Friday, November 13, 2009

Before Monty Python...

Earlier this week, I received a $50.00 Amazon gift certificate in the mail courtesy of my credit card company. I knew right away that $41.99 of it would be going to an advance order of the next MST3k box set (complete with mini Tom Servo!), but I would have to find something else to use the remainder on.

These days, with my DVD shelf space shrinking, I generally don't buy DVD's blind. On this occasion, however, I decided to with the purchase of The Best of... What's Left of... Not Only... But Also.... Never heard of it? Well, have a read at the history of this DVD (courtesy of DVD Talk):

As with most British TV series from that time, all the studio segments of Not Only... But Also were shot on video, with any location work shot on 16mm film (because video cameras were far too cumbersome and inconvenient for such work). Then, the entire show was transferred to two inch quad videotape for transmission over the airwaves. These master tapes were then stored by the BBC for future reruns, if deemed necessary...until such time as the expensive two inch tape was needed for new programming - whereby the old program was wiped from the tape, and a new program taped over it. End of story. Gone forever. Now this thoughtless (some say criminal) practice wasn't relegated to just England - it happened everywhere, including here in the States, as well (infamously, almost all of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show episodes prior to 1970, were wiped). It's hard to imagine, with the cost of videotape and blank discs so incredibly cheap today, that those bulky two inch tape cartridges would be so expensive, but they were, and the networks used them over and over again, hundreds of time. As well, nobody in TV had quite figured out yet (with the possible exception of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnez, and Jackie Gleason) just how lucrative those old TV shows would prove to be one day. TV back then was largely thought of as a disposable art form: a show aired once, and except for a few reruns, it was gone for good. And why bother with something old? New programs were being produced all the time to satisfy viewers.

And such was the fate of Not Only... But Also, with the final twist in the story perhaps more cruel than other similar incidents: Peter Cook was told of the BBC's intentions to wipe the tapes, and he offered not only to buy them back, but also replace the prohibitively expensive two inch cartridges...with the BBC politely replying, "No, thanks." Why they refused is anybody's guess, but all that remained of Not Only... But Also were scraps here and there of kinescope versions of the series that had been sent all over the world for foreign TV markets. Thus, complete episodes have been reconstructed from these various sources, but more than less has been lost forever (until more stuff turns up in dusty closets and attics). In 1990, the BBC cobbled together various segments of these remaining pieces, and edited them (in no chronological order, nor with regards to keeping the segments together as they were originally produced and broadcast) into these six episodes that appear on the The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also... disc.
Now I did fib a bit before. Though the DVD is sight unseen, I have listened to a number of these skits on an audio tape that a friend gave me years ago. I also have read a number of the skit transcripts from the Peter Cook book Tragically I Was an Only Twin. The material is priceless, and well worth the risk of $17.99. It's a small price to pay for a piece of history.

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