Twenty-six episodes. Writers: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, Douglas Livingstone, Jack Trevor Story; Producer: Verity Lambert; Directors: Moira Armstrong, Alan Gibson, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Mike Newell, Herbert Wise
Budgie, the story of small time Soho criminal Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, was produced by London Weekend Television and ran over two series, each of thirteen episodes, between 1971 and 1972.1 Both series explored the liminal world of pornography, police corruption, criminal scams, violence and petty crime, and Budgie’s place within it. While Budgie has come to be affectionately remembered as a cockney comedy-drama with a charming, irrepressible lead character set in 1970s Soho, and as a series which launched an ‘entire fashion craze’, and is indeed all of these things, it would do the series a huge disservice to ignore its other dimensions, in particular those concerned with gender and masculinity identity.2
As social, economic and cultural changes of the 1970s impacted upon gender relations, a significant number of programmes were able to explore multiple and competing constructions of masculinity. Issues around gender and masculine anxieties featured across a variety of television genres: routinely in sitcoms such as Rising Damp and Man about the House;3 as small parts of wider discourses in dramas like The Knowledge and Comedians;4 and in both the documentary The Family and the science fiction series Survivors.5 With Budgie, however, it is the detailed examination of a particular masculinity at a particular time which is central to the narrative as it is played out in the trajectory of Budgie’s decline and fall. Read more...(3022 words, 14 images)
Armchair TheatreWriter: James Forsyth; Adapted from (novel): Harold Rein; Producer Sydney Newman; Director: William Kotcheff
This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2018.
When people talk about live television drama, and in particular the disasters that can befall live productions, actors forgetting their lines and technical faults loom large. Sometimes mention will be made of the incident in which a leading actor died during a performance. It sounds like it could be a dark joke or an industry myth, but it’s true. It’s a morbid story but a fascinating one.
The production in question was Underground, transmitted on Sunday 30 November 1958 as part of ITV company ABC’s popular Armchair Theatre drama anthology. It was directed by William (known as Ted) Kotcheff, one of ABC’s regular directors, then aged only 27, and produced by Sydney Newman, the company’s drama supervisor. The play was a television dramatisation by James Forsyth of Harold Rein’s 1955 novel Few Were Left. No recording of the play exists, so this account is based on various interviews and media reports about the play. There are several accounts of what happened which, though largely consistent on the main events, differ notably on the smaller details. In this essay I’ll try to separate the reality from the myth and distortion as far as is possible at this remove from the event itself. Read more...(5358 words, 1 image)
Writer: David Whitaker; Director: Douglas Camfield; Producer: Verity Lambert
A literary costume drama set around the courts of Richard I and Saladin, The Crusade (1965) is an example of how important non-science-fiction historical stories were in the early years of Doctor Who. This essay looks at how The Crusade approaches history, in particular the characterisation of Richard I (“the Lionheart”). There will be attention paid to the programme’s attempts at historical accuracy, although that shouldn’t be our only focus because the historical study of popular culture too often ignores the specific qualities of popular culture (and also history) by depending on the accuracy question. Depictions of Richard I change for various reasons including historians’ debates, school curricula, changes in media institutions, shifting dramatic styles and reactions to previous dramas. These explain why Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1961-65) uses Richard differently from Richard Lester’s film Robin and Marian (1976), which is in turn different from the series Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984-86) and Robin Hood (BBC, 2006-2009). This essay will therefore take Doctor Who’s version of Richard I as a starting point to think about how history and screen fictions build narratives around figures like Richard I. I’m drawing from unused sections of the research I conducted for a forthcoming academic publication on neo-medievalism,1 but any references to academic theory will be rooted in discussion of the choices made by writer David Whitaker and director Douglas Camfield. Read more...(6290 words, 11 images)