The play should speak to the condition of a television service. In so far as it does so, in the case of Independent Television, it reveals it to be in good heart. Each of the four largest companies (A-R, ATV, Granada and ABC) has made, and continues to make, serious contributions to television drama; and, in addition, one or two of the smaller companies, notably Anglia, have undertaken plays for the whole network, whilst others have provided short plays which have been networked. These latter have been important features of the service, and may increasingly be so in the future.
Three times a week regularly, and frequently four times a week, important drama may be seen on Independent Television; important, that is to say, in so far as it is representative of some of the best writers of the day. The Sunday night play has been provided by ABC Television (its hallmark: Armchair Theatre) and by Associated Television (Drama ’63). Play of the Week on Tuesday, and Television Playhouse on Thursday or Friday, are provided in turn by Associated-Rediffusion, Granada, and Associated Television, with some regular contributions from Anglia. Since there have been, in seven years, extremely few repeats, this output of plays has been a formidable achievement.
Within or additional to the regular drama series are short seasons of plays. These have included works of Maugham, Shaw, Saki, Sapper and Algernon Blackwood, as well as a series of science-fiction plays.
Timing and Plays
Plays normally run for an hour, with the important exception of Play of the Week, which gives an hour and a half of drama. This accepted timing seems to have much to commend it for television, though it is shorter than any stage-play or major film. In a recent experiment Associated-Rediffusion divided a very long, controversial play into two, showing one-and-a-half hours of it on Tuesday and the last hour on Friday, without apparent loss of interest on the part of viewers; and, also recently, the time of a play has been extended to a full two hours. Timing, therefore, is not inflexible, though there are obvious advantages to the viewer in keeping it fairly well to pattern.
Another advantage, this time to the producer of plays as well as to his audience, is to transmit the play after the nine o’clock news, at a time of night which is recognisably adult viewing time. This gives the producer, whilst it does not force him to exclude plays of entertainment appeal to the whole family, an infinitely wider field from which to select his plays; indeed, it should give him the whole range of the playwright’s art, subject only to some restrictions which his own conscience and sense of social responsibility may suggest to him. It has become Authority policy to encourage in every sense a mature approach to serious drama on Independent Television.
Character of Television Drama
Appraisal of drama on television must begin by accepting that it is, per se, television drama and not a film or a stage play. Both these other media may offer material which is suitable, when adapted, to television, both from the point of view of story and characterisation; but the television play should not be judged with some kind of preliminary nostalgic glance in another direction. There are important similarities in presentation, but there are equally important and fascinating differences, not the least of these latter being mobility and the use of close-up. There is a sense in which the producer (or the director, as he may be called) of the television play can come much nearer to his audience to say what he has to say; to fashion for the viewer a pattern in this world of shadows which conveys some beauty or some truth.
Reflections in the mirror tend to produce vogues in plays. One of these has, for some time, been the vogue in kitchen-sink drama. Among other things, this is about some materialistic aspects of the present age. But in this kind of drama, as in any other, if some quality of thought which has no dependence upon the actual setting is not apparent the play will fail. Thus the public may well be weary of kitchen-sink drama when it is only about a kitchen sink, and plays itself out as a mere charade. The touchstone of quality which marks the good play is its ability to suspend time itself, and, whilst it tells its tale, to spellbind the viewer with its glittering eye. Producers, and all the many other people in the teams which present major plays on Independent Television, have reason to feel gratified by their achievements during the last few years; and there is evidence of a considerable appreciation of their work amongst the viewing public, for, perhaps surprisingly, a play is featured week by week amongst the Top Ten favourite programmes. For those who prefer statistics, this is to say that a play would have to run for perhaps 17 years in a London theatre to be seen by as many people as see it one night in, say, Armchair Theatre.
There is a second category of drama on Independent Television which is important to note, since it too provides considerable entertainment and pleasure to great numbers of viewers. It is more limited in its range and depth, lighter in texture, and less given to the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. At the same time, since it is devoted to playing out a story — more often than not about characters familiar to us all from day to day, or familiar to us because they take some significant place in the social order — of its kind it can produce effective and qualitative television. Often it offers shrewd comment of almost a documentary nature. In this range come the weekly or twice-weekly episodes of series such as Coronation Street (Granada), Emergency Ward 10 and Harpers West One (Associated Television), and No Hiding Place (Associated Rediffusion). Among others are Probation Officer (Associated Television), a series which, in a difficult country of human behaviour, achieves notable integrity, The Verdict is Yours and Family Solicitor (Granada).
The mounting of such series, week by week for months or years at a time, is a formidable operation, demanding new ideas in the production team and unflagging freshness in the players. Such series have a quality of characterisation which has not only created an audience which never seems to tire, but has also bred in that audience, quite properly, a critical attitude of mind which would be alert to any falling off in merit.
It is useful to bear in mind that Independent Television series in this range of drama have, week by week, month by month, more viewers than any other programmes on British television. It is also useful to reflect with some pleasure on the lively intelligence, at all stages of production, which keeps them going, and on the good-natured enjoyment with which they are switched into so many homes in Britain.
In the lighter category of drama on Independent Television are such half-hour or hour series as The Avengers, The Saint, Ghost Squad and Top Secret. Many of these British-produced programmes are popular not only with audiences in this country but with television viewers throughout the world. In the same way, British television draws from the wide range of American drama production; the amount of foreign material, including light entertainment and comedy films, does not, however, exceed 14 per cent of the total programme output.
PLAY OF THE WEEK
Play of the Week is one of the three full-length plays which are fully networked each week. It can be seen at 9.15 on Tuesdays and lasts for ninety minutes. Plays in this series are produced in rotation by Associated-Rediffusion, Associated TeleVision and Granada, and occasionally by Anglia. Productions in November and December 1962 were:
|Don Juan in Hell||Bernard Shaw||Alan Badel, Cyril Cusack||Granada|
|The Applecart||Bernard Shaw||Laurence Payne, John Phillips, Moira Redmond||Granada|
|The Typewriter||Jean Cocteau||Margaret Johnston, Jeremy Brett, Patrick Wymark||A-R|
|Haven in Sunset||Eric Coxon||Michael Goodliffe, Sarah Lawson||A-R|
|A Letter from the General||Maurice McLoughlin||Anna Neagle, Guy Doleman||Anglia|
|Alida||Paul Lee||Hugh Sinclair, Jessica Dunning, Jacqueline Ellis||ATV|
|The Shifting Heart||Richard Beynon||Keith Michell, Madge Ryan, John Lee||ATV|
Television Playhouse appears on Fridays at 9.45 for 60 minutes. Again, plays are produced by Associated-Rediffusion, Associated TeleVision and Granada, with occasional contributions from Anglia. Productions in November and December 1962 were:
|Until You Are Dead||Arden Winch||Nigel Davenport, Dinsdale Landen, Paul Curran||ATV|
|Nuncle||John Bowen||Raymond Huntley, Jennifer Wilson, Norman Bird||ATV|
|The Morning After||G. C. Brown||Juliet Mills, Leonard Rossiter, Jerry Stovin||ATV|
|The Road to Anywhere||Angus Cooper||Sam Kydd, Bert Palmer||A-R|
|When Silver Drinks||Forbes Bramble||Colin Blakely, Dinsdale Landen, Delphi Lawrence||Granada|
|The Pinkness of it All||Mike Watts||Sam Kydd, Ronnie Barker||A-R|
|No Cause for Alarm||Dennis Spooner||Michael Ripper||A-R|
|Fiddlers All||Henry Chapman||Ronald Fraser, Stephen Lewis, Betty Baskcomb||Anglia|
|The Interview||Louis Marks||Georgina Ward, Alexis Kanner||Granada|
THIRTY MINUTE THEATRE
Series of one-act plays under the general title Thirty Minute Theatre are produced from time to time by four of the regional companies, Scottish Television, TWW, Southern and Anglia. Some plays shown over most of the network during 1962 were:
|Dare to be a Daniel||Alun Owen||Clifford Evans, James Villiers||Southern|
|Kind to Everyone||Caryl Doncaster||Irene Brown, Noel Harrison||Anglia|
|Interview for Wives||Leo Lehman||Robert Shaw, Jill Dixon||TWW|
|Double Image||Duncan McLeod||Roger Livesey, Geraldine McEwan||Scottish|
Armchair Theatre appears on alternate Sundays at 9.35pm for 60 minutes. All plays in this series are produced by ABC Television. Productions in November and December 1962 were:
|Thank You and Goodnight||Robert Muller||Same McShane, Sarah Badel||ABC|
|The Big Ride||John O’Toole||Andre Morel, Derek Francis, Brian Wilde||ABC|
|Joker||Gerald Vaughan Hughes||Kenneth Haigh||ABC|
|Hear the Tiger, See the Bay||Alun Richards||Ethel Gabriel, Dandy Nichols, Clifford Evans||ABC|
Drama ’63 alternates with Armchair Theatre on Sundays at 9.35pm. It lasts for 60 minutes and is produced by Associated TeleVision. Productions in November and December 1962 were:
|The Slaughter Men||Ken Taylor||Colin Blakely, James Bolam, Avis Bunnage||ATV|
|The Pinedus Affair||Paolo Levi trans. by Robert Rietty||George Cole, Patricia Marmont, Victor Brooks||ATV|
|The Betrayers||Stanley Ellin (adapted by Michael Gilbert)||John Carson, Zena Walker||ATV|
|Room for Justice||Jeremy Paul||Marius Goring, Zena Walker, Dinsdale Landen||ATV|
|Programme||Description||Company||Mins.||Time & day||Distribution|
|Top Secret||Adventure series||A-R||55||8.00 Wednesday, May-June 1962||Network|
|The Odd Man||Mystery serial||Granada||55||9.15 Friday, May-June 1962||Network|
|Probation Officer||Dramatised documentary||ATV||55||9.15 Monday, May-Sept. 1962||Network|
|Saki||Adaptations of short stories||Granada||55||9.15 Friday, July-Aug. 1962||Network|
|Somerset Maugham Hour||Adaptations of short stories||A-R||60||9.45 Thursday, Sept.-Dec. 1962||Part Network|
|Man of the World||Adventure series||ATV||60||7.25 Saturday, Sept.-Dec. 1962||Part Network|
|Sword in the Web||French Resistance stories||ABC||45||2.40 Sunday, Sept.-Dec. 1962||Part Network|
|Call Oxbridge 2000||Medical series||ATV||45||3.45 Sunday, Sept.-Dec. 1962||Part Network|
|Harpers West One||London store series||ATV||60||8.00 Monday, Sept. 1962-Jan. 1963||Network|
|Coronation Street||Serial set in a Lancashire city||Granada||30||7.30 Mon., Wed.||Network|
|Emergency Ward 10||Hospital documentary||ATV||30||7.30 Tues., Fri.||Network|
|No Hiding Place||Police series||A-R||60||8.00 Tuesday||Network|
|The Verdict is Yours||Court-room drama||Granada||60||10.15 Friday||Part Network|
|The Saint||Adventure series||ATV||60||7.25 Alt. Sundays||Part Network|
|The Avengers||Adventure series||ABC||55||10.35 Sunday||Part Network|
|Ghost Squad||International crime series||ATV||60||9.10 Saturday||Part Network|
|It Happened Like This||Adaptations of “Sapper”||A-R||45||10.15 Thursday||Network|
|Tales of Mystery||Supernatural||A-R||30||9.45 Thursday||Part Network|
|Dimension of Fear||Science-fiction||ABC||45||10.10 Saturday||Part Network|
|The Plane-Makers||Aircraft factory series||ATV||60||8.00 Monday||Part Network|
|24 Hour Call||Medical series||ATV||45||10.10 Saturday||Part Network|
N.B. Times and days of transmission of network or part-network programmes may differ from the above which are based on the London area.