ABIGAIL'S PARTY (1977)
Mike Leigh's situation satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s Click Here for review
Morgan and Dave want their Welsh grandfather to live with them, but for different reasons-in which the mutual dislike between Morgan's wife and Dave's fiancé plays an important part. When Alun Owen's play 'After the Funeral' was read by Sydney Newman, head of drama for ABC Television, and William Kotcheff, the television director, they were so taken by his conception of Wales and the Welsh, they decided to see for themselves. Owen took them to his home town, Cardigan, and to the villages of his childhood, which he used as the background to his play. Then he took them to meet Welsh-speaking actors in Cardiff and Swansea. Three of them were asked to take leading parts in the play - Hugh David, Margaret John and Rachel Thomas. Despite the gloomy title, After the Funeral is entertaining and, in parts, funny. Owen makes telling comments on those who pride themselves on Welsh ancestry and anyone who indulges in race snobbery. The story concerns two brothers, Dave and Morgan Roberts, who quarrel on the day of their mother's funeral. They each offer a home to their grandfather, Captain John Roberts (Charles Carson), an eccentric retire sea captain of 80. The plot turns on their reasons for inviting the old man to share their homes. Dave wants him because he loves him and because his home is in Liverpool, the captain's home port for 20 years. Morgan wants him because the old man is a "character" speaks "beautiful Welsh" and would impress his circle at the Welsh university where he is a lecturer. For Morgan is ashamed of being "Liverpool-Welsh," tries to conceal it and has taken great pains to learn Welsh, so that he can carry off his claim to be a true Welshman. Morgan was played by Hugh David who Sydney Newman would, just a few years later, want to cast in the lead role of Doctor Who - a part that David would turn down.
Margaret John, a dark-haired Swansea girl, takes the part of Ailwen, Morgan's wife, in her first TV appearance. She went on to appear in numerous TV productions but is perhaps most famous in recent years for her role as Doris, the surprisingly blunt and sensual elderly neighbour of Gwen and Ness, in the cult BBC TV series Gavin and Stacey. Rachel Thomas plays a spinster aunt, Blodwen. Englishman William Lucas (Dr James Gordon in The Adventures Black Beauty: 1972-74) plays Dave while 23-year old Stockport born actress Sylvia Kay plays Dave's girlfriend, Vera Bryant. Kay later became familiar to television viewers as Penny's mum, Daphne Warrender, in the BBC sitcom Just Good Friends. After The Funeral was Alun Owen's second play for the Armchair Theatre strand (coming between No Trams to Lime Street and Leno, Oh My Lena). Owen would later write the celebrated screenplay A Hard Day's Night - which starred The Beatles. Broadcast on Sunday 3rd April, 1960 between 9.5 and 10.5pm. Adapted from a TV Times article published April 3rd, 1960. Original article Cecilie Leslie.
Very early BBC TV outing for Lewis Carroll's classic fantasy produced by George More O'Ferrall and transmitted live as a Christmas treat on 21st December 1946. Subtitled 'Some of her Adventures in Wonderland' this 40 minute broadcast was shown twice (performed live) before disappearing into the ether forever. Vivian Pickles played Alice and supporting cast included Erik Chitty-twenty years before he appeared as 'Smithy' in Please Sir!-and a young Miriam Karlin some years before she starred as the stroppy shop steward who became something of a national institution in The Rag Trade.
Unimpressed with Disney's 1951 animated version of Lewis Carroll's (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Alice in Wonderland, Jonathan Miller was keen to develop a new version which would bring to the fore undertones of the story that had been glossed over in the often 'traditional' presentation of this classic children's tale. The production was, however, fraught with difficulties, and the eventual presentation met with no more than a lukewarm reception from both critics and viewers.
"I was interested in what dreams were about. That's what Lewis Carroll was interested in," explained Miller reflecting on his production some years later. "There were certain things which intrigued me about his writing. His Victorianism. The melancholy of Growing old and the sadness of losing childhood, which is what the whole book's about. It isn't just a charming fairy story which entertains middle-class children." Alongside Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, Miller had changed the face of comedy in the UK and helped pave the way for the so-called 'satire boom' of the 1960s. Miller, who had originally been studying medicine at Cambridge, had always intended to return to doctoring but soon became sidetracked by, firstly, theatre work and secondly, television. As soon as the revue Beyond the Fringe opened at the Fortune Theatre in May 1961, a new era of British comedy began that would go on to influence not only theatre, but also radio, television and the cinema. And that era was largely dominated by writers and performers who came into showbusiness almost by accident.
When it came to making Alice in Wonderland, Miller himself was largely influenced by the 19th century poet William Wordsworth's ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (in fact, this was quoted at the start and end of Miller's production). Miller also decided to dispense with the traditional costumes of previous versions based on the famous illustrations of John Tenniel, preferring the appearance of the formal and stiff Victorian fashions that Dodgson would have been familiar with when he wrote his story. Miller also insisted that his film should capture the Victorian atmosphere.
The first person that Miller approached to play a part in his film was Peter Sellers. The former 'Goon' was, by this time, much in demand but agreed to play the King of Hearts as long as the filming of his role didn't take more than three days. Alison Leggatt would play the Queen and Peggy Mount the Duchess. Miller's former 'Fringe' colleagues Peter Cook and Dudley Moore would play the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, respectively. The impressive cast list continued with Sir John Gielgud as the Gryphon and Frankie Howerd as the Mock Turtle. Parts were also offered to Robert Morley, Spike Milligan and Kenneth Williams (none of them appeared). Miller also approached Noel Coward to play the Caterpiller and Eric Sykes was offered the March Hare. Ian Carmichael agreed to play the Knave of Hearts, Leo McKern the Dodo and Patricia Routledge the Peppercook (Only McKern would make the final film). The BBC had only allocated a small budget (£32,000) for the production and each actor was to earn £500.00 for their work. For the role of Alice, Miller wanted a complete unknown. In order to find a 'non-actress' the BBC placed an advertisement in the March 5, 1966 edition of The Sunday Times asking for an untrained 10-year old girl. 600 'Alice's' applied. In the end the role went to 13-year old Anne-Marie Mallik.
Shooting commenced on June 22 but by then there were a number of cast changes. Dudley Moore now proved to be unavailable and was replaced by Wilfred Lawson. Michael Gough replaced Eric Sykes and Wilfrid Brambell was contracted as the White Rabbit. Noel Coward dropped out and Miller tried to get James Mason as his replacement. When he couldn't get him, Miller managed to contract Sir Michael Redgrave. Peggy Mount was now unavailable and her role now went to Leo McKern! Sir John Gielgud now played the Mock Turtle after Frankie Howerd dropped out and his part (the Gryphon) went to Malcolm Muggeridge a British journalist, author, and media personality who, in his later years, was a Catholic convert and writer.
Shooting commenced on 35mm black and white film and apparently Miller, who had not prepared a definite script, encouraged improvisation from his actors. When the US TV Networks, that the BBC had been in negotiation with to sell the finished production, discovered that the film was not in colour - their interest distinctly cooled. The film was scheduled for Wednesday 28th December but following an advanced press preview at the Columbia Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue, London, many papers proclaimed that Miller's version was definitely not for kids. One newspaper wrote that children would be bored "and the adults may well be, too." In the end, 12 million viewers tuned into BBC1 but reaction to the film was decidedly tepid. The BBC received over 100 phone calls of complaint with one caller describing the film as "an insult to Lewis Carroll." The film was repeated the following April (1967) but was not seen again until 1986 during a season of programming to celebrate BBC TV's 50th anniversary. Johnathan Millers Alice in Wonderland was also released on video and DVD in 2003 by the BFI.
Peter Sellers did return to the role and this time Spike Milligan and Dudley Moore had no trouble making it - in a 1972 musical version starring Fiona Fullerton as Alice. The film won two BAFTA Awards.
Willie has tried to make his father aware of the danger to their house from flood water, but Dad thinks that Willie's fears are excessive. Willie decides to spend all summer long building a wall to keep out the river, but his efforts are in vain. The fun of All Summer Long, starring Eddie Byrne (Star Wars), Barry Foster (Van Der Valk) and Ann Lynn (Just Good Friends), comes from a family's approach to the problem of an encroaching river. The water, which used to be a long throw from the porch, is now within "spitting distance" and a serious threat to their house. But only the son, 12-year old Willie (Denis Waterman, The Sweeney, Minder, New Tricks) is concerned enough to do anything practical about it, and labours all summer in his efforts. The only help Willie has comes from his crippled brother Don (Barry Foster). But Don could be more use by taking a job that would help pay for building a strong embankment. "Meanwhile," said Dubliner Eddie Byrne of his part, "Dad is maddeningly ineffectual. Where he too could be helping Willie prevent the house falling into the river, he prefers to paint it." The play, written by Robert Anderson, was adapted from Donald Wetzel's novel "A Wreath and a Curse." It had not been previously seen in the UK, although it was seen on Broadway a few years before. All Summer Long was directed by Peter Wood and Broadcast on ITV at 9:35pm on Tuesday 12th April 1960 as the Play of the Week. Adapted from the original TV Times article.
After a road accident, an attractive girl recovers consciousness in a strange room. With her is a young man she has never seen before. Already It's Tomorrow flutters between the escapism of a girl and the fantasy of a boy. Neither the girl (Valerie Gearon) nor the boy (Alfred Lynch) is equal to the problems that crop up in their lives. The boy lives in a world of dreams. He "borrows" his landlady's car and can't bring himself to believe he has knocked down the girl and injured her. The boy takes the girl back to his bedsitter. They don't know each other's names. They are both embarrassed. But tenderness, a quality lacking in both their lives until then, pervades the only room. Threatening the idyll are the boy's landlady, played by Kate Behrens, and the police. A stronger character than the boy might be expected to react more positively, but experience is teaching him. In the play the two main characters were not named only referred to in the credits as 'The Boy' and 'The Girl'. Apart from them and the landlady the only other character was played by William Marlowe. Already It's Tomorrow was written by Lynne Reid Banks, directed by June Howson and produced by George More O'Ferall. Shown at 7.30pm on Thursday 20th September 1962 under the Thirty Minute Theatre strand. An Anglia Television Production. Adapted from the original TV Times article.
What we're about to witness is called a football match. Not the beginning of World War Three. Not the destruction of the human race. A football match!" Every weekend, long-suffering referee Mr. Armistead wades into the melee to try to teach two sets of testosterone-fuelled maniacs the value of restraint, justice and fair play. Why does he persist in this near-futile endeavour? Is it because he has a dangerously masochistic streak? Or is it because Mr Armistead genuinely believes that he can use his peaceful philosophy of life to tame the wilder excesses of the players of Co-op Albion and, on this occasion, the Parker Street Depot? Another Sunday and Sweet FA, originally transmitted in 1972 as part of Granada's celebrated Sunday Night Theatre anthology, was written by multiple BAFTA winner Jack Rosenthal - one of Britain's most consistently successful television dramatists - and directed by the internationally renowned Michael Apted (7Up). Taking a ref's-eye view of the life-or-death drama of match day, Another Sunday and Sweet FA is laden with Rosenthal's characteristically insightful humour and features excellent performances from a cast that includes David Swift, David Bradley and Coronation Street stars Fred Feast and Anne Kirkbride. (Network DVD)
Debuting in 1956 with the play 'The Outsider', starring David Kossoff and Adrienne Corri, Armchair Theatre ushered in a golden age of both writing and production for the 'one-off' drama on British television. Although the series captured a respectable audience rating in its early days, it wasn't until 1958, and the arrival of Canadian producer Sydney Newman, that it gained a reputation for the ruthless, down-to-earth and back room 'kitchen sink' type of story for which it is still remembered today.
When Newman arrived in England in 1958 he immediately picked up on the 'class system' that was an inherent part of everyday life, and which also spilled over into the theatre as well as television drama. Speaking frankly some years later, Newman said, "The only legitimate theatre was of the 'anyone for tennis' variety, which, on the whole, presented a condescending view of working-class people. Television dramas were usually adaptations of stage plays, and invariably about upper classes. I said 'Damn the upper-classes -they don't even own televisions!'
Newman's approach was to abandon established dramas and go for a gritty realism with a series of specially commissioned plays by young playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Robert Miller, Ray Rigby and Alun Owen. "My approach," said Newman, "was to cater for the people who were buying low cost things like soap every day. The ordinary blokes the advertisers were aiming at." It was a policy that paid dividends for the both ABC TV and the viewer. The wealth of talent employed both in front and behind the cameras read like a who's who of the British entertainment industry as the weekly dramas reached the top ten ratings for 32 out of 37 weeks between 1959 and 1960, with audiences of 12 million viewers. Pinter's first TV play during that period was 'A Night Out', and was followed that same year by Owen's 'Lena, O My Lena', which starred Billie Whitelaw and Peter McEnery in a terse story of a Liverpool student who falls in love with a factory worker. However, the classics were not completely abandoned and works F. Scott Fitzgerald ('The Last Tycoon') and Oscar Wilde ('The Picture of Dorian Gray') were also adapted for television. Other productions included Canadian author Mordecai Richler's own teleplay of his 'The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz' and Z Cars creator Ted Willis' 'Hot Summer Night'. As the series gathered in reputation so it attracted some of British theatre's best-known faces and names such as Flora Robson, Gracie Fields, Joan Greenwood, Charles Gray, and Donald Pleasance. Lesser-known names would go on to enjoy long and distinguished careers and these included Alan Bates, Tom Courtney and Diana Rigg. The earlier productions went out live but this practise was stopped after a tragic night in 1958 when actor Gareth Jones collapsed and died during a performance in Underground. There were two major spin-offs from Armchair Theatre, the first of which was John Wyndham's 1962 play called 'Dumb Martian', which became the pilot for Out Of This World, and James Mitchell's 'Magnum for Schneider' (1967), which eventually resurfaced as the pilot for Callan. By this time though Sidney Newman had been headhunted by the BBC, where he became Head of Drama and devised possibly the most famous BBC series of all time, Doctor Who. During the summer months from 1960 onwards the series was alternatively called Armchair Summer Theatre and Armchair Mystery Theatre. However, when ABC lost its franchise to Thames Television in the late 60's the series was dropped before being resurrected in 1974 as Armchair Cinema, a short-lived series of filmed works, which had the distinction of producing Ian Kennedy Martin's 'Regan' (04/06/1974), later to become the quintessential 1970's British cop series The Sweeney. In 1978 Armchair Theatre was resurrected for the last time as Armchair Thriller, but by 1980 it was gone for good.
Unfairly dubbed 'Armpit Theatre' because of the stark realism it at times portrayed, but enjoying a reputation for drama of the highest quality, for many, Armchair Theatre was not only an essential part of Sunday night viewing in Britain throughout the 1960's, but an outstanding contributor in the history of television production. That it's reputation still stands as that today is as much a testimony to Sydney Newman as it is to the many producers, directors, writers and actors that made it not only possible, but also a joy to watch.
Flanders, 1918, and young Capt. Dunton deliberately orders his best friend to certain death. What has gone wrong between the two men? And will the Captain's plan succeed? It is March, 1918. World War One has been dragging on for four years, stalemate following stalemate. The playwrights have realised that patriotism and flag waving are not enough, and in The Barricade Harry Wall shows the personal tragedy war brings in its wake. This story - the second in the For King and Country series about the first world war - also contrasts the carefree, almost feverish life in London with the grim business at the front. It tells an ordinary eternal-triangle tale, but one made stark and more poignant by its surroundings. Lieut. Dick Campbell (David Buck) and Captain Roddy Dunton (Bernard Brown) are close friends, both in love with Violet Derring (Pauline Devaney), who is thoughtless, selfish and flirtatious. At the front Dick hero-worships Roddy, who is engaged to Violet. When Dick goes home on leave, Violet's affections turn towards him. Dick, who has always secretly loved her, cannot withstand her blandishments. On returning to the front he tells Roddy what happened. The shock of this revelation to Roddy's war-torn mind makes him act desperately. "Everyone thinks," David Buck said, "that "Journey's End" is the only worthwhile play produced by the First World War. I think this series is disproving that." Among the cast for this presentation were Ivor Dean (The Saint) and Henry McGee (The Worker and The Benny Hill Show). The play was adapted for television by Tim Aspinall was directed by Julian Amyes and produced by Gerald Savory. It was a Granada TV Network Production. Shown on ITV at 9:15pm on Tuesday 13th August 1963. Other plays in the "For King and Country short series: Part One-Out There Part Three-Tunnel Trench Part Four-The Enemy.
The Brahmin Widow, by James Halliday and John Mitchell, is set in an Indian village in 1961. A lively and eventful day centres on the bungalow belonging to Mrs Sue Purohit (Maxine Audley). Twenty years before, Sue had been rescued from her plight of early widowhood by a British soldier who fell in love with her.
For two years they had lived happily together until the war dragged him away. Since then he has made her a regular allowance through the local lawyer, Mr Ambekar (Michael Bates). The soldier, now Major-General Peter Howard (Ronald Fraser) is doing a survey on a hydro-electric scheme for the engineering firm of which he is chairman, when he comes back to see Sue. It comes as a blow to hear from Mr Ambekar that Sue has a son, Moti (Roger Carey) and that she also has other means of support. With mixed feelings Peter goes to the bungalow to see for himself what Mr Ambekar was so secretive about.
Michael Bates, put on brown make-up to play the local Indian lawyer, Mr Ambekar, six years before he did the same again as the Indian Punka Waller Rangi Ram in the BBC sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Also appearing in the cast was John Bluthal as Kondu. Maxine Audley had wanted to do comedy for some years but found that most producers didn't want to cast her in such roles. "Brunettes are expected to stick to drama, " she told the TV Times. "Only blondes may be comic. Heavy Shakespearian dramatic roles, tragic murderesses, all came my way. But when I wanted to do comedy I had to campaign-to sell the idea of a breakthrough. Directors and producers had grave misgivings." Aired on Monday 8th April, 1968
A young refugee couple stand on the bridge between East and West. The girl is about to have a baby. The frontier guards will not let them pass to the other side. What can they do? The 1959 winner (out of 280 nominated plays) of the Charle's Henry Foyle Award for Best Contemporary Play produced outside London's West End, Bridge of Sighs starred Desmond Walter-Ellis and Sydney Tafler as frontier guards on either side of the Iron Curtain. This satirical comedy was directed by Eric Fawcett and the narrator was the play's author, Thomas Muschamp. The play was set at a frontier post where a small bridge crosses a mountain stream running between two barriers. The Eastern side is manned by Gregor (Tafler), the Western by Johanne (Walter-Ellis). Both are soldiers on opposing sides but also the best of friends. But while they are exchanging schnapps and snaps on neutral ground, two refugees duck under the Eastern barrier and, by refusing to return, they create an international situation. Joseph (Edward Cast) is a student, and his wife, Anna (Margaret John), is within hours of her confinement. But even in this predicament Johanne has not the authority to raise his barrier until morning. More chaos ensues when United Nations intervene with Bessie Love, in the part of Mary Louella Partridge. Both Sydney Tafler and Desmond Walter-Ellis returned to the parts they had played on stage. The play was produced by George More O'Ferrall and made by Anglia Television for Associated Rediffusion. Shown at 9:50pm on Friday 29th April 1960 as part of the Television Playhouse strand.
Alf Liddell is a quiet, good humoured, home-loving man who prefers to keep out of the limelight. But when Alf is elected to the local council he proves to be a man of principles-so strong that he soon makes powerful enemies. These enemies are delighted when Councillor Alf is found in the company of a woman whose case he has championed. John O'Toole, a factory official who lived in Earby, Lancashire, wrote this play for a Granada drama contest. Set in Lancashire, it is the story about the growth in Alf Liddell, a little man grappling with the fear that he and his wife are drifting apart and that she is losing respect for him. "Most of us can recognise this period in married life" said O'Toole. "Sometimes we abandon all hope and "the other woman," as in Alf's case, gives shape and direction to our efforts. Alf's other woman, Molly Squires, however, does so withoutever seriously threatening an alternative source of contentment." Principle parts in this triangle are taken by Milo O'Shea as Alf, Gabrielle Daye as his wife, Clarice and Doreen Keogh as Molly Squires.
Alf is elected an urban district councillor at Pulby, and is overawed by the honour which his wife and brother-in-law, Tom (Peter Collingwood), engineered for him. Tom tells his sister: "Alf's a little man; you're big. You married a bush, Clarice, but you're not satisfied. You want a tree and he's trying to meet you half way. He's reaching up, but you won't reach down." Alf would have probably continued to be submissive but for the arrival of Molly Squires, a person weaker than himself, who turns to him for protection. She is an unmarried mother, a squatter the council want to eject from a condemned house. She begs the new councillor to champion her: "It's not the house they are condemning-it's me. Please Mr Liddell, don't let them put me out. Stop them," she says. Alf replies: "Stop them? Me?" It has never occured to him to challenge anyone in his life and no one is more surprised than Alf himself when at the council meeting he stands up to Councillor Big Rudd Jephson (Claude Jones) and insists on a review of Molly's case. But a middle-aged man who champions an attractive young woman is bound to arouse suspicion in a place like Pulby and finds himself in trouble with his wife and up to his neck in local politics. Shown on ITV as part of the Television Playhouse strand on Friday 29th January 1960 at 9:25 - 10:35pm
A popular officer is accused of taking money from his Battery safe. His defence rests of his wife's evidence - but will she consent to appear at the court-martial? Two stars of the same name - Richard Todd and Ann Todd - play husband and wife in Carrington, VC, in which Dorothy Tutin (appearing in her sixth TV play) also stars as the "other woman." The action of the play, written by Major-General Campbell Christie and his wife Dorothy, is the court-martial of Major Charles "Copper" Carrington, VC (Richard Todd). Jealousy over his war record underlies the accusations made against him by his senior officer, Colonel Henniker, played by Allan Cuthbertson, who created the role in the original stage production and also in the 1955 film version which starred David Niven in the lead. Dorothy Tutin is the WRAC officer, Captain Alison Graham, who gives evidence for Carrington.
Carrington, who won his VC at Dunkirk, is arrested for embezzling £125 from his unit's safe and entertaining a woman officer in his room, which was forbidden by the base commander (Henniker). Appearing as his own defence, Carrington's case at his court-martial is that he took the money openly and without secrecy because of all the back pay owed him. The Army Paymaster had failed to pay him back for various financial losses during postings in the Far East and his wife Valerie (Ann Todd) was pressuring him for money. She lives in another part of the country, has become ill as a result of the financial worries and has even threatened suicide. Carrington also claims that he told Henniker about his decision to remove the money. As for the incident in his room, it is established that Carrington was bed-ridden at the time as a result of his fall and that Graham was visiting him in order to discuss the matter of the embezzlement.
It is soon clear that Henniker resents Carrington's war record, achievements and popularity at the base. "Carrington's spoilt," he tells the court-martial. "Anything he wants he feels he has the right to. Carrington wants leave; he takes it. If he wants a woman in his quarters he ignores all orders against it. He was short of money so he helped himself from the battery safe." Carrington's main chance of acquittal mainly depends on the evidence of two women; his wife whom he loves, and Alison Graham, who is in love with him. Ann Todd said of Valerie Carrington: "It's obvious she is completely undependable. When I have to play a woman who behaves so outrageously, I try to discover the reasons for her conduct. I believe Valerie is afraid. She has had a mental breakdown and is still confused of facing up to life." Also appearing among the cast were Richard Briers, Hugh Manning, John Barron, Derek Waring and Bryan Pringle. Music was composed by Lambert Williamson and the play was produced by George Moore O'Ferrall. Shown Tuesday 26th January 1960 under ITV's Play of the Week strand.
John Harrington runs across the fields, almost blind with terror. His dog, left behind, whimpering and cowering with fear, can only watch as the creature closes in on his master. Harrington runs for his life but instinct tells him that the creature is gaining on him and he trips, stumbles and falls. When they find him, grown men recoil in horror when they discover that something had broken almost every bone in his body...A masterful, contemporary reworking of M.R. James' classic ghost story, Casting the Runes is adapted by BAFTA-nominated playwright Clive Exton and directed by long-time adapter of James' most chilling stories - Lawrence Gordon Clark. This play features an unsettling performance from Iain Cuthbertson as the malevolent Karswell and strong central performances from both Edward Petherbridge (as the unlucky Henry Harrington, for whom time is ticking away) and Jan Francis as television producer Prudence Dunning. Released commercially in 2007 by Network DVD containing Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance: Possibly one of the rarest of the still-existing M.R. James adaptations, this was made for the ITV Schools slot as a casebook example on how to use music in drama to evoke emotional response and A Pleasant Terror: The Life and Ghosts of M.R. James: A semi-dramatised documentary on the life and works of M.R. James, featuring contributions from Christopher Lee, Ruth Rendell, Jonathan Miller and James' biographer Michael Cox. Although ITV produced four black-and-white adaptations of James's ghost stories between 1966 and 1968, no surviving copies are known to exist and this 1979 version 1979 survives as an episode of the ITV Playhouse series. (Network DVD)
CATHY COME HOME (1966)
Hard hitting one-off drama following the plight of one family as they become homeless and are pulled apart. CLICK HERE FOR REVIEW
A CHOICE OF COWARD (1964)
A series of 4 plays by Noel Coward. CLICK HERE FOR REVIEW
"We are all conceived in close prison: in our mother's wombs, we are close prisoners all...and then all our life is but a going out to the place of Execution, to death..." John Donne. Harry Hutchins (Bernard Cribbins), hero of Clive Exton's serious and unusual story, The Close Prisoner, was very nearly the hero of the Second World War. Had it lasted a few days longer he would almost certainly have been sent off to kill Hitler single-handed-or should I say single-chested? For Harry literally has a chest of steel, impervious to bullets. Indeed, during the war he was known as "The Invincible Man." When we meet him in 1964 he is in a TV studio, starting to tell the story of his life. He does not mind telling of his unhappy, ordinary childhood, but the director (Michael Gwynn) of the programme does not like the truth - he wants everything to be happy for the viewers and anything sordid or miserable to be glossed over. The interesting part of Harry's story starts when he was 14. A rash had broken out all over his chest and back, his skin becoming smooth. After weeks of attending hospital, Harry was eventually told his chest and back were turning into steel... Problem for this play's producers: How to make a steel chest for Bernard Cribbins. Director Ted Kotcheff explained: "Finally we some experienced panel-beaters to make a beautiful one. Bernard certainly needed it for the Army scenes, done on location at Aldershot. We spent two days there and a tough platoon took bayonet practice on Bernard's chest. We also had one scene in a field with him running for his life with 5lb charges exploding behind him." But the play is about much more than larks with the Army. It's about matters of life and death, and the way many people see only what they want to see. Bernard Cribbins, known for his comedy, was pleased to be doing a serious role, seeing it as a challenge. "If they're as good as this one I'd like to do more dramatic parts," he told Alan Blyth of the TV Times back in 1964. "When I read the script I was both attracted and repelled by the role of Harry Hutchis," he said. "I knew I must take it."
The Close Prisoner was part of the drama anthology series Studio '64, produced for ATV by Executive producer-director Stuart Burge, who bought together a group of directors and writers to produce specially written dramas based on whatever kind of TV play each writer and director wanted. The series was broadcast fortnightly starting with Nigel Kneale's The Crunch and ending with Clive Exton's The Close Prisoner. It is unclear if the character played by Bernard Cribbins was Harry Hutchins or Henry Hutchins as the TV Times appears to give Harry in the review page but Henry in the cast list as well as showing 'Henry' played at age 8 and 14 by Nicholas Clay and Nigel Clay respectively. Other cast members included Michael Gwynn (Director), Michael Coles (Stage Manager), Norman Bird (Father), Dandy Nichols (Mother) and Sheila Steafel (Ethel). Broadcast on ITV on Sunday April 19, 1964 at 9.35pm. An ATV Network Production.
First transmitted on BBC2 on December 15th 1964, Culloden marked the professional debut of writer/director Peter Watkins, who developed a ground-breaking docu-drama technique which blurred the distinctions between documentary and drama. One that was universally hailed by critics.
Watkins had already made a name for himself in the field of amateur film-making, directing such films as Diary of an Unmarried Soldier (1959) and The Forgotten Faces (1960). Late in 1962 he was engaged as an assistant producer for the newly formed BBC2 and worked as an assistant to Stephen Hearst on several of his documentaries before he was commissioned to make Culloden by Huw Wheldon. The main foundation for Culloden was a book of the same name by John Prebble.
The Battle of Culloden, which took place on April 16th 1746, was the last battle fought on British soil. Some months earlier Prince Charles Edward Stuart ('Bonnie Prince Charlie'), son of James Edward, the Catholic Pretender to the British throne, had landed in Scotland, raised a ragged but tough-spirited Jacobite army from amongst the Gaelic-speaking Highland clans, and marched as far south as Derby before having to retreat back to the Highlands. He was pursued into Scotland by a powerful force of 9,000 redcoats under the command of William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, strengthened by Protestant Scot Lowlanders and several Highland clans loyal to King George II. Outside Inverness, on the bleak, rain-swept Culloden Moor, nearly 1,000 of Charlie's army, made up of 5,000 weak and starving Highlanders, were slaughtered by the Royal Army, who lost 50 men. The Highlanders finally broke and fled. Approximately 1,000 more of them were killed in subsequent weeks of hounding by British troops, during what became known as the "rape" of the Highlands.
Watkins himself explained the motivation for making the drama: "This was the 1960s, and the US army was 'pacifying' the Vietnam highlands. I wanted to draw a parallel between these events and what had happened in our own UK Highlands two centuries earlier, including because our knowledge of what took place after 'Culloden' was basically limited to an exotic image of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' on the label of a Drambuie whiskey bottle. Secondly, I wanted to break through the conventional use of professional actors in historical melodramas, with the comfortable avoidance of reality that these provide, and to use amateurs - ordinary people - in a reconstruction of their own history. Many of the people portraying the Highland army in our film were direct descendants of those who had been killed on the Culloden Moor."
Culloden was filmed in August 1964, near Inverness. Watkins reconstructed events in the manner of a modern day current affairs programme and filmed many scenes of the drama with a hand-held camera to give it a more documentary feel. In one particular scene a man put his hand in front of the camera in order to stop it recording a scene of injured and dying men. On top of this a reporter reported to the audience details leading up to the battle, facts about the battle itself and information on individuals just as one would expect to hear in a contemporary frontline war report. The battle itself only takes up a small amount of screen time before the drama moves on to 'interview' direct to camera the wives of the soldiers lost in battle. Watkins admitted "we made and edited our film as though it was happening in front of news cameras, and deliberately reminiscent of scenes from Vietnam which were appearing on TV at that time."
Culloden was seen as a breakthrough for TV documentary, paralleling advances being made at the BBC by Ken Loach, and by Ken Russell and other filmmakers. The critic in The Sun newspaper claimed Culloden to be 'One of the bravest documentaries I can remember' while the Observer's critic wrote: 'The result was so unexpectedly convincing it gave me quite a shock. I have no hesitation in raving about it, even to the extent of muttering: breakthrough.' Culloden was successful enough to enable Watkins to make The War Game, docu-drama on the nuclear deterrent. This next project proved to be too controversial for the BBC who banned it before it was even broadcast. (See review on this website).
England - 1910. The daughters of the Rev. Ernest Lindley (John Welsh) are expected to marry mates of their own class, breeding and education. Confined to the vicarage, they are unable to meet a selection of such men. The vicarage is a cheerless, cold comfort prison in a North Nottinghamshire mining community, the vicar a colourless, unhappy figure whose wife (Marie Hopps) is a waspish invalid. They are regarded with contempt by their hard-working parishioners. There are two daughters of the vicar. Mary, the elder (played by Petra Davies) is submissive and dutiful, prepared for her ordained marriage to the unprepossessing curate, a timid, coldly inhuman intellectual (played by Robin Parkinson). But Louisa, the younger (Judi Dench), is more wilful, more determined, more modern and scandalises the vicarage by her interest in Alfred Durant, a rough but kindly and alive miner (William Holmes). Location scenes for Daughters of the Vicar were shot at Little Lever in Lancashire, three miles from Bolton. "Curiously," said Petra Davies, "we found that a foundation stone on the church there bore the name Lindley, the surname of the characters in the play." Daughters of the Vicar was adapted for television by Peter Eckersley and shown as part of a series of ITV plays entitled The Stories of D. H. Lawrence broadcast at 9.40pm on Monday 10th January, 1966.
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? Broadcast at 9.5pm on Thursday 5th January, 1961. (Laurence Marcus & Michael Bangerter. September 2011. Other references: Original TV Times article)
Charity begins at home for Florence and Nellie when they take on ex-criminal Basher Bates as their lodger-but just who is being reformed? Call it a fringe benefit - the hoard of banknotes bequeathed to two delightfully dotty old girls, Florence (Dame Sybil Thorndike) and Nellie (Athene Seyler), in Don't Utter a Note a comedy presented as part of ITV's Armchair Theatre strand on Saturday 9th April, 1966. Brother Charles's will did not mention the notes; nor the printing press hidden behind the sitting-room wall. But by the time the sisters realise that the hidden nest egg is counterfeit, the notes have been sent to charities-fortunately anonymously. Faced with the printing press, however, the two dear, daffy spinsters' resourcefulness is equal to the situation. With happy, if confused reasoning, Florence and Nellie convince themselves that "out of evil cometh good". By creating a little extra wealth they can vastly improve many other people's lives. So they decide to enlist the help of their lodger, the breezy Basher Bates (Sid James). Basher has been reclaimed by the sisters, from a life of crime and is an undertaker's mate.
Dame Sybil Thorndike, a brisk 83 at the time of this production, and Athene Seymour, 76, made a splendid pair of shady operators. Crime seemed to pay for them, as they were both appearing as the sisters kindly poisoning lonely widowers in the London production of 'Arsenic and Old Lace' at the same time. This production, written especially for television by Anton Delmar, was part of a season of comedies for Armchair Theatre and was directed by Leonard White and produced by Patrick Dromgoole. Also starring was Peter Bowles, Kathleen Breck, Peter Copley, Tim Preece and Jack Watson. This was an ABC Weekend Network Production.
DUMB MARTIAN (1962)
Armchair Theatre production (produced by Sydney Newman), broadcast on Sunday 24 June 1962 as a foretaste to a new science fiction series starting the following week - Out of This World (see separate entry). William Lucas as Duncan Weaver, a space pilot, has reached 35, the age limit for flying. Duncan has consistently gambled away his pay. So he accepts a job on a space station. The prospect of two years alone on the most airless "pebble," less than 40 miles across, seems interminable. Even a microfilmed library and a huge collection of taped music would not compensate for only one ship a month calling to refuel. So to offset the loneliness, and to help with the chores, Duncan buys Lellie (Hilda Schroder), a Martian girl. At first the "Mart's" lisping speech seems cute to Duncan. But as the novelty wears thin Duncan's boorishness emerges. To him Marts are little better than dumb animals. He pushes Lellie around, treating her like a fool. A rare visitor is Dr. Alan Whint, a geologist. In this role is Ray Barrett, better known at the time as Dr. Don Nolan in the popular medical drama series Emergency-Ward 10. Whint is the opposite of Duncan. He's a thinking man and he doesn't underrate the Marts. Lellie, naturally becomes the sparking point of conflict between the two men. It is Lellie, too, who produces some surprises. Hilda Schroder had to wear a blank expression all through this play, adapted from John Wyndham's story, as all the inhabitants of Mars were described as having expressionless faces. Unfortunately, this episode of Armchair Theatre, directed by Charles Jarrott and designed by James Goddard, no longer survives in the archives.
Written by Jeremy Sandford who, with director Ken Loach, had created one of the most influential dramas of the 1960's, the tale of a homeless mother in Cathy Come Home. In Edna, the subjects that Sandford tackled was no less emotive - vagrancy and alcoholism. In order to give the play an air of authenticity, Sandford lived the life of a tramp - "For two separate occasions of two weeks I submerged myself in that nether world" he later confided. Patricia Hayes, better known for her comedy roles alongside the likes of Tony Hancock, Arthur Haynes, Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill as well as appearances in television series such as Till Death Us Do Part and (later) In Sickness And In Health, was deliberately chosen for the role of Edna because of her comedy background. Edna is rude, aggressive and fiercely proud but is also, often, very funny. Hayes more than justified producer Irene Shubik and director Ted Kotcheff's choice when she gave an award winning performance as the troubled vagrant who is shunted from one agency to another finding temporary sanctuary in shelters for the homeless, prison and a psychiatric hospital, only to be forced back, each time, onto the streets. Hayes deservedly won the best actress award from the Society of Film and Television Arts. The play was voted best production at the same awards, and won the best original television production award from the Writers' Guild and the Critics' Circle award for best television play. Seen as an indictment of society's inability to care for its outcasts, Edna, The Inebriate Woman (originally titled The Lodging House) was a stirring piece of televisual drama that was made all the more powerful by Hayes' superb performance of a woman trying to hold on to the last vestiges of her dignity.
'Armourer Class Two-promoted Corporal last year-passed four 'O' Levels-gained 'A' Levels in English Lit., Economics and Political History in three years since commencing man service.' For Cpl. Halliday a life's ambition looks like being fulfilled, but where does it lead him? Was he too young to make up his mind? The Education of Coporal Halliday tells the story of a young soldier who, having studied in his spare time, has been awarded a place at Bristol University. He wants to buy his way out of the army but as an ex-apprentice soldier he is not allowed to do this until he has served six years. And Cpl. Halliday has served only three. He is unhappy in his army job, but regulations are regulations. Halliday is desperate enough to try anything in his bid for freedom. Gary Bond, who had the title role told TV Times magazine in August 1967; "It wasn't difficult to feel the same way as Halliday - though not in the army. Everyone at some time comes up against the unbreakable, unshakeable barrier of authority. It may be licensing laws-or London's parking regulations. We're surrounded by red tape-enmeshed in it. No good trying to rip our way out-we'd only end up entangled. George Sewell played Sgt. Graham, armourer at the battalion workshop. "Weapons fascinate me," said George. "Especially really old ones, flint-lock pistols and that sort of thing. I also collect head-dresses and helmets. I have around 30, some of them quite rare. Alice Frick - critic of 'Stage and Television Today' wrote: "Gary Bond was first rate."
A young Englishman makes many friends in Vienna, but all of them turn against him with the outbreak of the first world war. After the Armistice, he returns to find nothing but bitterness and despair. War is abominable and useless-a trite truism today. Not so when The Enemy was written shortly after the First World War. The message then was new, and so it makes a fitting end to this symposium of World War One stories. The Enemy takes place in Vienna and, briefly, at the front. Carl Behrend (Christopher Guinee), a budding author, has just married Pauli Arndt (Kika Markham) when war breaks out. Pauli and her father, Professor Arndt (George Pravda), realise the futility of war; Carl and his father, August (Derek Francis), are patriots, although Carl goes only reluctantly into the Austrian Army as a lieutenant. Bruce Gordon (Danvers Walker), an Englishman staying with the Andts, is welcome until war fever grips Austria. Then personal friendships fall victim to the impersonal enmities of countries. Author Channing Pollock then shows how patriotism is not enough to save life and limb nor to feed under-nourished babies. He exposes all the futility of the war which was to end wars and the terrible peacetime reckoning it brought to the defeated. The Enemy was first produced in London in 1925, and was filmed in America starring Lillian Gish as Pauli. This version, for Play of the Week was adapted by Derek Hill. Other plays in the "For King and Country short series: Part One-Out There Part Two-The Barricade Part Three-Tunnel Trench
Entertaining Mr Sloane, a play by Joe Orton, was first presented in London at the New Arts Theatre on 6th May 1964. The first TV presentation of the play appeared as a Playhouse presentation on Monday 15th July 1968 - almost a year after Orton was bludgeoned to death by his partner. The play opens with Mr Sloane (Clive Francis), looking for accommodation. He arrives at the home of middle-aged Katy (Sheila Hancock), who tries to remember to keep her teeth in and her corsets on, even though her allegiance to both tends to be fickle. Katy, who is attracted to Sloane, wastes no time in making him feel at home, although Sloane soon faces problems when Kath's father Kemp (Arthur Lovegrove) recognizes Sloane as the man who had murdered his boss some time ago. Sloane engages in a cat-and-mouse game with Kemp over his identity. The situation becomes even more complex when Katy's over-bearing brother Ed (Edward Woodward) appears on the scene. It is clear from the beginning that Ed also has feelings for Sloane, and so he employs him as his driver.
Sheila Hancock had previously played Katy before, in New York, where she won the "Whitbread" award and a "Tony" nomination for her performance. Speaking at the time, Hancock said: "Katy's amoral by society's standards, but she's so likeable and harms no one." It wasn't the first time she'd worked with Edward Woodward - they had both appeared on the London stage in the long-running "Rattle Of A Simple Man". For 22-year old Clive Francis, this was his first leading part on Independent Television. At 16 he joined the Bexhill repertory and 18 months later went to drama school. More rep followed, a film and some television, besides a year in the West End success "A Girl In My Soup". Clive is the son of Raymond Francis best known as Insp Lockhart in No Hiding Place, and went on to appear later in TV hits Poldark and The Piglet Files. Writing in the July 13th 1968 edition of 'TV Times' under the heading 'The anarchic world of Joe Orton', Milton Shulman, the Canadian author, film and theatre critic - had this to say:
"Comic writers of genius are a rare and precious breed. When they die young, as did Joe Orton, a world that so desperately needs the healing balm of laughter can sadly count it as an irreparable loss. It is difficult to pinpoint Joe Orton's particular talent. He left us only two major plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and "Loot", and a couple of one-act trifles. But meagre as the evidence is, there was little doubt that his work possessed an anarachic, sardonic flavour that was likely to blossom into a special and telling comment on our own times. How elusive his special quality was can be judged from the fact that critics have has to range through the entire spectrum of comic writing to discover apt comparison for his manner and style. He has been called the Oscar Wilde of Welfare State gentility; he echoed the satirical bitterness of Ben Johnson; he possessed the insane logic of the Marx Brothers. He was, in other words, a playwright with a unique, oblique and idiosyncratic vision of his own. Like some giggling anarchist, he planted explosives under existing beliefs not because he wanted to destroy them but because he liked hearing the noise his phrases made when they went off. Those who are easily scandalised should steer clear of him. His nose-thumbing irreverence was especially directed at authority, the law, hypocrisy, gentility, death (he found it hilarious!), religion with particular derisive gestures towards the Roman Catholic Church. There were those who found him tasteless, incomprehensible, offensive, adolescent and shudderingly unfunny. There were those who saw him as a unique commentator on our anarchic condition, a writer with an extraordinary ear for the inanities of language, a needed time-bomb ticking under the behind of authority, a witty eye-witness of the passing absurdities of our day and age.
"No one can be neutral about Joe Orton. That was his peculiar strength."