Did I miss out January? Oops. Oh well.
Anyway, it’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in February 2014. Bar a preview of Jimmy McGovern’s new BBC1 film Common, TV in February is going to be dedicated to two things: the 30th anniversary of Spitting Image and a season of plays shot in TV studios that used pioneering or innovative techniques, particularly CSO. There’s some juicy ones on offer, including Psy-Warriors, The Journal of Bridget Hitler, and The Life of Galileo, as well as the marvellous The Exorcism. Enjoy!
Thu 6 Feb 18:10 NFT3
The Imaginative World of the Television Studio: Dead of Night: The Exorcism
BBC 1972. Dir Don Taylor. With Anna Cropper, Sylvia Kay, Edward Petherbridge, Clive Swift. 50min
This genre hybrid by studio advocate and maestro Don Taylor was made for the Dead of Night supernatural anthology series, and could be described as a satirical, socialist ghost story par excellence. Two unsuspecting middle-class couples settle down for a cosy dinner party in a country cottage, unaware of the terrifying turn of events to follow. It’s through intimacy and intense performances that the play builds to a powerful climax.
+ Lecture: The Unlimited Possibility of the TV Studio
Drawing from The Exorcism, with clips from Playhouse: The Mind Beyond, Armchair Theatre and Play of the Month, the first part of our lecture considers the power of studio drama as an intimate form of storytelling with strong affinities to the stage play. The second part explores stylised studio environments and the use of videographic effects in the 70s, with clips from seminal productions such as Rock Follies (Thames, 1976), Chester Mystery Plays (BBC, 1975) and Shades of Greene (Thames, 1975).
Lead by Dr Leah Panos (University of Reading) and Dr Billy Smart (Royal Holloway College, University of London)
Sat 8 Feb 15:50 NFT2
Brechtian Alienation: the Studio as an Empty Canvas: Festival: The Life of Galileo
BBC 1964. Dir Charles Jarrott. With Leo McKern, Nigel Stock, Ewan Hooper, Rosalie Crutchley. 115min
This BBC version of Brecht’s epic acount of Galileo’s persecution (for his ‘heretical’ idea that the earth moved around the sun) makes unabashed use of the new Television Centre studio as an empty stage, where scenes are represented rather than realistically replicated. The undisguised sight of cameras and microphones, and the treatment of Brecht’s narrator as TV presenter, captures Brecht’s pioneering methods in a truly unique televisual experience starring the magnificent Leo McKern.
Tue 11 Feb 17:50 NFT2
Entrapment and Confrontation in the Studio: Theatre 625: Miss Julie
BBC 1965. Dir Alan Bridges. With Gunnel Lindblom, Ian Hendry, Stephanie Bidmead. 70min.
The studio provides the perfect claustrophobic setting for this tale of class, power and sexual psychology. Lindblom and Hendry are superb as the Count’s daughter and manservant who are swept into an affair while struggling to determine its course, and their performances are delivered with characteristic Strindbergian intensity.
+ The Wednesday Play: Let’s Murder Vivaldi
BBC 1968. Dir Alan Bridges. With Glenda Jackson, Denholm Elliott, Gwen Watford, David Sumner. 75min
Two couples trapped in unhealthy relationships tear each other apart verbally and physically in this ferociously witty and darkly humorous stage play by leading television playwright David Mercer. Rooms become cells and household objects are loaded with menace through fascinating studio staging, served by a stellar cast.
Sat 15 Feb 15:45 NFT2
Studio trickery: Colour Separation Overlay: Censored Scenes from King Kong
BBC 1973. Dir Brian Farnham. With Michael Feast, Derek Fowlds, Beth Porter, Michael Angelis. 55min
Pop-art style collages form the backdrop to a hunt for censored footage from the seminal 1933 film version of King Kong in this (ironically) never-transmitted play by Howard Schuman (Rock Follies; Selling Hitler). An irreverent and dynamic riff on the demise of 60s counterculture.
+ Play For Today: The After-Dinner Joke
BBC 1978. Dir Colin Bucksey. With Paula Wilcox, Richard Vernon, Clive Merrison, Derek Smith. 65min
CSO was the perfect televisual technique for Caryl Churchill’s incisive, satirical exploration of the politics of charity. Turning in perfectly-judged performances, Paula Wilcox and other cast members deliver Churchill’s hard-hitting message with maximum irony against a backdrop of colourful, non-naturalistic captions. These captions provided the means for creating this epic play’s many spaces within the confines of the studio.
Wed 19 Feb 20:40 NFT2
Mixing Genres in the Studio: Playhouse: The Journal of Bridget Hitler
BBC 1981. Dir Philip Saville. With Maurice Roeves, Siobhan McKenna, Julian Glover, Jean Heard. 110min
This Colour Separation Overlay-intensive feature length drama is unlike anything made before or since, and is a seminal and revolutionary production in TV history. Taking a supposed real journey made by Adolf Hitler to Liverpool in 1912 as its point of departure, the play combines drama, historical reconstruction and studio discussion. A sense of alienation is achieved through various devices such as the inclusion of footage shot in the BBC canteen and interviews with the characters.
Thu 20 Feb 20:15 NFT1
Preview: Common + Q&A with Jimmy McGovern, producer Colin McKeown, director David Blair plus cast
LA Productions for BBC One 2013. Dir David Blair. With Nico Mirallegro, Daniel Mays, Susan Lynch, Jodhi May. 90min
Renowned writer Jimmy McGovern follows on from acclaimed dramas Hillsborough and Dockers with his customary zeal for giving a voice to the unheard. Common examines the potential for injustice with the Joint Enterprise or 'Common Purpose' rule; a young man gives friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour and finds himself charged with murder.
Please check the BFI website for confirmed panellists closer to the date
Mon 24 Feb 20:40 NFT3
The Stripped-Down Studio Space: Play for Today: Psy-Warriors
BBC 1981. Dir Alan Clarke. With Colin Blakely, Rosalind Ayres, John Duttine, Warren Clarke. 73min
Alan Clarke’s characteristically austere approach is evident in this play by David Leland. Stark white cage and box structures are used to striking effect in this shocking exposé of the British army’s psychological interrogation methods in Northern Ireland.
+ Centre Play: The Saliva Milkshake
BBC 1975. Dir Robert Knights. With Michael Harbour, Rosalind Ayres, Edmond Bennett, Julian Curry. 30min
Howard Brenton’s short play about a female revolutionary socialist on the run for murder, and the erstwhile friend she turns to for help, is powerfully realised in the studio. Dark, minimal sets enhance tension and intimacy, focusing us on the play’s tense interactions and Michael Harbour’s subjective monologues.
Thu 27 Feb 18:10 NFT1
TV Preview: Arena: Spitting Image + Q&A
BBC 2014. Dir Anthony Wall. 60min
Thirty years ago Roger Law and Peter Fluck were happily ensconced in a converted Temperance Hall in Cambridge making cruelly funny plasticine caricatures. These models were photographed and presented to the world in print under the anonymous byline ‘Luck & Flaw.’ Unlike a drawing, the caricatures looked like they might move and, Geppetto-style, they did. Law and Fluck, with co-conspirator, TV comedy supremo John Lloyd, unleashed one of the most shocking and hilarious TV series ever. Arena tells the story of Spitting Image. Followed by a Q&A with Peter Fluck, Roger Law, John Lloyd, Anthony Wall
Thu 27 Feb 20:45 NFT1
Spitting Image: A 30th Anniversary Celebration + Q&A
We’re delighted to host a panel of well known writers and performers who gave the show its satirical edge and who became household names in the process, alongside some of their victims – politicians and celebrities – who will discuss the effect their puppet personas had on their careers. Using illustrative clips, we examine the show’s controversial impact at the time and its lasting legacy, and reveal behind-the-scenes secrets of the performers, puppeteers, writers and directors.
Fri 28 Feb 18:20 NFT2
Landscape in the Studio: Play For Today: Desert of Lies + Q&A
BBC 1984. Dir Piers Haggard. With Cherie Lunghi, Mick Ford, Tom Bell. 85min.
The stories of two failed expeditions to the Kalahari in 1983 and 1848 are interwoven in Howard Brenton’s intelligent screenplay about cultural imperialism. In the present day, a group goes in search of a mythical tribe, while, over a century earlier, a missionary’s family slowly languishes in the same patch. The desert landscape was recreated to amazing effect in Television Centre.
We hope to welcome director Piers Haggard, actor Cheri Lunghi, writer Howard Brenton and designer Stuart Walker for a Q&A. Please check BFI website for final panel confirmations.
Champions' priority booking: January 6
Members' priority booking opens: January 7
Public: January 14
£7.00 (member concs)
£8.50 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00.
All shows are £6 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.
As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.