Forgotten TV Drama

The History of Forgotten Televison Drama in the UK was a research project funded by the AHRC from September 2013 until June 2017 that continues to undertake a range of research activities . The original research team consisted of Professor John Hill, Dr Lez Cooke and Dr Billy Smart based in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The project has entailed a study of UK television dramas that have either been lost, ‘forgotten’ or critically neglected. This has involved investigating the kinds of television drama most likely to have become ‘forgotten’ and assesing the many factors – such as physical availability, context of production and critical reception – that have accounted for the absence of such dramas from the television ‘canon’. As such, the project has placed a particular emphasis upon television drama made in the regions and nations of the UK (the English regions plus Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) in order to assess the extent of the correlation between the ‘forgotten’ and the ‘regional’.

In doing so, the project has also sought to identify the artistic, cultural and socio-political significance of work that has been unjustifiably ‘forgotten’ and to broaden our sense of what constitutes the history of UK television drama. The project’s research findings have generated a range of conference papers and presentations as well as publications in books and journals, including a special issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television on ‘Forgotten Television Drama’.  A forthcoming book, Rediscovering British Television’s Forgotten Dramas will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. There is also a Forgotten Television Drama blog that continues to be maintained and features a wide range of posts and debate on forgotten television work. The team also coordinated a symposium on Forgotten Television Drama at the University of Ulster, Belfast and organised a three-day international conference at Royal Holloway, University of London entitled ‘ Television Drama: the Forgotten, the Lost and the Neglected’. 

In addition to researching forgotten television drama the project has also sought to increase the availability of neglected television dramas and encourage awareness and understanding of them. This has led to collaboration with archives in the restoration of television plays, such as The Patriot Game, The Day of Ragnarok and Worm in the Bud, as well as collaboration with various cultural organisations in the screening of ‘forgotten’ material.   This has involved specially curated seasons of screenings at BFI Southbank as well as various screenings around the UK (including Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester). In association with the DVD distributor Network, the project has also launched a ‘Forgotten TV Drama’ DVD series that has included both single dramas and serials.

The project also sought to encourage further collaboration between academic researchers and archives through the organisation of meetings and events.  These have included ‘The Archives, Access and Research’ conference, co-hosted with the BFI and Learning on Screen, that brought together archivists, broadcasters and academics to consider the challenges involved in providing access to our TV history and enhancing its educational and cultural value. In association with the BFI and the Media Commission of The International Federation of Television Archives (FIAT/IFTA), the project also undertook a short survey of the archival access provided by FIAT/IFTA members to the academic community and the opportunities for further collaboration between academic researchers and archives. 

The project PI, Professor John Hill, has also been invited to join the Royal Television Society Archive Advisory Group and the Northern Ireland Film Heritage and Archive Working Group where he has promoted archival access and research collaboration. His work has also led to collaborative PhDs with the BFI on ‘Play for Today’ and with Northern Ireland Screen and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland on ‘Ulster Television in the 1960s’.  

The Forgotten TV Drama team have been assisted by an Advisory Board consisting of television professionals and scholars.

Advisory Board members (and roles when joining the Board)

Tony Ageh Head of Archive Development, BBC

Tim Beddows Managing Director, Network Distributing

Jonathan Bignell Professor of Television and Film, University of Reading

Steve Bryant Senior Curator for Television, BFI National Archive

Ciara Chambers Lecturer in Film and Media, University of Ulster

John Cook Professor of Media, Glasgow Caledonian University

John Ellis Professor of Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London

Dick Fiddy BFI Archive TV Programmer/Missing Believed Wiped Coordinator

Andrew Gavaghan ITV Archive Operations Manager

Marion Hewitt Service Manager, North West Film Archive

Linda Kaye Research Executive, BUFVC

Sue Malden BECTU History Project, formerly BBC TV Archive Selector

Jamie Medhurst Senior Lecturer in Media History, Aberystwyth University

Chris Perry Chief Executive, Kaleidoscope