1960s BBC BBC 2 Directors Experimental drama

The Logic Game + Shotgun

The Logic Game (BBC-2, 9 January 1965) and Shotgun (BBC-2, 11 July 1966) are showing in a double bill at BFI Southbank on Wednesday 18 February 2015 as part of ‘Forgotten Dramas: Rediscovering British Television’s Neglected Plays’.

As I discussed in the previous post (Six and Five More) these films were made for two series produced by John McGrath for BBC-2 in 1964-5 (Six) and 1966 (Five More), although the latter was not transmitted under that series title but as a series of films on the theme of ‘love and marriage’.

The films in the first series, Six, were all shot on 35 mm film and they were premiered at the London Film Festival prior to their BBC-2 screening. In fact it’s debatable as to whether they should be classified as television dramas or as films made for television, as they were not made by the BBC Drama Department but as part of Huw Wheldon’s Documentary and Music Programmes and were described at the time as ‘documentary fiction’. (Peter Watkins’ Culloden was also produced by Documentary and Music Programmes).

According to John McGrath’s short article in the Radio Times (7 January 1965), The Logic Game “is a profoundly serious, rather difficult film [which] analyses in depth, with honesty and complexity, the spiritual diseases of a man and his wife in 1964 … When it was shown at the London Film Festival in November this uncompromising film aroused violent controversy.” The film received mixed reviews, including this one from David Robinson in Contrast (Spring 1965):

‘This film still seems to me, after three viewings, fairly incomprehensible, and very irritating (though one must recognise these as subjective complaints against the film). McGrath, as producer, considered the film worth doing, as “one of the first, if not the first film in this country to deal with existential psychoanalysis …. It seemed to me to be taking a subject that was very contemporary – the idea of the fragmentation of existence in the highly technological society of the 1960s …. It is a film about two fashionable people living in a technological environment and about the fragmentation of this existence and this environment”. It presupposes, he says, “a sympathy and familiarity with the works of R.D. Laing” (and the author of The Divided Self actually appears in the film). This is, it should be admitted, a pretty demanding presupposition.’

The Logic Game was written by Jane Arden, who appears in it as The Woman, alongside David De Keyser as The Man, and directed by Philip Saville, one of the most innovative directors in British television, who was married to Jane Arden at the time.

Shotgun, adapted from a story by the Japanese writer, Yasushi Inoue, was also innovative in the manner it told the stories of its four central characters, moving between past and present, the Scottish Highlands and London. It features Nigel Davenport, Shirley Anne Field, Zena Walker and Petra Markham, a stellar cast for a 50-minute film made for a relatively new, minority-interest television channel.

A BBC press release described the film in the following terms:

Shotgun is about the layer upon layer of deception which holds people together for a time but which ultimately leads to hollowness, and destruction. Joshua is a wealthy business-man, who, when we find him at dawn shooting duck on the marsh, appears to have withdrawn from the world altogether. When Vicky, whose mother has recently committed suicide, drives up to Scotland to confront him, we begin to learn something of his life, and what Vicky thought had lead to her mother’s death. But that is only one layer of deceit. As the film proceeds, we probe further and further into the story of the last thirteen years in the life of Joshua, his wife, Vicky and her mother.’

These two films illustrate how adventurous BBC-2 was in its early days. The Logic Game was made just a few months after the channel went on the air and more than a year before Ken Loach made Up the Junction for The Wednesday Play, a drama which has been seen as pioneering a new form of documentary drama, filmed on the streets rather than recorded in the studio. Yet The Logic Game and the other ‘documentary fiction’ films made for Six were shot entirely on location more than a year before Up the Junction made that historic ‘breakthrough’. With most of these films never seen since they were first transmitted they represent classic examples of neglected or forgotten television dramas which deserve to be seen again.

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