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End of part one

Were it not for unforeseen circumstances, today would have marked the halfway point of the Screen Plays research project. We are at the end of the eighteenth month of what was originally a three-year project. But thrillingly my colleague on the project Dr Amanda Wrigley is pregnant with twins, who are due in the middle of February, and so the project will be extended into early 2015. To mark this moment, I thought it might be interesting to detail which of the 150 previous posts have proved to be the most popular with readers. Continue reading


Bookshelf: The Wars of the Roses (1970) by John Barton with Peter Hall

In my earlier post about Michael Barry’s memoir From the Palace to the Grove which details his life in television from 1938 to 1952 I lamented that he did not twin this revealing volume with a personal account of his later career. That prompted me to pull from my shelf a handsome volume that, in part, is a commemoration of one of Barry’s greatest small-screen triumphs. The Wars of the Roses by John Barton with Peter Hall (and some assistance from William Shakespeare) was published by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1970. That date is rather odd since it is the script of an adaptation of four of Shakespeare’s History plays that was first seen in Stratford-upon-Avon in August 1963 and then shown in three parts on BBC Television on 8, 15 and 22 April 1965. Continue reading

In Rehearsal: The Bacchae (BBC, 1969)

Today’s blog post is something of an aside: the television programme I’m considering doesn’t fall within the methodological net of Screen Plays owing to the fact that it is focuses only on a couple of scenes from a play. The half-hour programme in question, which considers scenes from Euripides’ Bacchae was the second in the In Rehearsal series, a creation of the BBC Further Education department for transmission on BBC 1 on Sunday mornings in 1969. It’s interesting as an example of the BBC’s Further Education programmes of the late 1960s and early 1970s, enabling me to extend my knowledge about the BBC’s educational programming, and also because, as a Greek play, it’s also of some relevance to my Greece on the Small Screen project. Certainly, then, it seems to be worth a footnote on the blog.

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Bookshelf: From the Palace to the Grove (1992) by Michael Barry

It has been a while since we contributed a volume to the Screen Plays virtual bookshelf, although previous reviews can be found here, here, here, here and here. I want to remedy the lack with a brief response to a fascinating memoir written in 1987 by Michael Barry who was BBC Head of Drama from 1952 to 1961. There is an excellent summary of his career at the British Television Drama website, including an outline of why he left the corporation in 1961 after disagreements over the direction of his department. From the Palace to the Grove, however, chronicles his years in television before he took up the executive position and covers his work as a producer from 1938 to 1951. Continue reading

A307 Drama: Woyzeck (BBC / The Open University, 1977)

This post continues my work on sixteen co-productions between The Open University and the BBC which were made for television transmission as part of the course materials supporting the work of distance-learning undergraduate students on the A307 Drama course which ran annually from 1977 to 1981. Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck was, alongside Genet’s The Balcony, another production which caught the unforgiving eye of Aubrey Singer, the Controller of BBC2: he objected to both the love-making scene and also the lengthy murder scene, but the production escaped without cuts by being moved from the Sunday schedule to early one Saturday morning. The producer-director John Selwyn Gilbert captures eloquently the dramas being played out both in the domestic sphere and between social classes, leading Michael Church to pronounce in The Times that this production, made and transmitted primarily for higher educational purposes, was ‘the best piece of television drama we have had for many weeks’. Continue reading

Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (Granada for ITV, 1961)

If the promotional material on the inside of the Network DVD of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance is a guide, the recent release of this play first broadcast on 24 October 1961 can be explained by the central performance by Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan, of course, is the star of both Danger Man (1960-67) and The Prisoner (1967-68), the latter an immensely popular fantasy series. Before these series, however, McGoohan was an admired theatre and television actor, whose small-screen appearances included Ibsen’s Brand (BBC, 1959). And he is compelling as the driven and dangerous ‘Black Jack Musgrave’ in John Arden’s drama, which the critic Michael Billington hails as the playwright’s ‘undoubted masterpiece’. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace