Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Sierra Leone: Pheonix or Final Resting Place?

1999: Sierra Leone became involved in a bloody three-week occupation of the capital, Freetown, in January, the SLBS studios and Gramophone library were destroyed.

Television broadcasting in Sierra Leone began in Freetown 27th of April 1963. SLTV was set up it was between the government who owned 40% with TIE Ltd, NBC, RCA and Thompson international holding owning the other 60%. This turnkey operation was equipped solely with equipment for broadcasting films and no means of producing local programming other than live broadcasts.

During the next five years, SLTV provided a service which was on-air for 4-5 hours a day. This consisted of a massive 75% imported programs. Until in 1967, they merged with SLBS for about six weeks but due to difficulties separated again until finally merging again in 1971. By this time, the television broadcasting equipment was in a state of disrepair after years of neglect. Additionally, attempts to create local programmes had been thwarted by a lack of equipment and properly trained staff. In the same year, some second-hand foreign equipment was purchased including two videotape recorders, finally allowing the production of local programmes. 

During a  Facebook Q&A Philip Morris Director of TIEA stated:

"Hi Michael yes I have found evidence of audition prints.Yes I have visited sierra leonne .and I do posses there programme traffic records .I can tell you all Doctor Who prints were sent back to london in 1974.”

Also in 1974, construction began on what was hoped to be the new broadcasting house for Sierra Leone's television service. Still broadcasting in black and white, transmissions had begun reaching out of the capital and were now reaching most of the country, although, still hampered by a poor quality signal with electrical outages and long breaks in transmission lasting days, weeks or even longer. In one survey in the late seventies, only 0.6% of the population of Freetown responded that they were happy with the quality of the picture on their sets.

Television had gone colour by the early eighties but the new and still unfinished Broadcasting House had been abandoned as funds ran out and  the roof of the building blown off during a severe storm. By 1987, the government sold the colour transmitter. There then followed a period of six years with no television service at all.  Till in the spring of 1993, a private consortium from Hong Kong re-established a black and white television service.

Then there is this comment I find intriguing: 
“Wolfgang Bender’s (1987) meticulous inventory of SLBS’s Gramophone Library further testifies the relatively broad output of popular records, both local and from other African
countries, during the 1950s and early ‘60s. Besides the mass-produced Tin Pan
Alley sounds and the growing number of released maringa, highlife, calypso,
palm wine etc. songs, Freetown’s music and recording scene of the 1950s was
further eked by a number of traditional musicians from upcountry. The B-Side of
Bender’s (1988) collection of 1950s’ recordings from Freetown indicates a wide
range of musicians from the provinces who came to the city’s studios to record
their performances.”


Rather gutted to find out somebody beat me to this a while ago…

Jason Mahoney on www.planetmondas.com (All Rights Reserved © 2015 & ™ by Jason Mahoney) wrote: “Had a reply from that German professor who copied some African music from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service gramophone library that was destroyed in 1999. He confirms that he only dealt with African music and that no film material was kept in the gramophone library.

He also states that there was a separate TV building to the gramophone library. The gramophone library was a kind of shed whereas the TV building was constructed from concrete.

I've got another contact to try who should be able to provide further information.

I also notice my post about Sierra Leone over at MEF has quietly been deleted. No matter, it's recorded here for posterity and is based on a post from GB anyway.

One final bit of information. The German Professor recalls a large fire in the early 1990's at a TV station in Accra, Ghana (GBC) where a lot of tv and film footage was destroyed.”

Jason Mahoney » Mon Sep 30, 2013 9:21 pm
“Sierra Leone.

Some interesting information, not concerning Doctor Who but to do with the archiving of materials. I have referred previously to the archiving of the contents of the Sierra Leone Gramophone Library (destroyed in the civil war in January 1999). Copies were made of some of the contents of the library prior to this and then these were later used to restore some of the destroyed music collection in Sierra Leone.

It seems this was not a one-off project but part of a systematic approach throughout Africa. Music collections from Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda were also archived by the 'African Music Archive' in Mainz. Germany. There were also plans to preserve collections in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (separate state, formerly Zaire), more from Ghana, and Nigeria.

What this shows is that in the 1980s / 1990s there was a concerted effort to archive or back up these music collections. If only the BBC or other party had done the same for Doctor Who''s Missing Episodes.

What's also interesting is that apparently there was a lot of "bootlegging" going on (illegal copying of material).

Here's a couple of pictures from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service in the 1980's. Music and radio related I'm afraid but gives you a taste of the facilities.”

"To reiterate the gramophone library was located in the Original Broadcasting House 1. But music collections were backed up and stored elsewhere before they were destroyed in 1999."

Suspicion over timeline

Elsewhere on the Missing Episodes Forum Dec 16, 2011 Paul Vanezis stated that:

"Guys, seriously, there is nothing there anymore. If we had the slightest inkling there was we would go personally.

There are no missing DW films in Sierra Leone. The station was shelled and burned down. Any film was destroyed entirely. I admire your enthusiasm for the search, particularly after the latest recoveries, but energies need to be expended elsewhere.




Much later on PMF (April 2014) Snacky presented a photo of Philip Morris outside the gates of the new Sierra Leone television station: “Check the metadata on the photo. The date says January 25, 2012, shortly after Paul Vanezis had denied that Phil had ever been there. Time stamps can be forged, of course, but why would it be forged to an earlier date? Rigelsford supposedly said Phil Morris had just come back from Sierra Leone when he gave that picture to Aron recently, but the date was much earlier.”

I think I see one possible reason why TIEA was in SL in Jan 2012:

"For now, the SLBC is running old programs of its two predecessors, and as such, it cannot yet be described as the new voice of a free Sierra Leone. Indeed, Kaikai appealed to Sierra Leoneans to be patient; he said the SLBC needs at least 18 months to become fully functional internally and another six months or so to develop an original slate of programs."


(Page has since been removed, but archived here: https://web.archive.org/web/20120306191705/http://www.audiencescapes.org/resources/field-blog/will-sierra-leones-slbc-fulfill-its-public-mission/will-sierra-leones-slbc-fulf)

It is possible that TIEA could have been helping with the SLBC get on its feet after the restructuring and rebranding away from SLBS. And of course taken the opportunity to delve into the archives.

Still speculation was rife on the MEF:

"Rubbish! The television vaults at Sierra Leone are far from destroyed! I known of two people who are employed as researchers there and I was in touch with them only two years ago. I did ask then about the rumours about the civil war reducing the building to rubble but they denied this saying that only the entrance suffered damage during a mortar attack. The complete destruction reported widely stems from propaganda stories initiated by the opposition forces (they also reported the apparent destruction of other landmarks). I will definitely ask them next time I contact them to enquire exactly what’s in the archives. It’s probably more a case of what has been saved to this day than what’s been blown to smithereens."


As of writing Broadwcast states:

“With the loss of its facilities, the SLBS began constructing a brand new Broadcasting House on the land adjacent to the existing "SLBS Building" that was still occupied by the University. The Uni was expected to vacate the premises by 2005, so that SLBS could begin converting the structure back into the television centre it was originally intended for back in 1974.

The University was subsequently served with an eviction order in mid-2009, and SLBS took ownership of the building.

On 1 April 2010, the SLBS was replaced by the independently-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Some 35 years after construction had commenced, the old SLBS Broadcasting House was finally completed.

Today, SLBC operates out of the 'new' Broadcasting House as well as the newly-restored 'old' Broadcasting House.”


In the End:

I doubt there is much room for any missing television material to have remained but there is always the possibility of a small number of prints to have survived somehow. Though let's not forget the stories of the Doctor Who serial 'The Savages' having been screened in Sierra Leone in the early eighties, but you can read more about that here: 





Jason Mahoney and www.planetmondas.com (All Rights Reserved © 2015 & ™ by Jason Mahoney) :http://www.planetmondas.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=2479&p=74131&hilit=+wolfgang+bender#p74131


National Archives file: FO 953/2155, CO 1027/503, DO 191/235