There is comparatively little writing about theatre plays on British television, but the following ten books and articles are essential readings on the topic. This is not, however, in any sense an exhaustive list, and we’ll contribute thoughts on additions in blog posts over the coming months, as well as returning to some of the suggestions below to explore them further.
• Taylor, Neil, ‘A history of the stage play on television’, in Jeremy Ridgman, ed., Boxed Sets: Television Representations of Theatre (The Arts Council of England, John Libbey Media, University of Luton Press, 1998)
Neil Taylor’s essay is an extremely valuable (and unique) overview.
• Gardner, Carl and Wyver, John, ‘The single play from Reithian reverence to cost accounting & censorship’, Screen, 24/4-5, 1983
I include this in part because it is cited occasionally in the literature (it was early) but mostly because I now think that it’s fundamentally wrong in a hundred ways – indeed it may be that our whole research project is an act of atonement for this article.
• Caughie, John, Television Drama: Realism, Modernism, and British Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) – especially chapters 1, 2 and 3
John Caughie’s book contains some of the best and most rigorous theory-informed writing on television drama.
• Jacobs, Jason, The Intimate Screen: Early British Television Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
Jacobs’ book is a key text on early drama, including much from the theatre, and was the first volume to explore in depth how to study television for which no recordings exist.
• Worsley, T.C., Television: The Fugitive Art (London: Alan Ross, 1970) – part II, Adaptations
This is a volume of contemporary reviews from the 1960s by the most thoughtful and acute critic of the time, who was also fascinated by questions of theatrical adaptation.
• Smart, William, ‘Old Wine in New Bottles – Adaptation of Classic Theatrical Plays on BBC Television 1957-1985’, unpublished PhD thesis, Royal Holloway College, 2010
This thesis is not currently available but it is the most substantial focussed contribution to our subject to date.
• Harris, Kate, ‘Evolutionary stages: theatre and television 1946-56’, in Dominic Shellard, ed., The Golden Generation: New light on post-war British theatre (London: The British Library, 2008)
This is a rare article combining an informed theatre studies understanding with original television history research; Dominic Shellard’s volume is also very valuable as a whole.
• Adams, John, ‘Screen play: elements of a performance aesthetic in Television Drama’, in Ridgman, Jeremy, ed. Boxed Sets: Television Representations of Theatre (Luton: University of Luton Press, 1998)
One of the few pieces to endeavor to explore performance issues in television adaptations of the theatre.
• Ellis, John, ‘Is it possible to construct a canon of television programmes?’ in Wheatley, Helen, ed., Re-viewing Television History: Critical Issues in Television Historiography (London and New York: I B Tauris, 2007)
A thoughtful piece about the difficulties of approaching historical television with current critical values; Jonathan Bignell’s article in this volume is also relevant.
• Billington, Michael, State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945 (London: Faber and Faber, 2007)
Michael Billington’s volume is the best (very readable) general history of the post-war British stage.
We would really welcome other suggestions in the Comments below or by e-mail.