Printable version Friday 20 July 2012 Last updated at 12:51

The BFI first began preserving television programmes in the National Film Archive in 1951 but it wasn’t until a decade later that television was made part of the institute’s official remit. In the 1960s the Television Selection Committee chose programmes for preservation that they considered important or significant, however in this period the Archive relied on donations of programmes and consequently the rate of acquisition was quite low. The creation of the Independent Television Companies Association grant in 1969 enabled the Archive to purchase programmes for the first time. Changes in video technology meant that television companies began to donate large collections to the Archive as they moved to new formats and in 1985 an off-air recording operation began to capture ITV and Channel 4 broadcasts. The 1990 Broadcasting Act secured the BFI’s place as the National Television Archive with funding from broadcasters and this operation continues today as we record a selection of programmes from ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and associated freeview channels. In partnership with the BBC, the BFI has also been recording BBC television output for access since 1990. Additionally, the Archive is the repository for UK Parliamentary recordings. After sixty years of television archiving it is now estimated that the BFI National Archive holds around 750,000 programmes.

BFI National Archive

Most of our television collection resides at the BFI National Archive in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, though some material is kept at the BFI Master Film Store in Warwickshire. This new facility was funded by the Screen Heritage UK project and was opened in 2011. Screen Heritage UK also enabled the BFI to make a catalogue of titles in the Archive available online for the first time. At Search Your Film Archives the public can search for films and television programmes held by the BFI National Archive as well as material in English regional film archives.

BFI Master Film Store Edmund Sumner (c) BFI

The collection contains a huge variety of titles, from test films and early TV drama to children’s programming and daily news bulletins. As the BBC maintains its own archive, the core collections of the BFI National Archive relate to independent television. This includes the Associated Rediffusion catalogue and large collections from companies such as Granada, LWT and Tyne Tees. Much of this material was received on 2” videotape from the broadcasting companies and was transferred to digibeta for preservation with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. As well as audiovisual material, the Archive also holds large stills and paper collections relating to television including the Southern TV and ITC collections. The BFI’s Special Collections hold papers, scripts and production material from a number of industry figures such as Troy Kennedy Martin, John Nathan Turner, Ken Taylor and many more. The BFI’s paper collections can be accessed through the new Library at BFI Southbank.

BFI National Library, photography Helena Smith

The lack of provision for archiving in the early days of British television has resulted in huge gaps in our broadcasting history and the loss of innumerable programmes and series. Since 1993 the BFI has run ‘Missing Believed Wiped’, which celebrates recently recovered programmes and showcases them at BFI Southbank. Some of these programmes are also included in BFI Mediatheque collections. Five BFI Mediatheques (currently in England and Wales) provide free access to films and television programmes from the Archive and featured television collections include a selection of soap operas, literary adaptations, TV comedy and titles from the Library of Congress rediscoveries of 2010. Schools, colleges and universities may also access a selection of material through Screenonline and BFI InView. Academic researchers can view titles from the Archive by appointment through the Research Viewing Service.


Lisa Kerrigan is a Television Curator at the BFI National Archive.


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