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

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

bothsides 29b
1960 // TRANSDIFFUSION BROADCASTING SYSTEM