Michael Barry


Michael Barry

Although rarely discussed now, Michael Barry (1910-1988) had an important role in the development of British television drama. As a producer before and immediately after the Second World War and subsequently as the BBC’s first Head of Television Drama, he helped shape the new medium in its formative years.

After an unsuccessful school career, Barry initially studied agriculture, spending time on farms and 18 months at the Hertfordshire Agricultural Institute before deciding he wanted to work in theatre. He turned to acting and studied for a year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before going into repertory theatre for an “exciting” year in Northampton, then moving on to Birmingham and London. With gaps in acting roles Barry also took work in other capacities in the theatre, building scenery, designing and stage managing. At the age of 23 he was appointed the director of the Hull Repertory Theatre where he spent a “superb” year before taking charge of the Croydon Repertory Theatre, where he remained for two-and-a-half years. After this he felt “a little stale, a little tired, perhaps time for a change” and, at the suggestion of a friend, applied for the post of studio manager with the new BBC television service but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, Barry then applied to be a television producer and was taken on, arriving at the BBC’s modest Alexandra Palace studios in North London in early 1938.1

As in radio, the BBC at that time did not recognise the independent role of director, so Barry’s work as producer also involved artistic aspects now more associated with directors. Although drama was his primary interest, and the genre in which he would specialise, as a producer Barry had to helm a variety of programmes in the early days of the television service. His earliest known production was an edition of topical magazine Picture Page in April 1938.2 Only ten days later his first television play, The Marvellous History of St Bernard, which he knew from his theatre days, was transmitted.3 Even this early in his career Barry was experimenting with television, varying camera lenses and playing with focus as part of a career-long quest to achieve a sense of “vitality” on screen, which saw him pioneer new techniques and push standards.4 He rapidly found success, with The Observer noting that his production of Richard of Bordeaux was “remarkable for that special quality which belongs to television … a sense both of reality and intimacy.”5

Television’s insatiable appetite for programming and the rapid turnaround times for productions saw Barry produce a further 23 plays (including three short plays transmitted in one day6 ), plus at least three further instalments of Picture Page, in little more than a year. This hectic schedule encouraged Barry to favour plays already familiar from his own stage productions, despite his own concerns about their suitability for television. An early success at a new script for television was his own reduced adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1938), which was found “charming” by The Times.7

When war was declared on 1 September 1939, the BBC’s television service was brought to an abrupt close. Already a reservist, Barry had been called up for service the previous month, leaving his colleague Eric Crozier to complete his production of A Cup of Happiness.8 Soon afterwards Barry gained an officer’s commission in the Royal Marines, with whom he spent the duration of the war whilst receiving a retainer salary from the BBC. He returned to Britain in late 1945, as the BBC’s television service was preparing to reopen. He initially lacked enthusiasm for his resumed producer’s duties, questioning his work and the task of trying to televise theatre plays in the absence of new scripts, with no writers prepared to work for television.9 His ennui was dispelled upon reading The Silence of the Sea, a French novel published by the underground press in 1942, thinking “this is what television is all about”.10

Barry later recalled how his 1946 dramatisation of The Silence of the Sea acted “as a spur, which led on to the six most exciting years that I have ever had, being allowed to write and direct, write and direct.”11 His script was chosen as a practice exercise prior to television’s resumption and then as the main evening programme on the night the service reopened.12 Its sympathetic portrait of a young German soldier billeted on a resentful French family was a brave choice given that hostilities with Germany had ended barely a year earlier. Recognising the limitation imposed on the visualisation of the drama by the archaic equipment, Barry made prominent use of sound, with the interior monologue of Kenneth More as the German soldier and various sound effects played into the live performance.

Barry produced two more war plays in 1946, both drawn from radio scripts: They Flew Through Sand, a fast-paced action story set in North Africa, and Adventure Story, which portrayed a young couple returning from the war and struggling to adapt to the banalities of peacetime life.13 Written by Charles Terrot, with whom Barry went on to have a productive creative partnership, Adventure Story was a complex production which stretched Barry’s talents. As he had done before the war, Barry improvised the numerous settings required within the tiny studio. With the use of shadows and small items of scenery (and, in one instance, stage hands throwing water), he employed the power of suggestion to provide the numerous locations that could not have been built in the studio. Sound effects, models and back projection were used to give what Barry called “a depth and vitality to a tiny setting”.14 The play was a success and was reproduced several times.

'I Want to Be a Doctor' in studio

Barry broke new ground with I Want to be an Actor (1946), a script by journalist and radio producer Robert Barr which became television’s first dramatised documentary.15 It inspired Barry to write his own drama documentary about the history of medical practice, I Want to be a Doctor (1947), which was well regarded at the BBC: Cecil McGivern, the newly installed Television Programme Director, recognised it as “a sign-post to the way ahead for scripts of its kind”.16

Barry had an unhappy experience in directing for the cinema when he was invited to Pinewood to film Stop Press Girl (1949), a light fantasy about a girl whose presence interferes with machinery, an offer he accepted with the primary aim of improving his own scenario writing.17 Shooting with the new “Independent Frame” method, which put the onus on pre-production planning, production-line mechanisation and speed, Barry felt he had allowed the mechanised technique to stifle the comedy. The Times complained that it moved “in a series of uneasy fits and starts” and Barry called it “one of the industry’s least distinguished works”.18

Back at the BBC, Barry found better fortune with The Passionate Pilgrim (1949), his own adaptation of Charles Terrot’s novel Miss Nightingale’s Ladies.19 A form of historical documentary based on the true story of one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses in the Crimea, the play was lauded by the Daily Telegraph as “A triumphant production”, and by C A Lejeune, as “beautifully acted throughout, and produced by Michael Barry with courage, tenderness and a real sense of the medium as a nascent art”.20 Barry’s restaging of the play in 1953 was broadcast two days before the Queen’s coronation, for which sales of television sets rocketed, and so was many viewers’ first experience of television drama.

Written and produced by Barry, Promise of Tomorrow (1950) was a play about three young people aspiring to succeed in the theatre world.21 Barry was allowed the rare privilege of shooting brief film sequences to insert into the otherwise live transmission, depicting his characters travelling by train and road, including sequences at night, providing “the sort of locations where the reality of sodden coats and rain lashed windscreens provided verisimilitude”.22 C A Lejeune reported that it elicited a mixed reaction, some viewers “touched and charmed” while others “gave it up in bewilderment and exasperation”.23 The Manchester Guardian’s critic fell into the former camp and provided an insight into Barry’s innovative style, noting how the play:

… proved that the medium is much more responsive than most plays produced so far have shown us … Michael Barry’s play has shown that a much quicker and more fluent handling is possible … because the producer is the same as the writer and handles the television scene with assurance and skill life comes to this unexceptional story and is in fact extraordinarily interesting to watch. There are moments of real suspense and emotion in it … Mr. Barry uses many clever devices for keeping the movement going: for instance, the progress downhill by the repertory theatre, illustrated by playbills and clapping, and many other quick and allusive ways of indicating things. In fact he has removed the heavy-footed feel from television in this play and achieved a sort of film technique which is far more effective than films proper are on the television screen.24

His ambition growing, Barry adapted and produced Terence Rattigan’s Adventure Story (1950, not to be confused with the war play of the same name discussed above), a large-scale biography of Alexander the Great.25 He was allowed a two-hour timeslot and both of Alexandra Palace’s studios to stage the epic story. Barry chose to highlight “thought and action against amorphous backgrounds… and great care was taken to make every frame as perfect a composition as possible”.26 Lejeune reported that it was “done with distinction, but is too big, remote, and dressy a subject for the home screen.”27 Barry concurred, writing later that the subject was probably “too large and remote to be encompassed dramatically”, but that “the fascination lay within the attempt”.28 Other Barry productions from this period included Karel and Josef Capek’s The Insect Play (1950), in which human society is parodied in the world of insects.29 After his popular earlier productions, Barry felt that The Insect Play and Adventure Story’s “visual and oral images … had gone further, in diverse ways, to stretch the illusion of space within the small screen”.30

In the summer of 1950 Barry received the offer of a job in American television with CBS, but despite the prospect of a substantially higher salary, he declined, happy with the level of support and creative freedom at the BBC.31 He was excited by projects such as Shout Aloud Salvation (1951), which proved to be amongst his most successful productions.32 Adapting the manuscript of Charles Terrot’s sprawling historical novel about the early days of the Salvation Army, Barry reduced the story to focus on two young women despatched to introduce the Salvation Army into a bleak northern town. It was another large-scale production, with 50 characters, a riot staged in the studio, a real Salvation Army band and brief film sequences shot. An opening sequence used narration over a montage of background sounds and both still and moving images, indicating the bricolage approach employed by Barry, as he applied whichever techniques from radio and film best established his setting with the modest resources at his disposal.

Reaction to Shout Aloud Salvation was highly positive: The Manchester Guardian found that “everything was 100 per cent … The scenes changed swiftly, the technique was excellent, and ‘Shout Aloud Salvation’ was the proof that the television ‘blood and thunder’ drama is fascinating.”33 The Evening Standard called it the “Most successful of original television plays” and the Derby Evening Times voiced a consensus that it was “extraordinarily moving”.34 The play’s conclusion was criticised and Barry realised it had been over-ambitious and inadequately realised: it was amended for a new production five years later by George More O’Ferrall.35

As Barry drafted Shout Aloud Salvation, the BBC advertised the new posts of Head of Documentary and Assistant Head of Drama, Television. Perhaps surprisingly, Barry applied for the former, as the latter was an unknown quantity at that time. However, he was called for an interview for the Drama post, and although Barry insisted the position was unsuitable, Director of Television George Barnes said Barry’s acceptance was important to television, and assured him that he would have a free hand, with Val Gielgud, Head of Drama over both radio and television, soon to return to his preferred province in radio. Talked around, Barry suggested “we try it for six months”.36 He was to stay ten years. He was appointed in May 1951 and radio and television formally separated in April 1952, with Barry duly receiving the Head of Television Drama title.

In his new role, Barry prioritised attracting new writers to television and improving productions, impulses that had driven him since his early days as a producer.37 He established the Drama Script Section, with a Script Supervisor under his direct control whose brief was to find new writing. Within a year the Script Supervisor reported “very encouraging” statistics, including that 12 out of 107 dramas transmitted over the past twelve months had been new works written specially for television (against hardly any in the previous five years).38 Under Barry’s leadership, this increased to 256 new works for television in the twelve months ending March 1960.39 The post of staff writer was also created, the first filled by Nigel Kneale, whose three original Quatermass serials (1953, 1955, 1958-59) thrilled television audiences during the 1950s. Other writers attracted included freelancer Iain MacCormick who provided a number of highly topical new plays throughout the decade. Other initiatives included the Television Writers’ Course, which had 700 applicants by February 1952, and numerous writing competitions.40

Barry aimed to replace “dead wood” with new producers from film and theatre.41 New talents included Rudolph Cartier and Don Taylor, who went on to produce the type of vital work that Barry wanted to see. Cartier did much to expand television’s scope, with large-scale stories, but was only able to do so with the staunch support of Barry, who shared and encouraged his aims. Innovative producers, rapidly advancing technology and increased resources greatly improved production standards over Barry’s decade in charge.

Pushing his department’s technical progression, Barry was instrumental in establishing BBC television’s Experimental Group in 1956, the aim of which was to devise new means of televising conventional subjects. This led to the creation of the more specialised Langham Group in 1959, which pioneered experimental drama techniques. Immediately prior to the Langham Group’s creation, Barry co-produced the experimental play A Sleeping Clergyman (1959) with one of the group’s founding members.42 Although some suggested the Langham Group’s legacy was minimal, Barry felt quite the reverse, seeing it in 1961 as “a sort of underground movement, that’s affected just about every department of drama, in some way or another”.43 Barry remained a staunch supporter of experimentation in television, and thought that the BBC should lead it.44

Barry was also a supporter of strong and provocative work, such as Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), which was produced by Rudolph Cartier.45 When the play provoked a national controversy, Barry defended it in a Panorama debate and refused to cancel the scheduled repeat performance, which he went on to introduce in person.46 Barry also came under fire later in his reign over BBC television drama for allowing plays to depict the seedier and more squalid elements of modern life. For example, a newspaper correspondent complained of the BBC and its writers’ “morbid preoccupation with sin and abnormality, Squalor, misery, beastliness, despair, the hopelessness of marriage, sex, violence, gutter behaviour”.47 The Langham Group’s production The Torrents of Spring (1959) was criticised within the BBC for its “licentiousness” and even shortly before this incident Barry had been stirred to circulate a memo addressing criticisms of “sexiness” in television plays.48

Being head of department did not prevent Barry – who later said he “hated desk work”49 – from maintaining an active presence in the studio. He produced occasional plays, such as The Man with a Load of Mischief, which he was pleased to produce for a second time in 1952, taking advantage of the greater resources of the BBC’s new Lime Grove studios, and a rare production of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House in 1958.50 The same year he commissioned and produced the new play Till Time Shall End to mark the 400th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I.51 His production of Robert Ardrey’s documentary play The Shadow of Heroes (1959), about 1956’s Hungarian revolution, was particularly successful, with Barry praised for “his use of cameras, his presentation and the use he made of the crowd scenes”, which made for a “moving historical document”.52

Plays were the primary form of drama for Barry, although he presided over the introduction of numerous popular series and serials, such as Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76), The Grove Family (1954-57) and Quatermass. As Don Taylor recalled, “under Michael Barry, the emphasis had been very clearly upon the production of television plays. The rest was a sideline, popular audience stuff, but not what the department was for. Michael Barry was a man of the theatre, and his values were the values of that milieu and that age”.53 His drama policy was occasionally criticised, as The Stage and Television Today reported, for “living in the theatrical past”, as “being out of touch with the present-day idiom of TV thought” and as “presenting plays with no appeal to modern minds”.54 The criticism reflected his perceived lack of a popular touch and, despite his championing of new television writing, his department’s continued scheduling of theatrical or classically “worthy” play series such as the unpopular Television World Theatre (1957-58). The arrival of ITV in 1955, with its more populist programming, highlighted the gulf between BBC programming and the public’s taste, and the Corporation was slow to respond to its success.

Matters came to a head in September 1961, when Barry suddenly resigned his post. He maintained a gentlemanly discretion over his reasons, but according to Don Taylor:

Rumour and bar conversation had it that Michael had resigned – it had been a real resignation, not a polite sacking – because the sixth floor, the programme controllers and directors, had demanded of him a change of policy with regard to BBC Drama output that he could not accept. More series and serials were required, and Michael, who regarded himself as a plays man, was not prepared to preside over such a change.55

Just two months later the Guild of Television Producers and Directors (the forerunner of BAFTA) recognised Barry’s achievements, giving him the Desmond David Award for services to television.56 Under Barry’s leadership, the Television Drama Department had expanded to the point that it produced over 220 hours of drama in 1961.57 As The Times argued, it was a period of “drive, organization and artistic skill”.58 Innovative drama programming such as the play “cycles” of Iain MacCormick, the serialisation of Shakespeare’s history plays as An Age of Kings (1960),59 and the immensely popular detective series Maigret (1960-63) all originated under Barry.

Barry was admired both professionally and personally. Don Taylor thought he represented the “liberal humanist attitude to the production of drama”60, and another producer, Peter Cotes, described him as “warm, generous and self-effacing”.61 While department head, he was recognised in the industry press as “a highly sensitive and intelligent man with a strong sense of dedication, whose liberal-minded handling of his department is, among other things, an object-lesson in human relationships.”62

After a year seconded as programme controller to the new Irish Television (Telefis Eireann) network – leaving earlier than the planned three years reportedly after “policy disagreements” – there was speculation that he would return to the BBC in London where a special appointment could be created for him.63 However, this proved unfounded and Barry left the staff of the Corporation.64 He did however return to the BBC on a freelance basis, producing and directing a handful of dramas in the mid-1960s. He also wrote, for example dramatising Clemence Dane’s Broome Stages (1966), which he also produced and directed.65

He also produced the epic The Wars of the Roses (1965), a trilogy of plays derived from Shakespeare’s histories which were performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.66 With directors from the RSC and BBC, plays were recorded on the specially adapted stage of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Theatre using the BBC’s Outside Broadcast units. With eight cameras in use and a control gallery installed in the theatre’s circle bar for the five-week recording, the project was technically demanding. The BBC described it as the “biggest technical operation ever carried out by the BBC in the field of drama”.67 The production illustrates both Barry’s level of technical accomplishment and his continuing affinity with subjects drawn from the theatre. For Barry, “the real interest lies in the way television and a theatre enterprise of the first order have worked together to produce a television recording of what has taken place on the Strafford stage … to make it available to all the hundreds of thousands of people in this country and abroad who could not see it.”68 The Stage and Television Today called it “a triumph of co-operation between television and the theatre”, arguing that:

the full potential of a television version was realised and everything of the stage version was preserved without distortion. The plays are not merely stage productions photographed but television productions in their own right. Television has made it possible to expand on the original production where the material was improved by it – the crowd and battle scenes, for example, could encompass more on television.69

Away from television, in 1965 Barry was appointed literary adviser to provincial theatres by the Arts Council, of whose drama panel he had been a member, to promote new and neglected plays. In 1967 he briefly returned to theatre directing. He later became Professor of Drama for California’s Stanford University, before returning to Britain in 1972 to become the Principal of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He finally retired in 1978. He completed a memoir of his time as a television producer, entitled From the Palace to the Grove, which was published posthumously in 1992. Michael Barry died in 1988 at the age of 78.

In the time since he left his Head of Drama post it has become common for lazy critics to dismiss the BBC’s drama output under Barry as staid and stage-bound, particularly in comparison to the more populist fare of his self-aggrandising successor, Sydney Newman. Whilst Barry’s theatrical background was certainly reflected in his drama policy, this is an unfair simplification. Barry did much to encourage new television writing, to support ambitious producers in telling bold stories, and to improve the technical quality of the department’s output. In doing this Barry provided the firm foundations upon which Newman and his successors were able to build and further expand the scope and popularity of the medium. It is therefore a mistake to downplay Barry’s successes and ignore his contribution to the development of television drama, without which it would have remained in the nursery for much longer.

Although this piece was posted in 2010, it was substantially revised and updated in 2013. See ‘Updates’ list below.

Michael Barry: credits

[prod] = produced by Michael Barry
[adap] = adapted for television by Michael Barry
[wr] = written by Michael Barry
[dir] = directed by Michael Barry

NB. Prior to The Wars of the Roses Barry also directed productions he produced, as the two roles were routinely combined under the producer title at the BBC until around 1963. There are two exceptions, Martine and Twilight of a Warrior, which had separate directors, as noted below.

07/04/38 Picture Page [prod]
17/04/38 The Marvellous History of St Bernard [prod]
27/04/38 There’s Always Juliet [prod]
02/05/38 There’s Always Juliet [prod]
12/05/38 Picture Page [prod]
22/05/38 Pride and Prejudice [adap & prod]
27/05/38 Pride and Prejudice [adap & prod]
15/06/38 Lady Precious Stream [adap & prod]
17/06/38 Lady Precious Stream [adap & prod]
23/06/38 Picture Page [prod]
12/07/38 The Case of the Frightened Lady [prod]
20/07/38 The Case of the Frightened Lady [prod]
04/08/38 Laburnham Grove [adap & prod]
06/08/38 Laburnham Grove [adap & prod]
21/08/38 Libel
01/09/38 Libel
08/10/38 London Wall [prod]
12/10/38 London Wall [prod]
28/10/38 Smoky Cell [prod]*
31/10/38 Smoky Cell [prod]
21/11/38 The Wind and the Rain [prod]
29/11/38 The Wind and the Rain [prod]
18/12/38 Richard of Bordeaux [prod]
27/12/38 Richard of Bordeaux [prod]
09/01/39 Middle Class Murder [prod]
14/01/39 Middle Class Murder [prod]
30/01/39 Money for Jam [prod]
08/02/39 Money for Jam [prod]
22/02/39 Ladies in Waiting [prod]
27/02/39 Ladies in Waiting [prod]
15/03/39 Libel
20/03/39 Libel
14/04/39 The Shoemaker’s Last [prod]
17/04/39 The Shoemaker’s Last [prod]
05/05/39 London Wall [prod]
08/05/39 London Wall [prod]
19/05/39 For those in Peril / Smiling at Grief / The Lover [prod, 3 short plays]
23/05/39 For those in Peril / The Lover [prod, 2 short plays]
26/05/39 Smiling at Grief [prod]
24/06/39 Smoky Cell [prod]
30/06/39 Smoky Cell [prod]
15/07/39 Sheppey [prod]
21/07/39 Sheppey [prod]
27/08/39 A Cup of Happiness [prod, completed by Eric Crozier in MB’s absence]
07/06/46 The Silence of the Sea [adap & prod]
11/06/46 The Silence of the Sea [adap & prod]
14/06/46 They Flew Through Sand [adap & prod]
17/06/46 They Flew Through Sand [adap & prod]
09/07/46 Spring Meeting [prod]
17/07/46 Spring Meeting [prod]
29/07/46 Adventure Story [adap & prod]
09/08/46 Adventure Story [adap & prod]
03/09/46 Paola and Francesca [adap & prod]
11/09/46 Paola and Francesca [adap & prod]
23/09/46 Adventure Story [adap & prod]
24/09/46 Adventure Story [adap & prod]
06/10/46 I Want to be an Actor [prod]
21/11/46 The Man with a Load of Mischief [prod]
22/11/46 The Man with a Load of Mischief [prod]
12/12/46 Peter and Paul [adap & prod]
13/12/46 Peter and Paul [adap & prod]
29/12/46 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
06/01/47 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
30/01/47 The Wandering Jew [adap & prod]
31/01/47 The Wandering Jew [adap & prod]
06/04/47 Richard of Bordeaux [prod]
20/05/47 I Want to be a Doctor [wr & prod]
27/07/47 Boys in Brown [tx from theatre, television presentation by MB]
04/09/47 The Little Dry Thorn [adap & prod]
05/09/47 The Little Dry Thorn [adap & prod]
05/10/47 Romeo and Juliet [prod]
13/10/47 Romeo and Juliet [prod]
03/11/47 I Want to be a Doctor [wr & prod]
23/11/47 By-Way to Eden [adap & prod]
25/11/47 By-Way to Eden [adap & prod]
21/12/47 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
29/12/47 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
19/02/48 Crock of Gold [co-wr & prod]
20/02/48 Crock of Gold [co-wr & prod]
21/03/48 For the Children: Scenes from Twelfth Night and Macbeth [co-devised, and presented for television, by MB]
25/03/48 For the Children: Scenes from Twelfth Night and Macbeth [co-devised, and presented for television, by MB]**
23/05/48 Emma [prod]
18/09/48 London Wall [prod]
28/09/48 London Wall [prod]
17/10/48 Take Back Your Freedom [adap & prod]
21/10/48 Take Back Your Freedom [adap & prod]
19/12/48 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
23/12/48 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
17/04/49 Behold the Man [prod]
21/04/49 Behold the Man [prod]
05/06/49 Deep Waters [prod]
09/06/49 Deep Waters [prod]
07/08/49 The Passionate Pilgrim [co-wr & prod]
11/08/49 The Passionate Pilgrim [co-wr & prod]
18/09/49 An English Summer [prod]
22/09/49 An English Summer [prod]
20/11/49 Trelawny of the Wells [adap & prod]
24/11/49 Trelawny of the Wells [adap & prod]
25/12/49 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
02/01/50 Toad of Toad Hall [adap & prod]
19/01/50 I Want to be a Doctor [wr & prod]
14/03/50 The Bells [prod]
16/04/50 Promise of Tomorrow [wr & prod]
20/04/50 Promise of Tomorrow [wr & prod]
28/05/50 The Insect Play [adapt & prod]
01/06/50 The Insect Play [adapt & prod]
30/07/50 Adventure Story [prod]
03/08/50 Adventure Story [prod]
05/09/50 Over the Odds [prod]
22/10/50 Strife [adap & prod]
24/10/50 Strife [adap & prod]
12/11/50 Tusitala [prod]
16/11/50 Tusitala [prod]
17/12/50 Miss Hargreaves [prod]
21/12/50 Miss Hargreaves [prod]
15/04/51 Shout Aloud Salvation [co-wr & prod]
19/04/51 Shout Aloud Salvation [co-wr & prod]
11/04/52 The Marvellous History of St Bernard [prod]
11/05/52 Martine [prod] (directed by Ken Tynan)
05/08/52 A Cradle of Willow
23/09/52 The Infinite Shoeblack [co-prod]
14/12/52 The Man with a Load of Mischief [prod]
18/12/52 The Man with a Load of Mischief [prod]
31/05/53 The Passionate Pilgrim [adap & prod]
16/08/53 Where the Heart is [prod]
20/08/53 Where the Heart is [prod]
27/12/53 The Rose Without a Thorn [prod]
31/12/53 The Rose Without a Thorn [prod]
18/09/55 The Scarlet Pimpernel [prod]
08/04/56 Twilight of a Warrior [prod] (directed by John Jacobs)
13/05/56 Shout Aloud Salvation [wr]
28/07/57 The Apple Cart [prod]
04/04/57 The Cocktail Party [prod]
02/02/58 World Theatre: Heartbreak House [prod]
30/11/58 Till Time Shall End [prod]
11/01/59 A Sleeping Clergyman [co-prod]
19/07/59 Shadow of Heroes [prod]
03/01/60 Twentieth Century Theatre: Justice [prod]
08/04/65 – 22/04/65 The Wars of the Roses [prod]
26/09/65 Theatre 625: Rosmersholm [dir]
09/05/65 – 06/06/65 The Scarlet and Black [adap]
13/06/65 – 04/07/65 The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau [dir]
09/07/66 – 16/07/66 The Heart of Midlothian [dir]
25/10/66 – 13/12/66 Broome Stages [adap, prod & dir]
30/01/68 Omnibus: Abelard and Heloise [dir]

*There is some doubt about this production. The Times’s television listing for the day of transmission states it is Smoky Cell. The Radio Times lists an entirely different play, also produced by Barry, called Whistling in the Dark. However, the former seems more likely both because Smoky Cell was definitely performed three days later, fitting the usual pattern of two performances, and because, being published on the transmission date, The Times seems likely to have the most up to date information on the schedule. Intriguingly, Barry’s memoir, which lists his productions up to 1951 (albeit with some errors), has no production for this date at all, with only one performance of Smoky Cell in 1938. We welcome further information to clarify the details of this broadcast.

**It is not clear if this second performance occurred. Barry includes it in a list of his productions in his memoir (although, as above, this does include some errors) and it is listed in the Radio Times. However, it is not included in the television schedule for the day published in The Times, which, as noted above, could be expected to be the most up to date published listing.

Originally posted: 11 January 2010.
20 November 2013: substantial new material added in the main text and endnotes; new list of credits added; minor corrections to existing text and endnotes.
4 January 2014: added For the Children credit and accompanying note.
[This piece first appeared in This Way Up issue 22 in 2009. It is presented here in very substantially expanded and revised form.]

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  1. Information and quotes in this paragraph are from Michael Barry’s appearance on BBC Radio Brighton interview programme My Kind of Music, transmission date unknown (likely late 1970s). 

  2. Picture Page, tx. 7 April 1938. All transmissions detailed in these notes were on the BBC’s sole television channel, unless stated otherwise. 

  3. The Marvellous History of St Bernard, tx. 17 April 1938. 

  4. Michael Barry, From the Palace to the Grove (London: Royal Television Society, 1992), p. 22. This work is the main source for much of the first half of this article. 

  5. E. H. R., ‘Television’, The Observer, 25 December 1938, p. 16. Richard of Bordeaux, tx. 18 December 1938. There was a second live performance nine days later. Live repeats a few days, sometimes a week or two, after the initial transmission were very common for drama productions until around the mid-1950s and as such many of Barry’s productions discussed here were transmitted twice in quick succession. In this essay we reference only the initial transmission. Some productions considered particularly successful were reproduced again months or years later. As these were new productions they are more notable than routine live repeats and as such are noted here. 

  6. For Those in Peril, Smiling at Grief and The Lover, tx. 19 May 1939. The live repeats of the three were staggered over two days. 

  7. Anonymous, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, The Times, 30 May 1938, p.21. Pride and Prejudice, tx. 22 May 1938 

  8. A Cup of Happiness, tx. 27 August 1939. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 44. 

  9. My Kind of Music

  10. Ibid. 

  11. Ibid. 

  12. The Silence of the Sea, tx. 7 June 1946. 

  13. They Flew Through Sand, tx. 14 June 1946. Adventure Story, tx. 29 July 1964. 

  14. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 63. 

  15. I Want to be an Actor, tx 6 October 1946. 

  16. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 81. I Want to be a Doctor, tx. 20 May 1947. It was reproduced later the same year and again in 1950. 

  17. My Kind of Music

  18. Anonymous, ‘New Films in London’, The Times, 6 June 1949, p.7 and Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p.101. 

  19. The Passionate Pilgrim, tx. 7 August 1949. 

  20. Lejeune was writing in the Observer. Both reviews are quoted in Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p.114. 

  21. Promise of Tomorrow, tx. 16 April 1950. 

  22. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 125. 

  23. Quoted in Ibid, p. 127. 

  24. Anonymous (Radio Critic), ‘Promise of To-morrow’, The Manchester Guardian, 24 April 1950, p. 5. 

  25. Adventure Story, tx. 30 July 1950. 

  26. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 140. 

  27. C A Lejeune, ‘Television’, The Observer, 6 August 1950, p. 6. 

  28. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 140. 

  29. The Insect Play, tx. 28 May 1950. Apologies that our system is unable to replicate an accented C. 

  30. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, pp. 145-146. 

  31. Ibid, pp. 138-139. 

  32. Shout Aloud Salvation, tx. 15 April 1951. 

  33. Anonymous (Radio Critic), ‘“Shout Aloud Salvation”’, The Manchester Guardian, 18 April 1951, p. 3. 

  34. Quoted in Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 179. 

  35. Ibid, pp. 179-180. Sunday Night Theatre: ‘Shout Aloud Salvation’, tx. 14 May 1956. 

  36. Ibid, p. 187. 

  37. Ibid, pp. 186-187. 

  38. Quoted in Robin Wade, Where the Difference Began (BBC internal document detailing history of the Drama Script Section, not formally published, 1975), p. 6. 

  39. Statistic quoted by Donald Wilson in his Introduction to Michael Barry’s The Television Playwright (London: Michael Joseph, 1960), p. 14. 

  40. Anonymous, ‘Writing for Television’, The Times, 19 February 1952, p. 7. 

  41. Barry, From the Palace to the Grove, p. 187. 

  42. A Sleeping Clergyman, tx. 11 January 1959. 

  43. Barry quote from Anonymous, ‘I Believe in the Freedom to Create’, The Stage and Television Today, 1 June 1961, p.10. 

  44. For more on the Langham Group see John Hill, ‘‘Creative in its own right’: the Langham Group and the search for a new television drama’, in Laura Mulvey and Jamie Sexton (editors), Experimental British Television (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). 

  45. Nineteen Eighty-Four, tx. 12 December 1954. 

  46. Panorama, tx. 15 December 1954. 

  47. H K Mount, ‘BBC plays’, The Guardian, 21 January 1961, p. 6. 

  48. Hill, ‘”Creative in its own right”: the Langham Group and the search for a new television drama’, pp. 26, 30 (endnote 35). 

  49. Quoted in Peter Cotes, ‘Mr Michael Barry’, The Times, 4 July 1988, p. 16. 

  50. The Man with a Load of Mischief, tx. 14 December 1952. Heartbreak House, tx. 2 February 1958. 

  51. Till Time Shall End, tx. 30 November 1958. 

  52. Derek Hoddinott, ‘In Vision’, The Stage and Television Today, 30 July 1959, p.7. Sunday Night Theatre: Shadow of Heroes, tx. 19 July 1959. 

  53. Don Taylor, Days of Vision – Working with David Mercer: Television Drama Then and Now (London: Methuen, 1990), pp.99-100. 

  54. Anonymous, ‘BBC-tv shows the way it can be done’, The Stage and Television Today, 21 January 1960, p.11. 

  55. Taylor, Days of Vision, p. 99. 

  56. Anonymous, ‘Television Awards’, The Times, 29 November 1961, p.15. 

  57. Peter Black, ‘BBC Drama’ (letter), The Times, 14 October 1967, p.9. 

  58. Anonymous, ‘Mr Michael Barry’. 

  59. See Michael Brooke, ‘An Age of Kings’, Screenonline, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/527213/. 

  60. Taylor, Days of Vision, p. 100. 

  61. Anonymous, ‘Mr Michael Barry’. 

  62. Anonymous, ‘BBC-tv shows the way it can be done’, The Stage and Television Today, 21 January 1960, p.11. 

  63. Anonymous, ‘Mr Michael Barry. 

  64. This speculation in ‘What Happens to Barry Now at the BBC?’, The Stage and Television Today, 27 September 1962, p.9. 

  65. Broome Stages: BBC2, eight episodes, 25 October 1966 through 13 December 1966. 

  66. The Wars of the Roses: ‘Henry IV’ (BBC1, 8 April 1965), ‘Edward IV’ (BBC1, 15 April 1965), ‘Richard III’ (BBC1, 22 April 1965). The plays were repeated on BBC2 the following year. 

  67. Quoted in Anonymous, ‘BBC’s version of the Wars of the Roses’, The Stage and Television Today, 14 January 1965, p.10. 

  68. Barry, quoted in Ibid. 

  69. Anonymous, ‘Shakespeare from BBC’, The Stage and Television Today, 8 April 1965, p. 10. 

7 thoughts on “Michael Barry

  1. His 1938 Pride & Prejudice (script survives) was surprisingly well done. Somehow he kept the essentials but reduced it to one hour. He found a masterstroke to solve one very big jump forward without altering the characters. That screenplay could still be used today, I am convinced of it!

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