Back in the dark, distant days when even people working in the very top echelons of TV had little or no idea of the future value of so much of what they were producing, countless plays and comedy shows were routinely wiped to save on storage space and cost -- videotape being both bulky and expensive at the time.
Hundreds of hours of historically significant television were lost forever, but no series was damaged more severely than Not Only . . . But Also, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's groundbreaking sketch show, made between 1965 and 1970.
Of the 15 episodes that make up the first two series, only eight survive intact. Every single episode of the third and final series (and the only one made in colour) was wiped, although a lot of the material shot on film, as opposed to recorded in the studio, still exists.
It's a terrible loss, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's just one of those things that should never have happened, but did. Or maybe there is something you can do about it.
How about this: dust off the original scripts and the old audio recordings, gather together a bunch of present-day comedy performers (including Adrian Edmondson, Alistair McGowan, Hugh Dennis and, er, Angus Deayton) and get them to recreate a handful of the best sketches in front of a studio audience.
But since six or seven sketches, some of them no more than two or three minutes long, aren't going to be enough to fill up a whole hour, we'll have to find a way to pad it out.
So let's rope in self-confessed Pete and Dud nut Jonathan Ross as presenter and have him interview a whole bunch of other comic worthies -- including David Mitchell and the always available (unless he's tweeting) Stephen Fry -- who can attest to the genius of Cook and Moore, and speak about how they were a huge influence on their own work.
And just to fill up another 10 or 15 minutes, let's show the performers in rehearsal. This, then, was Pete & Dud: The Lost Sketches. And it really was a dud, if not quite a Pete. It was also a disaster, a travesty and a cringe-inducing embarrassment.
There were fleeting moments here and there when flashes of Cook's comic genius were visible, such as in a sketch called The Wardrobe, in which Johnny Sweet's 'Pete' tries to take Adrian Edmondson's 'Dud' through rebirthing therapy.
"I'm not suggesting you go around to 465 Beckingtree Avenue and ask your mother for readmission. It's four o'clock in the morning -- and anyway, it's illegal."
But the performances were so flat and mismatched, the chemistry between the pairings so non-existent, that anyone unfamiliar with the real thing must have been left wondering where the genius had gone.
The presence of Cook and Moore, both in short archive clips and in huge photographs lining the studio set, just made you yearn for the genuine article all the more. Some things are better left lost forever than destroyed all over again.
It wasn't, as Dunphy, Giles and Brady observed, a great final. It wasn't even a good final. It was a dreadful final -- unless your idea of greatness is the Dutch kicking lumps out of the Spanish. But both Spain and football won in the end. So too did RTE, whose coverage of the entire tournament has been matchless. But it wouldn't have been the same without the brilliance of Apres Match. I'm afraid I underrated the team when I said a couple of weeks ago that the sketches didn't seem to be up to Euro '08 standards. I was wrong. In future, I'll wait until the final whistle.
PETE & DUD: THE LOST SKETCHES *
WORLD CUP FINAL / APRES MATCH *****