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Ken Loach: The Lost TV Dramas

TV's great extinction means some of the director's early works are missing

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It wasn't until the mid-to-late-1970s that British broadcasters started to actively archive old programmes. Before that, more were disposed of than kept, resulting in vast gaps in our television heritage. There are many reasons this, chief among them the lack of opportunities for reusing old programmes at the time and the expenses involved in keeping them. It is therefore unsurprising that not all of Ken Loach's television productions still exist.

What is surprising, though, is that only three dramas from Loach's prolific 1960s output are lost. The remarkably high survival rate of his programmes is illustrated by the fact that nine of his ten productions for The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) exist, whereas in all only 70 of the anthology's 168 plays have survived intact. Loach's move to recording on film, rather than the more conventional videotape, might partially explain this good fortune: videotape was expensive and was regularly reused, while film could be used only once, and was therefore more likely - though not guaranteed - to be retained.

Sadly, among the missing is Loach's very first production. 'Catherine' (tx. 4/1/1964), for the experimental anthology Teletale (1964), was an example of the unconventional work which producer James MacTaggart and select BBC colleagues were pursuing at this time. Loach's production used rapid shot changes, montage and narration, and had no sets, signalling scene changes with lighting. "It was truthfully told, well acted... and, of course, it had no end as none of our contemporary predicaments do," wrote The Guardian.

Diary of a Young Man (1964) was a further, more extended exercise in non-naturalistic drama, from the same crowd as Teletale. Loach directed three of the serial's six episodes, with part three (tx. 22/8/1964) now apparently lost (though even here his legacy is better than it might be; only one of the other three episodes, directed by Peter Duguid, is known to survive). As a whole the serial was unpopular, but many of its techniques, such as narration and montage, would be utilised in the following year's influential series of The Wednesday Play, on which Loach worked heavily.

Loach's one missing Wednesday Play was 'Wear a Very Big Hat' (tx. 17/2/1965), written by Eric Coltart. In its tale of a young man brooding over a social slight, it included depictions of the protagonist's daydreams, with Neville Smith playing several imagined variations of his character. The Stage and Television Today found it "an excellent play", praising the characters and Loach's direction.

These three lost dramas suggest little of what was to come to for Loach. Contemporary accounts suggest imaginative and unusual storytelling - whereas Loach would quickly come to embrace a realistic, almost documentary approach - and for this novelty their loss is all the more regrettable.

Oliver Wake

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Loach, Ken (1936-)

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