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!

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

Two views of the military man

John Timbers

Another old-guard soldier, but this time of a more human kind, was created by Clive Exton in his comedy Some Talk of Alexander.

Harry Andrews had waited eight years to find a TV play to his liking before making his ITV debut as the former Guards nco who readjusts himself to civiliian life in the greengrocer’s shop kept by Ingeborg Wells and her son James Culliford.

Alan Cooke, who has a gifted hand with comedy, directed the play.

A very different Clive Exton story about a military man was Hold My Hand, Soldier, illustrated right with a scene from each of its deeply moving acts. Victor Maddern, Gordon Jackson and Ronald Fraser were the only three players in this modern parable of a private soldier’s journey to Calvary, presented by Armchair Theatre on Easter Sunday.

John Moxey did some of his finest work as a director of this play, while James Goddard, a new name among ABC’s young designers, created the sets for both Exton productions

Mark Hamilton

End of term

John Timbers

Another type of ABC extravaganza was On the Spot, in which adapter Clive Exton and director Philip Saville took the mickey out of Edgar Wallace’s famous comedy thriller play of Chicago in the Roaring Twenties to close the Armchair Theatre season.

The picture above, like an old movie still, shows David McCallum putting a rival gangster on the spot, whilst Ted and Julie Allen left brought Toni Perelli and Minn Lee to life again.

Yvonne Romain as Maria guys the giddy flapper below in Voytek’s baroque set

1960 // TRANSDIFFUSION BROADCASTING SYSTEM