Greenwich Cablevision and Stan Lee

Keith Russell, Mark Smith, Graeme McAlpine and Martin Lee

First it was the missing T-Rex tapes, now it’s one of the world’s greatest comic-artists. It seems that Greenwich Cablevision was absolutely groundbreaking in practically every respect – except in archiving its own work.

Greenwich Cablevision (when I wrote about this I hadn’t heard of it before so my words are rubbish but the comments are great…)was the first pay-TV channel, back in the 1970s – a time when you could choose between BBC1, BBC2 ITV and, er, that’s it. It seems to have featured just about everyone from Hale & Pace to Georgie Fame.

I’ve had an intriguing email from Rob who’s researching a reference book about the history and publications issued by the British division of Marvel Comics. Whilst delving about, he was raking about in a Stan Lee archive in the States and found in one of the many storage boxes a videotape marked ‘Roundhouse 1975′. Although parts of the archive have been accessed by US researchers for other Marvel projects no one had touched the British stuff. He says:

It turns out that Stan Lee’s first visit to the Roundhouse in October 1975 was captured on video by the team from Greenwich Cablevision. They’d previously interviewed Alan Murray (who headed up the art studio at High Holborn where the comics were assembled) when Neil Tennant (yes, THAT Neil Tennant!) had declined their invitation to appear on their ‘Fridaynite’ programme. It was Alan who then later suggested that they film Stan’s appearance at the Roundhouse as a memento for Stan (who thought it might come in handy for a future documentary, although as he kept it all these years it seems unlikely that it was ever shown Stateside).

The event saw Stan appear alongside Ted Polhemus from the ICA (where an exhibition had preceded this event), Ray Wergan from Transworld UK Ltd. (where Marvel had their offices) and US guest artist Herb Trimpe.

Rob is presently trying to arrange a transfer of the tape onto DVD, but it’s not going to be cheap as it’s taken them almost a year to find a machine over there that it can be played on. 20th and 21st century history is being lost not, as in previous years, because no one bothered to record it but because no one can keep up with the formats. Celluloid is corroding (or burning), shellac snapping, vinyl scratching, tape stretching, analogue dating, floppy discs rusting three-inch floppies corrupting – and everything else being simply unplayable because the players don’t exist any more.

The pictures on today’s post were sent to Rob by Alan – pictures that Peter Danpure took of the team – Keith Russell, Mark Smith, Graeme McAlpine and Martin Lee, though sadly Stan himself isn’t in them. Rob would love to talk with the chaps from the crew – or anyone who was part of the recordings.

I would be interested to know if anything at all was saved from the great years of Greenwich Cablevision. Judging from my postbag, people loved – and still love – its short, firework-burst of energy back in the dark days.

the attachments to this post:

Greenwich Cablevision - pic5
Greenwich Cablevision – pic5

Greenwich Cablevision - pic3
Greenwich Cablevision – pic3

Keith Russell, Mark Smith, Graeme McAlpine and Martin Lee
Greenwich Cablevision – pic1

Greenwich Cablevision - pic1
Greenwich Cablevision – pic1

5 Comments to “Greenwich Cablevision and Stan Lee”

  1. Paul says:

    Fabulous story, thanks for posting.

    I laughed at your paranoia about our history fading away. To add one to the list, tapes aren’t just stretching – many recordings from the 70s are falling apart. Some people blame Yes, and their song ‘Don’t Kill The WHale.’ Before then, whale-oil was used to bind ferrous oxide to tape; soon it was banned or fell out of use. The later glues fail, so many historic audio tapes are endangered. Like the whales.

  2. Graeme McAlpine says:

    What a fantastic story to publish, looking at back at those years at Greenwich Cablevision.
    It was a ground breaking experience and I was pleased to be part of the team.
    I remember we interviewed Stan Lee, but that is all. It seems a lifetime ago.

  3. Graeme – would you be willing for me to put you in touch with Rob?

  4. I used to write about companies such as Greenwich Cablevision — I edited a cable and satellite magazine in 1984 and continued to write about the industry until around 1995. I interviewed Maurice Townsend, the boss of Greenwich Cablevision: the company existed not just to add an extra channel but also to carry the three national TV channels (four after 1982) by wire to its subscribers. Shooters Hill blocked the signal from Crystal Palace and there was then no local transmitter in Woolwich and Plumstead. And of course no satellite TV.

    Maurice went on to chair the industry’s trade association, the Cable TV Association, and remained connected with the industry for years.

    He was one of the pioneers of cable in this country — he lobbied hard for the government to permit the expansion of cable and that ultimately led to Virgin Media.

  5. Rob Kirby says:

    Graeme’s already made contact with me after I found him after a short online search after contacting your blog. Thanks for running the story!