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Radio 4 Extra: Parsley Sidings

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Mik Wilkojc 10:32, Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Editor's note: Parsley Sidings can be heard on Radio 4 Extra from 1 November. Once thought lost, these episodes have been assembled from off-air sources including a listener from East Anglia who read about the project in the local press. Here, Mik Wilkojc, the producer of the programme talks about the origins of the series and the hunt for the missing episodes. PMcD

As Oscar Wilde put it, "life imitates art far more than art imitates life" but, at Radio 4 Extra, we find the latter often holds true. When Doctor Beeching wielded his axe at British Rail in 1963, the BBC perpetrated an equally devastating deed a decade later by mislaying some comedy gems set in a sleepy railway station.

The radio comedy sitcom Parsley Sidings was piloted in February 1971 and, subsequently, two series of ten were made for Radio 2 between December 1971 and December 1973. Written by radio stalwart Jim Eldridge, Parsley Sidings is, apart from the re-writes of Dad's Army, the only radio series to star the much-loved Arthur Lowe. In 1981 Arthur did star in the successful pilot of a show called It Sticks Out Half A Mile - a direct spin-off of Dad's Army set in 1948 - but he died before the series could be recorded. However, his widow Joan Cooper was so impressed by the pilot, that the series went ahead with John Le Mesurier resurrecting his role as Wilson, but by now promoted to bank manager.

All of which makes mislaying most of the broadcast copies of Parsley Sidings even more frustrating. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde this time, "to lose one episode may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose sixteen looks like carelessness."

However, with a bit of Sherlock-like rooting around, we managed to locate versions of most of them. Then enter listener Bob Meade, who supplied better copies of some and, more vitally, the ones that were missing.

Keith Skues at the BBC for the original recordings of Parsley Sidings

Keith Skues recording at the BBC for the original Parsley Sidings programmes

Keith Skues recreates intros and outros for Parsley Sidings in 2012

Keith Skues recreates intros and outros for Parsley Sidings in 2012

The problem was, though, that all of the rediscovered episodes suffered from a technical triple whammy: they were recorded off-air, committed to cassette and then had been digitized as MP3s - all of which have a major detrimental, irredeemable impact on quality. What you'll hear on-air for the next few weeks is cleaned-up, but far from perfect. In addition, as is often the way with home recordings, all of the intros and outros were either missing or chopped off in their prime. This we solved by getting one of the original on-stage announcers, Keith 'Cardboard Shoes' Skues, to recreate them. Deep in the bowels of Keith's own incredible personal archives we not only found some original Parsley Sidings scripts, but the location was also the perfect setting for him to span the decades - as witnessed by the images - original microphone and all.

Parsley Sidings is a fascinating listen for soap fans. There's an evil nemesis at the next station down-the-line; dynastic friction between father and son; criminal overtones courtesy of a shady porter and sexual nuances between a voluptuous blonde and guileless youth. Thursdays now have another appointment to listen, on Radio 4 Extra, on-line or on digital radio.

Okay, a bit of hyperbole there, but if you remember the originals or love Dad's Army, you're in for a treat.

Mik Wilkojc is a producer on Radio 4 Extra

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