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Fears allayed over future of UTV's precious film archive

By Allan Preston

Published 11/10/2016

Early days: Gloria Hunniford
Early days: Gloria Hunniford
Children’s presenter Adrienne Catherwood on Romper Room
Fast talking: Strabane Man
Jackie Fullerton floored by Giant Haystacks

Fears over the future of UTV's extensive film archive - chronicling decades of history in Northern Ireland - have been eased.

It follows claims that the treasure trove - which documents life here since the 1960s - could be under severe threat.

Archivists had warned that, since ITV bought over the Belfast media company last year, there is no proper plan to preserve the film vault of 100,000 items charting life here since the 1960s.

Plans to transport some of the collection stored in Havelock House to Leeds have also led to accusations that ITV is cherry-picking the collection.

While most broadcasters reused old film reels over the decades, the UTV collection has been called unique, as most of the raw footage has been kept.

As well as unedited footage of news reporting in the Troubles, the collection features original recordings and out-takes of popular programmes like Romper Room and Teatime with Tommy.

It is also thought to feature the early careers of famous faces like Gloria Hunniford and Jackie Fullerton.

Tristan Brittain-Dissont, a media archivist in Hillsborough, said he was concerned that a "unique, irreplaceable archive" of film material was under "severe threat".

"ITV and UTV do not know exactly what this archive contains - it has not been properly documented," he said.

"Therefore, ITV/UTV cannot fob anyone off with the excuse that they have assessed the archive and concluded that whatever remains there is worthless.

"Such conclusions could only be made if UTV had kept impeccable records, and/or if ITV had subsequently done a detailed audit of the archive. Neither is the case."

But a spokesman for ITV said they understood the "significant cultural, political and geographical value of the UTV archive", which they are committed to preserving.

He added: "We have strict archival guidelines, policies and procedures in place and the small amount of UTV material that is moving to Leeds will be correctly maintained and remain accessible to the Belfast team.

"This is a tried and tested integration procedure that has been successfully implemented across other ITV regions."

The spokesman continued: "The vast majority of assets, which are predominantly news material and programme rushes that are accessed most frequently by the UTV editorial team, will remain in Belfast under the continued management of the newsroom and the archive manager based there."

Dr Ken Griffin, an archive consultant who spent three years cataloguing the UTV film vaults, added: "This archive is unusually comprehensive from the 1960s onwards.

"So a lot of the material still survives, from programmes like Teatime with Tommy, Romper Room and Good Evening Ulster.

"The current uncertainty about the UTV archives is perhaps undesirable, as archiving is a long-term commitment. Because we don't know ITV's intentions, we don't have time to put safeguards in place to make sure the material is protected into the future."

Ulster Unionist leader and former UTV journalist Mike Nesbitt called for a dedicated film and video archive for Northern Ireland.

"I would share the concern that this comes down to a question of resource for ITV and fear they will be unwilling to fund either the necessary storage space or manpower to catalogue the collection," he said.

"BBC NI previously binned huge amounts of archive for lack of storage space, so this is a last chance opportunity to secure irreplaceable footage, not only of the Troubles, but how society and culture has developed.

"I am writing to the Communities Minister (Paul Givan), asking him to scope out the potential to help save UTV's film library and develop a Northern Ireland film and video archive in association with PRONI and the Department of Education."

Mr Brittain-Dissont said without a long-term agreement, ITV's promises were "worthless".

"ITV is a commercial company driven by a need to maximise shareholder returns," he added.

"If the storage and maintenance of the UTV archive becomes against these interests, it will seek to get rid of the archive. Can ITV offer a view on this assertion?" He also claimed that two of the four archivists working at UTV Belfast were among 43 staff facing redundancy.

Last week a UTV spokeswoman confirmed 43 jobs were at risk due to restructuring and the proposed sale of UTV Ireland to Virgin Media.

Belfast Telegraph

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