03 January, 2009

The Lion's Roar

This morning I received a text message from my old friend Neil Lambess wishing me a happy tenth anniversary.

It was ten years ago today that Neil phoned me to ask if I'd meet him later that day.

That was, for me, the beginning of a whirlwind of events that earned us a place in Doctor Who history books. Neil had contacted Auckland film collector Bruce Grenville, who apparently had a missing Doctor Who episode 16mm film print in his possession. Bruce agreed that Neil and I could come around to his Grey Lynn flat and view it on the evening of Sunday 3 January 1999.

The missing episodes are the Doctor Who equivalent of the holy grail; film prints and videotapes junked and destroyed by the BBC in the 1960s and 1970s in the belief that no one would ever miss them. This was in the days before repeat screenings were commonplace and home video was unheard of.

Bruce had the first episode of a 1965 story called The Crusade. The individual episode was called The Lion. It was the only known surviving copy in existence.

My own contribution to the discovery was to negotiate for the loan of the film print. The BBC wanted to borrow it long enough to clean up the film and make copies. I communicated with the BBC's restoration team and persuaded the collector to loan the film. I was nervous that at any moment the negotiations could have fallen through, and I'll never forget the moment I walked back to my car with the film safely clutched under my arm.

For one evening I was in possession of perhaps what was - at that moment - the rarest, most coveted Doctor Who item in existence. Here's a photo of me taken that evening, clutching the film.

(It's a sign of the changing times that whilst those shelves behind me are still in the same position in my study, these days they're filled with DVDs rather than videotapes...)

I despatched the film to the BBC's Doctor Who restoration teamin London by secure FedEx courier the following morning.

These days, the episode can be viewed on the BBC DVD Lost in Time. In addition to the episode, the DVD contains an interview with myself, Neil and Bruce Grenville. Our contribution to Doctor Who is recorded for posterity.

A decade on from that historic find, Neil and I remain very proud of our achievement. Neil - thanks for the memories, my friend. Isn't it time we found another one?

The full story of the film's discovery can be read online here.


Tim Knight said...

All I need to say is: "Thank you!"

Foo said...

Yes Paul, a big thank you for your involvement in getting this returned to the BBC, giving us the pleasure of being able to watch it.

My only disappointment is the way that you were treated by the BBC at the time. Certainly circumstances which may not endear others to report their finds.

Here's hoping 2009 has more missing episodes being located!