Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) – Myth Versus Reality

OLIVER WAKE

BTVD_1984myths_canteen

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).

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