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This tag is associated with 143 posts

BBC television’s first drama: Murder in the Cathedral (1936)

I have been pleased to discover recently that we can add a new “first” to the early productions of theatre plays for television. According to a short report in the Manchester Guardian the BBC television service mounted scenes from T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral on 19 October 1936. A test broadcast some three weeks before official transmissions began, this production should, I think, be recognised as BBC television’s first identifiable drama. Not only that, it was apparently also the first studio broadcast in which scenery was used. Continue reading

‘Greek tragedy on the small screen’ is revived in Birmingham!

Just as we have brought to a close our fourth and final season of screenings at BFI Southbank, marking the end of a wonderful four years of collaboration on the topics of Greek tragedy (2012), Jacobean tragedy (2013), Edwardian drama (2014) and American playwrights (2015), we are absolutely delighted to announce that part of our very first season is about to be revived at the Library of Birmingham under the guardianship of Dr Elena Theodorakopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham. Continue reading

Arthur Miller on the small screen 3: The Crucible

Arthur Miller’s (1915-2005) American tragedies have not only proved to be extremely popular on both British professional and amateur stages for more than half a century but they have also enjoyed a longstanding place at the heart of English literature curricula in schools. It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that at least twelve productions of his plays have been transmitted on British television networks over a forty-year period from 1957 to 1997. This third in a series of four posts considers the three extant productions of The Crucible transmitted in 1959 (Granada), 1968 (Rediffusion) and 1981 (BBC), with a special focus on the last of the three for which a viewing copy exists in the archives. Continue reading

World Theatre: Strange Interlude (BBC, 1958)

Strange Interlude is being screened as the second in the Classics on TV: Great American Playwrights season at BFI Southbank in January 2015. Read more and book your ticket for the screening at 2.45pm on Sunday 11 January 2015 at BFI Southbank. The World Theatre series of plays that ran on BBC Television in the first three months of 1958 contains what must be the most adventurous – some might say eccentric, or even obscure – choice of theatre plays that the medium has ever embraced. Strange Interlude was the climax to the season, broadcast in two ninety-minute-plus episodes on the consecutive Sunday evenings of 23 and 30 March 1958. Continue reading

‘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

From Edward Albee to Tennessee Williams: American drama on the British small screen

One of the things I’m working on at the moment is turning my Arthur Miller blog posts into an essay for the Screen Plays collection Theatre Plays on British Television which John Wyver and I are editing for publication with Manchester University Press. It strikes me that, for context, it would be very good to get a better idea of how other American plays have been presented on British television in the twentieth century. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Performance: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd (BBC, 1995)

The final presentation in the BFI Southbank Screen Plays season ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ is tonight’s screening of a 1995 production of D. H. Lawrence’s play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd. It might be thought eccentric to include this in a selection of Edwardian plays. Yet given our interpretation of the Edwardian era as stretching until the start of the First World War, and also given a desire not to restrict the choices simply to society tales and examples of the ‘New Drama’, then there is a strong case for the inclusion of Lawrence’s largely naturalistic play. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Strife (BBC, 1988)

John Galsworthy’s Strife in a 1988 BBC television production directed by Michael Darlow was the fifth presentation in the Screen Plays BFI Southbank season ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’. First performed in March 1909, Strife concerns the clash towards the end of an unofficial strike between management and workers at a tin-plate works. But as many critics have pointed out, the play is less about politics than about the human clash between Roberts, the leader of the men (played in this 1988 television production by Timothy West) and Anthony, the Board Chairman (Peter Vaughan). Continue reading

Back to Methuselah by Bernard Shaw (BBC, 5 parts, 1952)

George Bernard Shaw’s dramas were frequently produced by television from 1937 onwards, but perhaps the most extraordinary presentation of his work was the five-part cycle of Back to Methuselah shown in the summer of 1952. The medium of course was a very different world sixty-plus years ago (not least in all drama being live, with no recordings made), but even I find it truly remarkable that BBC Television should have devoted five consecutive Tuesday evenings to a seemingly unstageable work about which even Shaw himself acknowledged, ‘I was too damned discursive’. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Play of the Month: Waste (BBC, 1977)

The centenary in 1977 of Harley Granville Barker’s birth was marked by a revival of the playwright’s The Madras House, directed by William Gaskill for the National Theatre, and by Don Taylor’s remarkable BBC television presentation of Waste. The two productions demonstrated how finely-crafted are Barker’s major dramas, how powerful a playwright he is, and how pertinent and relevant is his social analysis. As the next presentation in the Screen Plays BFI Southbank season ‘Classics on the Small Screen: Edwardian Drama on Television’, Waste is screened on Tuesday 20 May 2014. The production has never been released on DVD and this is a rare chance to catch a truly powerful studio production. Continue reading