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Finding copies of old TV programmes

One of the most frequent requests I receive at Nostalgia Central is for assistance in tracking down video recordings of old TV shows, advertisements, musical appearances and movies. Unfortunately, many of the programmes and films being sought are not commercially available, and even those that are can be extremely difficult to find.

Remember that a considerable amount of old television shows are simply not available on DVD or video, and some have unfortunately been destroyed and disappeared from existence completely.

Sadly that means you will never ever see them again. Not ever.

It’s a tragedy.

But there are several reasons why this is the case: In the 1950s and 1960s, few people (including TV stations) foresaw the long-term cultural and historical value of television programmes or their commercial potential. The future significance of popular culture such as comedy or pop music was especially underestimated.

Throughout the 1950s, most broadcasting was live and the technology for recording it was expensive and rarely used. Many of the most watched programmes have therefore failed to survive, a good example being some of the most outstanding productions in the innovative and highly popular ITV drama series Armchair Theatre, as well as popular entertainment shows such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Right up until the 1970s television broadcasts frequently went out live and were just not recorded, and for years the only television recording technology was film, and filming was too expensive just to keep programmes in the vaults.

Videotape was introduced in the mid-1960s but was still vastly more expensive than today’s cheap home technology. It wasn’t seen as a permanent store for television programmes. But the tapes could be used again to make other programs – and many of them were. Sometimes only samples or extracts of programmes were kept.

Videotapes were routinely ‘wiped’ or erased, as the video below from the BBC in the 1960s illustrates. I find it hard to watch without tearing up 🙁

Several programmes were also heavily restricted by copyright and rights considerations. Such programmes could not be repeated and were thought to have no further use and were often not kept.

Caution! Caution! Caution!

Be aware that several websites offering “rare” DVD’s of long-lost (and commercially unavailable) TV shows are selling bootleg copies. I have observed many complaints about these websites – many of them operating from the Philippines – and would not recommend purchasing from them.

Specific websites which have been brought to my attention for ‘questionable practices’ are;

  • raredvds.tv
  • tvaddicts.com
  • tvmilk.com
  • tvdvdplanet.com
  • dvdavenue.tv

Most of these sites were off the air when I last checked but please BEWARE when ordering “rare” DVD’s. If you are not dealing with a reputable company you will have no recourse for refund or other compensation.