Infax is the BBC’s own programme catalogue, and as many will know a public version of this has been made available on the web for a year or so now. A revamped version has just been published, with a touch more design and in a fetching shade of pink, and it’s more than worth noting here for the details it has of television and radio programmes on silent cinema.
Given that it has 900,000 records (maybe half of the entire BBC output, but it predominantly records programmes that survive in the BBC archives), it’s a bit disappointing to find just 63 listed under the category ‘silent films’, but what’s there is fascinating enough, especially the records of older programmes with interviewees no longer with us.
For example, there’s the 1969 Yesterday’s Witness programme interviewing the 93-year-old British film director George Pearson, who directed his first film in 1914.
Or Michael Bentine’s 1969-70 television series Golden Silents, from the days when you could get thirty-part series on the history of silent films.
Or diverting magazine entertainment, such as Bob Langley chating to silent film pianists Florence de Jong and Ena Baga (doyennes of the National Film Theatre) for Saturday Night at the Mill in 1979.
It’s also worth seaching under the names of individuals who may not have been indexed under ‘silent films’, e.g. Georges Melies being discussed in a Horizon programme on special effects in 1974.
It’s mostly recent programmes that are recorded, and then usually items in arts programmes. Of course, its just the catalogue and not the programmes themselves. Those remain in the vaults, though the BBC has ambitious plans for substantial amounts of archive content to be released online, what’s called its Open Archive project. Closed trials of this are underway, and version one of a full service (subject to Public Value tests) could come in Spring 2008.