The news that two episodes of At Last The 1948 Show have been discovered in David Frost’s personal archive is, of course, very welcome news – as is the fact that they will receive a public screening in December as part of the BFI’s annual Missing Believed Wiped celebration.
Although At Last has sometimes been considered chiefly notable for being a clear precursor to Monty Python, it stands up extremely well in its own right. Written by and starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman, the series also featured Aimi Macdonald.
Some of the already existing material, such as the four Yorkeshiremen sketch, would be instally familiar to Monty Python fans as it remained a staple of their live sets, right up to their farewell gigs at the O2 earlier this year.
The question now is, will these episodes together with the rest of the series, finally receive a worthy DVD release? The previously existing material surfaced on this DVD nearly a decade ago. Since it’s the only commercial way to own the series it was a must buy, although there are several problems with it.
Firstly, the picture quality is very poor. This is because the episodes have been sourced from very ropey looking teleecordings. Restoration could clean them up nicely, but the issue seems to be that whilst a company called Archbuild now owns the copyright of the Rediffusion archive, they don’t actually own the physical recordings.
Ideally, it would be wonderful for a company like Network to issue a release, such as their Incomplete and Utter History Of Britain. Maybe, thanks to the publicity generated by these two rediscovered episodes, the tangled question of copyright and ownership can be resolved and we’ll finally get the DVD the series deserves. One interesting point is that the BFI press release (link at bottom of the post) mentions they have been restoring the material of At Last which they hold. For a possible DVD release maybe?
The other major problem with the existing DVD is that it’s compiled from a series of Swedish compilations and therefore doesn’t flow in the way the original programmes would have done. The following list was compiled by Matthew K. Sharp and it shows what material was used to source the episodes on the DVD –
2.5 choir won’t sing hymns
2.5 secret service cleaner
??? the nasty way
2.1 reptile keeper swallowed by snake
2.6 chartered accountant dance
2.6 four yorkshiremen
1.6 televisione italiano presenta – let’s speak english
1.5 top of the form
2.1 doctor trying to sell things
2.1 thief hiding in public library
2.1 come dancing
??? musical item
1.4 someone has stolen the news
2.4 topic – freedom of speech
2.7 railway carriage
2.4 repeats report
2.4 tour through a live programme
1.2 foggy spain link
1.2 four sydney lotterbys
1.3 visitors for the use of
1.3 sleep starvation
1.3 mice laugh softly, charlotte
1.4 jack the ripper
1.4 plain clothes police(wo)men
2.2 shirt shop
2.2 the nosmo claphanger show
2.4 uncooperative burglars
2.2 rowdy scottish ballet supporters
Ideally, any future DVD would present the sketches in the correct order. This would mean some episodes would run short since various episodes are incomplete, but that would be better than the somewhat random nature of the above compilations.
Time will tell on that score, but at the very least it’s to be hoped that these two episodes will make their way into the public domain, as finding archive gems like these does seem somewhat pointless if they’re then locked away from public view.
PDF of the BFI press release concerning the rediscovery.
Update Sep 2015 – Another two episodes have been found which means that we’re getting close to having a complete run of the series (series one episode one only has about five minutes of footage in existence whilst a couple of other episodes have small amounts of material missing). Radio Times article on the new discoveries here.