Lost hours of early TV return to the screen

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WOODY ALLEN boxing with a kangaroo and Victoria Wood's winning debut on the talent show New Faces are among the highlights of nearly four hours of 'missing', historic Sixties and Seventies television footage recovered by the British Film Institute for screening today.

Allen's encounter with the towering marsupial comes from a 1960s circus variety show, Hippodrome. At the time, he was on location in Britain for the spoof James Bond film Casino Royale, and was invited on to the show as guest compere.

After a nervy performance on the microphone, he stripped down to his vest and shorts, put on a pair of boxing gloves and jumped into the ring. Dick Fiddy, a researcher at the BFI, says Allen was only marginally less convincing in the ring, although in fairness, the contest was stacked heavily against the comedian. When the kangaroo's trainer tried to step in to help, the animal turned on him.

'This animal had more in common with the monster in Ridley Scott's Alien. It was a really vicious beast. As Allen goes into his next link, you can still see the other two scrapping in the background.'

Today's screening at the National Film Theatre in London showcases the choicest cuts from the first year of 'Missing - Believed Wiped', a BFI initiative launched last October to reclaim some of the lost hours of Britain's television heritage.

The BBC and ITV companies had no policy of preserving programmes until the mid-1970s. Many went out live and those that were taped were often wiped for re-use.

According to Mr Fiddy, sit- coms, variety shows and one-off dramas were worst hit. 'Television always used to be seen as quite ephemeral and no one knew what was worth keeping.'

Other highlights include complete episodes of At Last the 1948 Show, conceived by David Frost and featuring John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman. Together with The Complete and Utter History of Great Britain, starring Terry Jones and Michael Palin, it represented one of the currents of humour that led directly to Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Also on show will be The Old Campaigner, a one-off drama in the Comedy Playhouse series, in which Terry Thomas turns out a sublime performance (to type admittedly) as a cad, bent on leading a young employee (Derek Fowlds, later of Yes Minister) astray. Adam Faith stars in Seven Deadly Sins, an incomplete 1960s murder mystery, while Victoria Wood is unmistakeable behind her piano and a model of the Magic Roundabout on New Faces.

Some of the recovered material had simply been misfiled by companies. Complete and Utter History had reportedly been logged at LWT under history rather than light entertainment. Five episodes of At Last the 1948 Show were still being held by Swedish television after it bought the series in the late 1960s. Other programmes, including the History of the Bagpipe supplied by Harold Barney, a collector from Reading, were rescued from a rubbish skip.

Missing - Believed Wiped; at the National Film Theatre, London; 1.30pm today.

ITV yesterday took the unprecedented step of announcing highlights for the whole of next year in a pounds 500m-plus package which includes 20 new dramas and a number of film blockbusters, among them Sister Act, The Bodyguard and Lethal Weapon 3.

(Photographs omitted)