David Bowie’s first-ever TV appearance in his Ziggy Stardust persona has been found, but it’s in such a fragile state that producers of an upcoming documentary aren’t certain they’ll be able to rescue it.

Bowie’s performance of “Starman” on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in July 1972 is widely regarded as a groundbreaking moment. His androgynous outfit, draping his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and looking straight into the camera to capture audiences at home are said to have signaled the late icon’s arrival as a major-league star.

However, it wasn’t the first time the Ziggy character had been seen onscreen. In June of that year, Bowie had appeared on rival network ITV’s Lift Off With Ayshea, but the master tapes were later deleted by mistake. As a result, it had been thought the moment was lost forever, until a Bowie fan recently discovered a recording made on a home VCR. The magnetic media had degenerated over the past 46 years, and must now be baked in a preservation process before being digitized – but the baking process isn’t always successful.

“For fans, it is something of a holy grail,” documentary writer and producer Francis Whately told the BBC, adding that he hoped the clip could be rescued in time for it to appear on his third Bowie film, David Bowie: Finding Fame. “It would fall apart if we played it [as it is] so it’s had to be very carefully restored. It will be a real coup if it comes off.”

A BBC spokesperson said the "footage has only very recently been discovered. We're hoping it will be ready in time to include in the film.”

Watch David Bowie Perform 'Starman' on ‘Top of the Pops’ in 1972

The new documentary, which is expected to premiere next month, would contain previously unheard material, including audio from the time Bowie and his band the Lower Third failed a BBC audition in 1965, with the singer being described as “devoid of personality.”

“These are the stepping stones that led to Ziggy, but also many of the failures that led to Ziggy," Whately said. "It shows how Bowie embraced them and learnt from them all.”

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