A chat with film collector Graham Walker, who had two previously missing editions of Till Death Us Do Part in his collection.
Q. How did you come by these episodes?
A. From 1970 -1986 I was a drama film editor and later a supervising film editor at the BBC’s Ealing Studios. I worked on most of their top-end filmed drama series: Shoestring, Bergerac, Miss Marple etc. Ealing had a large maintenance department which had a constant need for spare and redundant prints for use in testing various items of film equipment. Whenever film library or whoever had a clear-out, a certain number of these prints would be sent to maintenance.
A few years before I left the BBC, to pursue my freelance career, the maintenance department at Ealing closed as the first phase of moving the whole of film department to White City. To make the move easier all the prints in maintenance were to be thrown away.
One day one of the maintenance guys who I knew well and who knew I was a film collector and fan of Till Death came into my cutting room with three Till Death prints and said “It seems such a shame to throw these into the skip – would you like to keep them?”
I had no idea at the time that at least two of these prints were to become, possibly, the only surviving copies of these episodes.
Q. What state are the prints in?
A. The Till Death prints I have are B/W 16mm telerecordings. They are in good condition, no rips, tears or chunks missing but all show some visible cel scratches. To get the best out of them they would need to be professionally cleaned and/or transferred via a wet gate telecine.
My print of “In Sickness and in Health”, although complete from the first frame of the show, is missing the opening titles. However, as these were generic titles common to the whole series it would be easy to edit on a copy of the titles from one of the other episodes.
Q. Did you know these episodes were missing before you got in touch with classic TV organisation Kaleidoscope?
A. I had no idea that these episodes were “missing” until quite recently (three or four years ago) when I heard a Radio 4 item, about the BBC’s Treasure Hunt initiative, which said several of the early Till Death episodes were lost.
The problem was I didn’t know which episodes I had as there is no on screen episode title shown in the credits of these early series. By the time I had done the research and worked out what I had, the Treasure Hunt scheme seemed to have closed.
Every six months or so these episodes would come into my mind and I would do another web search to see if I could find someone who would take some interest. I even considered trying to contact Warren Mitchell! Then I found Kaleidoscope’s http://www.lostshows.com website quite by chance.
Dealing with Chris Perry from Kaleidoscope has been excellent and I am very pleased to at last have found someone who is interested.
Q. What do you think of the episodes?
A. I did run them a few times at home on my 16mm projector and a few years ago I transferred all my three episodes to VHS using a telecine Steenbeck and recently I made a DVD copy from the VHS and also edited on a front title sequence to “Sickness”. I have watched the DVD several times with my family – my 17 year old son loves them.
These early episodes are just wonderful. Not only superb performances from all the main characters but the mixture of hilarious humour and pathos has never been bettered in British TV. They are indeed timeless and fantastic pieces of social history. The PC brigade will no doubt find them offensive because they fail to see the brilliantly detailed study of human nature.
It’s amazing how much of them are still relevant today – the sentiments behind the wonderfully funny dialogue between Alf and Mike at the beginning of “State Visit” about Britain’s role as a declining world power could so easily be transposed to events of now.