Tempo present and Tempo past

1st February 2013

Thanks to the eclectic and extraordinarily extensive DVD releases from Network we can now see a remarkable range of  ITV programmes from the past forty or so years. Who would have thought that the obscure serial Adam Smith, which was one of Trevor Griffiths’ earliest scriptwriting assignments, would one day have a life beyond its religious programming slot back in 1972? But there it is in the Network catalogue (although oddly available only until 6 February) along with The Persuaders, Sergeant Cork and many more. Network have also released DVDs of single dramas from Armchair Theatre (the link is to Volume 1, and each of the four collections deserve their own blog post) and now – thrillingly for those of us interested in the history of arts television – there is a double DVD of films from the ABC Weekend Television arts magazine series Tempo (1961-67). Today’s post is an introduction to this truly significant release, following which I intend to write some further Friday posts about individual films.

You can find online a short history of Tempo taken from John A. Walker’s 1993 book Arts TV: A history of arts television in Britain. As he explains there, the series was established by ITV in response to the success of the BBC series Monitor (1958-1965) edited and hosted by Huw Weldon. Tempo suffered from its marginal scheduling, modest resources and the absence of a recognisable and trusted host. Nonetheless, the strand was responsible for some important early arts television, and it is wonderful to have this first selection released from the archives. My only grumble would be about the irritating repetition before each item of the animated ident for Studio Canal, from where the films and telerecordings have been licenced.

My initial responses to each of the elements included on the two DVDs is as follows:

Painter at work, 26 mins, broadcast 8 April 1962

This film about Graham Sutherland was beautifully shot in the south of France by Jacques Curtis and written and directed by Peter Newington. The Independent has online a fascinating obituary of Newington written in 1994 by Michael Gill, himself a major figure in arts television (and the main producer on Civilisation), and we will return to Newington in future posts. Newington had worked under Weldon at Monitor, and this documentary is a rich profile observing Sutherland at work and hearing him speak, although not with synchronous sound. It makes an illuminating comparison with John Read’s half-hour film with Sutherland shot ten years before for the BBC and the Arts Council of Great Britain. At the end of the print on the DVD is a curious caption – ‘This film was transmitted in the Tempo series by ABC Television Ltd’ – which suggests that the documentary was also distributed separately from the television series.

The medium-sized cage, 21 mins, 31 March 1963

Leonard Maguire introduces a telerecording of an experimental drama with a curious provenance, as he explains, ‘Today Tempo has handed over its studio to the Royal College of Art, or to be more exact to the Film and Television design Department of the college.’ The department had been founded by George Haslam, who was a designer for the ABC-TV series Armchair Theatre and who had died just the year before this broadcast. The head of the department at the time was Peter Newington, for whom see above and Michael Gill’s obituary. Maguire looks a little nervous as he says that the six students who created the production did so ‘receiving only the very minimum of supervision from us’. Among the six was director Trevor Preston who was later to write Out (1978) and Fox (1980).

Menuhin on music, 20 mins, 15 March 1964

This is a studio item introduced David Mahlowe, in which Yehudi Menuhin talks about and plays Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with four other musicians who contribute to ‘a discussion between equals to which we are privileged to listen’.

Profile: Harold Pinter, 30 mins, 3 October 1965

James Goddard (later ‘Jim’ and the director of Trevor Preston’s Out) directed this film profile of the playwright which includes two substantial extracts from a studio presentation of The Homecoming, which Pinter wrote in 1965. The cast for these includes Vivien Merchant, John Normington, Phil Rogers, Michael Bryant, Ian Holm and Terence Rigby (which is pretty starry for a Sunday afternoon arts show). The producer of the programme was Mike Hodges, who later directed the classic gangster movie Get Carter (1971).

Profile: Orson Welles, 7 November 1965

Apart from some photographs at the opening and closing (and a clapperboard, above), this film directed by James Goddard and produced by Mike Hodges is content to look at the great director sitting in front of a plain white wall and to listen to his thoughts and anecdotes. And I have to say, so are we.

A guided tour of Zero Mostel, 25 mins, 23 January 1966

Goddard and Hodges are again respectively director and producer on this film profile of the American Broadway star who is interviewed on the set of Dick Lester’s movie version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).

A tale of two talents, 26 mins, 6 February 1966

This is a cherishable film (director Goddard, producer Hodges) which ‘contrasts the different worlds of… two young stars’: singer Tom Jones and solo dancer with the Royal Ballet Lynn Seymour. This is a wonderful document and deserves detailed attention in a future post.

Don’t let the wig fool you, mate!, 26 mins, 27 February 1966

Female impersonator and panto phenomenon Danny la Rue is the subject of this film profile.

Meet the Duke, 6 March 1966

In a film directed by Helen Standage, who made a number of music films for Tempo as well as directing an ITV adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1967), Duke Ellington talks about his work and is observed in rehearsal.

Tativille, 25 mins, 8 May 1966

Dick Fontaine is the director for this wonderfully observant Tempo International film about actor and director Jacques Tati at work on Playtime.

Jazz in Wonderland, 25 mins, 29 May 1966

That wonderful cinematographer Chris Menges was one of the credited cameramen on this James Goddard film watching Stan Tracey making his Alice in Jazzland LP.

Take a simple action and look at it – again again again again again, untransmitted

Here’s what the sleeves notes say: ‘Scheduled twice and banned from transmission on both occasions, this edition of Tempo has never been seen before. Featuring interview material with noted drugs advocate Dr R D Laing intercut with an avant garde approach of visually representing the change in different people’s perceptions, it was the Tempo team’s refusal to cut one of Dr Laing’s more inflammatory comments that saw the ITA ultimately refusing to allow this edition to be shown.’ It’s one of the treats that I have still to sample from this great double-disc set.

Bravo – and thank you, Network.

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