The Agatha Christie Hour
1982, ITV / Thames © Fremantle Media
The Case of the Middle Aged Wife was the first of ten Agatha Christie stories, airing from 07/09/82 - 16/11/82, dramatised by five writers including Freda Kelsall and Gerald Savory. Gwen Watford stars here as Maria Packington, intent on solving the heartache caused by her husband George (Peter Jones) lavishing too much time on his secretary. In return for a fee, Maurice Denham, as Parker Pyne, lines her up with a make-over and introduces her to a suave toyboy, Claude Lutrell (Rupert Frazer).
Armchair Theatre: Lena, O My Lena
1960, ITV / ABC © Canal+ International
A bleak edition of the classic ABC single play strand, which began in 1957 and was later shaped by Sydney Newman on his arrival from Canada in 1958. Alun Owen scripted this play for transmission on 25/09/1960, directed by Ted Kotcheff. Peter McEnery stars as Tom, a young lad who starts a new job in a warehouse and becomes infatuated with Lena (Billie Whitelaw), the girlfriend of one of his workmates. A fight ensues between the two men, forcing Lena to choose between them...
Armchair Theatre: A Magnum for Schneider
1967, ITV / ABC © Canal+ International
Another terrific ABC play, from the latter end of the strand. This drama from James Mitchell starred Edward Woodward and was shown on 04/02/1967; ABC used it as a pilot for six further episodes in the 1968 series Callan, later continued by Thames for three more series from 1969-72. Ronald Radd appears here as Colonel Hunter, recruiting Callan to kill Schneider (Joseph Furst); the youthful Peter Bowles is agent Meres.
The Naked Civil Servant
1975, ITV / Thames © Fremantle Media
John Hurt won a BAFTA award for his rôle in this film, based on Quentin Crisp's autobiography. Hilarious and shocking for its day, this film was a breakthrough in TV's treatment of homosexuality. The BBC declined the offer to make it, while the IBA censored a line from Philip Mackie's witty script, "Sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation." The director Jack Gold scooped a BAFTA too. Verity Lambert executive produced, while Carl Davis composed the music. (tx: 17/12/1975)
Nineteen Eighty Four
The most expensive TV drama production of its day, George Orwell's celebrated novel was adapted by Nigel Kneale and lavished with such a vivid production by Rudolph Cartier, that its original live transmission on 12/12/1954 lead to questions being asked in the House of Commons about its shocking content; one woman had apparently died watching it. This controversery was diluted once The Duke of Edinburgh announced that he and the Queen had seen it and 'thoroughly enjoyed' it. Peter Cushing (Winston Smith), Yvonne Mitchell (Julia), André Morell (O'Brien) and their fellow cast members acted it all out again live for its repeat four days later, to critical acclaim and the highest ratings since the Coronation. Taking up two whole TV studios, a full-size orchestra performing the incidental music live on cue and making imaginative use of pre-filmed inserts, this play transformed the face of British TV drama.
1994 & 1996, BBC
A strand for new, studio-based recordings of the likes of William Shakespeare, August Strindberg and Terence Rattigan, plus contemporary stage productions shot for TV, such as Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg and Arthur Miller's Broken Glass. Brian Walden introduces Message for Posterity (clip, left) a 1994 re-shoot of a wiped 1967 Dennis Potter television play, starring John Neville and Eric Porter.
Play for Today - Kisses at Fifty
The famous and well-loved BBC play strand from the 1970s, which ran with the gauntlet flung down by The Wednesday Play (see below); this Colin Welland drama from 1972, Kisses at Fifty, was directed by Michael Apted and stars Bill Maynard and Rosemarie Dunham, with an early supporting rôle for James Hazeldine. Our clips date from the 1993 BBC2 repeat, plus the repeat trailer. (Original tx: 22/01/1973.) Other actors featuring in the photo montage series title sequence include Brenda Bruce, Iain Cuthbertson and Jack Shepherd.
Play for Today - Rumpole of the Bailey
Another classic play, directed by John Gorrie: the very first appearance of John Mortimer's witty barrister Horace Rumpole, as played by Leo McKern. When the BBC dragged its heels over commissioning a series, producer Irene Shubik whisked the whole package off to Thames, and the rest is history. I adore this theme tune for the Play for Today titles, a jazzy number indeed! (Original tx: 16/12/1975; rpt BBC4 2004.)
Play for Today - Brimstone and Treacle
The 1976 titles include Patrick Troughton, Joan Hickson and Denholm Elliott, the star of the controversial Dennis Potter play Brimstone and Treacle. Having tricked his way into the household of a racist, The Devil (Michael Kitchen) rapes a disabled teenager and so restores her to full health. Potter hoped viewers might question their beliefs (for example, would it have been better if an angel raped the girl?) but while BBC Director of Programmes Alasdair Milne found the play brilliantly written and made, he was so nauseated and concerned by its potential impact on viewers that he pulled its intended original screening of 06/08/1976.
Play of the Month - A Passage to India
Play of the Month ran from 1965 to 1983. This notable adaptation of E.M.Forster's novel stars Sybil Thorndike as Mrs Moore, Virginia McKenna as Adela Quested, Zia Mohyeddin as Dr Aziz and Cyril Cusack as Mr Fielding. Waris Hussein directed this production, which is considered more faithful to the letter of Forster's novel than David Lean's film. (Original tx 16/11/1965; BBC2 repeat 26/06/92)
Play of the Week
1964, ATV London © Granada Ventures
An intriguing trailer for ATV London's Play of the Week strand, starring Maurice Denham, Donald Pickering, Carl Bernard, Keith Pyott and Michael Wynne. Notice that the trailer has been created entirely on film, the only way in which it could have been transmitted from a telecine machine in the presentation gallery. The play itself would no doubt have been performed live - or recorded as-live - in a TV studio. The announcement at the end is delivered by Trevor Lucas.
1990 & 1992, BBC
The 1990 stylish titles of this BBC2 strand involve roses and a horse's head. Tony Marchant's tense play The Attractions (26/07/1989) is set in an old fashioned seaside horror museum and stars Benjamin Whitrow and Reece Dinsdale. By 1992, studio-based single plays were seen as old-hat, and one-off films were the order of the day. Zoe Wanamaker & Dame Wendy Hiller star in The Countess Alice (01/07/92). The series title graphic is now snappier, punched through a sheet of paper.
Screen Two - The Clothes in the Wardrobe
Screen Two was another BBC2 strand, which by 1993 had adopted the BBC2 ident '2' into its generic opening graphics sequence. In this film, Jeanne Moreau, Julie Walters and Joan Plowright star in The Clothes in the Wardrobe, an adaptation of The Summerhouse Trilogy of novels by Alice Thomas Ellis, directed by Waris Hussein. (tx: 17/01/1993)
The Sextet - Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Oddly, considering the series title, this was a set of eight plays, each by a different writer, transmitted between 13/06/72 and 01/08/1972. Only three have survived in the archives, Night Duty (20/06); Stoker Leishman's Diaries (11/07) and this witty satire from the pen of Dennis Potter, starring Denholm Elliott and Billy Whitelaw, first seen on 04/07/72. Elliott plays a neurotic actor who has delusions of being spied on constantly by TV cameras. He chooses to star in life-affirming dog food commercials in order to avoid consorting with sex-obsessed TV drama producers!
Studio 64 - Happy Moorings
1964, ATV London © Granada Ventures
This ATV London drama strand from 1964 comprised six original hour-long plays. Among them were "Happy Moorings" by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, "The Close Prisoner" by Clive Exton, "Better Luck Next Time" by Stanley Mann, "The Devil and John Brown" by Ken Taylor, "A Wicked World" by Giles Cooper and - arguably the best - "The Crunch," written by Nigel Kneale. We have the Studio 64 titles, plus charming original ATV London continuity by Trevor Lucas, with a trailer for Happy Moorings.
A series of six monologues that proved so memorable, they are now A-level texts. They also inspired a follow-up series in 1997, strangely entitled Talking Heads II. The original set included this memorable showcase for Thora Hird, A Cream Cracker Under The Settee (original tx: 24/05/1988)
The Wednesday Play - The Gorge
In 1962, Hugh Greene, BBC Director-General, invited ABC TV's Head of Drama Sydney Newman to join the corporation from ITV, to create a new Drama Group. Central to this was the introduction of The Wednesday Play, the key strand which gave us ground-breaking dramas like Jeremy Sandford's Cathy Come Home and Dennis Potter's Son of Man, as well as comedies like The Gorge, which aired on 04/09/1968. Peter Nichols wrote, and the cast included Neil Wilson, Hilda Braid & John Woodnutt.
The Wednesday Play - Up The Junction
A lively slice of gritty realism based on Nell Dunn's book which fused TV drama with TV documentary under the direction of Ken Loach. The play tells the story of the love lives of three working class women in Battersea, played by Carol White, Geraldine Sherman and Vickery Turner. Lightweight cameras were used to shoot the play on the streets, while the fictional stories were intercut with real people, such as a doctor who discusses the need to change the law, to prevent the numerous deaths caused by back street abortions. (tx. 03/11/1965)
A Voyage Round My Father
1983, ITV / Thames © Fremantle Media
Watching Laurence Olivier chuntering about in this clip, you wouldn't know you were about to witness a chilling scene.... Possibly one of the campest "oohs" I've ever heard when somebody banged their head on a tree. This is the play by John Mortimer about his relationship with his own father, Clifford, who refuses to accept that he has been blinded and makes everyone pretend nothing has happened. For twenty years...