Let’s for a moment forget the woes of the world and look forward to some television treats coming up at BFI Southbank during February. A second season of Forgotten Dramas (the first was in 2015) features a number of fascinating titles that have mostly remained unseen since they were first broadcast. The season is curated by those exemplary scholars Lez Cooke, John Hill and Billy Smart, and it is associated with the History of Forgotten Television Drama research project based at Royal Holloway, University of London, which runs a very good blog here.
I intend to write about several of the below, but for the moment I urge you to book your tickets – apart that is for the first event which is already sold-out (although some tickets may become available later). I have included the listings information below, which ought to be enough to convince you that there are wonderful things in prospect here, including the brace of experimental pieces on Wednesday 22 and Loyalties on Sunday 26. I should also metnion that I am contributing to the Archives, Access and Research conference on Wednesday 22, about which I’ll post further details in a future post.
Sunday Night Theatre: The Hotel in Amsterdam [illustrated above] + discussion with director Anthony Page, actor Susan Engel and playwright Nicholas Wright (all work permitting) (ATV 1971. Dir Anthony Page. With Paul Scofield, Jill Bennett, Michael Craig, Susan Engel, David Burke. 75min).
Six successful but jaded friends in the film business do a runner from work, stay in a luxurious Amsterdam hotel, and loosen their tongues. This forgotten version of a modern classic play from the Royal Court theatre, featuring most of the original cast, has been unseen since 1971. The play was adapted for television by John Osborne at the request of Paul Scofield, who wanted one of his most mesmerising performances to be recorded for posterity.
The Passionate Pilgrim + intro by Dr Lez Cooke (BBC 1953. Dir Michael Barry. With Rachel Gurney, Patrick Troughton. 100min).
The stage play of The Passionate Pilgrim had already proved its worth in 1949, and this adaptation is one of the earliest surviving television plays – broadcast just two days after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and unseen since. The Passionate Pilgrim tells the story of a group of nurses working with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War.
City ’68: It’s Dearer After Midnight + intro by Dr Lez Cooke (Granada 1968. Dir Michael Apted. With Keith Barron, Sian Phillips. 50min).
City ‘68 was an anthology series about a fictional Northern city. Devised by John Finch, who also wrote this episode, and directed by Michael Apted, this two-hander features Keith Barron as a taxi driver and Sian Phillips as the customer he takes to a strip club in the city.
+ The System: The House That Jigger Built (Granada 1968. Dir Les Chatfield. With Harry H Corbett, Wilfred Pickles, Doris Hare. 50min).
Another slice of Northern life by John Finch, this time about property developer Jigger Barrett (Corbett) whose ‘system’ of stashing money in the house leads to a farcical situation when some of it goes missing. Wilfred Pickles plays Jigger’s father who disapproves of his son’s entrepreneurialism.
The Nearly Man + intro by Professor John Hill (Granada 1974. Dir John Irvin. With Tony Britton, Michael Elphick. 50min).
A contrasting double bill of mid-1970s political dramas from the pioneering ITV company Granada. Arthur Hopcraft’s gritty script, about a Labour politician caught between his Westminster ambitions and the demands of his northern constituency, inspired a subsequent TV series.
+ Late Night Theatre: The Eagle Has Landed (Granada 1973. Dir Colin Cant. With Roland Curram, Weston Gavin, Zoë Wanamaker. 30min).
An exuberant and wildly inventive satire on the Apollo Space Programme, written by David Edgar, in which two astronauts ‘drop in’ on an ordinary English family.
Television Drama Conference: the Archives, Access and Research
Television drama has been at the centre of cultural life in the UK since the 1950s, yet much of it remains forgotten or inadequately documented. Co-hosted by the Centre for the History of Television Culture and Production at Royal Holloway, University of London (as part of the ‘Forgotten Television Drama’ project), Learning on Screen and the BFI, this event will bring together archivists, broadcasters, academics and enthusiasts to discuss the challenges involved in providing access to our TV history and enhancing its educational, cultural and public value. Tickets £16 (includes refreshments).
Six: The Day of Ragnarok + intro by Dr Lez Cooke and actor Tamara Hinchco (BBC 1965. Dir John McGrath. With Elizabeth MacLennan, Tamara Hinchco, Pauline Boty, Nicol Williamson. 38min).
John McGrath’s remarkable short film, made for the experimental BBC2 series Six, is about impending nuclear war. Almost dialogue-free, with a Dudley Moore soundtrack, the film has been especially reconstructed from material surviving in the BBC Archive. Please note: there is 7min of sound missing.
+ Five More: Exit 19 (BBC 1966. Dir Philip Saville. With Jack Bond, Maureen Safhill. 45min).
Made for the follow-up series to Six, this modernist take on the theme of love and marriage features a film editor (Bond) and a model (real-life model Maureen Safhill) talking about their attitudes to sex and marriage in an uninhibited manner. The film also features appearances from Dudley Moore, Jane Arden and Bertrand Russell.
Play of the Month: Loyalties + intro by Dr Billy Smart and (work permitting) actors Edward Fox and Charles Kay. (BBC 1976. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With Edward Fox, Charles Kay, John Carson. 100min).
During a weekend at a country house in the 1920s, a Jewish outsider accuses a former officer of theft, setting off a tragic chain of events. John Galsworthy’s classic play was the final project directed by pioneering TV director Rudolph Cartier, who made Charles Kay and Edward Fox’s battle of wills a model of elegance and control.