New year links

3rd January 2021

John Wyver writes: Easing into the post-holiday world, which looks just as grim as the pre-holiday one, here’s a modest selection of links to articles that I have found engaging and valuable over the past week. I was late compiling this today an I’m almost certainly going to add to the selection later. Happy New Year to one and all!

The ten best films of… 1930: let’s start with a fine annual tradition – the new year round-up of notable cinematic masterworks from 90 years ago, thanks to Kristin Thompson at her essential blog with David Bordwell, Observations on film art; filmmakers Dovshenko, Ozu, von Sternberg (with The Blue Angel and Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola, above), Murnau, Clair, Duvivier and Pabst all feature, along with, um, Wilhelm Thiele.

Favourite films of 2020: I guarantee there will be discoveries for you on this ‘ten best’ list by Srikanth Srinivasan at his blog The Seventh Art.

DVD Beaver’s Best physical media of 2020: a rather astonishing retrospect which as well as being a reminder of the health of specialist DVDs and Blu-rays also acts as a vital guide to stuff you absolutely, unquestionably have to have in your collection.

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Holiday links

27th December 2020

John Wyver writes: Welcome to a handful of links to recent articles (no videos this week) that I have found engaging in the past few days. Not as compendious as some weeks (although I may add a few more a little later), but I hope you’ll find something to enliven the interregnum until New Year’s Day.

Shondaland’s Regency – on Bridgerton: let’s start with an excellent piece by Patricia A. Matthew for LA Review of Books about Shonda Rhimes’ series (above), new on Netflix:

With such a diverse cast, Bridgerton not only enters the contemporary regency-era lexicon at a time when contemporary Black writers, artists, critics, and scholars have successfully punctured the myths about its homogeneity but also gives us a multicultural world that feels organic and allows its young characters of color their own bildungsroman.

How Netflix changed the channel: by way of a review of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, Ian Leslie reflects on the success of the streaming service for New Statesman.

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Merry Christmas!

25th December 2020

Our Christmas treat for you is our co-production with New Adventures of Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes screened on BBC Two on Christmas Day and now on BBC iPlayer for a year.

Filmed at Sadler’s Wells early this year, this is Matthew’s glorious retelling of the story of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film. The Red Shoes is a tale of obsession, possession and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) lives to dance, but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men, Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper) and Julian Craster (Dominic North), who inspire her passion.

Set to the music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, The Red Shoes is orchestrated by Terry Davies and played by the New Adventures Orchestra, with cinematic designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis and projection from Duncan McLean. The producer is Lucie Conrad and the screen director Ross MacGibbon.

20 new plays: ‘Tuppence in the Gods’, 1960

24th December 2020

John Wyver writes the sixth of a series of posts about BBC Television’s 1960-61 strand of original dramas – his introduction is here.

I’m going to break from chronology with this post to consider the fourteenth offering in the 20 new plays collection that was broadcast on Christmas Day 1960. Obviously the 60th anniversary tomorrow is a factor, but so too is the fact that this is the first of the group that I have actually been able to watch. I am obliged to report that I found the drama largely unremarkable and really a touch tedious, as did critics at the time, but the people involved are interesting and intriguingly the play can be understood as engaged with television’s definition of itself against theatre and cinema.

On Christmas Day sixty years ago the families that elected to spend time with BBC Television watched The Queen at 1pm, went to Billy Smart’s Circus at 3.30pm, and then an hour later thrilled to What’s My Line? from London’s Hammersmith Hospital with, among others, Isobel Barnett and Lord Boothby (can this really be only six decades ago?). Christmas Night with the Stars at 6pm was introduced by David Nixon and featured Sid James, Harry Worth, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth McKellar and Nina and Frederik. For 95 minutes from 7.15pm the schedule was taken over by Hollywood’s The Prisoner of Zenda, but not the 1952 version with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. Rather, this was the 1937 outing with Ronald Coleman, Madeleine Carroll and Douglas Fairbanks, Jnr. What’s that you were saying about the Golden Age of Television?

Over on ITV, in London at least, the Queen spoke at 3pm, there was a circus from the Kelvin Hall Glasgow and an ‘ice pantomime spectacular’ of Sleeping Beauty from Brighton Palladium. A defiantly unseasonal Danger Man episode kicked off the evening at 7.30pm, followed by ATV’s The Tommy Steele Show at 8pm, and this led into Armchair Theatre with Donald Wolfit and James Booth. The Great Gold Bullion Robbery, based on a play by Gerald Sparrow and adapted for television by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice, was ‘an exciting reconstruction of the first and most famous British railway robbery, when a small but daring gang raided the Continental mail train from London in 1855.’ Maverick at 10.10pm also seems not to have had much connection to the Holy Family in Bethlehem.

Back on the BBC (no third channel as an option then) at 8.50pm the main attraction was The Sunday Night Play, Michael Voysey’s original drama Tuppence in the Gods.

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20 new plays: ‘Pay Day’, 1960

21st December 2020

John Wyver writes the fifth of a series of posts about BBC Television’s 1960-61 strand of original dramas – his introduction is here.

Like the second of the BBC’s series of 20 new plays, Leopold Louth’s The Unplayed Part, Pay Day, which was the fourth title to be broadcast, appears to be the only writing credit for its author, Roderick Barry. The two reviews of this that I have found to date, in The Times and The Listener, betray mixed feelings, and the recording that once existed no longer does. But the particular interest of this production perhaps lies in the linked traces of the hauntingly sad tale of its author and the intriguing genesis of the script.

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Sunday links

20th December 2020

John Wyver writes: Welcome to this week’s clutch of links to articles and videos that have engaged me over the past week, and which I hope may help in a tiny way get you through the grimness of a holiday lockdown.

Above is a detail from David and Bathsheba, a painting by Artemesia Gentileschi from about 1636-7 in the collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. At present, this large canvas in the artist’s spectacular exhibition at London’s National Gallery (now closed once more) which I was privileged to see last Monday, in the tiny window between lockdowns. Amongst the many, many splendours of the show this wonderful passage of paint captivated me. Which is sufficient excuse to lead this week with…

The blazing world: a brilliant essay for Artforum by Emily LaBarge on the art of Artemisia Gentileschi.

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20 new plays: ‘The Ruffians’, 1960

19th December 2020

John Wyver writes the fourth of a series of posts about BBC Television’s 1960-61 strand of original dramas – his introduction is here.

With The Ruffians, the third of the 20 new plays broadcast in the autumn of 1960, we come to the first commission for an author who was already an established television playwright. Just a fortnight before transmission of The Ruffians on 9 October, and indeed precisely opposite the opening drama of the strand, ABC had contributed to the ITV Network Alun Owen’s Lena, O My Lena. And this well-received play was one element in what must have seemed something of an annus mirabilis for the 33-year-old Welsh writer who had already had his After the Funeral shown by ABC in April. As the Sunday Times noted (25 September 1960),

the film The Criminal, for which he wrote the screenplay opens in London (having already been seen in Edinburgh) on October 25, and a stage play, Progress to the Park, will be produced later by Theatre Workshop.

Progress to the Park in fact had already been heard on the Home Service (8 September 1958), and was to be directed by Harry H. Corbett at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in November 1960. It was also to be shown as part of BBC2’s Theatre 625 series on 12 December 1965, and a recording of this is in the archives. Lena… and of course the hard-edged, Joseph Losey-directed The Criminal are also still extant. But The Ruffians appears to have been wiped in one of the many moments of institutional madness when the cultural value of a television drama was outweighed by the need to save the cost of a 2″ videotape.

Alun Owen would go on to write the screenplay for The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and numerous other television dramas, but I want here to explore the intriguing The Ruffians (and presumably there’s a script lurking in the BBC Written Archives Centre) in relation to his other writing around 1960.

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Sunday links

13th December 2020

John Wyver writes: another clutch of pointers to articles, videos and the occasional Twitter feed that have engaged and enlightened and delighted me during the past week – and with thanks, as always, to those on my Twitter who suggest such wonderful things.

The best films of 2020: results of the BFI/Sight & Sound poll, because it’s that time of year – no 1 is the truly great Lovers Rock directed by Steve McQueen (above, with Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward; the film is available on BBC iPlayer).

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20 new plays: ‘The Unplayed Part’, 1960

12th December 2020

John Wyver writes the third of a series of posts about BBC Television’s 1960-61 strand of original dramas – his introduction is here.

After my rather lengthy discussion of John Whiting’s A Walk in the Desert, the opening drama of the 20 new plays strand, this exploration of the second broadcast is – of necessity – somewhat shorter. We have no recording and no script of The Unplayed Part (at least until we can explore the microfiche niches of the BBC Written Archives Centre) and next-to-no information about its author, Leopold Louth, whose only play, whether for stage or screen, this appears to have been. Nonetheless, we can reconstruct just a little about this production and its seemingly pseudonymous author.

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20 new plays: ‘A Walk in the Desert’, 1960

10th December 2020

John Wyver writes the second of a series of posts about BBC Television’s 1960-61 strand of original dramas – his introduction is here.

Those of us with an interest in the history of television drama will see the irony of the scheduling of John Whiting’s play A Walk in the Desert, the first in the BBC’s much-vaunted series of original commissions. It was broadcast on Sunday evening 25 September 1960 directly opposite Alun Owen’s Lena, O My Lena in ABC’s Armchair Theatre strand. Whiting’s drama began at 8.45pm that evening, following an Eamonn Andrews-chaired edition of What’s My Line?, while Lena, O My Lena started at 9.05pm on the ITV network after Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium and a short news bulletin.

Lena, O My Lena, which is available on a Network DVD, is recognised as a keystone in the history of television drama. It has been the focus of extensive analysis, most notably by John Caughie in his foundational book Television Drama: Realism, Modernism and British Culture (OUP, 2000), and is widely taught. Two newspaper reviews the day after transmission, one by Lyn Lockwood for the Daily Telegraph and one contributed anonymously to The Times, compared the two plays (of which more below), and both featured Whiting’s play ahead of Owen’s. But the recording of A Walk in the Desert appears to have been wiped at some point and the production is forgotten, absent even from critical discussions of Whiting’s plays that focus almost exclusively on his theatre plays. So what can we know about this elusive broadcast?

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