AP mast (2K)


by Arthur Dungate


Robin Hood

Until the late 1970s the BBC was not an archiving organisation and thus had no requirement to keep material for posterity. While at Alexandra Palace in the early 1950s, I had a key to the film vault, and often I would go and see what was to be thrown away. Amongst several things, one item I found was part of an episode of Robin Hood, a serial for children shown in March 1953.

Robin Hood title (2K)

This was a half-hour programme eminating from Studio G (I think) at Lime Grove. No film location material was used, the whole of the action taking place live in the studio.

What I had found was a 16mm reduction print of Episode 2, The Abbot of St Mary's which Kays Labs at Finsbury Park had produced from the 35mm telefilm recording made while the programme was being transmitted.

Robin Hood episode title (3K)

However, only the beginning two sequences and the end sequence were there. The main story sequence had been removed for some reason, leaving only 8 minutes of the programme. Thus, although the episode is titled The Abbot of St Mary's, we never get to see the Abbot himself!

I spliced the two parts of the print together and since then it had remained in my loft for about 47 years, practically forgotten.

It was not until the autumn of 1999 that I came to realise that this is probably the earliest surviving example of a BBC Television drama series as it predates The Quatermass Experiment shown in July 1953 (of which only the first two episodes were recorded) by 4 months. Thus its historical significance is greater than I had thought, and I believe a Digi-Beta copy is now in the BBC archives.

Patrick Troughton (5K)

Robin Hood was played by Patrick Troughton, and Friar Tuck by Wensley Pithey.

The series was produced by Joy Harrington.

Wensley Pithey (5K)

This recording is an example of the early Telefilm system used at AP in which programmes were recorded on high sensitive 35mm negative film in a converted Mechau projector, looking at a high quality monitor screen.

Mechau telefilm system at AP (9K)
Mechau telefilm recorder (9K)

These Mechau machines were variable speed, and as they didn't immediately come up to the required 25fps their speed had to be adjusted manually with a joystick control (on the right of the picture) while watching a stroboscope. This explains the wow evident on the opening title music (a 78rpm record of "Greensleeves").

Later, I found a 16mm telerecording of part of the annual Beating The Retreat ceremony of 1958, which I subsequently lent to a colleague in Lime Grove. Informing me that he had inadvertently damaged it, he offered to exchange it for a music telerecording - of the pilot programme for the Northern Dance Orchestra under the baton of Alyn Ainsworth and introduced by Roger Moffatt. This programme ended with a spontaneous sequence of Roger Moffatt in an empty studio after the orchestra had left, having a surreptitious go on the drums, a sequence which was quite special.

In the event, it was the Beating The Retreat film which was returned to me, and not the music one which, on reflection, was a great pity, the latter being much more memorable. I wonder if it still exists somewhere?