The television archive:'We do have some old tapes, but not many'


THIRTY MEMBERS of staff work specifically in the television library and archives at RTÉ. Brid Dooley is head of the RTÉ Libraries and Archives, and she estimates there are currently 260,000 hours of television in the archive, in a variety of different formats. “We add about 5,000 hours of programming to the archive each year,” she says.

When RTÉ first went on air, virtually everything that was broadcast went out live. “Programmes were not automatically recorded,” she explains. At the time, recording-quality tapes were very expensive, and were sold to RTÉ on the basis they could be re-used several times.

“Sometimes the cost of the tapes was more than the cost of making the programme.”

Usually, when programmes were recorded, they were intended to be repeated on air, rather than recorded for archival purposes. “We do have some old tapes, but not many. There was no general policy at the time that you keep what you record; it wasn’t part of the culture of television in general at the time.

“Among what survives is material shot on film, usually documentaries and the out-of-studio reports that accompanied the news. Studio-based work wasn’t kept. For instance, we have very few early Late Lates. We are continually chasing around the world to see if we can find copies of programmes we sold on at the time.”

Nowadays, the approach to archiving is very different, and RTÉ is continually looking at ways to present its archives to the public.

There is a selection of material on its website, arranged both by themes and chronology: see Throughout 2012 the station will be releasing selected archive programmes to Real Player.

– Rosita Boland