As frequent viewers of this site will know, back in its early days The BBC was notoriously bad at archiving its material for prosterity. On top of the infamous junking of its black and white television shows they felt had no further value to them until the late 70s, earlier than that they would send out programs live and not telerecord them at all. This treatment was usually reserved for television plays, and as such a majority of them are lost forever. Of particular note is the their 1957 adaptation of Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Requiem for a Heavyweight was written in 1956 for American television by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. It starred Jack Palance in the lead role and went on to win a Peabody Award. The story of the play is about Harlan 'Mountain' McClintock, a past his prime boxer who is told by his doctor he cannot box any more after finding out he had gained brain damage over the course of his career. Adamant about wanting to keep fighting however, he takes his manager's (played by Keenan Wynn) advice and makes a jump to professional wrestling, where he is repourpased with a mountain man gimmick. Though McClintock is uncomfortable with the staged aspect of pro wrestling, fighting is all he knows and he refuses to give it up. Just before his first match, however, he discovers his manager is betting against him, trying to gain a large sum of money due to him being in debt to the mafia. Enraged, Harlan parts ways with his manager and retires to a summer camp job to work with children.
Impressed with the storytelling and the awards it won, The BBC were soon planning their own rendition of the play, but its production was stunted when Palance declined to appear, stating that 'Something better had come along' and 'I don't want to go to England'. The director and producer, Alvin Rakoff, was tasked to find someone to replace the leading man. Soon, Rakoff had it narrowed down to two actors. His wife, Jacqueline Hill, advised him to go with an actor he had given extra work to on his previous show 'The Condemned', stating that 'ladies will like him'. Rakoff, already impressed with the young actor's build and screen presence, decided to go with his wife's intuition and cast Sean Connery in his first leading role.
The play went out on March 31st, 1957. During the airing, Alvin Rakoff realised the lack of commercial breaks on The BBC would prevent Connery from making a major costume change. When he contacted Rod Serling about this, he gave his blessing for Rakoff to write extra material to make up for the gap. Rakoff wrote a scene featuring two washed up boxers, and he hastily cast Warren Mitchell and a young Michael Caine. The seventy-five minute program went off without a hitch, but The BBC didn't bother to record it for future re-airings, meaning the program was forever lost.
In 2014, however, an astounding discovery occured-during an interview about Sean Connery and his accent, Alan Rakoff remembered he had recieved a reel-to-reel audio recording of the full program. The director had requested the recording for prosterity reasons, realizing that it would likely be an important piece due to its cast (considering he had cast Sean Connery and Michael Caine before they hit it big, good call). Rakoff had stored the recording in his attic and had forgotten about it until his interview, at which point he searched his attic until he found it collecting grime but fortunately still in good condition.While the audio has yet to be made widely available, a copy is now safely with the BFI, and with the recent Fireworks Safety PSA recovery from them, it is certainly not out of the question that we will see this audio gem available to the general public in the future. It also proves that, no matter how unlikely, lost media can still be recovered in some way, shape, or form, even if it is only the audio and not the images.