Armchair Theatre

The 1959-60 season of Armchair Theatre, the only ITV [drama anthology] programme presented every week by the same company, was a notable success with audiences. Thirty-two of the thirty-seven plays featured in TAM’s Top Ten ratings, one gained the highest viewing figure to date for an ITV play and another became the only play ever to achieve first place in the Top Ten

Producer Sydney Newman’s determined work among authors also resulted in a record proportion of new writing; eighteen of the plays were specially commissioned for the programme, among them the first original work for TV by Angus Wilson, Alun Owen and Harold Pinter. Of the remainder, all but seven were by British writers, and several were adaptations made for ABC

The season opened with The Scent of Fear, specially written by Ted Willis and directed by John Moxey, one of ABC’s ablest and most experienced directors, whose cigar is seen left in consultation with Sydney Newman

George Varjas

A new television playwright

One of Britain’s most distinguished novelists, Angus Wilson, signed a contract in Autumn 1959 to write exclusively on television for Armchair Theatre.

His first TV play was After the Show, adapted by the author from his own short story and directed by William Kotcheff with designs by Assheton Gorton.

Starring Jeremy Spenser and Ann Lynn, it told with gentle irony the story of a young man’s first painful brush with love on meeting his uncle’s delectably youthful mistress.

Below the young lover reflects on the capriciousness of women

John Timbers

A ring of cameras converge on the seated figure of Jeremy Spenser

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Depth director

William T. Kotcheff (the ‘T’ stands for Theodore, hence the nickname ‘Ted’) won the 1959 Award for Drama Direction from the Guild of TV Producers and Directors.

In the three years since he came to Britain, this young Canadian has become the most talked-about man in his field.

Disliking the term ‘Method’, he nevertheless demands a depth of characterisation from his actors that drew from one Hollywood star the remark that Kotcheff had awakened his creative imagination for the first time in ten years.

Now actors accept ‘bit’ parts just to work with Kotcheff, in whose productions the dividing line between art and reality is concealed by the kind of vitality he is here infusing in Jeremy Spencer and Ann Lynn for After the Show

John Timbers

What you saw… and how it was photographed

This intimate scene between Isa Miranda and Roland Brand in Light from a Star was a lot more romantic for the viewers than for the actors, who had to sustain their moment of emotion against the intrusion of microphone and camera

As Isa Miranda harangued her fellow guests at dinner, director Philip Saville and his camera circled the table like ghosts at the feast

Gilding the lily

George Varjas

The weekly task of dreaming up exciting settings to illustrate and enhance the contents of Armchair Theatre plays is one of the most stimulating creative challenges to ABC’s lively young designers, whose work under the direction of Timothy O’Brien above, right has been widely acclaimed for its high standards and imaginative vigour. For Light from a Star, O’Brien built most of the superstructure of a luxury yacht in one of ABC’s studios and filled a 20-foot swimming pool with six thousand gallons of water. Philip Saville above, left one of Britain’s most exciting and lyrical TV directors, pushed his cameras through portholes and swooped them around the decks like wheeling gulls

No Tram to Lime Street

John Timbers

From luxury yacht in the Mediterranean to a cargo boat in Liverpool docks, Armchair Theatre wrenched viewers back to contemporary Britain with Alun Owen’s first play for television, a warmly rumbustious story of three young seamen on shore leave which was one of the outstanding critical and audience successes in the history of the programme.

William Kotcheff directed, with designs by Voytek; Jack Hedley, Alfred Lynch and Tom Bell were the sailors and Eynon Evans the tough old father who triggered off Lynch’s drinking spree

Two views of Liverpool

John Timbers

No Tram to Lime Street, with its celebrating sailors and a brief but warmly realistic love affair between one of them, Jack Hedley and the girl he picked up, Billie Whitelaw, drew some protests from local papers that the play gave a distorted view of Liverpool

But the other side of the picture was seen across the ITV Network when ABC’s Outside Broadcast Unit took TV cameras into Liverpool Cathedral for the first time to televise Holy Communion.

A recording of the service was later presented to the Cathedral

Bedford Studios

Accent on age

Although in ABC Television’s activities the accent has always been on youth, the elderly are not forgotten, and three Armchair Theatre playwrights last season reminded viewers that the root of the problem of dealing with the aged usually lies in ourselves

John Timbers

Alun Owen’s second play, After the Funeral, directed by William Kotcheff, centred round a fine old Welshman, Charles Carson and his grandson, Hugh David left, who wanted the old man to provide a genuine Welsh background for his home

Stanley Mann’s Fifth Floor People, directed by John Moxey, showed an old couple, Elizabeth Begley and J. G. Devlin, whose miserable existence in a dingy attic hung like a cloud over the future of their young neighbour downstairs, Billie Whitelaw

Bedford Studios

One of the most important playwrights of 1960 has been Clive Exton, whose first play under an ABC contract was Where I Live.

William Kotcheff directed this moving story of a housewife, Ruth Dunning, whose jealousy of her brother and sister-in-law, Lloyd Lamble and Madge Ryan, led her to destroy her own self-respect when she forced them to take their turn at housing her old father, Paul Curran

Regional drama

John Timbers

A parent-child relationship was also the theme of A Shilling for the Evil Day, an Ulster story by Joseph Tomelty which was one of several plays with a strong regional flavour presented by Armchair Theatre.

J. G. Devlin and Elizabeth Begley, both distinguished Ulster players, came together again in this drama of a fishing village on All Souls’ Night.

Charles Jarrott, an Englishman who had made his name in Canada, came home to join ABC as a director, and this play showed the combination of warmth, sensitivity and technical brilliance that has earned him much praise throughout the year.

George Haslam designed the sets

1960 // TRANSDIFFUSION BROADCASTING SYSTEM