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Ibsen on Independent Television

Henrik Ibsen

In an important 1998 essay Neil Taylor compiled a fascinating ‘league table’ of the dramatists whose plays had been produced most often to that date on BBC television. No prizes for guessing who came out on top. George Bernard Shaw was second, and third was Henrik Ibsen. (‘A History of the Stage Play on BBC Television’, in Jeremy Ridgman (ed.), Boxed Sets: Television Representation of Theatre, Luton: John Libbey Media, p. 34).

In the early years of ITV Ibsen was also a favourite with the commercial companies, and one of the most exciting of the recent Library of Congress rediscoveries is a recording of the first Ibsen produced for Independent Television. This is Charles Crichton’s presentation of The Wild Duck, which was transmitted on 30 January 1957. (Next month, on 19 July, BFI Southbank is screening this exceptionally rare print.) Astonishingly, during the two years after The Wild Duck, ITV screened six further Ibsen dramas.

Ibsen on television will be one of my research projects as Screen Plays develops, but while there is an accessible list of BBC Ibsen dramas (although this is no sense complete), nothing comparable exists online for the ITV plays. So today’s blog post offers just that, with credit information drawn from the absolutely essential resource, The Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Drama Research Guide 1955-2010 by Simon Coward, Richard Down and Christopher Perry (Dudley: Kaleidoscope, 2010) that is now available as a .pdf download (click on the title link). Anyone interested in television drama absolutely has to have a copy.

All of the following are subjects for further research.

Play of the Week: The Wild Duck (Associated Rediffusion for ITV), transmitted 30 January 1957.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; adapted by Max Faber; produced by John Clements; directed by Charles Crichton. With Emlyn Williams (Hjalmer Ekdal), Dorothy Tutin (Hedvig), Angela Baddeley (Gina Ekdal). (This remarkable film is discussed in the post The Wild Duck (John Clements / Saville Theatre / A-R for ITV, 1957), 19 July 2011.

 Play of the Week: An Enemy Of The People (Granada for ITV), transmitted 20 March 1957.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by Arthur Miller; adapted by Elspeth Cochrane; produced and directed by Silvio Narizzano. With John Robinson (Doctor Stockman), Clive Morton (Peter Stockmann), Peter Wyngarde (Hovstad), Jill Dixon (Petra), Jessica Spencer (Mrs Stockmann). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Play of the Week: Hedda Gabler (H. M. Tennent Ltd/ATV for ITV), transmitted 29 May 1957, 75 minutes.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by Ernest Borneman; produced and directed by Lionel Harris. With Pamela Brown (Hedda), Michael Gwynn (Doctor Jorgen Tesman), George Voskovec (Brack), John Neville (Ejlert Lovborg). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Armchair Theatre: Ghosts (ABC for ITV, 1957), transmitted 22 September 1957.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by Norman Ginsbury; produced by Dennis Vance; directed by George More O’Ferrall. With Ronald Lewis (Oswald Alving), Marie Ney (Mrs Alving), Basil Sydney (Pastor Manders), Mary Peach (Regina), Julian Somers (Engstrand). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Armchair Theatre: The Master Builder (ABC for ITV), transmitted 19 September 1958.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by Norman Ginsbury; executive producer Dennis Vance; directed by Desmond Davis. With André Morrell (Halvard Solness), Marie Ney (Alvine Solness), Mary Peach (Hilda Wangel), Patrick Troughton (Ragnar Brovik). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Armchair Theatre: The Rat Wife (ABC for ITV), transmitted 20 April 1958.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by Michael Meyer; directed by Stuart Latham. With Neil McCallum (Alfred Allmers), Mary Peach (Asta), Patricia Heneghan (Rita Allmers), Jimmy Ray (Eyolf). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Play of the Week: John Gabriel Borkman (H. M. Tennant Ltd/ATV for ITV) transmitted 19 September 1958, 75 minutes.

Translated by Michael Meyer; adapted by Casper Wrede; based on a play by Henrik Ibsen; produced by Casper Wrede; directed by Christopher Morahan. With Laurence Olivier (John Gabriel Borkman), Pamela Brown (Miss Ella Rentheim), Irene Worth (Gunhild Borkman), George Relph (Vilhelm Foldal), Maxine Audley (Mrs Fanny Wilton), Anthony Valentine (Erhart Borkman). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Play of the Week: A Doll’s House (Associated Rediffusion for ITV), transmitted 31 October 1961.

Translated by James Walter McFarlane; based on a play by Henrik Ibsen; directed by Robert Tronson. With Paul Rogers (Torvald Helmer), Zena Walker (Nora), Kenneth Griffith (Nils Krogstad), Jennifer Wilson (Mrs Kristine Linde), James Maxwell (Doctor Rank). No archival copy is known to exist.

 Golden Drama: The Master Builder (ATV for ITV), transmitted 31 January 1965, 50 minutes, made in association with Combined Theatrical Charities Appeals Council.

Adapted by Emlyn Williams; based on a play by Henrik Ibsen; directed by Peter Wood. With Laurence Olivier (Solness), Celia Johnson (Mrs Solness), Maggie Smith (Hilde Wangel), Peter Cellier. Archive copy exists; programme features only an excerpt filmed on the West End stage.

 Saturday Night Theatre: A Doll’s House (Yorkshire Television for ITV), transmitted 17 January 1970, 75 minutes.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; translated by James Walter McFarlane; executive producer Peter Willes; directed by Joan Kemp-Welch. With Anna Massey (Nora Helmer), Julian Glover (Torvald Helmer), Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Kristina Linda), George Murcell (Nils Krogstad), Paul Daneman (Doctor Rank). Archive copy exists.

 ITV Playhouse: Ghosts (Yorkshire Television for ITV), transmitted 26 July 1977, 75 minutes.

Written by Henrik Ibsen; executive producer Peter Willes; directed by David Cunliffe. With Dorothy Tutin (Mrs Alving), Richard Pasco (Pastor Manders), Ronald Fraser (Engestrand), Brian Deacon (Oswald), Julia Foster (Regine). Archive copy exists.

 Hedda Gabler (Yorkshire Television for ITV), transmitted 3 March 1981, 75 minutes.

Adapted by John Osborne; based on a play by Henrik Ibsen; produced by Pat Sandys; directed by David Cunliffe. Diana Rigg (Hedda Gabler), Denis Lill (George Tesman), Philip Bond (Eilert Lovborg), Alan Dobie (Judge Brack), Kathleen Byron (Aunt Juliana). Archive copy exists and has been released as a commercial DVD.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Ibsen on Independent Television

  1. As I understand it, Ibsen was also quite often performed in rep in the mid-twentieth century, too. As a classic dramatist who could attract an audience, but who wrote plays for small casts that only required stock sets and costumes, he fitted well into the repertory, and the fifties television programming reflects this status.

    Posted by Billy Smart | 17 June 2011, 5:10 am
    • I think you’re absolutely right, Billy, and one of the things I’m interested in exploring is Ibsen’s place in British theatre in the years before television went on the air (and after). BUt of course it’s also interesting that in the first years of Independent Television the companies felt that they needed to have such classic theatre on the screen.

      Posted by John Wyver | 17 June 2011, 7:12 am

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