Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Sierra Leone: Pheonix or Final Resting Place?

In January 1999, Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, came under a bloody three-week occupation. This was part of a civil war that had begun in 1991 and would last until 2002. During these three weeks, the SLBS studios and Gramophone library were destroyed.

The History:

Sierra Leone’s SLTV began in Freetown on the 27th of April 1963. SLTV jointly owned by the government (40%) and TIE Ltd, NBC, RCA and Thompson international holding owning the other 60%. This turnkey TV station was equipped with equipment for broadcasting films and live programmes but lacked any means of recording local programmes. This essentially limited the station to the role of exhibitor for the UK and US television producers the jointly owned SLTV.

During the next five years, SLTV provided a service which was on-air for 4-5 hours a day with 75% of its TV schedule being composed of imported material. This lasted until 1967 when NBC and RCA withdrew their interests and SLTV merged with SLBS (Sierra Leone’s radio station) for about six weeks. Due to difficulties they separated again until finally merging again in 1971. By this time, the television broadcasting equipment, after years of neglect, was in a state of disrepair. Attempts to create local programmes had been thwarted by a lack of equipment and properly trained staff. Until, in the same year, some second-hand foreign equipment was purchased including two videotape recorders.

Construction began on a new ‘Broadcasting House’ in 1974. Broadcasts continued from the old building and improved signal strength now allowed for transmissions to extend beyond Freetown. Frequent equipment and power failures resulted in frequent periods of dead air. Breaks in transmission lasted 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. Building work on the new structure was never completed. In the early-1980s, the roof of the original Broadcasting House collapsed during a storm with leaving all the stored equipment to be damaged beyond repair.

In 1987, the government sold the colour PAL transmitter that had been installed in 1978. At this point, all transmissions ceased until the television service resumed in 1993 with the backing of a private consortium from Hong Kong. The consortium began work on a second new ‘Broadcasting House’. This was adjacent to the abandoned project that began in 1974. In 1995, the original new Broadcasting House was converted to class rooms for a local university who vacated the premises in 2009 with ownership of the building reverting to SLBS. 2010 saw the SLBS replaced SLBC

The Rumour:

We had a first hand account and a dated description of what was seen. This was passed onto Steve Roberts and the description described "the first one with the white hair" and the story was "about cavemen living in a wilderness outside a futuristic city who were captured and put in a machine and tortured."

The date then given was 1982/83 and was for that single story. The information was forwarded to Steve in 2009.



In addition to the above quote from Paul Vanezis, Richard Molesworth states: 

“Certain records were also found, which indicated that the fate of the 16mm prints of certain stories sent to Sierra Leone was uncertain: 'Galaxy 4', 'The Myth Makers', 'The Massacre', 'The Savages' & 'The Celestial Toymaker' were the stories in question. This certainly tied in with the report of the 1980s screening. But it was very clear that if these films were still in the country in the 1980s, then they were later destroyed during the war in the 1990s.”

And onto yet another statement by an authority on the subject, 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.”

And further to that, Philip Morris in December 2016 had this to add surrounding the events in 1999:

 "People always thought that Sierra Leone had… there was a fire there, they had… the story with Sierra Leone, I was there, I worked quite closely with the head of their station. Their archive (Gramaphone Library) had been destroyed. The story is that it was destroyed by the head of the rebel group because he thought that they had some film of him which would then go to the UN and he’d be tried for war crimes. So he decided to shoot a mortar shell at the big metal shed which was the archive (Gramaphone Library). Burnt it to the ground. However, there weren’t any Doctor Who episodes there. They were returned to London in the early seventies. And from then… well, we don’t know what happened. It’s all right saying well they’ve gone back to London and been destroyed, well were they? We don’t know. There’s no-one can tell you that for sure."

In an attempt to add some clarity, the observations of Wolfgang Bender should be noted. This comment in particular is 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.”

A poster by the name of Jason Mahoney Jason Mahoney on www.planetmondas.com had this to contribute: 

“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.”

And then another post fills in detail, here:

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 The 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."


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