his handler Nigel Plaskitt) and Renny Rye, director of The Séance.

The programme includes a compilation of classic public information films made for the Central Office of Information (COI) recovered over the last 30 years.  This includes a recently found Morecambe and Wise Drink Drive Christmas campaign from 1963. Ninety seconds of pure comedy genius, the film, which hasn’t be seen by the public for over 50 years, sees Ernie tell Eric to ‘be wise’ and not drive home after their Christmas party. The film was found in a box of 1960s-era 35mm cigarette advertisements recovered from Ulster Television who were in the process of moving to new premises in Belfast. On this incredible comedy find, Gary Morecambe comments, “I thought I’d seen every possible recording of Morecambe & Wise, so was both surprised and delighted by this recent discovery.”

Kaleidoscope will bring the retrieved film into the BFI National Archive, to be preserved on behalf of The National Archives as part of the Central Office of Information (COI) collection. Coincidentally, two decades later, Ernie Wise made another appearance in a public information film, for the National Blood Service alongside Morecambe and Wise regular, Glenda Jackson. Blood Donor: Glenda and Ernie (1981) was recently digitized and made available by the BFI as part of the NHS ON FILM collection.

A generation of viewers grew up with Smallfilms’ timeless and much-loved colour children’s series of Ivor The Engine, but who remembers the earlier black and white films made for Associated-Rediffusion in the 1960s? Kaleidoscope’s Chris Perry went hunting and found a missing early episode; Ivor The Engine: Mr Brangwyn’s Box (ITV, 1963). Screening as a tribute to Peter Firmin, the Smallfilms co-founder who recently passed away, this fully restored episode was retrieved from a pig shed on Firmin’s farm.

Another children’s television favourite, ITV’s 1970s pre-school puppet series, Pipkins, featured the irascible rascal Hartley Hare. Introduced by Hartley himself and series creator Nigel Plaskitt, Kaleidoscope will screen the rediscovered, Pipkins: Snapshots (ITV, 1980). This episode was found whilst Kaleidoscope were digitising the IBA Education Archive, now held by the National Arts Education Archive (NAEA) based at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. As Hartley Hare says, “I’m so grateful to Kaleidoscope and the BFI for showing this lost episode. Now everyone can enjoy what I watch on an endless loop in my own luxury private screening room”.

Pipkins Hartley 1
Hartley Hare

Master puppeteer and puppet coach Nigel Plaskitt (Spitting Image, The Muppets, PG Tips’ Monkey, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Avenue Q), will also present the world premiere of Monty and Co, with an episode of his brand new pre-school live-action puppet internet series, made and voiced by the original Pipkins team.

Kaleidoscope will also screen a recently recovered ITV promo reel from 1965. This showcase of children’s television from ‘around the regions’ includes rare contributions from the smaller stations such as Ulster, Grampian and Channel TV. A rare treat in this formerly lost promo is the only known 1960s live footage from Puffin’s Pla(i)ce, Channel TV’s birthday greetings show, which ran from 1963 to 2013 becoming ITV’s longest-running children’s programme. Previously, only filmed news footage survived from this era of the programme.

Over the years Kaleidoscope has helped the BFI and other archives recover a significant number of missing UK plays and single dramas into their collections. Most impressively perhaps, Kaleidoscope helped the BFI locate many prestigious UK plays that were missing from within the Library of Congress Archive, resulting in over 100 hours of very important single plays being brought back into the Archive, including the 1965 version of Orwell’s 1984, Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Jean Anouilh’s Colombe, featuring a young Sean Connery.

Missing Believed Wiped and Kaleidoscope are therefore very excited by the discovery of The Séance (BBC, 1978), a ‘lost’ Jack Rosenthal single drama which has recently come to light. Director Renny Rye (The Box of Delights) had kept the tape for 30 years in his personal collection before donating the tape to Kaleidoscope. Made as a training film for the BBC and adapted by Rosenthal from an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story, this short play was never broadcast. A true rarity, Renny Rye will introduce this first public screening. Rosenthal’s widow Maureen Lipman comments, “I can’t wait to see The Séance after working with Renny on The Evacuees (1976), Alan Parker’s first film, and sharing my life with the Isaac Bashevis Singer of Manchester, Jack Rosenthal. Thanks to Kaleidoscope for completing Jack’s archive”.

Other programme highlights include Medico (BBC 1959). Long thought lost, this drama-documentary about the work of the Post Office coast stations who monitor distress calls from ships, features the RNLI Penlee Lifeboat shortly before it was destroyed at sea. The film was recovered from the RNLI Archives. This was a particularly poignant find for Kaleidoscope, who have supported and raised over £20,000 for the charity. Family members of those who survived the Penlee Lifeboat disaster are expected to attend and discuss the work of the RNLI.

Hollywood horror legend Boris Karloff was the host of Out of this World, a sci-fi plays series made for ITV in 1962. A rare UK television appearance by Karloff, only a single play survives which Kaleidoscope discovered in 1989 and the BFI subsequently released on DVD. Kaleidoscope will screen a specially-filmed trail for the series which was revealed and recovered into the archive in 2016.

The event will end with a unique screening of a long-forgotten John Betjeman television epilogue filmed inside the Granville Music Hall in London’s Fulham Broadway. Filmed shortly before the demolition of this beautiful Victorian theatre, Betjeman’s emotional epilogue was the very final broadcast of the defunct station Television Wales and West. Previously missing at ITV Wales Archive, this delight has not been seen by any audience since March 1968.

Tickets for both Missing Believed Wiped sessions on Saturday 11 August at 13:00 and 15:30 are now on sale, with joint ticket option available for both sessions.

The Seance 3
The Seance