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Plays

GBS on Independent Television, 1955-62

George Bernard Shaw on his 90th birthday, July 1946; © Time Inc.

George Bernard Shaw on his 90th birthday, July 1946; © Time Inc.

Following on from my 16 June post Ibsen on Independent Television, I am also beginning to map ITV productions of plays by George Bernard Shaw. (I am all too aware that I owe the blog my first review of a play from the DVD box set George Bernard Shaw at the BBC; this will follow later in the week.) This first of two posts details early ITV productions of Shaw and includes the four-play season mounted by Granada at the end of 1962; a second post, detailing productions between 1966 and 1983 follows tomorrow.

I have supplemented the credits below with review comments from The Times, but the primary information once again comes 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). This is available for purchase as a .pdf download (click on the title link), and anyone interested in television drama absolutely has to have a copy.

• ABC Playhouse: Man Of Destiny (ABC for ITV) transmitted 1 October 1955.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, produced and directed by Desmond Davis. With James Donald (Napoleon), Elizabeth Sellars (The Strange Lady). Apparently a telerecording of the final reel was sold on eBay in April 2008.

• Play of the Week: Widowers’ Houses (A-R for ITV) transmitted 20 November 1957.

Written by George Bernard Shaw; adapted and directed by David Boisseau. With John Welsh (Sartorius), Maureen Connell (Blanche), Harry H. Corbett (Lickcheese), Trader Faulkner (Trench), Brian Oulton (Cokane). No recording is known to exist.

When Widowers’ Houses, Shaw’s first play, appeared in 1892, William Archer described it as ‘a curious example of what can be done in art be sheer brainpower, apart from natural aptitude’. This classic piece of misjudgement was made particularly astounding by the exuberantly theatrical production of the play last night on independent television.

The director, Mr David Boisseau, was fully justified in skating lightly over the play’s didactic content. As a tract for the times, Widowers’ Houses has achieved its purpose; it is an expended missile… But the characters remain almost ungovernably alive, continually pulling the plot off course…

There is no way of getting around the fact that all of the characters are unpleasant; and Mr Boisseau’s cast took the bold course of making them as unpleasant as possible. Even Trench, the one possibly sympathetic figure, was played by Mr Trader Faulkner as a smug onlooker. (Anon., The Times, 21 November 1957, p. 3)

• Play of the Week: You Never Can Tell (A-R for ITV) transmitted 16 July 1958.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, directed by David Boisseau. With Margaretta Scott (Mrs Clandon), Duncan Macrae (Fergus Crampton), Brian Oulton (Finch M’Comas), Maureen Davis (Dolly Clandon), Bernard Horsfall (Valentine). No copy is known to exist.

• Play of the Week: Man And Superman (ATV / H. M. Tennant Ltd for ITV) transmitted 17 September 1958.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Lionel Harris. With Irene Browne (Mrs Whitfield), Basil Henson (John Tanner), Basil Dignam (Mr Ramsden), Ann Walford (Ann Whitfield), John Lee (Octavius Robinson), Sally Bazely (Violet Malone), Wilfrid Brambell (Mr Malone), Gordon Chater (Henry Straker). No archive copy exists.

If ever there was an attempt to streamline Man and Superman into something on the lines of My Fair Lady, it would probably turn out to resemble the truncated and bantam-weight version of the play presented last night by Associated Television… vital passages, such as Tanner’s great speech on the artist’s self-sufficiency were smoothly excluded so as to leave simply a comedy of brilliant effrontery without philosophical anchorage…

Allowing for this emasculation of the play, Mr Lionel Harris’s production was crisp and workmanlike. (Anon., ‘Man and Superman truncated: comedy of effrontery on television’, The Times, 18 September 1958, p. 6)

• Television Playhouse: A Village Wooing (Granada for ITV), transmitted 2 January 1959.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Julian Amyes. With Michael Goodliffe (Mr ‘A’), Sheila Ballantine (Miss ‘Z’). No recording survives.

• Play of the Week: Major Barbara (Granada for ITV) transmitted 23 October 1962.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, edited for television by Maurice Colbourne; produced and directed by Stuart Burge. With Judi Dench (Barbara), Brewster Mason (Andrew Undershaft), Marian Spencer (Lady Britomart), Edward Woodward (Adolphus Cusins), Michael Bangerter (Stephen), Margo Andrew (Sarah), Philip Madoc (Charles Lomax), Max Kirby (Morrison), Charles Kay (Snobby Price). No copy exists.

The most arguable casting was that of Miss Judi Dench as Barbara: she has to perfection the golden girl quality, the hockey captain under the uniform, but as yet she lacks the incisiveness and authority which Barbara should surely have, at least intermittently. Barbara is a little bit of a prig, not wholly and uncompromisingly heroic, but perhaps it was felt that that would be to complicate matters unduly for the mass audience. (Anon., ‘Shaw on verge of burlesque’, The Times, 24 October 1962, p. 14; illustrated by a production still.)

• Play of the Week: Misalliance (Granada for ITV) transmitted 30 October 1962.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, edited for television by Hugh Leonard, produced and directed by Stuart Latham. With William Mervyn (Lord Summerhays), Peter Vaughan (Mr Tarleton), Noël Dyson (Mrs Tarleton), Christopher Guinee (Gunner), Diana Fairfax (Hypatia). No copy exists.

Mr Stuart Latham’s production last night made the most of the farcical elements… But we were not allowed to forget, either, the serious points being made somewhere in there among the amiable nonsense. Television, in fact, proves in some ways an even more congenial home for Shaw’s long conversational scenes than the stage, since the fact that mere plot is being pushed into the background whenever it suits the background tends to worry us less in the more intimate, anecdotal medium. (Anon., ‘Shaw play on television’, 31 October 1962, p. 8)

• Play of the Week: Don Juan In Hell (Granada for ITV) transmitted 6 November 1962.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, produced and directed by Julian Amyes. With Alan Badel (Don Juan), Cyril Cusack (The Devil), Siân Phillips (Dona Ana), A. J. Brown (The Statue). An archival recording has survived.

Granada’s series of productions of plays by Shaw has shown that their subtleties of rhythm and declamation provide difficulties for actors brought up on later, less elaborate styles… Last night Miss Siân Phillips, Mr Alan Badel, Mr Cyril Cusack, and Mr A. J. Brown gave their author the intelligence and conviction he demands, and Mr Julian Amyes’s production left him in undisturbed control. (Anon., ‘Full strength Shaw’, The Times, 7 November 1962, p. 15.)

• Play of the Week: The Apple Cart (Granada for ITV) transmitted 13 November 1962.

Written by George Bernard Shaw, edited for television by Hugh Leonard, directed by Derek Bennett. With Laurence Payne (King Magnus), John Phillips (Prime Minister), Moira Redmond (Orinthia), Roddy McMillan (Boanerges), Helen Christie (Queen Jemima), Jessie Matthews (Postmistress General). An archival copy exists.

It is a pity that Granada Television’s ambitious Shaw series should have ended, in last night’s production of The Apple Cart, with the weakest offering of the four. But the blame for the relative failure of the production cannot be attributed entirely to Shaw and the intractability of the material. If the cabinet scenes were a jumble it was much failure on the part of the director, Mr Derek Bennett, to impose a clear shape on the material as a deficiency in the material itself. And the acting too was lacking in edge…

However, for its best things Granada’s Shaw series has more than justified itself: let us hope it is only the first of many similar retrospectives. (Anon., ‘Weak finish to Shaw series’, The Times, p. 16)

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