Friday, May 21, 2021 - Tomorrow, May 22, is International Sherlock Holmes Day, and we can celebrate this day with a remarkable find in the VRT archive. In 1968 the BBC managed to persuade the legendary film actor Peter Cushing to play the role of Sherlock Holmes for a the TV adaptation Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Since then, Holmes fans have thought these images lost, until they resurfaced in Flanders. “Your archive is a treasure trove.”
Reinier Wels is a Dutch historian, but in his spare time he’s a digital amateur archaeologist as well. His hobby is to browse through online archives in search of fragments that are believed to have disappeared. And that’s how Wels started the search for the long-lost BBC series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes from 1968, with Peter Cushing in the role of private investigator.
“The British are good at making very good television, unfortunately they are less good at preserving it,” he says. "A lot has been lost with them, which means that TV fans sometimes find themselves frantically searching for fragments believed to be lost.”
The VRT archive has a very good reputation and is becoming increasingly well-known. This is partly due to collaborations such as hetarchief.be. This initiative by meemoo, the Flemish institute for archives, allows anyone in the world to search through the rich archives in Flanders. It’s a service that not only Flemish history buffs but also foreign historians are starting to discover.To be clear: the material itself isn’t available, only the registered metadata. And so Wels came across a special fragment in the archive of the VRT.
Wels: “An initiative like hetarchief.be is a great gift. I sometimes compare it to one of those grappling hooks you see at the funfair: you dive into a great mountain of material with it and then excitedly wait and see what it digs up. By using the correct search terms I was able to find interesting fragments, including the Sherlock Holmes series from 1968, in the VRT archive.”
What is so remarkable is that those fragments were all neatly ordered and ready in the digitized VRT archive when Reinier Wels came along with his question. “When we started digitizing film, let's say the classic film reel, I called for this to also include Ziet u wat in, explains Ann Coenen who works for the VRT archive. “Initially this was a small programme: fifteen minutes on a Friday evening, in which we looked ahead to the programmes of the coming week. As a result, Ziet u er wat in comprised a lot of different fragments, both Flemish and International, which are now digitized and part of our archive. The fact that parts of Ziet u we wat in have been well preserved is due to the fact that the programme was filmed on celluloid, and therefore better preserved than the more expensive tapes that were often erased and reused. ”
“A true revelation”
Wels knew that he would make a lot of British people happy with this Sherlock Holmes find. Which is why he approached the British organization Kaleidoscoop, which scans the world for images that can fill the many gaps in their television history, with the Sherlock Holmes images. “A true revelation.”
The people at Kaleidoscope jumped for joy when the Sherlock Holmes images from 1968 resurfaced thanks to the VRT archive. "Sherlock Holmes is a global household name," says Chris Perry, CEO of Kaleidscope. “It was a great stunt by the BBC at the time to convince Peter Cushing to work on that early colour version of Sherlock Homes in 1968. It is sad that so much of this has been lost. It was a true revelation that the VRT had saved fragments of this missing episode. Moreover, you have saved other long-lost BBC fragments in this way. Your archive is a real treasure trove, and it is because of you that Kaleidoscope was able to offer these fragments back to the BBC. ” And so Flanders is able to fill in some gaps in British TV history.