We are pleased to be able to announce details of the ‘Forgotten Dramas: Rediscovering British Television’s Neglected Plays’ season, held at BFI Southbank this February, curated by Lez Cooke and Billy Smart as a part of the AHRC-funded ‘History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK’ project at Royal Holloway College, University of London.
Viviene Merchant and Dennis Waterman in ‘Play of the Month: The Common’ (BBC1, 21 October 1973)
The season presents a range of forgotten and neglected TV dramas from the ’50s to the ’70s. The full line-up is:
Forgotten TV Drama: Rediscovering British television’s neglected plays
British television has rightly been celebrated for producing some classic dramas, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), Cathy Come Home (1966), Abigail’s Party (1977) and The Singing Detective (1986), to name just four. But for every TV ‘classic’ there are countless plays, series and serials that have been forgotten or archived. This season highlights a few of the many productions that have survived being junked or wiped but have mostly remained unseen. Written by a host of famous authors from JB Priestley and John Betjeman to Alan Bleasdale and Ian McEwan, these plays showcase great performances from Alison Steadman, Ralph Richardson and Peter Cushing, and amazing directing pedigree in the form of Philip Saville, Christopher Morahan, Les Blair and Tony Richardson. In bringing these sadly neglected dramas to a wider audience we hope it will be the catalyst for rediscovering more of British TV’s forgotten history.
Tue 3 Feb, 18.10 NFT3
Second City Firsts: Early to Bed (BBC 1975 Dir. Leslie Blair, with David Warwick, Alison Steadman, Patricia Leach, Johnny Meadows. 30m)
Alan Bleasdale’s first TV drama is about an18 year-old man (Warwick) who embarks on an affair with the young married woman (Steadman) who lives next door in their small mining village in Lancashire. Filmed on location by Les Blair who, as Bleasdale acknowledged, ‘made a script of some promise, but no great quality, into something worth watching.’
+ Second City Firsts: Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration (BBC 1976 Dir. Mike Newell with Sara Kestelman, David Wilkinson, Eileen McCallum, Ivor Roberts. 30m)
David (Wilkinson) is a young man living with Ruth (Kestelman), a woman nearly twice his age. Like the majority of Second City Firsts, this drama – Ian McEwan’s first for TV – was recorded in the studio at Pebble Mill, with the confined set enhancing greatly enhancing the tension when David’s parents visit on his birthday.
+ Panel discussion with actor Alison Steadman, former Commissioning Editor of Drama at Channel 4 Peter Ansorge, Director Les Blair and Producer Tara Prem
Tue 10 Feb, 18.20 NFT2
Sunday Night Theatre: Anastasia (BBC 1953 Dir. John Counsell and Rosemary Hill with Helen Haye, Mary Kerridge, Anthony Ireland, Peter Cushing. 100m)
Anastasia, based on the play by Marcelle Maurette, is a prime example of the rediscovery of a TV play long after it was thought to have been destroyed. Cushing gives an outstanding performance as one of the Russian conspirators who come to realise that the woman they want to impersonate Anastasia, the rumoured surviving member of the Romanov royal family, may actually be authentic.
Sun 15 Feb, NFT2 16.10
Thursday Theatre: Johnson Over Jordan (BBC 1965. Dir Lionel Harris with Ralph Richardson, Paul Eddington, Hannah Gordon, Rachel Gurney. 80m)
Ralph Richardson reprises one of his greatest stage successes in this little-known TV revival. He plays the titular Johnson, who must relive and reflect upon his existence as he passes into the afterlife. J.B. Priestley’s drama presents a soulful, abstract, expressionist world that fully tested the resources of the 1960s TV studio to an awe-inspiring and emotional effect. Introduced by Hannah Gordon
+ You Know What People Are (BBC 1955 Dir. Tony Richardson with Clive Morton, Natasha Perry, Frances Rowe, John Stratton. 30m)
Unseen since its original transmission, this sole surviving edition of You Know What People Are is a fascinating insight into J.B. Priestley’s attempts to create an original drama that could only be told through the new medium of television, using a fixed repertory company of the same four actors for each play in the series.
Wed 18 Feb, 18.20 NFT2
Six: The Logic Game (BBC 1965 Dir. Philip Saville with David de Keyser, Jane Arden, Peter Henry, R.D. Laing. 60m)
Shown as one of a series of six films on BBC2, Philip Saville’s The Logic Game features two characters playing out a complex guessing game. Co-written by Jane Arden (who also stars), the film was informed by ideas of existential psychoanalysis – it includes an interview with psychiatrist R.D. Laing – and aroused violent controversy when it was shown at the London Film Festival in 1964.
+ Five More: Shotgun (BBC 1966 Dir. John McGrath, with Shirley Anne Field, Nigel Davenport, Zena Walker, Petra Markham. 50m)
Shotgun was one of two films directed by producer John McGrath for the follow-up series to Six, this time on the theme of love and marriage. Moving between the Scottish Highlands and London, past and present, it tells a story of infidelity and deceit, with its experimental structure complemented by strong performances (including Edward Fox in a minor role).
Mon 23 Feb 17.50 NFT2
Londoners: Pity About the Abbey (BBC 1965 Dir. Ian Curteis, with Henry McGee, John Harvey, Suzanne Mockler, Derek Francis. 75m)
Pity About the Abbey is the only surviving play from a 1965 BBC2 series called Londoners. Co-written by John Betjeman, before he became Poet Laureate, it adopts a deliciously comic tone (it was subtitled ‘A Comedy About the Future’), describing a plan to knock down Westminster Abbey and replace it with a new government building.
+ Armchair Theatre: The Golden Road ITV/Thames 1973 Dir. Douglas Camfield with Katy Manning, Olive McFarland, Joyce Heron, Neville Barber. 50m)
Unseen for over forty years, Pat Hooker’s The Golden Road is believed to be the first lesbian drama written by a woman made for British TV. It features a beguiling performance from Manning, shaking off her Doctor Who assistant persona, as the free-spirited lodger who profoundly disrupts the lives of the suburban family she moves in with. Introduced by Katy Manning
Thu 26 Feb, 18.20 NFT2
Play of the Month: The Common (BBC 1973 Dir. Christopher Morahan, with Peter Jeffrey, Vivien Merchant, Gwen Taylor, Dennis Waterman. 100m)
While Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade and Passion Play have recently been revived in the West End, his contemporary television dramas remain unseen. The Common tells the story of an affair across divisions of age and class between the true-blue Jane (Merchant) and socialist teacher Sean (Waterman). The result is an effective, subtle and mature comedy about London society.
We think that each screening will be well worth attending, especially as you’re unlikely to have another chance to see any of these plays again for a long time. Booking opens on 20 January.