So many of us have vivid TV memories than seemingly nobody else remembers.
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Nottingham, in either the late 80s, or more probably the early 90s. The teatime edition of Central News East is on. I’m watching it, because not only am I fascinated by television, but I’m very specifically fascinated by television which is being transmitted live just up the road from where I live.
Anna Soubry is presenting, in the days when she was a journalist, long before she was an MP. I remember very little about the programme. I can’t even remember who she was presenting with. I just remember the very end of the programme. Anna and her co-presenter are sharing their usual banter. Her co-presenter said something. I can’t remember what. But as the lights dimmed and the closing credits appeared, I vividly remember Anna’s reply:
I actually remember that the sound was slightly dipped at the end of the word as we went to the wide… but it was very clear what she said. I also remember the general air of embarrassment in the studio on that final shot. It was bloody great.
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I can’t imagine this particular gem ever being unearthed. Anna must have presented hundreds of editions of Central News East; I can’t even give you a year, or the name of her co-presenter, or any of the stories featured in that edition. My memory tells me I actually recorded it on VHS; my memory also tells me I recorded over it shortly afterwards, like a damn fool.
Nowadays, that clip would probably end up all over YouTube. Back then, unless it made it onto It’ll Be Alright on the Night – and I’m sure this didn’t, or else we’d all know the clip – it would often just disappear into the ether. I don’t think it even made it onto one of Central’s blooper-filled Christmas tapes. Unless someone who worked on the show remembers it and made a note of when it was, I can’t imagine it’ll ever be seen.
Which is a little unsatisfying. So instead, I can offer you the following Anna Soubry clip from Central’s 1985 Christmas tape1. At 11:42, dealing with people who look old enough to know better:
BBC 1, 30th November 1996, 7:50pm, The National Lottery Live. And a 15-year-old John Hoare, already over-excited from Noel’s House Party, watches in wonder as his other very favourite thing in the whole world happens: the telly goes wrong.
Yes, it’s the infamous 107th draw, where the lottery machine failed to act as a lottery machine and draw some damn balls. Like many TV moments I didn’t record on VHS, the memory faded over the years… until some kind soul uploaded it to YouTube back in 2010. Brilliantly, the video includes both the initial failure of the machine, and the hastily-improvised update show which aired after Casualty, where the balls were drawn successfully.
“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.
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.
The bulletin begins with the announcement during the title sequence that the lead story won’t make it. Not an unusual event maybe, but it’s thrilling to hear it actually happening. Unfortunately, things get worse from there. The whole thing is better experienced as a whole rather than just having me picking out bits and pieces, but trust me: it’s well worth your time. (If you’re in Dirty Feed’s core demographic, at least.) It all builds up to a genuinely thrilling climax… and one that the production team, to their credit, pull off superbly. That cut, 6:18 into the third part, is beautifully done – under immense pressure.
Incidentally, despite working in a TX suite which deals daily with live news, I don’t listen to enough open talkback to judge whose fault it is that the bulletin nearly falls apart. If anyone with a bit more experience in a live news gallery feels like playing the blame game, please do so in the comments. As a TX op, the bit that does give me the shivers is when the team realise they don’t have a duration for their late-delivery tape, meaning they can’t give TX a proper off-air time. “We’ll crash out of it, I’ll talk to pres…”
Finally, a slightly more serious thought, with the inevitable crunching gear change. What I found interesting about the lead story here is how much it has faded from the collective memory, mainly to be remembered only by the people involved. This isn’t some big story that impacts on a large number of people – it’s a very personal slice of pain. Listening to the story now, when the main public interest in the case has long gone, feels at best rather uncomfortable.
It’s an odd feeling to have about a news story which went out to millions of viewers on BBC1.