Goodbye Network?

Although there’s still been no official announcement, it looks like, sadly, Network are no more. Whilst there’s always a chance that a new company might pick up the baton, that seems unlikely – the golden days of DVD releases are now far behind us ….

It’s not too hard to understand why. Network were always a niche organisation even in their heyday (releasing many titles of such commercial obscurity that it’s hard to imagine they racked up more than a few hundred sales each). Today, streaming is the thing – not only legit suppliers such as BritBox or Prime, but also the likes of YouTube or DailyMotion (where a large chunk of the Network catalogue can be watched for “free”).

No doubt this piracy had an impact on Network’s well-being. Why bother to shell out for a DVD or BD when you can watch it for “free” on YouTube?

But back in Network’s early days (late 1990’s) the landscape was quite different. It was still the dial-up era, so streaming video larger than a postage stamp wasn’t really on. If you wanted to enjoy the rich flow of archive programming supplied by Network then you had to buy the discs.

And for a fair few years they were flinging out releases at a bewildering rate of knots. Sometimes I’d find myself becoming reacquainted with programmes I’d watched in my youth (the ITC catalogue, Strangers, Bulman, Mr Palfrey of Westminster, Nightingales) but mainly I’d be taking a punt on shows that I’d never heard of.

Sergeant Cork, Redcap, Public Eye and The Main Chance are just a few that spring to mind. With only sketchy information available (as well as the odd online recommendation) it was simply a case of handing over your money and hoping for the best. And generally – drama wise – I’ve little to complain about. ITV’s sitcom output is a different matter though – I may not have scraped right at the bottom the barrel (Don’t Drink The Water, Yus My Dear) but some DVDs can be filed under “watched once, never again”. Or even “watched a few minutes of the first episode and decided that was more than enough”.

In recent years (maybe even the last decade or so) Network’s release schedule had slowed right down. They would still pull the occasional rabbit out of the hat – Maigret (surprisingly dull) or Give Us A Clue (surprisingly addictive) – but I didn’t find this too bad a thing as it allowed me to mop up most of my wanted titles from their back catalogue.

And to be honest, even if a Network Mk 2 emerges from the flames with a packed new release schedule I’d probably give most of them a miss. Some years back I came to the conclusion that I’d already bought enough DVDs to last a lifetime (several lifetimes, in fact) and rather than continually fretting about what wasn’t available, I should really begin to enjoy what I have.

That also means that I’m not in the least interested in the Doctor Who BD releases. I’ve got the stories on DVD and they look fine to me, so buying them again with new special features that I’m probably only likely to watch once is a waste of both my time and money.

It’s hard not to have a pang of regret about Network’s passing though. I’ll think I’ll pop on a DVD in their honour. But which one? Hmm, this might take some time ….

Network’s Greatest Hits

I was very sorry to hear that Network’s founder, Tim Beddows, recently passed away at the very early age of 59 (click here for more info). The fact that I have multiple shelves groaning with Network’s DVDs is testament to just how much this one company has been responsible for developing my appreciation for archive television over the past few decades.

Network have always been a company that’s delighted in championing the obscure, which is one of the main reasons why I love them.  Their archive television releases may have slowed down in recent years, but you can never guess what might pop up next. Give Us A Clue, for example. I wasn’t expecting that, but I’ll certainly take it.

What follows is a quick list of just a few of my favourites from their back catalogue – some were titles new to me, others were ones where I was happy to upgrade from VHS to DVD (or BD). Let’s dive in ….

Charley Says

This might very well have been the first Network DVD I bought, certainly it was one of the earliest. I do remember that the original pressing had a rather eccentric menu selection page, meaning that selecting a specific PIF was something of a challenge. Thankfully, some years later the disc was repressed with a bonus second volume, and this is the one that I keep returning to on a regular basis.

Public Eye

I loved the early years of Network, which saw a regular stream of releases that I had no prior knowledge of (but was more than happy to take a chance on). More often than not, as with Public Eye, I came up trumps. For some reason the repeats back in the day totally passed me by, but from the first episode I saw (Welcome to Brighton?) I was hooked.

Sergeant Cork

This was another, equally obscure series to me (and I guess to most of the target audience). Series one was another blind buy, but again it was money well spent and Cork now ranks as one of my favourite 1960’s drama series. A production line series, with episodes churned out regularly over several lengthy periods, it’s slightly astounding that the quality always remained so high. And the fact that every episode was eventually located is another miracle for a drama series of this era. If you haven’t seen it, then I’d heartily recommend it.

Gideon’s Way

Thanks to Network, I’ve a large chunk of ITC’s film series output. I remain very fond of the big hitters (like The Saint) but equally I’ve a lot of time for shows like Gideon’s Way. More kitchen-sink than ITC’s usual crime shows (although the series lacked the dark edge found in John Creasey’s novels) it’s another series which has withstood multiple rewatches.

Crown Court

When I bought volume one of Crown Court, I didn’t really imagine I’d be that interested in picking up any further releases. Like many, I had dim memories of the series from times spent at home as a child (either from being sick or at half term) and assumed that this first release would be enough to quench my thirst. Wrong! The quality of the scripting and acting came as a real surprise and I hungrily snapped up the subsequent seven releases. I still pine today for further DVDs. Maybe one day.

There are so many others bubbling under this top five list – Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Beiderbecke Trilogy, The Plane Makers, The Power Game, The Main Chance, Callan, Special Branch, Redcap, Star Cops, The Feathered Serpent, Sykes, Sez Les, etc, etc.

If there’s any I’ve missed (and I’m sure there’s plenty) please feel free to leave a comment below.

Journey of a Lifetime – to be released by Network on BD and DVD (5th April 2021)

Journey of a Lifetime will be released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network on both DVD and BD. Press release is below –

Unseen for over 50 years, and now presented in colour for the first time, Journey of a Lifetime is an adventure of spiritual enlightenment across the Holy Land and through the Scriptures.

Filmed in the early 1960s throughout Israel and Jordan this unique quasi-documentary series follows young newlyweds, Ann and John, as they explore this sacred region rediscovering the past through their discovery of the present – while visiting such historic places as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

Through their journey of discovery and enchantment the couple see for themselves the holy places that Ann’s faith has always made real for her while John, who keeps an open mind, finds that much which he considered miraculous and unlikely could well have happened. Their discussions and encounters with friends and strangers along the way reassert their understanding of the need for unity and tolerance between religious denominations.

Delving into the breathtaking landscapes of these ancient places, and with reference to key passages from the Bible, the landmarks the couple venture to are brought to life through religious teachings and stories – remaining a fascinating snapshot of these areas at the time.

Part travelogue, part history lesson and part reaffirmation of one’s personal faith, this is an absorbing series for the whole family – it does not preach but has a message for those who wish to listen.

Here’s David Nixon – Network DVD review

David Nixon (1919 – 1978) first came to prominence as a panellist on the UK version of What’s My Line? Loved for his affable and friendly persona, he would go on to establish himself as one of Britain’s top magicians during the sixties and seventies.

Network have previously released David Nixon’s Magic Box, which ran between 1970 and 1971. Featuring star guests and a range of specialty performers, it set the template for others (such as Paul Daniels) to follow.

Here’s David Nixon, which aired in 1963, is somewhat different – although just as interesting. With each edition running for around seven minutes, it has the feeling of a filler programme (the show was broadcast surprisingly late at night as well).  Nixon is confined to a very small and quite bare studio with just a handful of volunteers who, as he tells us on more than one occasion, were simply passing by.

This abbreviated audience means that there’s not a great deal of response to his tricks (although the studio crew do chip in with the occasional burst of laughter and applause). I don’t actually mind this though, as Nixon was equally adept at playing to just a handful of people as he was to a large audience.

Occasionally cheeky but never cruel, Nixon’s skill at handling the volunteers is something to behold. Unlike certain other magicians, he never felt the need to embarrass anyone for a cheap laugh.

Here’s David Nixon is a masterclass of close up magic. There are obviously plenty of card tricks, as well as illusions carried out with everyday objects (handkerchiefs, etc) and a sprinkling of groan-worthy gags. Nixon also indulges in a few party tricks – some of which work and others (attempting to whip a tablecloth off a crockery filled table) aren’t quite so successful ….

The picture quality is very good (the audio crackles a bit on a few shows, but it’s not a major problem). All thirteen episodes survive, which is a pleasant surprise as not all ABC programmes were so lucky.

For the devotee of close up magic, Here’s David Nixon is a must buy. A somewhat forgotten series (his IMDb page doesn’t have a record of it) it’s wonderful that Network have made it available. Highly recommended.

Here’s David Nixon can be ordered directly from Network via this link.