Back in 2013, I did a small piece of research on visual style in Coronation Street. This was for a couple of different reasons. For a few years, I had been using Christine Geraghty’s very helpful distinction between the ‘realist’ tendencies of British soap operas in their earlier days and the shift towards melodrama that has occurred more recently, and I wanted to investigate whether this evolution might affect things like scene duration, shot scale, and so on. I have also been interested for a long time in David Bordwell’s work on visual style, particularly visual style in Hollywood cinema. Bordwell’s article ‘Intensified Continuity’ in Film Quarterly argues, convincingly, that there have been four major, interlocking changes in the visual style of contemporary American film as compared with what we might call ‘the classic era’: ‘More rapid editing’, ‘Bipolar extremes of lens lengths’, ‘More close framing in dialogue scenes’, and ‘A free-ranging camera’. I wondered if I might find similar changes at work if I compared old and new episodes of soap opera (and I decided to focus my attention on the first and third of the features Bordwell mentions). Read more... (3059 words, 24 images)
Twenty-six episodes. Writers: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Douglas Livingstone, Jack Trevor Story; Producer: Verity Lambert; Directors: Moira Armstrong, Alan Gibson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Mike Newell, Herbert Wise
Budgie, the story of small time Soho criminal Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, was produced by London Weekend Television and ran over two series, each of thirteen episodes, between 1971 and 1972. Both series explored the liminal world of pornography, police corruption, criminal scams, violence and petty crime, and Budgie’s place within it. While Budgie has come to be affectionately remembered as a cockney comedy-drama with a charming, irrepressible lead character set in 1970s Soho, and as a series which launched an ‘entire fashion craze’, and is indeed all of these things, it would do the series a huge disservice to ignore its other dimensions, in particular those concerned with gender and masculinity identity.
As social, economic and cultural changes of the 1970s impacted upon gender relations, a significant number of programmes were able to explore multiple and competing constructions of masculinity. Issues around gender and masculine anxieties featured across a variety of television genres: routinely in sitcoms such as Rising Damp and Man about the House; as small parts of wider discourses in dramas like The Knowledge and Comedians; and in both the documentary The Family and the science fiction series Survivors. With Budgie, however, it is the detailed examination of a particular masculinity at a particular time which is central to the narrative as it is played out in the trajectory of Budgie’s decline and fall. Read more... (3022 words, 14 images)
This article presents some thoughts on special live episodes of soaps since 2010, in particular the editions of EastEnders and Coronation Street broadcast in February and September 2015 respectively. It identifies some of the ways in which the two series addressed liveness both textually and paratextually, as in their cross-platform interest in interactivity. Engaging with British television drama’s residual qualities of liveness, immediacy and intimacy, these episodes pose questions for our understanding of soap storytelling, in particular its handling of time. The following thoughts are unpolished reflections, taken from before and after a module screening, but form hopefully useful notes for others to develop, for instance in conjunction with this site’s other pieces on live drama across the decades and a forthcoming piece that will discuss soap time in more detail.
Introduction: Live! Read more... (4397 words, 14 images)
The study of television drama is complicated by the regular regurgitation of inaccurate accounts and misinformation about old programmes. How and why this occurs is easily understandable: anecdotal information from interviews with programme-makers is subject to the inevitable distortions of memory over time, or of exaggeration or invention for the sake of telling a good story (many of these people are performers or entertainers after all). Other sources, such as the national press, are also known to be unreliable. The culture outside academia – and most particularly on the internet – amongst those with an interest in television drama is usually for information and anecdote to be accepted at face value. It is therefore repeated as fact and, whether accurate or not, may be subject to distortion via the ‘Chinese whispers’ process of reiteration. Primary sources of information are often either non-existent or inaccessible, leaving these long repeated accounts unverifiable or at least unchecked. However, original research and the use of reliable primary and secondary sources where available can, in some cases, challenge the flow of generally accepted but inaccurate information (what I shall call ‘myths’ here). Read more... (7226 words, 2 images)
Near the end of Castles in the Sky (2014), the docudrama about the invention of Radar broadcast on BBC Two earlier this month, Robert Watson-Watt (Eddie Izzard) shows his colleagues a television set. This produces another of the little scientific breakthroughs that form the core of this quietly endearing piece. The set is at once modern and archaic: in the programme’s 1930s setting this gleaming new object is a technological marvel, proposing a solution to a challenge on which the defence of the nation rests, but in the visual rhetoric of the 2014 drama it appears almost comic. This reminded me of some of the tensions that sometimes result when television technology appears in docudramas, either in terms of sets or studios. This article runs through a few such moments in pieces including The Fools on the Hill (1986), The Road to Coronation Street (2010) and An Adventure in Space and Time (2013). Read more... (5823 words, 16 images)