Sunday links at 100, part 1

1st November 2020

John Wyver writes: this is the one hundredth set of Sunday links since we over-hauled our website back in 2014. The feature took a number of forms before that, including ‘Links for the weekend’, and there was a long period when I stopped posting each week. Lockdown, however, sent me back to format and I’ve really enjoyed compiling them recently. I collect the links during each week – many come from Twitter recommendations, while others suggest themselves from my own reading and watching and listening (and I know I have pretty limited musical tastes).

For this modestly celebratory set I have responded to the suggestion, or rather challenge, from my friend Luke McKernan, whose posts I often feature here, and I am compiling a set of 100 links, with a host of new ones and a sprinkling of favourites drawn from recent posts, indicated with an [R]. But – and here’s the rub – only the first 50 are featured here – I’m aiming to post the second part on Wednesday (when we’ll all need something to distract ourselves). And I have included some headings to help manage such an unwieldy list, plus a handful of musical interludes.

Enjoy – and if you’re eligible on Tuesday, VOTE!

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney | Joe Biden for President 2020: there’s only one way to start this week — probably the most beautiful political campaign ad ever:

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A tale of ‘Comedy’ times two

26th October 2020

John Wyver writes: Although Play for Today events are continuing, with showings on BBC Four and at BFI Southbank, our documentary Drama Out of a Crisis is happily installed on BBC iPlayer and I have started to think about other things. I am beginning to explore a clutch of research strands, for publication at present and not television, each of which has a connection with television between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s, and if you’ll indulge me I’m going to feature occasional stories for this period over the coming weeks.

I’m interested in all sorts of stuff from this period. What kinds of plays did ITV show before Armchair Theatre? And what was BBC drama like before The Wednesday Play? What was the involvement of the company Towers of London in ITV dramas in late 1955 and early 1956, when Harry Alan Towers‘ company is credited as a co-producer on a string of titles? Then there’s Mr Towers himself, who is a fascinating figure. How was the West End theatre behemoth H. M. Tennent involved in early television drama? And what links might be made between television drama of the late 1950s and British cinema at this time? Stick around – I’m going to explore these questions and more over the coming weeks.

This first post is an odd story which I’m not sure anyone has noticed before. It concerns two television productions of the same musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. BBC Television first broadcast a studio production of this ‘light operetta’ version on 16 May 1954 (see the Radio Times heading above), with a live repeat on Thursday 20 May. Then, after the show had played in London’s West End, it was re-mounted, with some cast changes but mostly the same creative team, for the eight-month-old ITV service in May 1956. I can think of no other Shakespeare adaptation that has channel hopped in this way.

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Sunday links

25th October 2020

John Wyver writes: The world gets worse (and will, for at least another 9 sleeps), but hopefully Sunday links stays much the same. My thanks to those in my Twitter feed who continue to recommend so much great stuff for me to select and aggregate here.

Brexit – a conversation across the divide: a worthwhile initiative in which Ian Dunt and Robert Tombs exchange views in a civil manner; I confess to being far more convinced by Dunt’s opening missive than Tombs’s reply.

John Gray: the nationalist philosopher stoking ‘culture wars’ fires: an important piece by Jon Bloomfield for openDemocracy on ‘one of the intellectual leaders of the nationalist Right’.

What now for the BBC?: Peter York for the Guardian with productive analysis previewing that in his forthcoming eponymous book, co-written with Patrick Barwise.

How the press covered the last four years of Trump: a major retrospective by Jon Allsop and Pete Vernon for Columbia Journalism Review:

the act of bringing together our daily doses of media criticism paints a clear picture of an industry whose basic practices and rhythms have conspired, time and again, to downplay demagoguery, let Trump and his defenders off the hook, and drain resources and attention from crucial longer-term storylines. 

Against nostalgia: a post for zeynap’s new substack about the second presidential debate, William Fielding Ogburn’s notion of ‘cultural lag’, and the problems of nostalgia.

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Sunday links

18th October 2020

John Wyver writes: It’s been quite a week. As I said on Twitter, the response to Drama Out of a Crisis has been more extensive and enthusiastic than to almost anything I’ve made in nearly forty years as a producer. Which may explain why Sunday links is (a) a bit late, and (b) a bit shorter than usual. Thanks as ever to those in my Twitter feed for recommendations.

The UK government is trying to draw museums into a fake culture war: an important piece for the Guardian from Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at the University of Oxford:

Museums are not neutral. The built environment is constantly changing. Community values must lead curatorial decision-making. People are more important than objects. These aren’t revolutionary critiques; they are long-established professional standards in the arts, heritage and culture sectors. How to fight the culture war? By stepping away from its divisive framing – and by resisting interference in democratic, locally accountable heritage management and curatorial practice.

The last thing the BBC needs is a civil war: Roger Mosey is very good for Prospect on the state-of-play at the Corporation.

Broken news for broken Britain: an urgent piece by Ian Dunt for Persuasion:

Where neutral sources of news vanish, truth fades into irrelevance. The government amasses more power than it could secure through propaganda alone: the power to escape scrutiny, to never be held to account, to no longer care about the veracity of its claims.

• And this is the most enlightening Twitter thread of the week, posted in response to a question from Armando Ianucci…

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Making ‘Drama…’, 5. The Style

13th October 2020

John Wyver writes: I’m cautious about writing this post, which I intend – for the moment at least – to be the last in a series that has reflected on the production process of Drama Out of a Crisis; A Celebration of Play for Today. The first transmission has come and gone now and the film is starting its year-long life on BBC iPlayer. My previous posts are as follows: Starting out, The interviews, The archive and The graphics.

I’m cautious because self-justification is almost always an inappropriate strategy for programme makers, so I started these notes with no such intent. At the same time I want to expose something of the thinking — for good or ill — that went into producing the documentary. I’m cautious too because I fear that committing these thoughts to a blog will make the process seem far more pre-planned than in fact it was. Editor Todd Macdonald and I had some initial thoughts about what we would do, but much of what resulted came from a process of trying stuff out during a fairly lengthy remote edit and simply playing around (always respectfully, I hope) with the interviews that we haa shot and with the moving image archive and stills.

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Watching ‘Drama…’: The Press [Updated 18/10]

11th October 2020

John Wyver writes: I’m keen to use this post to draw together the features, previews and reviews for our documentary Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today, first shown on BBC Four on Monday 12 October and now on BBC iPlayer. I’m not including anything that simply re-works the press release, but I want to highlight any substantial and/or judgemental discussions – and that means the good as well as the bad and even the ugly (of which there are now examples). I’ll extract some of the more pertinent comments from pieces, and where links are available I’ll feature these too. My thanks especially to Ian Greaves and Billy Smart for their help.

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Sunday links

11th October 2020

John Wyver writes: Regular readers of the blog might have noticed that tomorrow night, Monday 12 October, our documentary Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today is premiered on BBC Four. Preparations for that have been all-involving, so forgive me if this week’s Links is a little less extensive than usual; as for the header image, see this CNN story and go to And finally… below.

The Tories’ culture war is a reminder that the right isn’t as fearless as it seems: a further valuable contribution to the Guardian’s contextualising of the Tories’ culture war tactics, from Andy Beckett.

Britain at the end of history: Robert Saunders is excellent on Margaret Thatcher’s failed attempt to prevent the reunification of Germany 30 years ago:

This left her weakened internationally and isolated at home. It contributed to her downfall in 1990 and had lasting consequences for Britain’s relations with the European Union. Thirty years on, it offers a cautionary tale for British diplomacy after Brexit: not least in its tendency to exaggerate British influence; to vest too much in displays of ‘strength’ and ‘resolve’; and to blame others for its mistakes.

The 1619 Chronicles: a truly remarkable column from Bret Stephens at The New York Times about history, truth, transparency, honesty, slavery and, centrally, The New York Times.

Inside the Lincoln Project’s war against Trump: great writing by Paige Williams for The New Yorker on the former Republicans fighting with videos and more for truth, justice and the American way – including this week’s brilliant ‘Covita’:

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Making ‘Drama…’, 4. The Graphics

10th October 2020

John Wyver writes: With transmission on Monday evening (9pm, BBC Four, in case you’re in any doubt) hurtling towards us I’m returning to this series of posts reflecting on the production process of our documentary about Play for Today, Drama Out of a Crisis. I’ve already considered aspects of Starting Out, The Interviews and The Archive, and here I want to explore the distinctive graphics of the programme.

From the very beginning, I knew that the film needed an overall graphic design. In part, I simply enjoy sophisticated screen graphics and I think they can add immeasurably to a film. Too often, however, they seem as if they were one of the last elements to be considered, once almost everything else was in place. I was determined that would not be the case on this project.

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Sunday links

4th October 2020

John Wyver writes: yet another weird week, and yet another more-or-less sensible list of links to stuff that interested or engaged me over the past seven days. My thanks, as always, to those that I follow on Twitter for their great recommendations, a number of which I pass on here. And I begin with a clutch of important pieces about free expression:

• It goes way beyond the BBC: the right’s target is liberalism itself: Charlotte Higgins for the Guardian – an exceptional and profoundly concerning analysis.

Framing the right’s problem with the BBC as an assault on fair play or open recruitment, or even impartiality, is to miss the point. The real project is bigger, more serious and more alarming.

The Tories’ ban on anti-capitalist resources in schools is an attempt to stifle dissent: Owen Jones, also for the Guardian:

Believing that an economy whose organising principle is profit isn’t humanity’s endpoint is a legitimate opinion to be debated in a functioning democracy; but as Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, tells me, this diktat “is a heavyhanded attempt to stop free speech and prevent free thought. It’s asking teachers – people interested in expanding minds – to become enforcers of politicians’ desire to quell dissent, criticism and debate.”

The Philip Guston show should be reinstated: for The New York Times, Jason Farago on the absurdity of the postponement’ of the Guston retrospective at Tate Modern and elsewhere – and the robust response by nearly 100 artists, curators and others.

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Making ‘Drama…’, 3. The Archive

1st October 2020

John Wyver writes: with Monday 12 October now confirmed for BBC Four’s initial transmission of Drama out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today, I’m going to continue my series of posts about the making of the documentary. The first two are here (‘Starting Out’) and here (‘The Interviews’), and in these notes I want to reflect further on the use that editor Todd MacDonald and I made of the archive resources – including the exceptional drama Leeds United! (wr. Colin Welland, dir. Roy Battersby, 1974), pictured above.

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