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


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.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) – Myth Versus Reality


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).

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The Creature (1955)


Writer: Nigel Kneale; Director: Rudolph Cartier

This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2014.

The creative partnership of television dramatist Nigel Kneale and producer/director Rudolph Cartier is best known for originating the three Quatermass serials of the 1950s and 1954’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it achieved much more besides.1 One of their lesser-known productions was The Creature from early 1955.2 The primary reason for the play’s neglect is that no recording exists so, unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four and most of the episodes of the Quatermass serials, it is no longer available to view. This article aims to challenge The Creature’s obscurity, using surviving scripts, production anecdotes and contemporaneous audience research data to present an account of the play, its innovations and the reactions it elicited from viewers and critics.

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  1. Nineteen Eighty-Four, tx. 12 and 16 December 1954. The three Quatermass serials of the 1950s were: The Quatermass Experiment, six episodes, tx. 18 July to 22 August 1953; Quatermass II, six episodes, tx. 22 October to 26 November 1955; and Quatermass and the Pit, six episodes, tx. 22 December 1958 to 26 January 1959. All programmes referenced in this article were broadcast on the BBC’s sole television channel, unless indicated otherwise. 

  2. The Creature, tx. 30 January and 3 February 1955. 

Iain MacCormick


When people talk about the pioneers of television writing in Britain, they invariably mention those who made their reputations in the 1960s, such as Dennis Potter and John Hopkins. However, in the 1950s, Iain MacCormick was recognised as the first writer to make a name specifically from original television writing in Britain. This essay is an attempt to explain who he was, why his work was notable and why he is now so little-known.

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Mrs Wickens in the Fall (1957)


Writer: Nigel Kneale; Director: Michael Elliott

The work of Nigel Kneale is held in high regard by television drama enthusiasts, and by those with an interest in the science fiction and horror genres especially. His scriptwriting work, spanning five decades, produced a number of prophetic, macabre and disturbing pieces that have lingered long in the minds of viewers. It was these productions which made Kneale’s reputation, yet he wrote a great deal more besides. It would be a shame to ignore Kneale’s work in the discipline that we could call, perhaps pretentiously, ‘straight’ or ‘serious’ drama, much of which is as powerful and worthy of discussion as his better known material. One of these dramas is Mrs Wickens in the Fall from 1957, a play which has received little attention despite the script having been published in a 1960 compendium of television plays.1 This article is an attempt to redress that imbalance slightly.

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  1. Sunday-Night Theatre: ‘Mrs Wickens in the Fall’, BBC, tx. 8 September 1957. The text was published in: Michael Barry (editor), The Television Playwright (London: Michael Joseph Ltd, 1960), p. 150.