Not many people have seen Do Not Adjust Your Set — hell, not many people have even heard of it. It tends to get sidelined as “that thing before Monty Python”, because you’d better believe it featured three whole Pythons — Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones — before they teamed up with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Terry Gilliam. DNAYS also has a very special place in my heart because every episode featured a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who sound like cats fighting in a wet alley and who might be the greatest thing to happen to music since Hitler decided to give up on his singing career. DNAYS is a rare delight — a clever, weird, clearly half-arsed, vaudevillian romp. It ran for two series between 1967 and 1969, and despite nine episodes being released on DVD in 2005, the majority of the show is missing.
It was unfortunately not uncommon for television studios to ditch the masters of old broadcasts from the 60s, especially when those masters were on expensive-to-store videotape which could be taped over and reused for other programs. It was the 70s and no-one saw home video coming until they’d already flushed their past down the toilet. The most high-profile missing broadcasts are the lost episodes of Doctor Who because of the show’s enduring popularity, but a lot of other well-loved shows also have holes in their archives. DNAYS totaled 29 episodes, nine of which from the first series were released on DVD, and two more of which are floating around the Internet as low-quality bootlegs1.
My heart skipped a beat when I read that my friend VinceNzo (@RhinoRepellant), an archival researcher and general Bonzos whiz, had uncovered a lost episode of DNAYS. Vince and I first got acquainted when I posted a Bonzos bootleg on this blog, and we’ve been trading notes since then. I wrote to Vince and asked him about his find. It turns out that he did some digging and was able to uncover the missing episode from the Prix Jeunesse Foundation. Prix Jeunesse is an international foundation which promotes quality children’s television, and evidently they know their onions because in 1968 they picked season one episode four of DNAYS2 for the “Prix de Jeunesse International TV Festival” award in the “Youth Programmes: 12-15 years old” category.
Last year Prix Jeunesse celebrated their 50-year anniversary, and as part of their celebrations they did a “best of the best” retrospective. Vince suspected this meant they had their own archive of past winners and wrote to the head of the foundation, who replied that she was watching DNAYS at that very moment. Scandalous! She very generously hooked Vince up with a copy of the episode, which he was then able to hand over to Kaleidoscope (an organization specializing in vintage TV) and the BFI.
After tracking Vince to his evil lair built into the side of an active volcano, he was generous enough to offer to answer some questions about his find.
I suspected series two was languishing in a television archive somewhere, but I didn’t think more episodes of series one would turn up.
What rather shocked me is that series two is as much a black hole to the BFI and Kaleidoscope as it is for me. Besides the dates of broadcast, tapes of the Christmas special, and one regular episode, there is NOTHING. What the hell happened to all those shows is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, packed in a mystery.
Do you suspect there are any more missing DNAYS waiting to be found?
Not immediately. It’s a bit of a pity that only one episode of the show won the award. It was this information that lead me directly to the foundation and the discovery of the copy that was sent off in 1968 by Rediffusion or ITV to enter the competition. What is made obvious is that with a little creative thinking and some detective work it is possible for everyone to trace lost shows.
I understand the Prix Jeunesse Foundation sent you a digital copy of the missing episode. Is that the highest quality copy, or do they have a master on tape somewhere?
No they have sent me a regular digital SD-quality copy. I don’t know what kind of tape is in their vaults but it will be a copy of the pre-broadcast tape in a format that was regular in 1968. If the digital copy that I’ve received was made from the original tape it might need some restoration. During the segment for Captain Fantastic there is some damage to the picture but this is very little.
Will the BFI be in contact with the Prix Jeunesse Foundation about this or other missing episodes?
I don’t work for Kaleidoscope or the BFI so I don’t know but I would certainly recommend they do. There is good chance there might be more “lost” shows in their archives. The Prix Jeunesse Foundation recognizes the importance of television programmes being preserved for future generations and I am convinced they will render any assistance possible when this is needed by Kaleidoscope or the BFI.
The BBC had some success releasing the recently discovered Doctor Who episodes3 online. Is there any word on if or how the recovered DNAYS episode will be released?
Not yet, but I think it’s important that people see it. It’s not only a part of English heritage, it also won a major international prize. I have watched the episode myself several times and besides that it’s obviously filmed in monochrome, in the programme itself there’s nothing outdated. It’s still a very funny show and not just for kids.
I understand you’re still hunting for missing broadcasts — what do you think you’ll look for next?
My quest is mainly the television performances by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Currently I have my eye on one show which I cannot imagine didn’t survive. To prevent other people getting in the way, at this moment I can’t tell too much about it.
If someone reading this has any information about missing TV shows, who should they contact?
After they have made sure the show is indeed in the database of missing shows, found on www.lostshows.com or the website of the British Film Institute, the best way is to post a message on the Missing Episodes forum.
I haven’t seen the recovered episode myself, but Vince has posted some edited highlights on YouTube. They are tantalizing to say the least. The Bonzos are always at their best when you can see them pulling faces, cavorting around, and generally doing everything except playing their instruments. I’m also a huge fan of Denise Coffey as Mrs. Black in the “Captain Fantastic” segments, a silent-film-style adventure serial where Coffey flings herself around London with gay abandon, cackling madly.
According to Vince’s notes and some surviving scripts, the recovered episode features the following segments:
- Moustache Opener
- Hello! Sorry!
- Bonzos interlude
- Chicken Bones
- Rabbits Part 1
- Captain Fantastic
- Rabbits Part 2
- James Watt
- “Ali Baba’s Camel” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
- Dancing Class (feat. Neil Innes)
- Horse Doctor
- Bonzos interlude
- Burble Drama
Because there’s already a DVD set of DNAYS, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll do another one to accommodate the extra episode. Our best hope for seeing it is probably if they do an online release, which would cost them very little but still give us a legal, paid way to watch it. We live in hope (and that strange sticky mist that follows you around). BFI, be amazing! Please release this if you can — we would love to see it.
Thanks to Vince for his diligence in tracking down this missing episode, and for being nice enough to put up with me while I asked him stupid questions.
The 1968 Christmas special and series two episode two. ↩
First broadcast on January 25, 1968. ↩