Looking for old programmes? 

1 July 2017

You may have come here seeking to find recordings of old programmes that you’ve heard about, seen or even appeared in.

If the programme was after about 1977, you may be in luck but will need to contact the original broadcaster. And you need to expect to find that broadcaster unwilling to help you search and, if they do find the clip in question, not able to provide you a copy for free. Indeed, any copy they do have will likely be very expensive to purchase, if that’s even possible.

There’s some more bad news.

Programmes from before about 1977 are spotty in the broadcasters’ archives, getting less likely to have been kept the further back in time you go. By the time you reach the 1950s, it’s safe to assume that the programme in question is lost unless you are very, very lucky.

And it’s worse if the programme was…

  • live: such material was rarely recorded
  • on video: videotape was expensive and was wiped for reuse
  • on film: the cans took a lot of expensive storage space
  • topical entertainment: quiz shows, variety shows, man-in-the-street interviews, local talk shows and so forth had no intrinsic value to the broadcasters and were rarely archived
  • news: non-entertainment and topical material was thought to have no value as it could not be sold abroad or repeated

Virtually no material of this sort survives in the broadcasters’ archives, and for those reasons, the chances of your programme surviving are approaching zero.

BBC programmes

Their website says: “Can I have a copy of a BBC programme? Sorry, but the short answer is no. We cannot provide copies of programmes, even if the programmes are already available to view on our websites.”

If you still want to try, the website (which is mainly business-to-business and talks and charges accordingly) is here.

ITV programmes

Many of the post-1993 ITV companies’ archives are now held by the ITV Archive in Leeds. Again, this is a business-to-business organisation, so charges accordingly.

Factual programmes from pre-1993 ITV companies are in many different archives. Westward/TSW factual programmes are held at SWFTA while ATV’s factual output is at MACE. ABC Weekend’s filmed topical archives are held by British Pathé but that archive also includes decade of newsreel and news film – patience is required when searching. Many of the other companies’ factual output is dispersed or trapped in copyright hell. Southern and TVS, TWW and Teledu Cymru, and Rediffusion material are all hard to reach for various reason.

Some local news film as well as national ITN and TV-am film is held by Getty. They charge business-to-business rates as well.

ITV Sport’s archive is, again, is a business-to-business operation which charges accordingly.

Everything else

The penultimate place to try is the British Film Institute. They will facilitate your search, but won’t search for you. You may have to present yourself, having made an appointment, at their premises on the South Bank in London.

Finally, Kaleidoscope hunts for missing footage but charges for access to its database.