The July Plot (1964)

OLIVER WAKE

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.1 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.

Doctor Korczak and the Children (1962)

OLIVER WAKE

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.1 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.

Stalingrad (1963)

OLIVER WAKE

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.1 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.

The Creature (1955)

OLIVER WAKE

Writer: Nigel Kneale; Director: Rudolph Cartier

This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2014.

The creative partnership of television dramatist Nigel Kneale and producer/director Rudolph Cartier is best known for originating the three Quatermass serials of the 1950s and 1954’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it achieved much more besides.1 One of their lesser-known productions was The Creature from early 1955.2 The primary reason for the play’s neglect is that no recording exists so, unlike Nineteen Eighty-Four and most of the episodes of the Quatermass serials, it is no longer available to view. This article aims to challenge The Creature’s obscurity, using surviving scripts, production anecdotes and contemporaneous audience research data to present an account of the play, its innovations and the reactions it elicited from viewers and critics.

Even as the national controversy caused by Nineteen Eighty-Four’s sex, politics and violence played out in the British press at the end of 1954, Kneale and Cartier were well underway with the pre-production of The Creature. Rather than another adaptation, it was a wholly original script which Kneale had been inspired to write by the recent resurgence of interest in the mystery of the Himalayan ‘yeti’. Introducing his play for the Radio Times, Kneale wrote:

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