John Osborne

OLIVER WAKE

BTVD_Osborne_1

With his 1956 play Look Back in Anger, John Osborne (1929-1994) famously kick-started the theatrical trend for “Angry Young Men” and drama which explored the grimmer side of contemporary life, putting society’s discontents centre-stage. Amongst a body of further stage plays, Osborne also produced a clutch of screenplays for cinema and, more pertinently for us, television.

Television had played a modest part in the success of Look Back in Anger. The play was at break-even point when an extract was broadcast from the Royal Court theatre by the BBC close to the end of its run.1 Following this exposure, the rest of the run sold out and the play was transferred to the Lyric theatre to meet excess demand.2 Six weeks after the excerpt was televised, the full play was broadcast by Granada, directed by its theatre director Tony Richardson. Writing in The Manchester Guardian, Bernard Levin found that the play made “tremendous television.”3 Look Back in Anger was produced for television in Britain again twice, by the BBC in 1976, to mark the play’s twentieth anniversary, and as an ITV/Channel 4 co-production of Judi Dench’s stage version in 1989.4 Extracts were also performed in two episodes of The Present Stage, ABC’s 1966 series exploring modern drama.5

The Old Men at the Zoo (1983)

IAN GREAVES

Five parts. Writer: Troy Kennedy Martin; Adapted from (novel): Angus Wilson; Producer: Jonathan Powell; Director: Stuart Burge

In all the myriad apocalypse dramas produced in the UK, what matters most is where the bomb drops. The drip-drip of radio bulletins in the suburban daily lives of Threads cut straight to the contemporary fear of nuclear war, and the 1984 film’s unfussy depiction of local authority admin echoes the staccato, functional, inevitable nature of Peter Watkins’ The War Game. As a narrative device the anticipation of Armageddon can create real tension, the strike clearing away characters in a single bound and providing a fundamental gear change in a long storyline. After which it’s either about the journey back or, more likely, an acceptance of the new order.

The Old Men at the Zoo, a 1983 serial for BBC2 based on the novel by Angus Wilson, leaves the flashpoint unfashionably late. Although the threat of war is ever present the focus is very much on preparation, propaganda and domestic politics. Curiously, and rather more indicative of the age in which it was adapted, the nuclear bomb that arrives four fifths of the way through was not even present in the novel.

Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands

OLIVER WAKE

Every major conflict in living memory has become the subject of drama almost the moment it was over. The Falklands war, which this month reached its thirtieth anniversary and is again in the news due to renewed tensions between Britain and Argentina over the islands, is no exception. Numerous plays about the conflict reached the stage and radio in its aftermath, but none caught the attention of the public at large. However, when television tackled the subject for the mass audience, the results were frequently politically charged and contentious.

First was Don Shaw’s The Falklands Factor, for the BBC’s Play for Today, which was screened in April 1983, less than a year after the war’s end.1 Shaw dramatised a previous cold war for the Falklands from 1770-71 to illuminate the history of the conflict and draw parallels with the recent war. The play strongly hints at the role of political expediency in each response to a Falklands invasion and, by showing how diplomacy – narrowly – averted bloodshed, questioned whether the same could not have been achieved in 1982.