BFI to digitise 100,000 old TV shows before they disappear

The Institute wants to preserve them before the tapes degrade.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The British Film Institute (BFI) has a plan in motion to save old, at-risk TV programmes stored on obsolete video formats. As part of a new five-year strategy, the organisation has vowed to digitise and preserve "at least 100,000" shows for future generations. These include children's TV programmes Rubovia, the Basil Brush Show and How, and comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show, which featured Monty Python duo John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Regional dramas such as Second City Firsts and Rainbow City have also been earmarked.

Heather Stewart, the BFI's creative director told the BBC: "The whole infrastructure in relation to video is just disappearing. There are technicians who want to retire. We can't let them go until we've got this stuff off these one-inch and two-inch formats. There's a limited pool of people who know how to do it and there's a limited pool of machines." Another problem is storage. The BFI has a vault in Hertfordshire which holds many of its recordings from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Digitising the lot would fit into "a robot the size of a wardrobe," according to Stewart.

As the Guardian reports, the BFI is yet to lock down a complete list. Roughly 750,000 shows are held on one and two-inch tapes, so a six-month "discovery phase" will need to be conducted first. Some of the titles have already been digitised, so the Institute will be looking for what it considers to be the most at-risk shows. It will also need to work with broadcasters and rights holders to ensure its preservation efforts are approved. Should it be successful, the BFI will be in a position to share them online, either for free or through its premium BFI Player+ service.

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