If you’re a TV geek of a certain disposition, you know that sinking feeling when you pop your latest DVD purchase in, sit back… and watch as rights issues tear your programme apart.
Sometimes footage isn’t cut, but the music is replaced, giving scenes a whole different feel. Amongst many other music edits, Series 1, Episode 4 of Life on Mars gets rid of “Wild Horses” on the DVD release, and Skins cut – of all things – Lily Allen’s “The Fear” from Series 3, “Pandora” (and from one of my favourite scenes of the series, to boot). Other times, whole chunks of an episode are cut entirely: Episode 6 of Filthy, Rich & Catflap includes a section where Richie sings a spirited rendition of “Consider Yourself” which is gone from all DVD releases.1 Worse still is the Casualty Series 1 episode “Teeny Poppers”, which has a storyline about a man dressed as Spider-Man. It couldn’t be cleared, so a full six minutes was lopped out the episode for commercial release.
Worst of all are the edits where you don’t even know what has been cut. On DVD, the Hi-de-Hi! episode “A Matter of Conscience” ends with a big, emotional (and very well done) speech by Peggy… followed by an extremely nasty edit which takes you right out of the show. And I have no idea what has been actually cut, not having been able to see the original.
So, whilst writing my article recently about the Sorry! episode “Curse of the Mummy”, I noticed that the episode ran to 26:19 – three or four minutes shorter than most episodes – and naturally got suspicious. Surely some big scene was cut, involving some musical number it was impossible to clear.
Further investigation, however, revealed the truth to be rather stranger. There are two releases of Sorry! – the first from Universal Playback (which only managed the first two series in a double pack), and the second from BBC Worldwide (which managed all seven series, both individually and then as a boxset). The second, BBC Worldwide release has “Curse of the Mummy” running at 26:19… but the version on the Universal Playback release has a duration of 29:42 – a full 3:23 longer, in line with the durations of the rest of the episodes in the series. Weirder still, the cut material isn’t anything to do with rights issues. Instead, it’s just dialogue – and seemingly done purely for time reasons, to make a shorter edit of the episode.
I now refer you to the title of this article. Cut material from the BBC Worldwide release is indicated like this. Let’s get going.
Language, Timothy (3:27)
A brief section cut out of a discussion about Timothy’s sister:
MOTHER: Daddy’s girl, that’s what she is. I shall never forget the day she stormed out of here with her suitcase.
TIMOTHY: Well give her some credit Mother, she was only three.
MOTHER: There’s a very mulish streak in that girl. And she doesn’t get it from my side of the family. We know where that sort of attitude comes from. Don’t we, Sidney?
FATHER: (various confused noises)
MOTHER: Oh be quiet and go to sleep.
TIMOTHY: We were just discussing Muriel’s pedigree.
FATHER: Language, Timothy.
TIMOTHY: Sorry Father.
MOTHER: There you are. That’s where Muriel gets her unreasonableness from. And don’t dunk your crumpet!
It’s not even an especially good one, but bearing in mind I could probably watch “Language, Timothy” gags 24 hours a day, it’s still a shame.
A single shot of Muriel and Father:
Muriel with Father, who is sleeping. She peers at him.
No response. She sighs, collects his cup, and goes into the kitchen where Timothy is cooking.
MURIEL: I was telling him all our news, Angus playing football for the school… and he just dozed off.
There’s something rather melancholy about this short scene; it somehow feels very real. A daughter realising that her Dad is getting older, and steadily less lucid. (Mind you, Father gets more to do in future series as the show realises how amusing William Moore is, so the melancholy doesn’t last for long. It’s almost like he suffers from reverse-dementia.)
Nice dress (11:29)
A section cut from the awkward family dinner:
TIMOTHY: It’s nice this.
MURIEL: What? Prunes?
TIMOTHY: Yes, prunes… yes, prunes… well not just prunes, you know. I mean, you know, all of us here, together… together, round the dinner table. First time for six months. Eat, drink and be merry, eh, Mum?
She says nothing.
TIMOTHY: Well, perhaps not eat, drink and be merry with Mother not speaking, no…
A long pause.
TIMOTHY: Nice dress you’re wearing, Muriel. Very nice. Very nice dress Muriel’s wearing, Mother. Matches the mustard. The dried up bit at the top, anyway.
TIMOTHY: Anyone for more squash?
The Birds (17:39)
A short piece excised from Muriel encouraging Timothy to leave for good:
MURIEL: Why don’t you leave?
TIMOTHY: Well, they need me, you know.
MURIEL: Course they don’t.
TIMOTHY: Yes they do. They never remember to put the bacon rind out for the birds.
MURIEL: The birds? Who cares about the birds?
TIMOTHY: There’s one with only one leg, you know. Little soul, he hops about there…
TIMOTHY: Anyway, how is your Angus?
MURIEL: Look, never mind about… Don’t you realise, the longer you leave it, the worse it’s going to be?
TIMOTHY: Look, I know what I’m doing Muriel… I mean, they need my rent.
Synchronise Watches (20:39)
The biggest edit of the lot – a full minute of dialogue between Timothy and Muriel concerning his early-morning escape:
MURIEL: Never mind about your dinky toys. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in this house with her?
TIMOTHY: Well, no, not really. But I mean, she’d never say yes, will she?
MURIEL: She won’t say anything. She’ll be asleep.
TIMOTHY: What will we do about breakfast?
MURIEL: Have it on the train. My God, you’re sounding like Mother!
TIMOTHY: Oh I don’t, I don’t.
MURIEL: All right then. Pack a case tonight, set your alarm for 6:30, and put it under the pillow so it doesn’t wake them.
TIMOTHY: Sleep in my clothes!
MURIEL: If you must. Just so in the morning you’re ready to go.
TIMOTHY: I’m going. I’m definitely going to do it.
MURIEL: It’s easy enough. It’s just one small step over the threshold.
TIMOTHY: One giant step for Timothy Lumsden. Right, Muriel, synchronise watches…
MURIEL: Oh, Tim!
TIMOTHY: All right, don’t you bother, don’t you bother to do yours. I’ll synchronise my own, there we are… synchronised. Just to think – 41 years in the stifling darkness, I’m going to step out tomorrow into the sunshine. I’m going to walk tall, the sun on my face, the wind on my back… oh dear.
TIMOTHY: What if it’s raining?
MURIEL: We’ll get wet.
TIMOTHY: Good idea. We’ll get wet. Very good idea. Get wet like real, normal people.
This is a sad loss, as it really reinforces Timothy’s childish nature – and Muriel’s eye-rolling “If you must!” is very funny. (I also enjoy the idea of Timothy just synchronising his own watch.)
This scene – the first section of Timothy’s early morning escape – actually follows directly on from the last, so in one sense it’s one big cut across two separate scenes; however, I’ve listed it separately for clarity:
Timothy in bed, the next morning. The alarm clock goes. Timothy reaches out to the table… it’s not there. He eventually discovers it in his hot water bottle shaped like a dog. He shoves it all in his suitcase, and walks out the door, meeting Muriel on the landing. He stops, goes back into his room, and grabs his radio. Inevitably, bells ring loudly from it. He hits it until it goes quiet.
Outside the house. Muriel exits, followed by Tim.
TIMOTHY: I’ve done it. I’ve done it! I’m free!
MURIEL: Come on…
MOTHER: (from inside the house) Timothy…
Of all the cuts, this is the most significant – as it removes the bit with the radio. This is referenced later on in the dream sequence, where Muriel says “You want her to chase after you – that’s why you woke her up…” The heavy implication is that Timothy deliberately switched on the radio to screw up the escape plan. Without this section, a crucial layer of meaning to the whole sequence is lost.
Here, I draw a blank. Of course, the reverse has happened: episodes that were shorter on broadcast to fit the time slot have been released in extended edits on VHS or DVD. (Notable examples include Knowing Me, Knowing You, and Smashie and Nicey: The End of an Era.) The only thing I can really think of is that perhaps a shorter version was prepared for broadcast somewhere down the line – for overseas sales, or UK Gold? – and that it was accidentally included when sourcing the masters for the second DVD release.
It’s worth noting that technically, the edits are very well done – you’d never notice them just from watching the episode. The most obvious example of this is how they deal with those last two edits, which gets rid of a huge chunk of the episode – it adds a brand new fade to the outside shot of the house, indicating it is now the next morning. Aside from the removal of the key bit of evidence concerning Timothy deliberately waking up his mother, the edits work hard not to cut any vital parts of the story out. If the edit wasn’t prepared by the original production team, then somebody very good did it at some point down the line. (The latter is indeed possible: take a look at the two compliance edits done for the Red Dwarf episode “Meltdown”.)
As it is, it’s a mystery. All we can hope for is that distribution companies start taking slightly more care as to which versions of episodes they pull down from the shelf, so things like this don’t happen. If only so my limited time on this earth isn’t wasted by writing articles like this… and your limited time isn’t wasted by reading them.
Sorry about that.
Luckily, the opening of the very first episode – where he sings “Morning Has Broken” – was cut for VHS… but is intact on all DVD releases. ↩
Well, there is also half a second trimmed off the shot of Timothy falling down the stairs near the end of the episode. I just put this in to prove I was really paying attention. ↩