Iain MacCormick

OLIVER WAKE

This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2013.

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.

MacCormick was born in Australia 1918 to Scottish émigré parents. He considered himself a Scot also and held a British passport. MacCormick was studying medicine when the Second World War began and he volunteered for service with the Australian army, rising to the rank of Captain. He fought in North Africa, Crete and Greece, where, in 1941, he was captured when Allied forces withdrew. He spent the next four years as a prisoner of war, during which time he took to writing, between escape attempts, and completed a number of plays. Upon his release in 1945 he was sent to Britain en route to Australia for official demobilisation, but he didn’t complete this journey, choosing to settle in London.

Michael Barry

OLIVER WAKE

This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2013.

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

Mrs Wickens in the Fall (1957)

OLIVER WAKE

This piece had new research material added in 2014.

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.