Lost BBC comedy tape found in Swanage Museum archive

A recording of a long-lost BBC comedy show has been discovered among archive tapes belonging to Swanage Museum.

The reel-to-reel sound recording of a BBC TV programme from the 1960s was among hundreds of cassettes and reel to reel recordings being digitised for the museum archives. Called The Walrus and the Carpenter, it was written by well-known comedy writers Marty Feldman and Barry Took.

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BBC show tape box label
Andrew Birt

The description on the box gave a clue to the identity of the recording

Lost comedy

The Walrus and the Carpenter only ran for one series on BBC One between 1963 and 1965. It features a retired public schoolmaster, called Gascoigne Quilt, and an ex-merchant seaman called Luther Flannery. They meet regularly in a graveyard when the weather permits and the church when it doesn’t.

The two old men have little in common but complement each other. Luther’s sense of adventure leads the normally staid Gascoigne into unusual situations. For his part, Gascoigne educates the almost illiterate Luther.

Andrew Birt tape machine
Andrew Birt

The tape was one of hundreds being digitised for Swanage Museum

Original show had been wiped

Swanage resident and retired broadcast engineer Andrew Birt, who’s been working on the archiving project for the last 18 months, made the discovery.

He could only find a brief reference to the show on a comedy website and when he checked with the BBC archives, they confirmed it had been wiped. So this is the only known audio recording of the show.

The Walrus and the Carpenter – titled after the Lewis Carroll poem – was broadcast in 1965. It starred two established actors of the period Felix Aylmer and Hugh Griffiths.

In this episode, the last in the series, the pair visit a wax museum, before going to a café. Here they encounter a down-and-out played by Warren Mitchell who went on to star as Alf Garnett in the iconic 1960s TV comedy Till Death Us Do Part.

Andrew Birt operating
Andrew Birt

Andrew Birt knew he was onto something rare

“Only surviving remnant”

Andrew said:

“This is the only surviving remnant of the series and while it’s only the sound, it does mean that comedy historians will be able to transcribe the script.

“It’s a real boon to have a recording of this old series that has long since disappeared, wiped like so many things from the sixties.”

Andrew Birt to camera
Andrew Birt

Retired broadcast engineer Andrew Birt has his own show on the radio station Purbeck Coast FM

Jurassic Classics

Andrew, who retired to Swanage two years ago, has a classical music show on Purbeck Coast 101.2 FM at 9 am on Sundays called Jurassic Classics.

Not fitting into the genre of classical music, Purbeck Coast FM broadcast an excerpt from the lost programme on Thelma Deacon’s show on the radio station – its first airing in nearly 60 years.

Thelma Deacon recording from home
Purbeck Coast FM

Presenter Thelma Deacon broadcast the rare recording on her show on Purbeck Coast FM

Listen to an excerpt of the rare BBC recording

Further information

Swanage Museum has a vast historical archive and is located in The Square in Swanage. The museum is open to visitors from Monday 11th April 2022 through to October 2022. More about its work is on its website

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