18 July, 2013

Written out of History

One of my proudest achievements was finding a lost episode of Doctor Who, an honour I share in equal part with my good friend Neil Lambess.

Neil and I found a 16mm film print of The Lion (the first episode of the 1965 William Hartnell story The Crusade) in the collection of Auckland film collector Bruce Grenville in early January 1999.

Neil did the investigating that led to the find. Neil then contacted me and we went to meet Bruce and view the film together, thereby verifying that it was a missing episode. I then handled the episode’s return to the BBC.

Neil and I have always been of the view that we deserve to share equal credit for the episode’s discovery and return. We would not have it any other way.

I remember saying to Neil, shortly after viewing the film, that our discovery had surely earned us a place in the Doctor Who history books.

So it was upsetting to see in the recently-published Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, The Missing Episodes - The Second Doctor Volume One that my part in the discovery and return of The Lion had been effectively written out of history.

The special itself is an absolutely superb record of the early Patrick Troughton stories, showcasing the missing episodes from The Power of the Daleks to The Faceless Ones with a series of telesnaps (photographs taken of the television screen as the stories were originally broadcast).

The special is prefaced with a four-page article by Richard Molesworth called The Numbers Game that covers the various discoveries of missing episodes. Many people responsible for making these finds and returning film prints to the BBC are name-checked in Richard's coverage of the subject.

The discovery of The Lion in New Zealand is covered in one paragraph. There is no mention of my name and, worse still, my involvement has been wrongly attributed to others.

The problem lies with the last two sentences of this paragraph. Here’s the first of these:
Grenville showed the episode to a friend of his, Neil Lambess, who was also a fan of the series, in 1999.
The friend of Neil's who was also a fan of Doctor Who was me, not Bruce. Grenville was not especially a fan (he wasn’t even aware that the series had missing episodes). He also did not know Neil prior to the episode’s discovery. They met for the first time when we went along to Bruce's house to view the film. What this sentence also omits to say is that Bruce showed the episode to both of us: I was sitting there right alongside Neil when we first saw the film.

Here’s how I think this sentence should have read:
Grenville showed the episode to Neil Lambess and a friend of his, Paul Scoones, who was also a fan of the series, in 1999.
Moving on to the paragraph's last sentence:
Lambess realised that Grenville had a missing episode, and helped facilitate its return to the BBC later that year.
This time it's Neil rather than Bruce to whom my involvement is wrongly attributed. I "helped facilitate" the episode's return: I negotiated the loan, physically collected the film and made the arrangements for its transportation to the UK. Furthermore, this all took place within days of making the discovery, not “later that year” as the article claims.

Again, here’s how I think it should have read:
They realised that Grenville had a missing episode, and Scoones helped facilitate its return to the BBC days later.
What I find most surprising about this is that the article's writer, Richard Molesworth, is the author of Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes which is regarded as the definitive book on this subject. There is a section in the book where Neil and I are quoted about the discovery and return of The Lion. Richard only had to refer to his own book to fact-check his article and avoid making these mistakes.

I posted about the article’s errors on Facebook, and received the following response from Richard: “Sorry Paul, no slur intended - my brief was to be concise, and quite a few names got left out of the article - it was more of a 'what was found and when' piece. The 'who' often got truncated or omitted. Sorry if I've offended.” A short time later he added: “This had nothing to do with the editor, let’s make this clear.”

I can appreciate the need for conciseness, but this should never be at the expense of factual accuracy. Omitting any mention of my name from the article is annoying but not necessarily wrong; ascribing my role to other people most definitely is.

In the article, those two sentences amount to 40 words. My suggested rewrites above come to 43 words. That's right, just three additional words could have fixed this.