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Project Africa: Phil Morris and the Hunt For Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes

Our story begins in August of 2005 when oil worker Phillip Morris from Formby in Mersyside made contact with Ian Levine through the missing episodes forum. Morris, who had worked all over the world in places as diverse Africa, Mexico, Egypt and Argentina was a lifelong Doctor Who fan and wanted to know what was being done to find missing Doctor Who episodes in Africa in particular. He offered his assistance, believing he could be of use through currently working on the continent and having extensive links there. His suggestions were largely pooh-poohed but Levine ensured that Phil had the proper documentation to begin his search and we expect this is also the time that Paul Vanezis became involved.

All goes quiet for the next year till Phil Morris appears again, this time for entirely different reasons as he’s kidnapped on the oil rig where he worked as a crane operator by armed terrorists.

Morris was one of 8 oil workers kidnapped and held for 48 hours

“My ordeal began at three in the morning. I was forcibly taken at gunpoint from the installation I was working on – taken by boat, it was basically a four-hour journey back to the jungle, really, where we were held for four days. We were told that this was our last night – we were all going to die, they were going to execute us. There has to be a political solution – that is the best way forward… Words just can’t describe the sense of emotion and feelings that you go through thinking you’ll never see the people that you love again. It’s just completely terrifying. To feel the security around you just totally dissolve, it’s just a terrifying situation to find yourself in… We were held in a village – the local people were actually quite good to us, I have to say, but it was still a terrifying ordeal.”

After a personal intervention by the Nigerian President and an alleged payment of a $200,000 ransom, Morris and his co-workers were freed. Upon his return to the UK Phil’s life was in disarray however, reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome his life began to fall apart. Following the revelation of his long time girlfriend having an affair he was arrested over an assault charge that was hanging over his head for some time after. All charges were subsequently dropped and Morris vowed to make a new start, moving to Wigan in Lancashire with big plans for his future.

By the summer of 2007, research had been carried out into the possibility of finding missing episodes in Africa, lines of communication being opened with the relevant stations throughout the continent and around this time into late 2007/early 2008, possibly coinciding with Phil Morris’ early trips and also possibly using some of his compensation money, TIEA was founded.

Project Africa was a jointly sponsored BFI and BBC project, the team acting as agents for both and looking for any and all missing material. Phil Morris here gives some insight into the methodology he used during his search

“Africa has by and large been searched, the last black and white prints were sold circa 1976, they don’t exist. Most missing material from the entire lost catalogue of BBC output was sold to Africa, but was either sent back, destroyed or sent on a very long time ago. How do i know this? i’ve been and looked… Many archives have since moved location, overseas material was bicycled around very hard not many prints were made ..storage is extremely poor and we are talking nearly 40 odd years ago, the original broadcaster ordered prints destroyed, when finished or returned the true reality is far removed from fans hopes and dreams. I have visited these places, i know. I have been were no fan has been before… My search of Africa was for other shows too, much of what’s missing from the BBC and ITV was sold to African states. I personally recorded the local newspapers for copies of old TV guides, at the National Archives most archives in Africa do not hold index cards or any paperwork for what they hold, the BBC only made a limited number of prints which were bicycled around nearly forty years ago with instruction to return or destroy. I’m sorry if it upsets people but they are the facts backed up by photographic evidence and my personnel experience” – Phil Morris, January and February 2009

In December of 2009 Paul Vanezis updated the situation on the African search, stating that both Zambia and Kenya had been checked

The two countries Phil has visited and for which we can say there is no ‘Doctor Who’ or other BBC material are Zambia and Kenya. Whilst both displayed evidence of BBC material being there in the past, there is certainly nothing there now… The question of National Archives is an interesting one, particularly in the southern states. Rhodesia does though have its own problems and recent historical differences with the BBC, so that will need a long term solution. But the National Archives and TV archives of Zambia have been checked. Kenya doesn’t have a national archive of film in any organised state and the material stored there is as I understand it of mainly cultural importance. Like Zambia they disposed of their stock of foreign film material in the 1980’s. But what Phil has been able to do with the help of others is piece together how the films moved around and this has already thrown up quite a few more avenues of investigation.”  – Paul Vanezis, December 2009

By later that month Ian Levine was incensed by the Radio 4 documentary “Archive Hour” in which Paul Vanezis and Phil Morris participated, feeling he had been slighted and ignored, certainly he seems to have taken a back seat in involvement with Morris by this point

“My blood is boiling. It’s as if they intentionally and systematically removed and and all trace of the work I did in saving episodes. Yet they devoted a quarter of the program to that one episode found in New Zealand – bugger what I found in Nigeria or Cyprus or in ex BBC engineer’s hands in England. It’s a good job Paul Vanezis isn’t within punching distance of me right now – I’m the one who telexed Cyprus, and I’m the one who arranged for the return of those episodes. He’s flat out lying.

As for bloody Phil Morris – he has never found ONE SINGLE EPISODE in his entire life. What a sick travesty. And the only reason Sue Malden knew about Villiers House was because I told her, to save the first Dalek story. Not even a mention of Pamela Nash. All so inaccurate and so self congratulatory. What sickens me even more is they claim the only way to enjoy these episodes is as audio plays, with no mention of the YEARS AND YEARS of selfless work Loose Cannon have done in making them visually come back to life so we can actually see what the bloody Trojan Horse actually DID look like. Boy am I fuming !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – Ian Levine, December 2009

He goes on to say

“Similarly, Phil Morris has indeed tried hard but found absolutely nothing.”

Paul Vanezis and Richard Bignell are scathing in response

“I don’t know why you’re bringing Phil into this. All he’s ever done is (like me and others) try and complete as far as is possible our knowledge of how films were moved around and where they might be now. In the process of doing that, he may one day find some films; to say he has “never found ONE SINGLE EPISODE in his entire life” is actually untrue. It’s just not a missing ‘Doctor Who’. Most people would want to applaud that, not act in the spiteful way you have.” – Paul Vanezis

Not any episodes of Doctor Who, and perhaps he never will. But he continues to work hard, putting the effort in and doing it in the BBC’s name. That’s something to be applauded, surely?” – Richard Bignell

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