||A DEGREE IN MURDER
Shown as part of a series of ITV plays entitled Armchair Theatre broadcast at 9.5pm on Thursday 5th January, 1961.
The original TV Times article accompanying this Armchair Theatre production from 5 February 1961 states that 23-year old Michael Bangerter had misgivings when he was asked to play a young blind pianist in the story A Degree in Murder. "I had never played a blind man on any medium before," he said. "All I knew was that blind people stare ahead blankly, keep their eyes perfectly still and rarely blink. It was this non-blinking that terrified me, for I knew that it would be a difficult proposition, especially with all the powerful lighting in the studio. However, the director, James Ormerod, has been very encouraging and patient."
Today, a little over fifty years after the production, Michael has vivid memories concerning this article. While the play was very well received and he got a lot of fan letters as a result of it, he remembers clearly that his comments proved to be a little embarrassing: "My incorrect assertion that blind people don't blink was picked up by a few members of the public who wrote to the TV Times' editor! I remember being interviewed by journalists at a pre-broadcast publicity affair. In those days some commercial companies used to entertain the press with drinks and sandwiches at a West End venue." Today, an actor preparing to play the part of someone who is visually impaired would be offered better support and advice. But in 1961 Michael was left very much to his own judgement. "However, if the director had thought I was not portraying the character's blindness convincingly during rehearsals, I assume he would have done something about it. Any direction I got was to do with the interpretation of the script, especially the dialogue between Dudy and myself." There was also a time factor involved: "If I remember correctly, I received the script a week before I was due to begin rehearsals - I then had ten days in which to bring it up to transmission standard."
Besides portraying blindness and pretending to play the piano, Michael was the play's romantic lead. In it, he falls in love with a young reform school girl, Liz (Dudy Nimmo) who comes to his home as a companion-help for his neurotic, ugly, but rich aunt (Margery Withers). "Dudy Nimmo was a really good actress," remembers Michael, "who had decided to give up acting in order to have a family - A Degree in Murder was going to be her final appearance" (although she did return for one more role in Maupassant in 1963). "I remember, between munching sandwiches and drinking glasses of white wine, trying to persuade her not to be so final. That was the last time I saw her. Although many years later - and this is an odd coincidence - she became a poet and taught for the Open College of the Arts, as I did. She was teaching for them at the same time as myself. Unfortunately, she died before we could renew our acquaintance. As far as I know most of the cast are sadly now no longer with us."
The pianist, Arthur Maw, his wastrel father (played by Kevin Stoney) and his jealous mother (Annabel Maule) are dependent on the aunt's money for their livelihood. Crisis comes when auntie decides to leave her cash to a dogs' home. Murder follows. Whodunnit?
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