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Greek plays: viewing Women of Troy (BBC, 1958)

In August this year I blogged about the first well documented (and possibly first ever) production of Greek tragedy to appear on British television—the 1958 BBC Women of Troy, the harrowing tragedy by Euripides that follows the fates of the women after Troy has been sacked and their husbands killed—which was produced by Casper Wrede … Continue reading

Rattigan on DVD: Performance: The Deep Blue Sea (BBC, 1994)

The BBC has three times mounted Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, a feature film adaptation of which, directed by Terence Davies, is released this week. The BBC productions were broadcast with two decades between each one, in 1954, 1974 and 1994, but only the third of these survives in the archives. (There is also an earlier feature film, made in 1955 by Anatole Litvak with Vivian Leigh.) The 1994 studio recording is released on the five-DVD boxset The Terence Rattigan Collection and this post is devoted primarily to that version, with some notes too about the earlier two outings for the small screen. Continue reading

More scenes from Cymbeline (BBC, 1956)

A previous post explored the BBC Television half-hour presentation of scenes from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in November 1937. Nearly twenty years later, in October 1956, the BBC broadcast another half-hour of scenes from the play. Both transmissions were drawn from then-current stagings – the earlier from the Embassy Theatre, the latter from the Old Vic – and both involved transplanting the actors from their stages to a television studio for a live programme. In neither case does a recording exist, but in the programme files at Written Archive Centre at Caversham, there are detailed camera scripts for both. These scripts allow us to reconstruct, at least in part, these ‘lost’ broadcasts, and offer the chance to compare the visual language of television in its earliest form and as it was almost two decades on. Continue reading

In the beginning: scenes from Cymbeline (BBC, 1937)

In 1937 scenes from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline were presented by the BBC from a production running at the Embassy Theatre, London. On 29 November 1937 nine actors from the company assembled at Alexandra Palace for rehearsals at 10am and performed scenes from their production for roughly thirty minutes at 3.30 and at 9.30pm. As with all pre-war television, no recording was made, but there is a production file in the BBC Written Archive Centre which contains, along with other documents, a script with camera directions. Nearly twenty years later, on 30 October 1956, scenes from Cymbeline were once again given on BBC Television, this time from an Old Vic production with Barbara Jefford and Derek Godfrey that was re-staged in the studio at Lime Grove. Again, no recording exists of the production, but a camera script does – and this can facilitate a detailed technical comparison. Continue reading

Greek plays: The Serpent Son (BBC, 1979)

I recently spent the afternoon at the BFI watching The Serpent Son, the BBC’s 1979 three-part television adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy (translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish), and found it to be quite unlike anything I’ve yet reviewed for the Screen Plays blog and interesting in lots of ways. There is a lot more to be said about the production of these three plays, and perhaps they deserve some closer attention in future posts, but here I will confine myself mainly to some comments on the design of the production and the original BBC commission. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace