Currently, I’m going through a load of old Dirty Feed articles, for preparation for the site’s 10th anniversary in January.1 And this particular piece about the now-dormant Dirty Feed Tumblr caught my eye.
There is no polite way of saying this. The most popular post I ever made on Tumblr was a collection of pulp book covers featuring women about to have sex with dogs.
Now, you may not be particularly keen on my bestiality material. You may prefer my in-depth articles about sitcom edits instead. But it was definitely the most popular post I ever made on Tumblr, by an order of magnitude. I mention over 200 likes/reblogs in that previous piece; it had over 400 before it was removed.
Removed? Ah, yes. Sadly, that post is no longer available, due to Tumblr’s porn ban in December 2018. As soon as that ban was announced, I stopped using the site. I never really clicked with Tumblr anyway; the porn ban was the final straw.
But the fact remains: by far the most thing I ever posted on the site was deleted by Tumblr. That’s a mildly annoying state of affairs, even if I’m not using the site any more, and even if the post did feature an illustration of an Alsatian with a particularly lascivious look on his face.
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OK, fine. If you want an article on sitcom edits, let’s talk about some sitcom edits.2
Back in 2012, I wrote a series of articles on pre-watershed edits made to Red Dwarf on Dave. One recurring motif presented itself: time and time again, some of the funniest moments in an episode were cut.3 Kryten sticking up his finger and saying “Swivel on it, punk!”; “Rimmer Directive 271 states just as clearly: No chance you metal bastard”; “Santa Claus – what a bastard! He’s just a big fat git who sneaks down chimneys and steals all the kid’s favorite toys…”; “No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity”; “Men! They’re all bastards!”; and by the funniest moment in Red Dwarf VIII:
CASSANDRA: I already told you: Rimmer dies of a heart attack, and then you and all the other Canaries die too; all except Lister, Kryten, Kochanski and the Cat. I’ve seen it.
RIMMER: That’s as well as maybe, but have you seen this?
RIMMER flips his middle finger to CASSANDRA, then turns and storms out.
CASSANDRA: Yes, I’m afraid I have.
My analysis of pre-watershed I’m Alan Partridge edits brought up similar points: “Don’t rub your fanny on me!” and “He means his cock!” were gone. And if I ever get round to writing something about pre-watershed Porridge edits on Gold, I’ll be sure to mention that the climax to the episode where Fletch sticks two fingers up to the camera is pixellated, destroying the joke entirely.
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This isn’t really an anti-censorship screed, at least not per se. My point is simply this: when things are deleted from the internet, or cuts are made to programmes, it’s worth remembering that the effect of such things isn’t random. It’s not arbitrary chunks that disappear: it’s the outliers that go. The rudest joke in a sitcom episode; a blog post which takes a left turn into filth. And those outliers are often one of the most popular parts of a piece of work.
And slowly but surely, the corners of things get knocked off. Censorship is often talked about – sometimes correctly, sometimes not – in terms of how dangerous it can be. But often, the enemy is the sheer blandification of pop culture. It’s not that anybody dies. It’s not about suppressing important conversations. It’s about which bits of our culture survive in the popular memory, and which don’t. Which is both very important, and not important at all.
And that leads to one of the joys of owning your own little part of the internet. Away from social media giants changing their policies on a whim, and away from UKTV’s bizarre editing policies, you can quietly sit and document things. And documenting these things shifts the power dynamic back towards the integrity of the text, however slightly, rather than companies just doing things because it’s easier. I find it immensely rewarding.
Especially when – just occasionally – you get to stand up for an author’s original intention, when it never managed to make it to the screen properly in the first place.
Though that’s not as important as dog cock, obviously.
Netflix headquarters, 15th September 2031. Despite people’s doom-laden predictions, the company is doing very nicely, thank you. But it’s doing nicely because they’ve finally started making smart financial decisions.
Across the road is where all those smart financial decisions are made. Right next to programme development, in fact. We’re not in the cool section of the place, though. We’re in a nondescript office block. Overspill, where all the boring projects go. It’s surprising it hasn’t been knocked down, and all these people just work from home. In a couple of years, exactly this will happen.
Until then, boring meetings take place here. And today’s boring meeting is about what to do with the latest selection of legacy content, where the rights are running out. David Smith presides over a room of greyness.
“Morning everyone. Let’s get this over with, we all have other things to do. What’s coming up next month, Mary?”
All eyes turn to Mary. She speaks, though it’s clearly an effort to give a flying fuck. “OK. We have Survivor, but the new rules kick in with this season – we only had the rights for this season for a year anyway, due to the new right-to-be-forgotten ruling….”
David rolls his eyes. That one had been a fucker for every company making programmes involving the general public.
Mary continued. “The Price is Right we won’t bother with – that hologram of Bob Barker was a disaster. And then there’s this thing called Black Mirror.”
David frowns. “What? Should I recognise that?”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It was a show we commissioned years back. Science fiction, all very dated now, of course. The main problem is the music rights – they run out next month.”
“Worth bothering with? How many views do we get on that show now, anyway?”
Mary consults her iPad Lisa. She looks up. “It actually gets a fair few streams a month, but the cost of those rights… take a look.”
She hands him the iPad. David glances at it. “Hell, no.”
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I remember the very first time I ever became aware of KYTV.
It wasn’t through actually watching it, like a normal person. That would be too easy. No, it was reading a rather snotty reference to it in What Satellite magazine, where some idiot columnist made some outraged remark about the BBC making fun of their precious satellite television while forcing everyone to pay the licence fee. It was a remark which, if Geoffrey Perkins or Angus Deayton had read it, I suspect would have filled them with glee. Irritating various people who deserve to be irritated is entirely within the remit KYTV had set itself, after all.
In any case, it’s easy to accuse the columnist of over-sensitivity. “A parody of cheap satellite TV” might be part of what KYTV is doing, but it most certainly isn’t all of it. If that was true, then for a start, they wouldn’t have been able to reuse so much material from the show’s radio predecessor, Radio Active. No, the targets KYTV had in its sights were fairly scattershot. For every joke about dishy dish girls, there’s another about BBC2 theme nights. And for every joke satirising cheap and exploitative TV, there are jokes which aren’t much about TV at all. You could stick Martin Brown in any environment, and he’d be funny.1
Which brings us to Challenge Anna: the last episode of Series 1 of KYTV, the best episode of the show made up until that point, and up there with the best full stop. In the programme’s sights are Challenge Anneka – a BBC show – and Treasure Hunt – a Channel 4 show. Indeed, neither programme is the kind of thing which Sky or BSB could really afford to make in 1990. And while the feature “Spin the Wheel” could be viewed as what could happen to the formats if dirty old Sky got hold of them, jokes about companies helping out on the show in order to get their name mentioned are very much digs at the Beeb.
Sadly, KYTV has fallen down the cracks of comedy history somewhat – more, in fact, than Radio Active itself, which has had an ongoing successful stage revival, and this year is up in Edinburgh for the team’s 40th anniversary. So let’s redress the balance. With many thanks to Darrell Maclaine-Jones, I have in my possession the script for Challenge Anna. And contained within are all kinds of differences to the broadcast episode – with whole scenes included which didn’t make the final cut.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
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Of all the striking things about Dennis Potter’s 1965 play Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, one thing in particular stands out: its use of real news footage, of Nye Bevan’s speech on the Suez crisis, and an “interview” with Oswald Mosley1 on unemployment. Clips which aren’t included into the play in a diegetic fashion, but are merely thrown into the mix when a character mentions them.
This is the tale of how such unusual method of storytelling may have preserved a little piece of history. And although the world probably doesn’t need any more Oswald Mosley2, Nigel Barton nonetheless provides exactly that.
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Previously on Dirty Feed, I took a look at the differences between the script taken into rehearsals for Dennis Potter’s 1965 play Stand Up, Nigel Barton, and what was finally broadcast. (Please read that first piece if you haven’t already; it contains a lot of background necessary for understanding this one.) This time, we take a look at Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, broadcast the following week on the 15th December 1965. Fittingly enough, Vote – Potter’s cry of desperation about the state of politics – got bogged down in behind-the-scenes politics of its own, and ended up with a rather chequered production history. So first of all, it’s important to define what this article isn’t.
Unlike the relative peacefulness of Stand Up‘s production, Vote not only had a major rewrite, but that major rewrite was after the whole thing had been shot. Potter details in his introduction to the Penguin scriptbook The Nigel Barton Plays that the play was originally ready for broadcast on the 23rd June 1965, but that executives started to get cold feet and pulled the play seven hours before transmission.
Between June and the play’s eventual December broadcast, several scenes were rewritten and reshot. Needless to say, Potter wasn’t very happy about it.
“The result disfigures the play in a few important ways. Firstly, some of the savagery of Jack Hay’s cynicism had to be muted. It was argued that, in the original, the agent was ‘almost psychotic’. After much edgy negotiation, I was able to settle for what is now in the text – but I hope it will be clear […] that any further diminution in the bite or the fury of the part would have ruined the play.”
The crucial bit for us in terms of analysing the changes made to the text is the following:
“Like the new Jack Hay I, too, have my own ‘private grief’ and nothing will now induce me to publish the original Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton (nor the original of my Cinderella). These published texts are to be related to what was actually shown on the screen.”
Which means we have a somewhat different situation here compared to that with Stand Up, Nigel Barton. There, we could be certain that the text as published in The Nigel Barton Plays was what was taken into the rehearsal rooms. Here, Potter admits that the script published for Vote is not his original intention. These certainly aren’t transcripts, as there are plenty of differences between this script and what made it onto the screen – so they are presumably an amalgamation of his original script, and the specific scenes featuring Jack Hay which he delivered as rewrites.
So, what this article can’t detail is Potter’s original vision. You don’t get the old, even more twisted Jack Hay here, I’m afraid. We only have what is published in The Nigel Barton Plays to go on. We will, however, analyse the sections of the script which Potter admits were rewritten… and in at least a couple of instances, we can tell that the enforced rewrite on his character has entirely been ignored when it came to actually shooting the thing.
Enough background. Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this. Note that I haven’t detailed every single change in wording between the script and the screen – only the stuff where there seemed to be an interesting point to make, or where there have been clear censorship issues.
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“Television brings us the Prime Minister, and a faith healer, a bleeding boxer and a sinking ship, a coronation and an assassination. The picture we see may have been thrown across the Atlantic or even off the moon: it can then seem a highly comic sort of activity to write Act One, Scene One, rehearse in a draughty Territorial Army drill-hall for a fortnight, remove the expletive ‘Christ!’ and finally sandwich yourself between Harold Wilson being frank and somebody walking in space.”
– Dennis Potter, Introduction to The Nigel Barton Plays
Much has been written about Dennis Potter’s two plays Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, which aired in consecutive weeks on BBC1 as part of The Wednesday Play in December 1965. About their takes on class and politics; on how both are some of the most autobiographical works in the Potter canon; and how both plays point to themes present in Potter’s later work.
None of that is what I want to talk about here, however. Instead, I want to take a look at the Penguin paperback The Nigel Barton Plays, published two years later in 1967. This contains an excellent introduction by Potter, and scripts for both plays. Note the word “scripts”, there. They aren’t transcripts of the broadcast version of the plays. These contain numerous differences – in fact, they are the original scripts written by Potter, stage directions and all. Which means, by comparing the contents of the book to the final plays as broadcast, we can tell exactly what Potter originally intended to make it to air – and exactly how the rehearsal process changed things.
Spoiler: Potter wasn’t lying with his amusing anecdote about removing “the expletive ‘Christ!'”.
This article, then, is not a general analysis of Stand Up, Nigel Barton. Rather, it’s a look at exactly what changed between that script and the final programme. Of course, it can’t be a comprehensive list of all changes made to the show; that would be immensely tedious, and any good points would be lost in a sea of minor word changes and rephrases. I have, however, picked up on what I think are the most interesting differences – and I have tried to include every single change when it comes to profanity, as I think that’s the most important aspect of how Potter’s work was changed from script to screen.
While writing this piece, I have also had the pleasure of taking a look at pages of an actual copy of the script, as taken into rehearsals by Ian Fairbairn who was one of the children in the play. Aside from some different scene numbers, studying it gives confirmation that the text printed in The Nigel Barton Plays is the actual material taken into rehearsals. Many thanks to Andrew-Mark Thompson for his help here.
Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this.
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The final episode of Going Live! aired on the 17th April 1993. I was distraught. My favourite TV show: gone forever. I made sure I recorded the whole thing, and it was a treasured possession for years, until I gave the tape to a girl I tried – and failed – to have sex with. That’s the kind of symbolism which gets you chucked out of film school for being too obvious.
Regardless: let’s get back to being 11 years old. The one thing to cling onto from Going Live! ending was Trev and Simon’s tour – starting just a month later.1 I got my tickets for the Nottingham Theatre Royal date on the 30th May, a week after my birthday, and waited patiently.
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Ah, Sunday. Where the vast majority of my Twitter feed seems to want to sit around and read/watch/talk about telly. So in lieu of anything else new here, I thought I’d point you towards a load of articles and videos other people have done instead.
First off, we have some brilliant analysis of Robot Wars by Christopher Wickham. Fancy learning about a robot which was renamed between the BBC Choice showing, and its BBC Two repeat? Or what about a rigged trial round? Or, indeed, a rigged Grand Final? Or a bunch of other obscure trivia about the show? Most of the CONTROVERSIAL BITS discussed have associated YouTube links, and I highly recommend you don’t rush through them – sit back and watch the fights in full alongside the articles. It’s worth it. Even when it’s difficult to nail down exactly what happened, some of those fights look very strange indeed in the final edit.
Out of all of the above, perhaps the thing which blows my mind the most is the existence of Robot Wars Revealed – a 1998 BBC Choice behind-the-scenes spin-off series. It being the early days of digital television, hardly anyone saw it – and seemingly only one episode is in general circulation. It’s incredible how easily things can slip away; even programmes made in the last 20 years. What programmes are you watching now that in 2037 you’ll think “Oh, I wish I could see that again”, and be unable to?
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“Our biggest struggle after filming the pilot was cutting it down to time. We were something like six minutes long, which is a lot. We cut and cut and cut some more. We cut things we liked and we cut things we loved. Still, after 6 or 7 passes at the show we were still a minute long. We felt we had cut it to the bare bones. Any more cuts could damage the show so we went to Paramount with our dilemma. Thankfully, they agreed with us and asked NBC to give us some extra time. After viewing what we hoped would be our final cut, NBC agreed to give us that extra minute which was a very big favor. So, how do they come up with that extra minute of programming time for us? Don’t think that all they have to do is cut a commercial or two. Are you crazy? That’s money. No, to give us that extra minute, they asked the three other comedies and one drama on that Thursday night to each cut 15 seconds out of their programs. It’s not something that’s done very often and it’s not something the network likes to do, but for that pilot of Frasier they felt it was worth it.”
— How Frasier Came To Be (Part 3), Peter Casey, December 2006
Six minutes, cut out of one of the best sitcom pilots ever made? Oh, man, wouldn’t it be amazing to see what was cut? But I guess we’ll never find out, unless there happens to be a script of the pilot hanging around online anywhere…
…oh, hello. Marked “REVISED FINAL DRAFT”, and dated April 29th 1993. Let’s dig right in.
Material which is only in the script is indicated like this; material which is only in the episode as broadcast is indicated like this. I won’t detail every single difference in phrasing between the script and the final show, minor trims to dialogue, or every change in staging, but all major differences will be noted.1
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So, here we are. After looking at the pilot, Series 1, and Series 2 through 5, we reach the conclusion of our series of articles comparing Hi-de-Hi! as released on DVD, and the version repeated on BBC Two last year. Unfortunately, we run into a little bit of a problem.
Throughout the whole rest of the show – the entire Dempster run, in fact – the two versions are absolutely identical. Sure, one episode wasn’t shown, as detailed below, but every single other episode had precisely no edits made to it whatsoever. Which even for Dirty Feed, leaves us with a bit of a damp squib of an ending.
In an attempt to save this piece from being an entire waste of time then, I have a few other notes on the remaining episodes of the series…
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