on December 4, 2013 | |
Probably one of the biggest British heroes of the Second World War was Alan Turing. Indeed, although he can't be said to have won the war, without him, it's very possible we would have lost it, such was his contribution. Because Turing, after whom the famous 'Turing Test' is named, was the mathematician responsible for large parts not only of the Allies' code-breaking efforts, focusing particularly on Germany's Enigma machines, but some of the foundations of computing theory that are in use today even now.
So how did we reward him after the war? Well, he was gay so naturally we threatened to put him in prison, which prompted him to commit suicide. Well done us.
The story of Turing's life was turned into a stage play, Breaking The Code, which the BBC adapted in 1996 in association with PBS in the US, with Derek Jacobi as Turing. As with all stage plays turned into TV plays, differing runtimes meant that cuts and changes had to be made, so arguably the TV version is a slightly inferior piece in comparison to the original. It also didn't help that PBS asked for a speech on mathematics delivered by Jacobi to be cut because 'Americans won't understand it.' Oh dear.
But despite the shorter runtime, it's well worth a watch, especially if you'd never heard of Turing until now. Enjoy!
on November 28, 2013 | |
Many plays, particularly those in the theatre, are written to impart a message from the author. TV plays typically have been no different and especially during the 1970s in the UK, social realism and commentary on injustices in society were grist to the playwright's mill.
Largely, however, this wasn't the case for genre series, which were much more interested in ideas about science, technology and the future in the case of science-fiction shows - or just scaring people in the case of horror shows. But the first play in BBC2's 1972 supernatural anthology series Dead of Night, The Exorcism, married both the supernatural and social conscience to deliver a play about the divide between rich and poor that still was able to scare the crap out of the viewer.
Set in a recently purchased cottage in the countryside, The Exorcism sees various middle-class friends (Clive Swift, Edward Petherbridge, Anna Cropper and Sylvia Kay) get together for a dinner party and to revel in how much money they have. Unfortunately, their behaviour excites some particularly unfriendly proletariat ghosts and the party ends up going in a particularly bad direction for them all.
If you can get over the somewhat agitprop nature of Don Taylor's play, this is a real blood curdler that'll make you think while it scares you witless. Best watched at night, with the lights turned down, it's this week's Wednesday Play on Thursday. Enjoy - and if you like it, you can buy it and the two surviving episodes (Return Flight and A Woman Sobbing) on DVD.
PS Trivia lovers might like to know that the eighth episode of the series was going to be The Stone Tape, but that was eventually aired as a separate play.
on November 20, 2013 | |
One of the finest plays broadcast by the BBC was Comedians by Trevor Griffiths. Griffiths had previously written the BBC's esteemed 13-part look at the collapse of Europe's ruling dynasties in the run up to and at the end of the First World War, Fall of Eagles. A socialist playwright dedicated to writing for television, nevertheless, in 1975, he wrote Comedians for the stage. It proved popular enough to transfer to Broadway, after which the BBC asked him to adapt it for TV.
The play is set in a Manchester evening class for aspiring working-class comedians that's taught by Bill Fraser and includes Jonathan Pryce among its students, each student representing a different style of comedy. The action switches from classroom to stand-up club and back again, as Fraser gives notes on performances, praising the conventional, damning the unconventional. Except everything's not quite as it seems and the play deals in serious analysis of the choices made by comedians in their acts.
"...A joke that that feeds on ignorance starves it's audience. We have the choice. We can say something or we can say nothing. Most comics feed prejudice and fear and blinkered vision, but the best ones, the best ones... illuminate them, make them clearer to see, easier to deal with. We've got to make people laugh till they cry. Cry. Till they find their pain and their beauty."