Network founder Tim Beddows

On May 31st 2023 news broke online that Network Distributing, the company that had been releasing classic British television and films on DVD, Blu-ray (and initially VHS) across the last 25 years, appeared to have suddenly ceased trading following the disappearance of their website. In subsequent days we learned that the company had gone into liquidation, bringing an unexpected halt to their operations – and the equally unexpected and far more tragic dismissal of their entire staff. The full story behind the fall of Network is still emerging, but it sadly comes just six months after the passing of Tim Beddows, Network’s Managing Director and founder of the company.  

Network’s first home media release came in 1997, with two VHS tapes – Charley Says and Charley Live – collecting more than 100 vintage publication information films both live action and animated. This was soon followed by a VHS release of Roberta Leigh’s sci-fi puppet series Space Patrol, spread across 9 VHS tapes. Although the Charley and Space Patrol lines were never going to be bestsellers on any format, they did establish the fledgling company as one to watch for those that appreciated archive television; a company by fans, for fans.

The stars of the famous Charley Says public information films impart another important life lesson to 1970s viewers.

As DVD gradually became the dominant format in the UK’s home video market, Network struck a DVD releasing deal with ITV in the early 2000s that would gradually see huge sections of the company’s dormant archive made available to the public in a way had never been possible before; everything from well-known action shows The Saint, The Sweeney and The Prisoner, to the obscurest of obscure sitcoms – and a large number of Anderson series.

While the most prominent Anderson shows had previously been released on DVD on other labels in the UK (most notably through Carlton Video), several others (including Torchy the Battery Boy, Four Feather Falls, Supercar, and The Secret Service) saw their first UK DVD release via Network from the mid-2000s onwards. Even the sole surviving episode of The Adventures of Twizzle was released, albeit tucked away as an extra on their DVD release of Space Patrol. By the end of the 2000s almost every Anderson series was out on DVD, many of them through Network, and a new format was looming on the horizon…

The first fully colourised Fireball XL5 episode launched from Network in 2009!

Network’s first high-definition Anderson release came in 2009 with a colourised version of the Fireball XL5 episode A Day in the Life of a Space General, released along with an HD episode of Four Feather Falls. It wasn’t the UK’s first Anderson Blu-ray set, as Thunderbirds had already been released by ITV in 2008 in an infamous cropped 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio that was not well received by fans. Back at Network, the first season of Space:1999 was released on Blu-ray in 2010 – in its correct aspect ratio, scanned from the original negatives with no restoration errors, and a host of bonus features. This release proved what Anderson fans had known all along; that these shows were best released by those who understood and cared about the material enough to present it in the best quality possible. Seeing the Network logo on a DVD or Blu-ray cover was a promise of quality.

Although Thunderbirds was sadly ultimately not among the shows released by Network, episodes of the series did occasionally make appearances on compilation releases such as ITV 60 and the HD21 and This is Supermarionation discs featured within their 2014 Supermarionation Blu-ray boxset, which also showcased the documentary Filmed in Supermarionation and the second edition of the definitive book it was based on. Blu-rays continued with UFO, Terrahawks and New Captain Scarlet, while DVD releases also weren’t neglected as titles that had previously been issued by other companies (such as Fireball XL5, The Protectors, Space Precinct and Dick Spanner) gradually found their way to Network’s DVD catalogue. As the years went by, Network were gradually creating an almost complete one-stop UK shop for most of the Andersons’ television output.

While Network could sometimes be inconsistent with their release strategy (as witnessed by the five-year gap between the Blu-ray releases of Space:1999 seasons one and two, or the permanent gap between season 1 of The Sweeney and the rest of the series) there was always a sense of activity behind the scenes, an unspoken promise that the company understood what their customers wanted and would deliver it eventually. Often a longer wait meant a better final product as special features and bonus material were arranged, or simply that the same love and attention regularly given to the Anderson titles were at that time being put into a different project. Equally well received Blu-ray releases of The Prisoner, The Persuaders!, Quatermass and The Strange World of Gurney Slade just to name a few continued to prove the company’s dedication to the preservation of archive television in general.  Network’s Blu-ray release of The Professionals in 2014 was a particularly significant achievement, since until then the show’s original negatives had been believed lost and the surviving broadcast prints (still being shown on ITV4 to this very day) were of such poor quality as to be almost unwatchable.

In 2017 the company adopted a new release model for the classic ITC television shows on Blu-ray by selling newly restored editions of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Department S, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons in a partwork-style volume by volume format, with a free cardboard boxset sleeve being sent out with the final disc to those who had supported the entire range. Captain Scarlet proved to be the best-selling title in this new range, so much so that the final volume was instead made available as a limited-edition deluxe set featuring an exclusive bonus disc, artwork prints and new comic, and in 2018 Network embarked on a similar ‘four volumes plus boxset’ release strategy for Joe 90’s 50th. This release of Joe 90 would go on to win the 2019 FOCAL award for Best Archive Restoration & Preservation Project.

Following Joe 90 it seemed as if the company had once again cooled on the idea of releasing any more Anderson titles on Blu-ray, but in 2021 they served up beautiful complete HD restorations of both Supercar and Fireball XL5, with the long-awaited Stingray following in 2022. This new wave of releases did away with the partwork format and instead went to the deluxe boxset model first, presenting each series alongside a plethora of physical bonus items including brand new comics, audio adventures, scrapbooks, pilot’s licenses and pin badges, plus a bonus Blu-ray disc of extras and often a ‘making of’ book from TV historian Andrew Pixley. Following each of these deluxe releases, a repackaged ‘just the episodes’ collection was later released for general sale.

Also in 2022 Network announced three more Anderson titles; DVD and Blu-ray releases of the documentary Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted and the Stand by for Action concert, plus a collection of newly colourised episodes of Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Four Feather Falls. It was a sign that the company saw the Anderson shows as an ongoing concern, and were keen to find ways to continue to market both their existing back catalogue and brand new material. A definitive UK Blu-ray release of Thunderbirds, in original 4:3 aspect ratio and with original unaltered soundtrack, seemed all but inevitable…but as we now know, if such a thing does one day appear on our shelves (alongside similarly hypothetical Blu-rays of Twizzle, Torchy, Four Feather Falls, The Secret Service, The Protectors, Lavender Castle or the newly-upscaled HD Space Precinct), it will not be from Network.

A selection of Network’s non-Anderson TV DVD & Blu-ray offerings.

Network’s Anderson releases were of course only one small part of the company’s output, as indeed was their archive television branch; the company also released hundreds of British films during its life, plus a selection of related books, soundtrack sets (including Crispin Merrell’s scores for Space Precinct and New Captain Scarlet), reproduction scripts and more. Frequent online sales meant that those Anderson fans who also valued other British television of the same era could be tempted by Network’s many releases of TV shows and films that prominently featured Anderson actors, including Special Branch (starring George Sewell), Saber of London (starring Donald Gray), The Zoo Gang (starring Barry Morse), Undermind (starring Jeremy Wilkin) and The Power Game (starring Patrick Wymark). As we’ve discussed previously, the boardroom drama politics of the latter series was a huge influence on Doppelgänger, Space:1999 and particularly UFO, and is a fine example of the type of quality television series that most other broadcasters and distributers were content to leave permanently gathering dust on the shelf, unseen and unappreciated…but not Network. If there was potentially an audience for something, it was a potential candidate for release – even if the customer base for a particular never-repeated sitcom that ran for only 13 episodes back in 1973 didn’t amount to more than a handful of people. What mattered was the fact that Network gave people the chance to once again see shows they may only have had vague memories of, or had never seen at all.

The demise of Network leaves a huge void in the home video landscape that is unlikely to be filled, particularly in an age where physical media sales are on the decline because “everything’s on streaming these days” (no, ‘everything’ isn’t and never will be – and a lot of what is available on streaming is only available as long as rights permit or those services consider them attractive). Those who don’t value archive television and film so long as repeats of Only Fools and Horses continue until the end of time may be unable to understand the sense of loss so many of us are currently feeling (after all, much of Network’s output was in the dreaded black and white – and didn’t completely fill a widescreen TV!) but regular supporters of the company will of course miss them greatly, and mourn the releases that will now never be. This includes fans of the 1965 ITC series The Baron, since at the time of their collapse Network were taking pre-orders for a disc featuring HD-remastered compilation movie versions of the show’s two two-part stories that almost certainly heralded a full Blu-ray release of the entire series. However, it’s important to stop and think about what exactly we did get over the years, and just how lucky we were to see some of this material released at all – never mind in such gloriously restored quality as many of our favourite shows received on Blu-ray.

‘Deluxe’ Blu-ray releases of Supercar, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.

Across their 25-year history, Network offered every surviving episode of almost every Anderson television series from 1957’s The Adventures of Twizzle to 2005’s New Captain Scarlet on DVD or Blu-ray (sometimes both) plus the movie Crossroads to Crime, with only Thunderbirds and Lavender Castle not part of the collection. These episodes were usually beautifully restored, and released alongside a host of enticing bonus features both archive and newly-commissioned – even turning up two- and a-bit missing episodes of You’ve Never Seen This along the way! This treatment was extended to prestige releases of many other shows of the same era, while special events both online and in-person coupled with a constant feeling that anything was possible all added to the invaluable sense that Network’s output was prepared by people who understood and shared the passion for archive film and television that their customers had. That was the philosophy that saw Tim Beddows first establish the company back in 1997 – and it was one that all who worked at and with Network seemed to embrace whole-heartedly. We wish those people all the best for the future.

For Anderson fans (and indeed all fans of archive British television and film) Network represented a golden era of home media releases, the like of which we may never see again – and should celebrate whenever we can!

The Official Gerry Anderson Store currently has a small remaining selection of Network’s Anderson output still available among our DVD and Blu-ray collections, but cannot guarantee any additional stock of any title.

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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