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Introducing Joan Kemp-Welch (1906-1999)

A really important, and really interesting, aspect of our work is getting a sense of some of the creative figures in the history of stage plays on television. John Wyver began the blog’s series of ‘Introducing’ posts with a piece about Fred O’Donovan, a television producer working for the BBC from 1938 to 1939 and again from 1946 to his death in 1952. Today I introduce Joan Kemp-Welch (1906-1999) who enjoyed a successful career as a stage and film actor, and then a stage director, before beginning work at Associated-Rediffusion in 1955 as one of the first women directors in television. This blog post derives most of its material from a valuable oral history recording made by the BECTU History Project and it offers us some valuable glimpses of her attitude towards adapting the plays to the confines of the commercial schedule, the enormous advantages of having been a theatre director when working on plays in the studio and and the difficulties of being a female television practitioner in the 1950s. Continue reading


World Theatre: Brand (BBC, 1959)

Henrik Ibsen’s Brand (1866) is rare amongst television adaptations of stage plays in that it was a drama never originally intended for theatrical production, but as an epic verse drama set out in dialogue as a script to be read. The play contains a scene of a storm at sea and concludes with an avalanche, both seemingly beyond the limitations of nineteenth century staging, and if performed uncut (as on its first staging in Stockholm in 1885), would run for a demanding six and a half hours. Continue reading

Greek plays: the National Theatre’s The Oresteia (Channel 4, 1983)

Twenty or so years after ITV transmitted a production of Sophocles’ Electra in modern Greek and — astonishingly — without subtitles (about which I wrote a blog piece here), the second of the two known reconfigurations of theatre productions of Greek drama for British television was transmitted by Channel 4, less than a year after the network was established. Whereas the modern Greek Electra had posed a linguistic challenge for the audience in 1962, Channel 4’s transmission of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy in 1983 — a televised version of the National Theatre’s 1981 all-male production directed by Peter Hall — was challenging in terms of its sheer length, for it ran over a 4½-hour slot on the evening of Sunday 9 October. In this long blog piece, I consider the other programmes which accompanied this viewing marathon, before going on to contextualise the production of Agamemnon, the first play in the trilogy, in terms of its place in Channel 4’s cultural programming schedule, think through some of the aesthetic effects of the production’s translation to the small screen and, finally, consider the contemporary critical response to the production. Continue reading

A note about relying on Radio Times

Although most of our recent blog posts have been about particular productions of stage plays on television, and although we most definitely intend to continue contributing these, we also want to use the blog to reflect on the ways in which we are conducting our research. This post comes from my recognition this week that the central source from which Amanda and I are working, the weekly BBC publication Radio Times, is perhaps not quite as reliable, especially in the earliest years of television, as we might once have thought. Continue reading

Call for papers: ‘Theatre Plays on British Television’ conference, October 2012

This is a call for papers for the first conference arising from Screen Plays. ‘Theatre Plays on British Television’ will be held at the University of Westminster on Friday 19 October 2012. Proposals are invited for papers and panels tackling issues and topics within the broad area of theatre plays on British television from 1930 to the present. In order to encourage a truly interdisciplinary discussion we warmly welcome proposals from scholars and postgraduate students working on the histories of broadcasting, media, drama, theatre and culture. Continue reading

A tale of six Cinders, part 2: Cinderella (BBC, 1938, 1948, 1950)

The first instalment of this two-part post highlighted a studio production and an OB of different Cinderellas in the first two years of the BBC’s television service after the war. This continuation discusses two post-war studio Cinderellas as well as another that was also considered for a revival, having initially been televised in 1938. (As an opera, if we are being strict, this final Cinderella falls outside the corpus of work being explored by Screen Plays, but its tale is nonetheless interesting.) Continue reading

A tale of six Cinders, part 1: Cinderella (BBC, 1946, 1947)

Perhaps the rags-to-riches theme of Cinderella was felt to have a particular resonance for austerity Britain in the late 1940s. Whatever the reason, in the post-war years BBC Television does seem to have been remarkably keen on the fairy story. There was a studio presentation of a Players’ Theatre version in early January 1947 and an outside broadcast of a different staging in December that year. Another OB Cinderella was planned for January 1948, although this was cancelled, and then at Christmas later in 1948 there was a further studio production. That makes four versions, to which can be added a comic opera Cinderella first presented on television in 1938 and considered for revival just after the war, plus yet another OB version that may or may not have been broadcast in December 1946. The tales of these various Cinders suggest some of the problems of producing stage plays on television in those pioneering days. Continue reading

Entente cordiale: a French Othello (BBC, 1950)

I can think of only two occasions on which a substantial part of a theatre play has been broadcast in a language other than English (excluding for the moment broadcasting in Welsh). Amanda has written a fascinating post about one of these: the primetime transmission by Associated-Rediffusion of Sophocles’ Electra in modern Greek in November 1962. This post is about the other, which was the final scene of Shakespeare’s Othello (Act V, Scene 2) given in French by the Comédie Francaise in March 1950. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace