Armchair Theatre Events Forgotten Television Drama ITV John D. Stewart John Hill Northern Ireland Ulster Television Writers

Forgotten TV dramas returns to Belfast Film Festival

Beanbag Cinema/Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast

2 – 8 April 2017

Following the success of previous screenings at the 2015 festival, Professor John Hill has curated a second series of screenings for the Belfast Film Festival 2017. The programme is outlined below.

Sunday 2 April, 12pm

The Eagle Has Landed (Granada 1973. Written by David Edgar, Directed by Colin Cant. With Roland Curran, Weston Gavin, Zoë Wanamaker. 30min)

An exuberant and wildly inventive satire on the Apollo Space Programme by David Edgar, in which two astronauts perform the first ever live variety show from the moon while television pundits provide a commentary.  Events, however, take a more sinister turn when the astronauts decide to ‘drop in’ on an ordinary English family. At turns both funny and unnerving, The Eagle Has Landed   represents the kind of socially critical and formally experimental television drama that it is hard to imagine could be made today (and even then it was only considered safe to show it at 11.25pm!)

Wednesday 5 April, 6.30pm

John D Stewart in Profile. Introduction by John Hill

Along with Stewart Love and Joseph Tomelty, John D. Stewart was one of the first writers from Northern Ireland to have their work produced for the ITV television network under the auspices of ABC’s pioneering drama anthology series, Armchair Theatre..

Although Stewart’s first television play was Worm in the Bud (1959), set in the backstreets of Belfast, it was his second television play, Danger, Men Working (1961) for which he was best known. This was originally produced for the Festival of Britain in 1951 by Tyrone Guthrie but was subsequently reworked for radio and then television.

Despite its success, and further work for radio and theatre, Stewart’s career as a television writer failed, however, to maintain momentum and he had only one more TV play produced. This was one of Ulster Television’s first forays into drama, Boatman Do Not Tarry (1967), and dealt with a ferryman’s battle to preserve his livelihood in the face of government plans to build a bridge.

Danger, Men Working (ITV 1961. Written John D. Stewart, Directed byAlan Cooke. With Leo McKern, Richard Pearson, Partrick McAlinney, Barry Keegan, Mark Eden, Elisabeth Murray, Gerald McAllister).

Set on a building site in Co. Derry, the play draws on Stewart’s experiences as a civil engineer and – in line with the contemporary trend towards working-class realism – deals with the clashes between bosses and workers over production methods and safety. Although shot at the Teddington Studios in Middlesex, the production provides a rare opportunity to see one of the first of a small number of television plays dealing with life in Northern Ireland in the pre-Troubles era.

Saturday 8 April, 3pm

Prowling Offensive (BBC, 1975. BBC2 – Untransmitted.  Written by Howard Barker, Directed by Richard Martin. With Brian Cox, Derek Tansley, Hilda Fenemore, Ian Thompson, Lindsay Ingram, Susan Barker. 30min)

Howard Barker describes his television play Prowling Offensive as a ‘half-hour study in resentment’. A wild and disturbing story of a pimp (Brian Cox) compromising a government minister, the play was commissioned as part of a series entitled Masquerade and its use of a fancy-dress ball setting and masks not only creates an alarming, queasy effect but provides a means of commenting on the characters’ positions. Barker’s plays have been described as ‘a horrified diagnosis of the warfare of the classes, waged with resort to sex, violence, intrigue and sheer native British nastiness’. This combination of confrontational material and experimental style made Prowling Offensive too problematic for the BBC to broadcast, and the play was never transmitted.

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