19th September 1975, 9pm, BBC2, and the first programme of a little series called Fawlty Towers is broadcast. And whilst most of that first series of Fawlty Towers was shot in the summer of 1975, the very first episode – A Touch of Class – was recorded eight months earlier, in December 1974. The reason for this is simple: that first programme was a pilot. Unlike some programmes, which are re-recorded entirely for their first episode1, most of that pilot made it to air more or less in its original form. For instance, the opening sign is a different design in the pilot episode compared to every single other programme in the first series, and the theme music is also a different recording. Indeed, you wonder why, when it came to broadcast, they didn’t at least change the opening titles to be consistent with the other episodes, but I digress.
Opening titles from A Touch of Class
Opening titles from The Builders
One detail, however, was changed between the initial pilot recording, and its broadcast. Polly was originally meant to be a philosophy student – and that’s what she was in that pilot episode. For the series, they decided to change her to being an art student – and so they reshot parts of the pilot to incorporate the change. To quote John Cleese, in an interview on the 2001 DVD release:
CLEESE: She in the pilot episode was a philosophy student, and we didn’t feel that worked as well as art student, so we re-recorded just a little – maybe four or five minutes – and cut that into the first episode before it was transmitted to the general public.
The obvious question to ask, then – at least, if you’re me – is: which parts of the transmitted episode were reshot? And was it really four or five minutes of material? But whilst you could easily guess about one section which was reshot, for years that was all the information we really had about the change.
Citizen Smith is a good example of a show which had a pilot, and then was completely reshot for its first episode broadcast six months later – both are on the DVD, and it’s fascinating to compare them. ↩
On the 2nd April 2005, BBC Four broadcast the BBC’s first live drama for over 20 years: a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, starring Jason Flemyng. It had a mixed reaction at the time – and indeed since – but I thought it was absolutely fabulous. Both as a programme in itself… and to finally watch a complete version of that first Quatermass story which doesn’t involve Brian Donlevy.
On the 31st October 2005, the DVD of the programme was released. Right at the beginning of the show, this caption was added:
This caption is a blatant lie.
The version of the programme on DVD is not what audiences saw live on the 2nd April. It is, in fact, an entirely different edit. If you’re familiar with the programme, perhaps you’ve heard that one scene was replaced with a version from the rehearsal due to an actor drying, or that an off-screen crash was trimmed. Both are true; however, this is far from the full story. The programme was extensively re-cut, with many changes made across the entire programme.
I think you can see where this is leading. Below is a list of all the changes made to the DVD version compared to the programme’s original broadcast. All times given are for the DVD release, so even if you haven’t got access to the original version, you can still tell at which point a change was made.
This is a continuation from Part One of this article, about edits to the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness”. Make sure you read that first – this won’t make any sense without it…
“On BBC 1 now, One Foot in the Grave. When a day in the country turns sour, and disturbing practices are brought to light, Victor Meldrew comes to the rescue.”
– Continuity announcement for the first broadcast of “Hearts of Darkness”
Finally, we have it. After many years of wondering, I’ve finally tracked down a copy of the original broadcast version of “Hearts of Darkness”. Many thanks to go Andy Walmsley for digging out his recording. I am eternally grateful.
And his effort is well rewarded. Because what we’ve found is even more interesting than we might have guessed. Because no, the DVD version isn’t the same as the original broadcast, as I suspected in my last article. But neither is it the expected edited version either.
“Wakey, wakey, everyone! It’s quite nice out here now. I’ve just been watching two frogs having sex!” – Mr Swainey
14th February 1993, BBC1, and the first showing of the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness’. The episode, dealing with abuse in an old people’s home, caused a certain amount of controversy for its scenes of violence – to the point where the episode was edited for all future broadcasts.
Here’s a quote from David Renwick on the DVD commentary for the episode:
“The version we’re seeing now has been edited, I mean was edited for repeat transmission by the BBC – not in accordance with my wishes, I have to say – and some of the kicking that Arabella Weir does in one of the scenes that’s coming up has been removed, because people complained.”
Which indicates that not only was the episode was edited for repeats, but indeed the DVD set itself contains the edited version.
Before we get into the nitty gritty about this, it’s worth pausing for a moment and talking about why this matters. True, edits to programmes have been an ongoing feature of this site. But this particular edit brings up two especially interesting points.
On the 31st Aug 15, an event was to happen of such earth-shattering proportions, that it was to shatter the earth to its very proportions. Smashie & Nicey: The End of an Era was repeated on BBC Two, for the first time since 2010. And… well, an awful lot has happened since 2010. Were we about to get a butchered-to-hell edit?
Perhaps surprisingly, no. The edits were minimal – in fact, comparing the two versions side-by-side, I only spotted two. Let’s take a look, shall we?
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.
“On the 22nd Nov 93, an event was to happen of such earth-shattering proportions that it was to shatter the earth to its very proportions…”
Or maybe that should be 4th Apr 94. For that was the day Smashie and Nicey: The End of an Era was first broadcast on BBC1: a spoof documentary featuring your favourite loveable Radio Fab DJs… acting not quite so loveably. Not that “spoof documentary” feels like an adequate description for this trawl through four decades of British pop culture – which, with absolutely no hyperbole, is one of the funniest, most affecting, most beautifully made pieces of comedy I have ever seen. If Norbert Smith – a Life is the best thing Harry Enfield ever did solo, then this is the best work Enfield and Whitehouse produced together.
Following on from the broadcast, the special was released on VHS: and rather than just the usual odd bit of music substitution, it was actually an entirely different, longer edit – a full five minutes longer, in fact. If you know me or this site even slightly, you can probably see where this is leading. So join me now, as I detail every single last difference between the two versions – and if you never saw the VHS edit, enjoy some extra moments of pure joy.
Beware: this post is at the extreme end of television geekery. If you object to that, pop off to Digital Spy, now.
Back? Good. Here then, is something I guarantee you haven’t noticed before about Father Ted, brought to my attention by the not-literally eagle-eyed Danny Stephenson. The episode in question is Are You Right There, Father Ted? – take a look at the beginning of the bedroom scene between Ted and Dougal. (Ignore the ad break that’s been cut out there for the DVD release – that’s a whole separate issue…)
Over the last few years, the following pattern has occurred in our household. a) Stick Dave or Gold on the telly. b) Spot some stupid edit in a beloved sitcom. c) SHOUT ABOUT IT ON TWITTER OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
For the last four weeks, to prepare for the upcoming broadcast of Red Dwarf X (Thursday 4th, 9pm folks!), Dave have been showing each series of Red Dwarf – backwards. (Don’t ask.) So, I thought, why not use my capacity for moaning and extreme anality and document all of the edits? Here you go, then:
The conclusion to the last article is especially worth reading for how I think Dave could have dealt with things better. The easiest solution all round, however, would be: don’t schedule post-watershed sitcoms pre-watershed. But let’s face it – if Dave can’t treat what is now its biggest property with respect, they’re not likely to do it with anything else.
Whenever you watch a sitcom on Dave or Gold, more likely than not you’re watching some version that’s been hacked about with. That’s no way to treat our comedy heritage.
In a world of DVDs and downloads, one advantage television still has is when it comes to rights issues. Negotiating rights to music for commercial release can be especially tricky – series like Life on Mars and Skins are especially hurt by it. Even a show like I’m Alan Partridge isn’t quite the same on the DVD release as it was on broadcast. So, when Dave decided to do an I’m Alan Partridge Series 2 marathon last Sunday night, it was an ideal way of seeing the programmes as they were originally transmitted, yes?
Anyone reading this blog who has spent more than five minutes watching any of Gold or Dave will know the answer to that question. In fact, the episodes were edited for content for transmission pre-watershed – and then also shown in this state post-watershed. (The first two episodes were shown before the watershed, as the marathon started at 8pm – but they were repeated later in the evening with exactly the same cuts.) Here then, is a list of all the edits made to these episodes – indicated [like this] – and tune in for the commentary at the end.