The first episode of Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcom pilots of all time.1 And for at least the next four series, Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. This is for so many reasons, all of which is worth an article in itself, but put simply: my favourite thing about the show is that it’s the perfect mix of everything. Every single kind of comedy I love is embedded into its soul. A show that doesn’t sneer at broad comedy, yet includes moments of amazing subtlety. It knows the magic is in the blend of the two.
Recently, BBC Two have started another repeat run of the show in their Afternoon Classics slot. I’ve long meant to do a full comparison of these broadcast versions of the show compared to my DVD copy – which fully admits on the back that “for contractual reasons certain edits have been made”. I was mainly expecting just the odd music change – but actually, the changes have ended up being rather more interesting than I ever imagined, and for the the pilot at least, actually ask rather more questions of the broadcast repeat than of the DVD.
Let’s take a look, shall we? Just to clarify, the two versions we are comparing are:
Neither of these versions, you will note, is what was actually transmitted originally on the 1st January 1980. So, which version is closest to that original edit? We can perhaps make an educated guess about that later.
All times given are for the DVD version of the episode, so even if you didn’t record the repeat broadcast version, you can skip to see exactly where the changes are. Cut dialogue in the repeat broadcast version is like this.
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“Now on BBC One, expect the unexpected – for the first time, Mrs Brown’s Boys goes completely live. Be prepared for strong language and adult humour. Agnes and her family are waiting in the wings – so it’s time to hand over to the director in BBC Scotland…”
— BBC One network continuity announcement into Mrs Brown’s Boys Live, 23rd July 2016
“Alan Carr hosts the comedy Live at the Apollo, now at 11:15. Before that on BBC One, strong language and adult humour, as we catch Agnes live – and on the hop…”
— BBC One network continuity announcement into Mrs Brown’s Boys “Live”, 30th July 2016
Last year, one of my most popular pieces here on Dirty Feed was this analysis of the 2005 live version of Quatermass – specifically, the differences between the original live show, and the edited version now widely available on DVD. Near the end of the piece, I wrote the following:
“Maybe we should be careful not to overstate the originality of the 2005 Quatermass. Sure, the BBC billed it as its first live drama for over 20 years. But looking to other broadcasters, Coronation Street did its first live programme in 2000, five years previously – and looking across to America, ER‘s live episode was in 1997. But still, as the beginning of the BBC’s renewed interest in live drama and comedy – through to EastEnders, Two Pints, Bollywood Carmen Live, and next year’s Mrs. Brown’s Boys live episode – it’s extremely important.”
One the 23rd July, that live Mrs Brown’s Boys episode was transmitted – and a week later on the 30th, we had a repeat. If ever there was a piece which I just had to write, this was it. Did much change between the two broadcasts? And if it did, will the show incur the hell and fury which Quatermass unleashed from these very fingertips?
Let’s take a look. All times given are from the repeat version of the episode, so you can watch along and see where the changes were, even if you haven’t got a copy of the original episode itself. Incidentally, the version now available on iPlayer is the edited repeat version.
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When it comes to rumours and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you all know the drill. Eddie Valiant and Jessica chase Judge Doom out of Toontown, they crash spectacularly, sail through the air, Jessica’s dress hitches up, and you may or may not be able to see her hairy minge. The whole thing has been investigated in great detail, although frankly not quite enough detail for my taste.
Still, that’s not what this piece is about. No, my query is about another rumour associated with the film – and specifically, about this scene in Toontown with Eddie:
We’ll let the previously linked to Snopes article give us the basics (emphasis mine):
“In another scene, Bob Hoskins steps into a Toon Town men’s room. Graffiti on the wall reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland”, with the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Be” appearing underneath it. Allegedly, Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s phone number replaces the latter phrase for one frame. Although the “Allyson Wonderland” graffiti is clearly visible on laserdisc, Eisner’s phone number is not. If the phone number was in the film originally (as rumor has it was), it was removed before the home versions of the movie were made available.”
The removal of this phone number seems to apply to every single home version of the film I – or seemingly anyone – has ever come across. LaserDisc, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, the lot. If Eisner’s phone number was ever there in the film’s theatrical release, it’s gone from the retail versions. If is was ever there, of course. Because without evidence, this really starts to take on the feeling of an urban legend. Notably, Snopes has no actual evidence to offer, and the article goes out its way to label the phone number story as a rumour.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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“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.
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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?
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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.
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“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.
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