DAVID ROLINSON AND SIMON COWARD
Half-Hour Story Writer: Alun Owen; Producer: Stella Richman; Director: Alan Clarke
How and why is George’s Room in colour? Anyone coming to George’s Room knowing the rest of director Alan Clarke’s plays for Rediffusion’s Half-Hour Story strand thanks to the BFI’s Alan Clarke at the BBC set might wonder why this is the only one in colour and why it looks so different from the others. In comparison with the inventive compositions, fast cutting (vision mixing) and ambitious camerawork of plays like Stella, George’s Room seems highly conventional in its largely static compositions and its alternation between mid-shots, close-ups and wide two-shots: a reviewer at the time said that the play ‘has almost no movement’ and ‘could easily pass as a radio play’, watching characters ‘speaking or samlistening’. In the circumstances this is perhaps unsurprising. Clarke directed this colour version at Wembley Studios, using the same electronic multi-camera set-up as his black and white Half-Hour Story plays. However, George’s Room adapted this set-up in order to use ‘E-cam’, a system designed to make filmed drama in television studios. There were similar attempts to combine television and film technology elsewhere in the television and cinema industries – as we shall see – but Rediffusion were pioneering the integration of film and the electronic multi-camera studio. George’s Room was the main pilot experiment to test ‘E-cam’, which makes it a fascinating moment in British television drama, a stepping stone to possible futures in the use of colour and the convergence between television and cinema. This essay is the most detailed exploration of George’s Room to date. This might not be surprising, given that those studying Clarke could only access an incomplete version, until, as the BFI’s Sam Dunn explained, ‘the missing half […] was discovered hiding in the deep recesses of the National Archive’. This essay provides information on different stages – from commissioning to overseas sales – but its main focus is on the play as an experiment in colour and electronic film. Read more... (7793 words, 10 images)
Thirty-Minute Theatre Writer: Friedrich Dürrenmatt; Translated by: Robert David MacDonald; Producer: Innes Lloyd; Director: Rudolph Cartier
Thirty-Minute Theatre was a drama strand instigated by the BBC to return shorter plays, transmitted live, to the television schedules. It began in October 1965 with a version of Roald Dahl’s Parson’s Pleasure, and ultimately produced over 250 dramas, although by the end of 1968 the live element was had been entirely dropped. 1969’s Conversation at Night was director Rudolph Cartier’s fourth entry into the BBC2 anthology, following Brainscrew in 1966, The News-Benders in 1968, and the Hitler segment of the These Men Are Dangerous trilogy from earlier in 1969. It was Cartier’s last production under BBC contract as he returned to freelance work thereafter.
The short play was written by leading post-war Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who is best known for his full-length satirical stage dramas The Visit and The Physicists. Conversation at Night started out as a German radio play in 1952 and transferred to the Munich stage the same year. It came to Britain as a radio play first, translated and produced by Christopher Holme for the BBC’s Third Programme in 1963. The stage version premiered in London in 1966. For television, the play was translated by Robert David MacDonald and produced by Innes Lloyd. Read more... (1523 words, 1 image)
This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2014.
The Wednesday Play Writer: Roger Manvell; Adapted from (novel) Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel; Producer: Peter Luke; Director: Rudolph Cartier
Broadcast in late 1964, The July Plot is an interesting example of a television play made during a formative moment in the history of British television drama. It was in production as the BBC’s drama strategy was being reformulated, resulting in the shake-up of the Corporation’s drama anthology output and the creation of the genre-defining The Wednesday Play (1964-70), as part of which it was ultimately transmitted. The July Plot is also an early example of drama documentary based around major events from within living memory, and a rare instance of its particular subject being tackled for a British audience. With this article, we aim to give an insight into the play’s production and an overview of its effect upon its audience.
The July Plot dramatises the conspiracy by Count von Stauffenberg and other high-ranking German officers to assassinate Hitler at his ‘Wolf’s Lair’ headquarters in 1944. It explains why the attempt failed, and depicts the fates of the main conspirators. The script was by Roger Manvell, based on the book he had co-written with Heinrich Fraenkel. It was produced by Peter Luke and directed by Rudolph Cartier, many of whose other works are covered on this site. Read more... (2826 words, 2 images)
This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2014.
Studio 4 Adapted and translated by: Rudolph Cartier; From: Erwin Sylvanus (play); Director: Rudolph Cartier
Doctor Korczak and the Children is one of the most unusual and compelling television plays of the 1960s. Its subject is tragic and fascinating, while the production itself is interesting in its own right for a myriad of reasons. The extremity of its rejection of naturalistic television drama conventions is startling and it remains an almost unique surviving example of a period of such experimentation at the BBC at the beginning of 1960s. It also illustrates how the reach of a stage text can be expanded to whole new audiences with sympathetic translation into the new medium. This article aims to give an overview of this extraordinary production and its reception by its audience. Read more... (2876 words, 3 images)
This piece was substantially revised in December 2014.
Festival Writer: Rudolph Cartier; Adapted and translated from: Theodore Plievier (novel), Claus Hubalek (play from novel); Director: Rudolph Cartier
The early 1960s was a transitional period for BBC television drama. New techniques, notably a move away from live transmissions in favour of pre-recording, enabled more ambitious and polished productions. Subject matter was changing too, with specially written television plays and series overcoming the BBC’s previous reliance on material drawn from the theatre or popular novels. Of course, these changes didn’t happen overnight, and a number of programmes of the period provide a snapshot of television drama in transition, containing elements of both the old and the new, sometimes uneasily colliding in the one production. One such drama is Stalingrad, from late 1963, which has roots in both a novel and its stage adaptation, but also attempts to make the material ‘televisual’, achieving mixed results. Here, we’ll examine the play, to see how it came to be made in a mix of styles and how critics and audiences reacted to it. Read more... (3566 words, 1 image)