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More in this section The History of Forgotten Television Drama

History of Forgotten Television Drama

TV's Forgotten Dramas Homepage ImageThe History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK is an AHRC-funded research project that runs from September 2013 until June 2017. 

What does the project involve? 

The project investigates the history of forgotten television drama in the UK by looking at productions that are largely unknown, either because they were produced live and not recorded, or because they were recorded but subsequently wiped, junked, mislaid, or lost. It also examines dramas that exist, either in part (e.g. as individual episodes within a series or serial) or complete, but which have rarely been seen, if at all, since their original transmission. The project explores the production of television drama in the regions and nations of the UK (the English regions plus Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), from both regional BBC production centres and regional ITV companies, and considers dramas that may have just been transmitted in their region of production, as well as dramas that were networked. These ‘forgotten’ dramas, where they exist, may well not have been seen since they were first broadcast.

The period covered by the project is from 1946, when BBC television resumed after the Second World War, to 1982, when the BBC/ITV duopoly was ended by the arrival of Channel 4 and a new era of television broadcasting began. In 1946 all drama was broadcast live and no recordings were made - in fact it was another seven years before the primitive system of recording live television resulted in the earliest surviving television dramas. By 1982 nearly all drama was pre-recorded and the practice of wiping and junking recordings, which occurred on a regular basis during the 1960s-70s, had ceased. 


The specific objectives of the project are:

  • to uncover a ‘lost’ history of forgotten television drama in the UK
  • to produce an alternative history of television drama in the UK that will add to our knowledge of television history, challenge ideas concerning the television drama ‘canon’ and encourage awareness of the regional diversity of television drama production
  • to collaborate with regional and national archives in order to establish the existence and availability of regionally-produced dramas in regional and national archives and to make this drama better-known and more accessible (through publications and public  screenings).

Questions explored by the project

Among the questions to be explored by the project are the following:

  • What has happened to the many lesser-known plays, series and serials produced between 1946-82 which are not mentioned in TV histories and which have not had subsequent screenings? Do these dramas still exist? If not, does their lack of existence, or their unavailability if they do exist, account for their ‘invisibility’ in histories of television drama? 
  • What constitutes the ‘unknown’ or ‘forgotten’ in British television drama? By what criteria might a drama (single play, serial or series) be designated ‘unknown’? Is it an absence from television histories? Poor reviews? A lack of repeat screenings? Unavailability of a viewing copy? The absence of well-known actors, writer or director? Or a combination of these? There is also the question of whether a series or serial is likely to be better known than a single play, especially if that play was broadcast live, in black and white rather than colour, or was a studio play rather than one shot on film.
  • To what extent were these ‘forgotten’ dramas produced by regional BBC production centres and regional ITV companies? Is there a correlation between ‘forgotten’ drama and regional production?
  • Were these dramas networked, or only shown in the region in which they were produced? If they were networked, were they partly or fully networked? Were they transmitted at different times in different regions? Did the distribution and scheduling of these dramas contribute to the degree of their ‘invisibility’?
  • To what extent did these ‘forgotten’ dramas reflect the regional identity and culture of the region in which they were produced? If so, does their ‘parochialism’ account for their subsequent ‘invisibility’?
  • What happened to recordings of these dramas? Were they kept in the archives of regional BBC production centres and regional ITV companies? What happened to these archives when the centres closed or relocated, or when the ITV companies were taken over by other companies? Has the nature of their archiving contributed to the ‘invisibility’ of these forgotten dramas?



The Project Team

The research team consists of Professor John Hill, Dr Lez Cooke and Dr Billy Smart  based in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.

More information

Advisory Board

The Advisory Board is formed of industry professionals

The Project team are assisted by an Advisory Board consisting of television professionals and scholars. For more information see here.

The project has involved public lectures and conference presentations, a symposium, an international conference and public screenings. For more information see here.

Further Information

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Our Research Officer Billy Smart is hosting our project blog on 'Forgotten Television Drama' where you'll find news, reports on work in progress and discussion (to which you're invited to contribute).

Billy also blogs for Spaces of Television and CST Online.


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