It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.
In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.
Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.
Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.
If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.
French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.
Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.
When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.
A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.
According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.
I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.
The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:
So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?
I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.
It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…