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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

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Brian Rix presents: Reluctant Heroes (BBC, 1952)

Between 1955 and the late 1960s BBC Television broadcast some seventy live comedies from the Whitehall Theatre in London. Presented by the actor-manager Brian Rix, these transmissions – often shown at Christmas or on other bank holidays – were strikingly popular fixtures in the schedules. They were rarely discussed by journalists at the time and have been ignored by writers on television ever since. Recordings of only a handful survive, but there is extensive documentation of almost all of them in the BBC Written Archive Centre. They are the most sustained and successful partnership between a theatre company and a broadcaster, and in a series of posts over the coming weeks I intend to explore their production context, the responses of both critics and audiences at the time, and how we might assess their significance today. This first post details what might be regarded as a prologue to the main series – the broadcast on 14 May 1952 of just the first act of Colin Morris’ hit comedy Reluctant Heroes. Continue reading

Terence Rattigan on television — and DVD

The centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth has shaken lose some true treasures from the archive, released by the BBC’s DVD label 2 Entertain in a five-disc box set, The Terence Rattigan Collection. I have listed the nine productions below, and over the coming weeks we will review each of them here. Today I want both warmly to recommend the set and to muse on two questions that it prompts. The first is to ask, particularly in relation to two precious fragments of filmed stage productions, why 2 Entertain can be so casual with their contextual materials? And the second is to explore what’s missing from the box-set. Continue reading

Introducing Fred O’Donovan

One of the most interesting aspects of our research is starting to get a sense of some of the key creative figures in the story of stage plays on television. This is particularly the case with producers and directors from the earliest years of television, before and after World War Two. And among these a particularly intriguing figure, but at present also an elusive one, is Fred O’Donovan. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace