Sydney Newman

Drama Supervisor

What a year for television drama!

This is the year when a play by the most controversial and esoteric new playwright in the London theatre topped the popularity poll of the week’s television programmes. Harold Pinter’s first TV play, A Night Out, commissioned for Armchair Theatre, was seen by over fifteen million viewers.

Who can say that the television public is incapable of responding to the same challenge that enlivens our theatre when this medium has opened the door to the work of writers like Angus Wilson, Alun Owen, Harold Pinter, Clive Exton and others, who are subtle, often deep and never make concessions to easy popularity.

If the magic of drama lies in widening our horizons, consider the frequency with which television enables us to enrich our experience. You are a seaman looking for kicks on your shore-leave and discover there’s No Tram to Lime Street. You are a middle-aged woman with a selfish brother and a father problem in Where I Live. You are a boy experiencing the first bewildering pangs of love in After the Show. Sometimes you are a skilled and enviably attractive Police Surgeon coping with a human emergency and sometimes you are a Pathfinder facing the wonders and terrors of outer space in one of our children’s serials. Sometimes you hunt a murderer and sometimes the murderer hunts you … and all this without leaving your armchair!

Is the live theatre suffering as a result? Only, I would suggest, if its standards are not high enough … if its plays don’t illumine the common experiences and frustrations of us all. By putting to work the country’s best writers, directors and actors, television whets the appetite of a vast, play-hungry audience. And, to see plays, they won’t always be content to stay at home.

What a year for television drama? No, what an augury for the future of British theatre!

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

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

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

1960 // TRANSDIFFUSION BROADCASTING SYSTEM