The BBC Television Archive

The BBC Television Archive

An interview with Adam Lee, BBC archive expert

We haven't got copies of everything we've broadcast in the archive. Find out why we've got the items we've got and how the BBC tries to keep them safe in this interview with Adam Lee, BBC Television Archive expert.


When did the BBC start to ensure that important recordings were not destroyed?

In the BBC's television archive you can see a marked change from the mid-1970s, when the librarians and archivists became much more closely involved with the active management of the collection - running the selection policy, deciding what should be kept, what should be indexed. And if you look at the retention levels there, the amount of material kept, you'll see that it actually goes up quite a lot in percentage terms. The reason for that is now you could keep things. Videotape was accepted as a long-term format, people's attitude towards television was changing - it was seen as something that was more than just ephemeral, it was actually seen as something that may be of long-term value, it may be of long-term interest. And also the BBC got some very bad publicity - we still suffer from the bad publicity, for example, from the episodes of 'Doctor Who' that are missing, or some of the 'Hancock's Half Hours' that aren't there. But the BBC is not unique in this. It was true for all other broadcasters around the world as well. They couldn't keep everything because they couldn't record everything either, and sometimes tapes were re-used. Tapes were often re-used and wiped, and re-used for other programmes.

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