Chapter 13 – The Golden Treasury of Video
For many years I wished that there was some way that I could collect together all my favourite scenes from films and television and keep them. Then, in 1983, I read in a book called The Complete Handbook of Video that it was possible to do this by copying scenes from one video cassette recorder to another. As soon as I knew that I had found a publisher for my Purbeck guide and that I wouldn’t have to pay for the printing I went out and purchased the necessary equipment. I decided to call my collection The Golden Treasury of Video, and I looked on this as my greatest achievement up to that time, because I had been helped by all the greatest actors, composers, singers, dancers, writers and cameramen. Only one factor determined the choice of scenes, and that was the amount of pleasure they gave me. Some people enjoy collecting things like stamps and match-box labels, but comparing stamp-collecting to collecting scenes from television is like comparing the exploration of one’s own garden with the exploration of a country or continent.
By 2001 I had accumulated 82 hours of selections from 2000 programmes. Then I copied the whole collection, removing the less enjoyable scenes and eliminating discordant joins. This reduced the total length to 28 hours and the number of programmes to 800. I then compiled a detailed index with over 1500 entries and categories nested within other categories. There are 49 British houses and castles of architectural interest, 237 songs, 75 singers, 44 actors, and scenes from 185 films. I finished printing the index on the day I found out that Frances Lincoln might want me to revise the Wainwright books.
In 2015 I found that while I was watching my selections I would fast-forward much of it, not because it wasn’t good enough, but because I had seen it enough times. So I copied the collection onto video discs and further reduced the length from 28 hours to less than ten. I started with Fred Astaire singing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ from the film Swing Time, followed by about thirty other very special scenes. After that the sequence was left unchanged because I didn’t want to lose the carefully planned joins. Altogether there are about 400 scenes, with an average length of just over a minute.
When joining scenes together using video tape the second scene starts as soon as the first scene ends. When using video discs there is a slight pause either side of the join, which makes it easier to avoid bad joins. In the latest, ten-hour version of my selections both types of join are found.
A problem I often had was that I liked the scenery but didn’t like the commentary that went with it. Usually this meant omitting the scene, but there was an aerial view of Berkeley Castle that was so good I made it worth keeping by replacing the soundtrack with music. It seems to me that the picture is the most important element of a programme, and that programmes showing particularly beautiful or interesting places should be available with alternative sound tracks. There could be versions with different types of music, versions with music and no commentary, and versions with just enough commentary to identify the places portrayed. I think that the best arrangement is that adopted in The Queen’s Realm and Bird’s Eye View of Britain where wonderful scenery is accompanied by poetry, much of it read by John Betjeman.
The best foreign travel series I have selections from is Flight over Spain. It was broadcast in 1989 or 1990 and has never been shown since. Why not? There must be people who have never seen it and people who remember it and would like to see it again. Does it exist in the archives of the B.B.C. or its Spanish equivalent? Are there similar series for other countries such as Italy and Greece that have never been broadcast in Britain? There should be a society of people who can speak foreign languages and can contact people in foreign countries to find out about such series and arrange for them to be broadcast in Britain.
The best items in my collection are songs from musical films, the earliest being Sunny Side Up, which was made in 1929, and the latest being Flight of the Doves from 1971, but these are in no danger of being lost, as the films are regularly shown on television and some of my chosen scenes can be watched on the internet. More important are scenes from programmes that were made for television between 1984 and 2003, such as songs from the series Highway, which was presented by Harry Secombe. Very few of these programmes have been repeated on television since. It is possible that, in some cases, mine are the only copies in existence, and that I am in possession of a unique historical record.
I also have a collection of songs from radio programmes, which I call the Golden Treasury of Songs, and a collection of other sequences from radio programmes, which I call the Golden Treasury of Radio. Among my favourite items are those narrated by Johnny Morris and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. The longest items are from Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sax, the biography of the geologist William Smith and the autobiography of the song-writer Alan J. Lerner.