I thought I would try and assess the likelihood of returns from certain avenues of investigation - just for my own amusement.
Cinemas and Mobile Cinemas:
In Brazil the TV signal didn’t extend over what is a very large land mass indeed; therefore, prints had to go into distribution through Cinema circulation. I imagine something similar could have happened in Nigeria, but as Philip Morris said, at the Pandorica Convention, Nigeria’s Cinemas largely went bust in the eighties, things changed when Nollywood started up in the early nineties, but that isn’t strictly relevant. Places like Jamaica had Mobile Cinemas, but as always these were mainly for educational purposes and the prints would not have had a stable resting place. I personally feel prints are unlikely to have turned up via this avenue and would most likely be educational or locally produced material and news films if they did. As the countries that are most likely to have been the final resting place for these items don’t have much economic stability then I think this compounds the unlikeliness of something being recovered via this route.
Universities, Embassies, Hospitals and other Governmental institutions:
The BBC always offered first refusal to the National Broadcaster when it came to selling televisual material and most National Broadcasters in the poorer countries were run under Government or Quasi-Governmental departments: The Department of Education or the Department of Information, for example. Some Embassies actually edited film prints, which were sent out to Universities for educational purposes and in the case of ETV in Ethiopia, the Broadcaster was actually located in Addis Ababa City Hall. As I have mentioned before, there were plans to use localised Hub distribution from educational or information departments under the guise of Media Centres.
These places didn’t have a lot of storage space. If there was any kind of recall, and in the case of VT which was expensive and reusable there certainly was, then locating these prints to return or destroy should have been fairly easy. However, paperwork is notoriously unreliable. It isn’t hard to imagine a whole plethora of ways in which material could have survived and leaked into circulation. Logistically unless things are somehow misplaced then they are unlikely to have survived. ‘Tomb’ was sent back along the bicycling-chain so there was no record of its location. ‘Web’ and ‘Enemy’ were sent to another local broadcaster supposedly illegally – I say supposedly because no paperwork has survived which doesn’t guarantee this was an illegal transaction, although it’s a fair assumption to make and we know they did happen. Phil Morris has even contradicted his, “They never throw anything away” statement from the original Facebook Missing Episodes Q&A at the Pandorica Convention with a story about how Lagos dumped prints on the beach and a couple of other references I can’t recall right now.
Private Collectors and Ex-Employees of TV stations:
Prints are most likely to have entered circulation through Employees of TV stations or people retrieving items from skips. Prints being returned via this route could depend upon the philanthropic nature of the individual and would certainly be one of the hardest to quantify the chances. Auctions would be untraceable and every instance is unique.
Audition prints are nothing special. Once it was purchased it was no longer an audition print, but then set could be used or broken up for audition purposes. I have a theory that a set would be sent out for audition purposes but if other requested an audition print rather than get another print sent out it would be more economical to split a set. There was a broadcaster in Brazil, Global TV I think, that used to order Audition Prints; broadcaster them and then return them refusing to pay for them. Obviously, sending part of a serial rather than the whole thing would be a wise move to prevent this kind of practice.
A lot of countries in Africa still don’t have National Film Archives. I don’t think TIEA would even entertain the idea of searching a whole archive without reason, be it financial or otherwise, despite Morris’s famed tenacity.
Illicit copies by employees are possible and did happen on a small scale, but this is a situation that’s very similar to the Private Collectors scenario. Obviously, prints would more likely than not be close to their point of origin, but the story about illicit copies being made and then the guy moving to Ireland are could be true. It’s been a long time and neither people, or prints are static, but obviously big cities or capitals are more likely locations for recoveries provided they haven’t been passed along the Collector chain.
Hubs/Distribution Points, Airports, Bonded Storage and Customs:
I could have just given this the heading, “Red-Tape”. This would obviously, be only relevant to poorer, more corrupt and disorganised countries, but would be a massive boost for the chances of returns. If proven true. I could write quite a long post about this, but I think that’s outside the scope of what this post intended to achieve.
This is a no go really, as lot descriptions are often vague and bidders are usually untraceable.
There is something unconsidered, or an outlier. Prints have been found frozen inland fill under the permafrost of the Yukon, Ivor the Engine episodes were found in a pig pen on a farm and the recent ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ episode found with a French Awards Organisation are all clear reasons to, “Expect the unexpected.”