Four parts. Writer: Stephen Gallagher; Producer: John Nathan-Turner; Director: Paul Joyce
Warriors’ Gate was a visually inventive, conceptually ambitious and idiosyncratic Doctor Who serial, but also a fraught one for Paul Joyce, its director.1 The disagreements behind the scenes have been well documented, and are often discussed as a marker or consequence of the serial’s ambition.2 I’ve researched this serial in the BBC Written Archives Centre production file on Warriors’ Gate and the archive of writer Stephen Gallagher that is held by Hull History Centre,3 studying everything from multiple script drafts and notes on script meetings through to the specs for the set’s timber framed gimbal mirror and a list of supplementary payments for overtime and wig fittings (at productive moments in these archives it was of course difficult not to declare that “I’m finally getting something done!”4 ). However, this essay is not a blow-by-blow production history but a discussion of Joyce’s direction: partly showing how Joyce’s approach helps to convey the serial’s ideas, but mainly showing how debates about the future of Doctor Who’s production methods and the spaces of television circulated around Warriors’ Gate. Read more...(7970 words, 13 images)
With his 1956 play Look Back in Anger, John Osborne (1929-1994) famously kick-started the theatrical trend for “Angry Young Men” and drama which explored the grimmer side of contemporary life, putting society’s discontents centre-stage. Amongst a body of further stage plays, Osborne also produced a clutch of screenplays for cinema and, more pertinently for us, television.
Television had played a modest part in the success of Look Back in Anger. The play was at break-even point when an extract was broadcast from the Royal Court theatre by the BBC close to the end of its run.1 Following this exposure, the rest of the run sold out and the play was transferred to the Lyric theatre to meet excess demand.2 Six weeks after the excerpt was televised, the full play was broadcast by Granada, directed by its theatre director Tony Richardson. Writing in The Manchester Guardian, Bernard Levin found that the play made “tremendous television.”3Look Back in Anger was produced for television in Britain again twice, by the BBC in 1976, to mark the play’s twentieth anniversary, and as an ITV/Channel 4 co-production of Judi Dench’s stage version in 1989.4 Extracts were also performed in two episodes of The Present Stage, ABC’s 1966 series exploring modern drama.5Read more...(3591 words, 3 images)
Five parts. Writer: Troy Kennedy Martin; Adapted from (novel): Angus Wilson; Producer: Jonathan Powell; Director: Stuart Burge
In all the myriad apocalypse dramas produced in the UK, what matters most is where the bomb drops. The drip-drip of radio bulletins in the suburban daily lives of Threads cut straight to the contemporary fear of nuclear war, and the 1984 film’s unfussy depiction of local authority admin echoes the staccato, functional, inevitable nature of Peter Watkins’ The War Game. As a narrative device the anticipation of Armageddon can create real tension, the strike clearing away characters in a single bound and providing a fundamental gear change in a long storyline. After which it’s either about the journey back or, more likely, an acceptance of the new order.
The Old Men at the Zoo, a 1983 serial for BBC2 based on the novel by Angus Wilson, leaves the flashpoint unfashionably late. Although the threat of war is ever present the focus is very much on preparation, propaganda and domestic politics. Curiously, and rather more indicative of the age in which it was adapted, the nuclear bomb that arrives four fifths of the way through was not even present in the novel. Read more...(1483 words, 1 image)
Five plays. Writers: Keith Dewhurst, Fay Weldon, Bernard Kops, Stephen Davis, Michael Wall; Producer: Robin Midgley; Directors: Robin Midgley, James Cellan Jones, Robert Walker, Donald McWhinnie
During the 1960s, live television drama on British screens was slowly phased out in favour of the convenience and control afforded by pre-recording on videotape. Ever since, there were murmurs that some unique, special quality inherent in live performance had been lost and occasional attempts have been made to revive the form. One of the most interesting of these attempts was Live from Pebble Mill, produced from BBC Birmingham in 1983.
Live from Pebble Mill was conceived and produced by Robin Midgley, the head of drama for BBC Birmingham, who had a background in the theatre and had worked on live television drama in the 1960s. He insisted the project wasn’t simply a nostalgic exercise in retro television production, but an attempt at forcing a more imaginative form of staging through the use of the live method: “We’re not trying to turn the clock back. Quite the reverse, in fact. Instead of going for the usual kind of ‘reality-effect’ in the studio, we’ll be using the space more imaginatively – in a sense, exploiting the live context to break with some of the conventions of naturalism.”1 Not all were impressed by his experiment, with the Radio Times reporting that one “distinguished script editor” had informed Midgeley that “you’re setting back television 20 years. Progress lies with more film, more technical sophistication, more refinement.”2Read more...(2282 words, 1 image)
Play for TodayWriter: Peter Terson; Producer: David Rose; Director: Michael Simpson
“Contact with the lavatory on all floors”
Peter Terson’s best known plays, Zigger Zagger and The Apprentices, present a tough and unsentimental view of the world and of the occasional cruelties that people, more often than not working-class men, can heap on one another. His 1972 television comedy The Fishing Party is a gentler affair, although not without its acerbic moments.1
Three miners, Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) head for Whitby where they have arranged a trip out to sea for some cod fishing. First they need accommodation and they find a truly grotty bed and breakfast. A snooty landlady, Audrey (Jane Freeman) and her hen-pecked husband Brian (Frank Moorey) agree after some shenanigans to give them a room for the night, at an exorbitant price. These early scenes run dangerously close to pure silliness in their depiction of unsophisticated working-class behaviour on the one hand and petty-bourgeois pretentiousness on the other. The Fishing Party is not a piece of work that has worn well. However, some gems of comic dialogue do a little to rescue the situation. Read more...(1389 words, 1 image)
Dennis Potter’s non-fiction writing is a tremendous body of work – reviews, radio talks and newspaper features on television, radio, books, society, politics and more.1 I was going to just run through some of his television reviews, but Potter wouldn’t let me get off that lightly. His non-fiction work interweaves with his fiction work in characteristically multi-layered, provocative and entertaining ways. He never lets us forget that words matter. So the word “reviewing” becomes unreliable, which is annoying if you’ve put it in your title. He’s not just a writer who wrote some reviews – his writing reviews, and re-views, his own plays and much more besides. There are lots of traps to fall into, as we can tell from the start of Follow the Yellow Brick Road…
MICHAEL BARRY. Oliver Wake's essay gives a detailed account of the work of this influential figure: producer and the BBC's first Head of Television Drama, responsible for some of the most famous (and some undeservedly forgotten) early dramas. In November 2013, this essay was updated with new material and a list of credits.
IAIN MACCORMICK. Oliver Wake's essay unearths new information on this neglected writer from the early days of British television drama, described in 1959 as ‘the first major playwright to make his reputation from British television’. In October 2013, this essay was updated with new material and a list of credits.