Making TV is expensive and time consuming, and when you’re a TV company making shows that have been on air for decades, there just isn’t space to store all those bulky film reels and VHS tapes sometimes. Over the years, hours of classic television have been lost forever as tapes are wiped, burned or simply forgotten. But sometimes, they re-surface again!
After 54 years, there are currently 97 Doctor Who episodes missing in part or entirely due to their being wiped for space reasons, the film they were recorded on being re-used, or simply having lost the original reels. Luckily, in 1984, an Englishman of Cypriot heritage tracked down three of the six missing episodes of The Reign of Terror (1964) after they had been sent to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation and never screened – the only ones known to exist.
Meeting a similar fate as the missing Doctor Who episodes, classic British crime thriller The Avengers lost most of its first series to the rubbish bin – until 1961’s Tunnel of Fear was rediscovered, having been donated to film preservation society Kaleidoscope as part of a private collection. One of only three first series episodes known to survive, it features the original cast before the series found fame with leading lights Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg.
Some classics only come back the long way round. The wiped 1969 episode ‘A Stripe for Fraser’ of the classic sitcom Dad’s Army was long thought lost, before it emerged that BBC West Midlands DJ Ed Doolan had recorded hours of 1960s and 1970s television onto his own tapes, including this episode. While the quality wasn’t high enough to broadcast directly, the audio remained, and enough of the visual action could be seen to re-create the episode in animated form. The BBC released it again, for only the second time in nearly 50 years, in February 2016.