Since August, 2010 websufers have been able to watch gems from the archives of Scottish Televison on video sharing site YouTube. Among the classic STV programmes made viewable on demand are popular drama Take The High Road (later renamed High Road), music show Thingummyjig, one-offs such as STV’s very first broadcast from 1957, This is Scotland, and selected highlights of historic Scottish football matches.
Wiped News spoke to David Paton, Media co-ordinator – STVPlayer on YouTube, about the move into cyberspace, the chance it provides to revisit programming from the past, and the search for lost material.
HOW DID THE STV PLAYER COME ABOUT, AND WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR IT?
The STVPlayer on YouTube features a homepage and six channels/genres covering a wide range of classic STV programmes from our archive. It also carries current STV regional shows on a catch-up basis, e.g. “The Hour” and “STV News at Six” in four regional editions. It was developed to give users the opportunity to experience some of the great programming that has come out of Scottish Television since its beginnings in 1957 right up until the present. Why on YouTube? Quite simply because it is the world’s biggest video site which now carries an ever-growing TV Shows section.
We’re very keen to make as much of our archive content available possible, since it’s an important part of our television history and even cultural heritage. The shows have such a wide range of styles, formats and genres that it’s been quite remarkable looking at how Scottish Television has evolved and adapted to where we are now. It’s a really exciting concept to be taking vintage footage from as far back as the late ’50s, which has been stuck on a shelf for decades, and to be presenting it to a brand new, worldwide audience in a high-tech manner.
THIS IS SCOTLAND
Who could have predicted when they were filming “This Is Scotland” (our first ever broadcast) that one day people all over the world would be able to view it 50 years later on devices that fold up in the palm of your hand? When you view the project like that, it really opens your eyes to the amazing evolution that broadcasting in general has gone through. It’s entertaining and a history lesson at the same time. Who could ask for more than that?
WHAT STATE IS THE STV ARCHIVE IN?
I joined the company in February last year, tasked with trying to find physical copies of as many titles as we could recover and convert for upload to YouTube. In truth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of programming that has survived and been kept in usable condition. When I arrived, there was a degree of uncertainty over exactly what we’d be able to pull together as it’s simply never been done before by the company on this scale. Inevitably things sit on shelves, gather dust and generally get forgotten about when they’re not in use. Broadcasting environments are fast-moving and always looking forward to the next project or idea, so it’s easy for all that old material to simply rot away, disappear or get thrown out or disregarded because people don’t think it’ll be needed again. This is changing now as the potential for future use of content is far greater nowadays and STV are working on innovative and safe ways right now to ensure we protect as much material as we can going forward.
We’ve become very aware of how something that seems insignificant in a programme now could mean something so much more in years to come. How a small-time or up-and-coming personality on a show today may be the biggest name in show-business in ten years. We can now really appreciate how brilliant it is to be able to go back to the beginnings of those stories (like Alan Cumming cutting his teeth in “Take The High Road” and David Tenant’s first role in “Dramarama”).
Fortunately, once I got started pulling the titles together, I found that a good number of shows and series had survived and many really great one-off vintage titles were there too (if you can work out where to look for them). The STV library features well over 100,000 tapes, closer to 200,000, and they are stored across different locations including STVNorth (Grampian Television for the old-school guys).
SCALING A MOUNTAIN OF VIDEO TAPE
It’s a big undertaking to go through this to find and process all those programmes and we had a great team pulling it all together, digitising it and building the mountain of video footage and metadata we are uploading. We also relied heavily on people simply harking back to years gone by and making suggestions, remembering their own personal favourites and throwing ideas into the hat for us to explore and try to get a hold of. It was actually a lot of fun sitting at our desks and someone saying “Hey, remember this one? It was great! Do we have it?” then heading off to see what we could find. Many a theme tune was sung (badly) in our little digitising hub as we reminisced!
Overall, it’s been remarkable how much we’ve been able to obtain. although there is definitely missing material and holes in the back-catalogue, I think we’ve uncovered a really good amount so far. It’s really important now that the word gets spread that we’re there so as many people as possible can enjoy these classic shows.
We’re also still looking; we’re certainly not finished with it yet. I’m sure there are more gems to find.
WHAT ABOUT THE HOLDINGS FOR ONE OF STV’S BEST-KNOWN SHOWS – TAKE THE HIGH ROAD?
“High Road” was something of a project in itself. Right from my first day there were a lot awkward shuffles and doubting looks whenever pulling it together was mentioned. It’s simply a massive title; we believe it’s certainly one of the biggest single titles of its kind anywhere on YouTube and possibly the Internet. As a result, people were a little nervous about how successful we’d be in recovering all of it, certainly in the time-frame we were working.
However, and this is probably a good indication of how well the archive has actually been kept, we’ve managed to put almost every episode onto YouTube. Of the 1,517 made, we’re only about 20 episodes short. I think that’s a really good return given the scale of the show and the fact it ran for over two decades.
WHO TOOK THE HIGH ROAD?
How the episodes are missing? I wish I could give a good answer to that as it’d probably make them easier to find. Unfortunately the sheer volume of tapes, the movement of them between buildings during relocations, people borrowing them and not returning them can all come into it. It seems that some of these things have simply been lost along their travels, although with High Road in particular I’m confident these episodes were never knowingly gotten rid of. I think they’re possibly sitting on someone’s desk somewhere or in a box in a corner of an office. Sadly finding our own copies of them is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.
We’re always hopeful that these can be found from other sources, though. I have a strong “never say never” attitude with the tapes that aren’t readily available as it’s amazing what can turn up from unlikely places.
HOW IS THE HUNT FOR LOST STV MATERIAL GOING?
Until now we’ve been far more heavily focussed on processing what we do have, not actively attacking the lost material yet. However, we’ve been interacting with the Internet community and archive television fans where possible for ideas on what titles we may have missed and this has thrown up suggestions on where we may get a hold of some of the things we’re looking for.
Several people have mentioned possibly owning personal copies of shows and have kindly offered them up for us to use, which is fantastic and we’re definitely open to that. As far as we’re concerned, the more we can put up, the better so over the months and even years, we’d ideally keep adding anything that we find.
“Thingummyjig” is an interesting one. We’ve only got one episode of this in the vaults, but it has developed a somewhat thriving community on our old video site where some of the dancers from the show have been gathering to reminisce. This has thrown up the possibility of more episodes from a personal collection coming to pass. These kind of leads are great and, while nothing’s concrete on them, they could really help in filling in gaps in the sequences.
STV SAVED ON AUDIO AND NEW CONTENT
We haven’t looked at audio-only material yet as it’s very much a video project, so that’s been our focus. However, any material that was interesting enough would obviously be considered and could potentially be presented in some way. We do add newly created content on occasions too, such as the “Bonus material” we created for the release of “Charles Endell, Esquire” – a trailer, clips and interviews with one of the directors.
We’re developing a real passion for this stuff and want to present it in the most respectful way we can because we know that the audience are responding well to seeing the material being taken seriously and not just thrown up as a token gesture in small chunks. Hopefully we’re doing a good job with this and delivering what the viewers want.
HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED?
Viewers can get in touch with suggestions to our video help email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re honestly open to anything that people feel we are missing and I’m currently compiling an ever-growing list of requests to tackle in the coming months. Of particular interest are one-off programmes or documentaries that we may have missed out on our travels to date. We’ve got our hands on some brilliant individual progs so far and they’re always really exciting to see.
If anyone has vintage STV content on a shelf at home we’re very happy to hear from them and will aim to respond as quickly and efficiently as we can. Obviously it’s a busy job and we’re getting a lot of suggestion, but we really want to hear from anyone with ideas.
I’m sure there are loads more great titles out there that haven’t made it onto our radar yet and we’re really keen to engage the audience in pulling together the best and most memorable material from our history.
So, please, get in touch!