The History of Forgotten Television Drama

The History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK is an AHRC-funded research project that runs from September 2013 until June 2017. The research team consists of Professor John Hill, Dr Lez Cooke and Dr Billy Smart based in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Forgotten TV Drama – BFI Screenings – Feb 2015

The project investigates the history of forgotten television drama in the UK by looking at productions that are largely unknown, either because they were produced live and not recorded, or because they were recorded but subsequently wiped, junked, mislaid, or lost. It also examines dramas that exist, either in part (e.g. as individual episodes within a series or serial) or complete, but which have rarely been seen, if at all, since their original transmission. The project explores the production of television drama in the regions and nations of the UK (the English regions plus Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), from both regional BBC production centres and regional ITV companies, and considers dramas that may have just been transmitted in their region of production, as well as dramas that were networked. These ‘forgotten’ dramas, where they exist, may well not have been seen since they were first broadcast.

Loyalties (1976)

The period covered by the project is from 1946, when BBC television resumed after the Second World War, to 1982, when the BBC/ITV duopoly was ended by the arrival of Channel 4 and a new era of television broadcasting began. In 1946 all drama was broadcast live and no recordings were made – in fact it was another seven years before the primitive system of recording live television resulted in the earliest surviving television dramas. By 1982 nearly all drama was pre-recorded and the practice of wiping and junking recordings, which occurred on a regular basis during the 1960s-70s, had ceased.


John Cook presents at the History of Forgotten Television Drama Research Symposium, University of Ulster, February 2014.

John Cook presents at the History of Forgotten Television Drama Research Symposium, University of Ulster, February 2014.

Forgotten TV Drama has produced a wide range of publications, public lectures and conference presentations. The team also coordinated a symposium at the University of Ulster, Belfast and a three-day international conference at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The team have also curated two series of Forgotten TV Drama screenings at the BFI Southbank. The second of these will run in February 2017 and will include a conference co-hosted by the Centre, the BFI and Learning on Screen. This event this event will bring together archivists, broadcasters, academics and enthusiasts to discuss the challenges involved in providing access to our TV history and enhancing its educational, cultural and public value.

In May 2017 the project team was pleased to announce the launch of a new series of Forgotten Drama DVDs in collaboration with the distribution company Network. The range aims to encompass a broad spectrum of plays, both series and serials, comic and tragic, realistic and fantastic, film and videotape, lavish and intimate.

For more information on the project see project blog.