Philip Saville: Play for Today Biography

OLIVER WAKE

Philip Saville is a director whose work on Play for Today cannot be easily categorised. The variety of his eight contributions is testament to the scope of both strand and director. Saville was an iconoclastic, innovative director, whose credits include many pioneering productions and notable television firsts.

Saville had a lengthy background in drama before moving into television directing. He had previously acted in theatre, film and television, and directed for the stage, on both sides of the Atlantic. Back in Britain, he joined ITV company Associated-Rediffusion in 1955, for whom he directed drama and contributed to Richard Lester comedy programmes. He continued to take occasional acting roles in film and television throughout this time, not stopping until the early 1960s. In 1956 he joined the drama department at ABC, another ITV company. He would ultimately direct more than forty plays for the company’s prestigious Armchair Theatre strand.

Although its innovation is largely credited to Sydney Newman, even before his arrival in 1958 those behind Armchair Theatre were attempting to breathe fresh life into television drama, creating a dynamic production style. Saville’s contemporary Ted Kotcheff recalled that from ‘the time that we came and started at Armchair Theatre, Philip Saville and myself and other directors wanted really to push against the limitations of the media, the way it was presently conceived’.1

Michael Palin, Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988 (2009)

DAVID ROLINSON

For anyone interested in British television drama or cinema, this second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries is just as engrossing as the first. Although some reviewers wonder if this book will be about ‘the less exciting stuff that happened in between’ the peak period of Monty Python covered in the first volume and the travel programmes that Palin embarks upon as this volume closes, it is all the more enjoyable and rewarding for its grounding in the reality of solo writing and the production process.1

For visitors to this site, I recommend Palin’s detailed coverage of East of Ipswich (1987)2, from gestation and writing through castinPalinHalfwayCoverpicg, production, post-production, critical reception and awards nominations (plus Palin’s unusually scathing comment that the London Film Festival were ‘Snobs’ to pass on it).3 I’ve adored East of Ipswich for many years, so I’m delighted to see Palin assert that ‘Nothing I’ve done gives me as much unqualified pleasure’ and that ‘I’ve never felt something done as close to the way I wanted it done as this’.4 Other material relevant to British television drama includes Palin’s script for Number 27 (1988)5 which starred the legendary Joyce Carey, working relationships with Tristram Powell, Charles Sturridge, Innes Lloyd and others, and television’s importance in British filmmaking: with fifteen films made a year and directors like Gavin Millar and Alan Clarke involved, ‘this shabbily-appointed fifth floor at TV Centre is where the British Film Industry exists’.6 Palin details the postponement of Sturridge’s Troubles (1988) after a week of filming with Palin in a major role, after which it was remounted without him.7