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1960s, BBC 2, BBC Archive, Experimental drama, John McGrath, Philip Saville

‘Forgotten Dramas 2’ at BFI Southbank: The Day of Ragnarok + Exit 19

 

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 The Day of Ragnarok (BBC2, 2 January 1965) and Exit 19 (BBC2, 8 August 1966) are showing in a double bill as part of the Forgotten Dramas season at BFI Southbank on Wednesday 22 February at 6.20 pm. This is a rare opportunity to see two remarkable short films which have not been seen since they were transmitted on BBC2 in 1965-66.

The Day of Ragnarok was directed by John McGrath, the producer of the two series in which these films were shown, and features Pauline Boty, Tamara Hinchco, Elizabeth MacLennan and Nicol Williamson. It is an uncategorisable film which is partly about an impending nuclear war, against which a large number of women gather to protest in a London park. The film is remarkable for containing no dialogue, with only a voiceover (by David de Keyser) at the beginning, followed by a newsreader speaking to camera. The rest is sound effects, pop music and Dudley Moore’s atmospheric score.

One reason why the film has not been seen for 52 years is that BBC archivists had been unable to match the surviving reels of picture and sound that were in the BBC archive. When I was researching the film I discovered that a longer version had been shown at the London Film Festival in 1964 and this was a clue as to why the sound did not match – some of the surviving sound was from the longer version of the film. Even so, it was still difficult to match the sound due to the lack of dialogue, but we managed to sync sound to the first 30 minutes of the film, only to find that there was no more sound which matched the final seven and a half minutes, so the final reel of the film remains mute.

The Day of Ragnarok is an extraordinary film and one of the first all-film dramas to be made at the BBC. A longer account of the restoration of the film can be found here.

Exit 19 was made for the second series of films which were shot in 1965 and broadcast in the summer of 1966. It was directed by Philip Saville, who also directed The Logic Game (9 January 1965) in the first series. The theme of the second series was ‘love and marriage’ and Exit 19 is an investigation into the subject of love and marriage presented in an unconventional modernist style with elliptical editing and the two main actors – Jack Bond as The Editor and Maureen Safhill as The Model – talking to camera in an uninhibited manner about their attitudes towards sex, love and marriage.

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Maureen Safhill & Jack Bond in Exit 19

 

Exit 19 was the most experimental of the films in the second series, just as The Logic Game had been in the first series, and this screening provides an opportunity to rediscover yet another unique contribution to television drama from the remarkable Philip Saville, who died in December 2016.

 

 

A longer article about ‘Six (and Five More)’, the two series for which these films were made, can be found here.

Lez Cooke

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