Frank Cox

OLIVER WAKE

Frank Cox, who died in April 2021 at the age of 80, was a television director and producer who worked on drama at the BBC and ITV across a period of more than forty years. Although his was never a household name, he was responsible for realising some of Britain’s most popular drama series and did much to boost the position of Scottish television drama.

Cox had originally planned to become an actor. He enjoyed acting at school and featured in several student theatre productions while studying English Literature at Leeds University in the early 1960s. Although he found his interests shifting towards directing and film criticism during his studies, when he graduated in July 1962 and returned to his parents’ London home, he had, he later reported, “no clear idea of what to do for a living, other than a vague desire to be an actor”.1 Cox applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and did what he recalled as “a rather sad audition”.2 RADA did not find in his favour. He later suggested this was fortunate “because, being so enormously tall – I’m six-foot five – I would never have got work as an actor. Well, at least that’s my excuse for what is, basically, lack of acting ability!”3

Sleepers (1991)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Sleepers arrived on our screens with perfect timing. Or at least that’s how it must have appeared to many viewers. When the first episode aired on BBC2 in April 1991, the Cold War was almost over.1 Two years earlier the Soviet-satellite communist regimes across Central and Eastern Europe had folded, for the most part peacefully. In December 1991, the USSR itself would be dissolved officially. The world was beginning to look like a much safer place, one in which we could laugh at the absurdities, futility and madness of an ideological battle waged by the two great super-powers, the USA and the USSR, since the end of World War Two. What better moment for a light-hearted look at a conflict which had once brought mankind close to its greatest ever catastrophe?

Wycliffe (1994-98)

NEIL SINYARD

The 10-disc DVD release by Network of the complete series of Wycliffe is a cause for rejoicing, particularly when a Radio Times survey of TV’s 50 top-rated Detective series (July 2018) unforgivably did not even include it. This only confirmed my conviction that it is the most underrated British cop series, maintaining, once it hit its stride, an extraordinarily high standard of acting, directing, and writing over around 40 episodes. The interplay of the main characters was constantly evolving and shrewdly developed; the guest performances (from the likes of such redoubtable actors as Bill Nighy, Pam Ferris, Susan Fleetwood, John McEnery, Dominic Guard, Geoffrey Bayldon, Susan Penhaligon and many others) were often remarkable; the scripts were a model of economy and ingenious plotting; and the Cornish setting always heightened the drama without ever dominating it. Even Nigel Hess’s theme tune was one of his best (and every police drama, from Z-Cars and Maigret onwards, should have a good and distinctive theme tune.) A typical 50-minute episode contained more nuance, subtlety and surprise of narrative and characterisation than Broadchurch managed for me in three series.

A Day in Summer (1989)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

There is a lot of dark stuff going on in A Day in Summer, the first novel by J.L. (James Lloyd) Carr. Literary critic D.J. Taylor described the novel as one that “defied classification […] a comic tragedy, if you like, by a gifted amateur still learning his trade.”1 It is a testament to Alan Plater’s skill that his adaptation of A Day in Summer (1989) handles so seamlessly the comic and tragic elements. This essay examines this Yorkshire Television production, drawing from an interview that I conducted with Carr in 1993 and new archival research into the production.2

Jack Shepherd plays a mild-mannered bank clerk, Peplow, who goes to Great Minden on the day of its annual fair. (The adaptation was filmed in Masham, North Yorkshire.) Peplow is seeking revenge for the death of his son at the hands of a drunken lorry driver. By a coincidence that should not perhaps be examined too closely, Peplow’s former RAF colleagues both live in Great Minden. One of them, Bellenger (Ian Carmichael), is dying, the other, Ruskin (Peter Egan), is confined to a wheelchair. The fate of his former colleagues shows how the novel’s comic and tragic elements rub up against each other simultaneously.

Re-recording live drama: the fallibility of the television drama record

OLIVER WAKE

Anyone researching live television drama will inevitably encounter the well-known obstacle that only a small percentage of live broadcasts were recorded from transmission and subsequently archived. A lesser-known obstacle for anyone trying to appreciate the quality and aesthetics of live drama is that those recordings which were made and archived are not necessarily an accurate representation of the programmes as broadcast.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the recording of live transmissions was largely accomplished via the telerecording process, resulting in a continuous record of the broadcast on film. It has usually been assumed that this film recording was then left untouched, and only over recent years has it become clear that this was not necessarily the case. In some instances, once the live transmission of a drama had concluded, the cast and crew remained in the studio and re-performed sections of the programme that were considered to have been substandard on broadcast. These scenes were also telerecorded and could subsequently be edited into the master recording to create a more polished version of the whole programme.