Archive TV

21st September 2001 at 01:00

There is a certain kind of film buff who tends to consider television much as a real-ale enthusiast might regard a can of lager. So the small screen has sometimes seemed a marginal area in the work of the British Film Institute and the National Film Archive.

Yet television is the fastest growing section of the archive collection, and screenings of vintage television at the National Film Theatre attract large and enthusiastic audiences - as Erich Sargeant, the BFI's head of video publishing, has been quick to notice. The result is Archive TV, a new strand in the BFI's video collection, alongside its releases of classic and contemporary movies.

The first titles, released last month, are Ken Russell's Delius: song of summer and Peter Sasdy's The Stone Tape . They are followed this month by Jonathan Miller's Whistle and I'll Come to You . Sargeant is especially keen on the Peter Sasdy film, a modern ghost story scripted by Nigel Kneale (who wrote the Quatermass series) and, as it happens, the only one of the three early titles made in colour. Sargeant believes that "television is a writer's medium" and that Kneale's work for it has been unjustly neglected. He hopes eventually to include other films by Kneale, particularly The Year of the Sex Olympics .

Ken Russell's Delius , made in 1968, is a superb achievement; it almost makes one like Delius's flimsy music. Written by Russell in collaboration with Eric Fenby, it tells the true story of how Fenby, as a naive young Yorkshireman, went to France to help Delius in the last years of his life, when the composer was blind, paralysed by tertiary syphilis and unable to write down the music in his head.

With marvellous performances from Max Adrian as Delius, Christopher Gable as Fenby, Maureen Pryor as Delius's wife and David Collings as their ebullient friend Percy Grainger, Russell's film is all the more moving for having been made within the constraints of late Sixties television. These meant not only avoiding the excesses of Russell's later work for the cinema, but also a restricted budget, which often proved, in the television of the period, to be the mother of invention.

Titles in the BFI Archive TV collection cost pound;9.99. Also on DVD at pound;19.99. Order on 020 7957 8960. For more details see or email


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