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100 television stage plays: [4] BBC, 1955-1964

Having reviewed ITV’s stage plays in the commercial service’s first decade, this post looks at the BBC productions during the same years. These are the final years when stage plays were integrated with the remainder of the drama output. Following the appointment of Sydney Newman as head of television drama in late 1962, stage plays were increasingly seen as most appropriate for prestigious ‘heritage’ productions, an attitude that was institutionalised in the Play of the Month strand from 1965 onwards. But at the end of the 1950s and in the first years of the 1960s stage plays remained central to the mainstream series, most notably Sunday Night Theatre, as well as featuring in more specialist groupings like World Theatre. Continue reading


100 television stage plays: [3] ITV, 1955-1964

With this third instalment we reach the start of commercial television, and I have chosen to focus on ten ITV productions in the service’s first decade. Associated-Rediffusion, ATV and Granada all made numerous dramas for the network, initially relying on plays previously produced in the theatre but increasingly – and especially once the executive Sydney Newman arrived – commissioning original contemporary scripts. To anyone with only a sense of ITV’s output across, say, the last decade, the list below may look extraordinarily bold and challenging. Continue reading

Random (Hillbilly Films for C4, 2011)

Screen Plays is primarily concerned as a research project with the history of theatre plays on British television, but our interests certainly embrace contemporary stage adaptations as well. Television today, however, makes strikingly few such productions, so Random, screened this week on Channel 4, is a rarity. Developed as a film and directed by Debbie Tucker Green from her one-person drama first seen at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008, it is a richly distinctive and largely successful screen version, graced by a striking central performance by Nadine Marshall. Continue reading

Greek plays: Sophocles’ Electra (BBC, 1974)

Today I’d like to share some of my impressions of a viewing of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s production of Sophocles’ Electra, televised on Wednesday 24 October 1974 as the BBC’s Play of the Month. Two years earlier, in November 1972, the BBC had broadcast another Sophoclean play―King Oedipus―in a production by Alan Bridges. Both Electra and King Oedipus used the Penguin translations by E. F. Watling, but in several other respects the productions could not have been more different. When Lindsay-Hogg was offered the chance to direct Electra in 1974, he says he was ‘intrigued […] because I thought that it was a yawn a minute, and I wanted to prove otherwise’. This post contrasts my own response to the production, at several decades’ remove, with contemporary critical accounts and the BBC’s Audience Research Report. Continue reading

100 television stage plays: [2] 1946-1954

This second instalment of our attempt to provide a first map of stage plays on British television focusses on the true terra incognita of our subject: the immediate post-war years when the BBC broadcast a single television channel, initially only from Alexandra Palace and then, after 1950, increasingly from studios at Lime Grove as well. This is a period that is particularly ill-documented in the available literature, and so this list of ten suggestions for significant television stage plays from these years should be taken as even more tentative and provisional than most of the others. Continue reading

100 television stage plays: [1] 1930-1939

The BFI publishes an excellent series of books with short essays on one hundred films of a particular type or from a recognised genre. Even when, as with this series, such lists are not defined as ‘the best…’, they are invariably both fruitful and frustrating, prompting inevitable disagreements about obvious omissions and idiotic inclusions. They can also be very useful, not least as maps — however tentative, however mutable — of areas of screen history. And it is just such a first map of stage plays produced for British television that I want to attempt over the next fortnight. Continue reading

Greek Plays: King Oedipus (BBC, 1972)

Sophocles’ King Oedipus was televised in colour as part of BBC1’s Play of the Month series at 9.25pm on Friday 24 November 1972. In this post I discuss my first impressions of the production which I saw at the BFI last month, in advance of a more detailed analysis to follow. Continue reading

Greek plays: Sophocles’ Electra (A-R for ITV, 1962)

At 9.45pm on Wednesday 28 November 1962 the ITV audience witnessed an extraordinary broadcast―a production of Sophocles’ Electra in Greek with no subtitles. But this was no antiquarian exercise in declaiming ancient Greek. Rather, this was a television version of Dimitris Rondiris’ internationally touring stage production with the Peiraïkon Theatron company and, using Ioannis Gryparis’ translation, it was being given in the living language of modern Greek. Here I draw on the extant recording at the BFI together with newspaper articles and reviews in working towards a critical interpretation of this production fifty years after its first broadcast. Continue reading

Broadcasting in the 1950s, 20-22 July 2011: conference report

The eagerly awaited Broadcasting in the 1950s conference took place at the University of Wales Study Centre, in the beautiful Gregynog Hall near Newtown in mid-Wales, from 20 to 22 July 2011. Over these three days a wealth of papers on a vast array of research topics were heard, proving that a chronological focus to a conference can be a remarkably stimulating way to generate discussion and debate on recurrent themes arising from vastly different interests and contexts. These recurrent themes included class and education, traditionalism vs. experimentalism, sound vs. television, and the persistence―rather than death―of radio in this transitional period. Continue reading

GBS on Independent Television, 1966-83

On the heels of my first post listing plays by George Bernard Shaw on ITV in the years 1955-62, here is a list of commercial television productions by the author in the years after 1962. They include three short adaptations for schools and also a single production for Channel 4, but overall the relative paucity of Shaw plays on ITV since the mid-1960s is striking when compared with his presence in the schedules in ITV’s first decade. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace