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‘An outside broadcast from the last century’: the Gaslight Theatre melodramas (BBC, 1965)

At 7.50pm on 31 July 1965, the Saturday-evening audience for BBC2 was treated to an hour of melodrama . . . melodrama, that is, as it had been played on the 19th-century stage. The production offered that evening, titled Maria Marten; or, The Murder in the Old Red Barn, was the first in a curious series of six melodramas, all with a theatrical pedigree, transmitted in a prime-time weekly viewing slot under the banner Gaslight Theatre. The series was the brainchild of the actor and theatre manager, Alec Clunes, and the television producer Bryan Sears, who were supported by a special ‘resident company’ of actors who took part across many of the productions – indeed, Ronnie Barker not only starred in all of the plays but also had a hand in cutting the scripts down to an appropriate size for the hour-long slot. Continue reading