What TV’s on at the BFI in April 2014

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in April 2014. Opera dominates the schedule this time, with a season of opera productions, both filmed and specially performed for television, and a Q&A with Mr Jonathan Miller himself about the future of opera on TV. But there’s also a season starting in April celebrating BBC2’s 50th anniversary, an evening devoted to April Fool jokes and a Missing Believed Wiped Special devoted to Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ The Complete and Utter History of Britain that will be introduced by Palin himself.

Tue 1 Apr 18:15 NFT1
April Fool! Famous (and Infamous) TV Hoaxes
Various clips TRT 90min
The exact origins of April Fool’s Day might remain obscure (various theories abound) but the things we know for sure are that the tradition is very, very old and the British media take huge delight in it. The undisputed champ is the magnificent Panorama report on the Swiss spaghetti harvest, broadcast on 1 April 1957. This beautifully realised spoof (screening here in its entirety) set the bar very high for future TV tomfoolery, and tonight’s presentation will look at the continuing history of the April Fool’s joke with a special compilation of vintage clips – many unseen since their original broadcast.

Wed 2 Apr 20:50 NFT1
Missing Believed Wiped Special: Maximum Access: The Complete and Utter History of Britain
ITV 1969. Dir Maurice Murphy. With Michael Palin, Terry Jones. Various clips TRT 100min
The BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped initiative exists not only to highlight recovered TV material, but to provide a showcase for the public. These screenings serve multiple purposes: to allow enthusiasts to see the titles; to inform cataloguers and archivists of the survival status of the material; and – perhaps most importantly – to alert schedulers, programme makers and commercial distributors to the finds, leading to greater exposure. To that end, this Missing Believed Wiped special will focus on the zany, pre-Python comedy series The Complete and Utter History of Britain, Michael Palin and Terry Jones’ 1960s precursor to the much-loved TV show Horrible Histories. Here, we find sketches such as Richard the Lionheart relating his exploits in the Crusades in the manner of a laddish holidaymaker, and William the Conquerer engaging in post-match analysis. Fans will be delighted that all the surviving material from this seminal series, along with new complementary material from Palin and Jones, will now be made available on DVD (thanks to Network Releasing).
We are delighted that this event will be introduced by Michael Palin

BBC Two 50th Anniversary
Join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of BBC Two. Established to offer programmes that were distinctive and different to the two other mainstream channels then on offer (BBC1 and ITV), the channel has carved out a special place in the cultural TV landscape – from in-depth science and documentary to groundbreaking comedy and drama. BBC2 began broadcasting on 20 April 1964, but a fire at Battersea power station cut power to the BBC, and scuppered the opening night schedule. Across these two screenings we take a look at the first fascinating week of BBC 2 via surviving archive programmes that show an astonishing range of subjects and ambition, and which laid the foundations for the channel we all know and love today.

Wed 23 Apr 18:10 NFT3
The Opening Week + Sir David Attenborough in conversation with Alan Yentob
This selection of archive clips aims to capture the flavour of the opening week (including the first night’s power cut, and the hilarious newsreader forced to stay on air with nothing to cut to!). Clips include: light entertainment shows such as Jazz 625: Duke Ellington in Concert; comedy from The Albert’s Channel Too and Arkady Raikin (the Soviet Union’s leading comedian); and drama with Julius Caesar (the National Youth Theatre production with original jazz score).
Alan Yentob discusses BBC2 past, present and future with Sir David Attenborough (Controller BBC2 1965 – 1973)

Wed 23 Apr 20:45 NFT3
Kiss Me Kate
BBC 1964. Dir David Askey. With Howard Keel, Millicent Martin, Patricia Morison, Eric Barker. 95min
This lavish production of the famous Cole Porter Broadway musical was commissioned to kick the channel off with a bang, and to showcase the better picture offered by BBC2’s brand new 625 lines system (until then all UK TV had only been 405 lines). Add to this a superb cast (Howard Keel and Millicent Martin), some spirited dance routines and numbers – including, appropriately enough to open a new national TV channel, ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’ – and we guarantee you a toe-tapping televisual extravaganza!

From the Opera House

Mon 31 Mar 18:00 NFT1
Callas Sings Tosca
C4 1986/ATV 1964. Stage Dir Franco Zeffirelli. TV Dir Bill Ward. With Maria Callas,Tito Gobbi, Renato Chioni, Robert Bowman. 48min

In 1964 ATV’s Golden Hour went to Covent Garden to relay a gala performance of Act II of Puccini’s Tosca, in Zeffirelli’s famous production. Introduced by Sir David Webster, he prophetically announced that ‘those viewers seeing Callas’ performance tonight will talk about it to their grandchildren, so great is her achievement in the role.’ He was proved correct.
In association with Royal Opera House
+ The Southbank Show: Maria Callas
Isolde films/LWT 1987. Dir Tony Palmer. 85min

John Ardoin, Callas’ biographer, asks why she reaches out from the grave to fascinate us still, in Tony Palmer’s rich and moving film. Through interviews with those who knew her and worked with her (Visconti, Zeffirelli, Gobbi) and rare archive footage, the film builds a complex picture. It is perhaps the most revealing documentary to date on this most enigmatic of women and her exceptional talent.

Mon 7 Apr 17:50 NFT1
The Tragedy of Carmen
Alby Films/C4 1983. Dir Peter Brook. With Hélène Delavault, Howard Hensel, Jake Gardner. 85min
Critics raved about Brook’s production when it appeared at the Parisian theatre Bouffes du Nord. Paring Bizet’s Carmen down to the bare essentials, he liberated it from kitsch to become a story of doomed love, perfectly captured on film by his long-time cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. In Brook’s own words: ‘It rests upon the concentration, the truth and the intimacy of direct theatre.’
+ The Soutbank Show: Peter Brook and the Tragedy of Carmen
LWT 1983. Dir Tony Cash. 52min

A behind the scenes look at how Carmen was reworked for just four singers, two actors and a 15-piece orchestra.

Sat 12 Apr 15:45 NFT1
Don Carlo at Covent Garden
BBC 1985. Stage Dir Luchino Visconti. TV Dir Brian Large. With Ileana Cortrubas, Patricia Barker, Luis Lima, Robert Lloyd, Giorgio Zancanaro. 215min + interval
Verdi’s dark, brooding masterpiece is wonderfully served by Visconti’s atmospheric lighting, costumes and set. In a traditional period production, the emphasis is squarely placed on the dramatic action and the psychological cruelties of the Machiavellian intrigues at court. The conductor is Bernard Haitink, whilst the cast bring the required gravitas and depth to the singing replete with some truly thrilling moments. Brian Large’s direction for TV is a textbook example of how to broadcast an opera from one of the world’s greatest operatic stages.
In association with Royal Opera House

Mon 14 Apr 17:30 NFT1
The Magic Flute Southern TV/Glyndebourne.
Stage Dir John Cox. TV Dir Dave Heather. With Leo Goeke, Felicity Lott, Benjamin Luxon, May Sandoz. 165min + interval

Although Hockney’s famous set designs for this production have since been seen all over the world, this recording, made in the intimate old Glyndebourne auditorium, is where it all began. Hockney’s two-dimensional fantasy version of ancient Egypt creates a magical environment for the action, as well as nodding to the Masonic secrets said to be buried within Mozart’s work. Dave Heather’s direction for television ensures that Hockney’s sets and costumes achieve maximum impact in this visually stunning production.

Wed 16 Apr 18:15 NFT3
Tobias & the Angel
BBC 1960. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With Trevor Anthony, Caroline Myer, Ronald Lewis, John Ford. 80min

These screenings showcase two operas specifically conceived and written for television. Tobias & the Angel dates from 1960 and is given a lavish and visually impressive production, especially given the technical limitations of TV at the time. ‘An opera for television,’ the music is by Sir Arthur Bliss and the libretto by Christopher Hassall with the London Symphony Orchestra. The year is 722 BC and the children of Israel are in captivity in Ninevah – great costumes and sets and some very committed performances help to tell this tale of biblical proportions.
+ Parade – All the King’s Men
Granada 1973. Dir Peter Plummer. With Trinity Boys Choir and Orchestra. 35min
With music by Richard Rodney Bennett and libretto by Beverly Cross, this short opera uses a technique often favoured by Benjamin Britten of employing children’s voices for adult roles – in this case, the Trinity Boys Choir and Orchestra, conducted by David Squibb. This provides an additional dimension to the very adult theme of the English Civil War, allowing us to view it from a new perspective. Director Peter Plummer used the conceit of a children’s game of soldiers to bring the production vividly to life.

Fri 18 Apr 14:45 NFT3
The Mikado
Thames TV/ENO 1987. Stage Dir Jonathan Miller. TV Dir John Michael Phillips. With Richard Van Allan, Bonaventura Bottone, Lesley Garrett, Eric Idle. 130min followed by an interval
This famous production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic brims over with wit and an energetic exuberance and boasts Eric Idle’s famous interpretation of Ko-Ko. Miller’s black and white concept creates a visually stunning impression whilst John Michael Phillip’s sweeping camera crane movements work brilliantly with Miller’s blocking and Anthony Van Laasts choreography to produce one of the finest ever transfers of a stage production to television.
In association with English National Opera
+ Source of Innocent Merriment
Thames TV 1987. Dir John Michael Phillips. 42min

Transmitted the night before the opera’s opening night, this documentary goes behind the scenes with Jonathan Miller and the ENO company to see how this remarkable production was put together, and to elucidate Miller’s vision.

Fri 25 Apr 19:00 NFT1
Julius Caesar
C4/RM Arts/ENO 1985. Stage Dir John Copley. TV Dir John Michael Phillips. With Dame Janet Baker, Sarah Walker, Della Jones. 185min + interval.
Sung in English. This famous production boasts an impeccable cast and is conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. It’s also musically sublime, with one fantastic aria after another marking this out as Handel’s operatic masterpiece. Filming it in the TV studio ensures that it’s given a visual gloss and an intimacy that would be lost by trying to film it on stage at the ENO, whilst John Copley’s direction mines the drama and psychological insight that so surprised modern audiences as being present in such a formal construct as an Opera Seria.
In association with English National Opera

Wed 30 Apr 18:15 NFT3
The Lively Arts: Orpheus in the Underground
BBC 1975. Dir Kenneth Corden. With Julian Littman, Joanna Carlin. 30min
In this modern television version described as a ‘music fantasy’ by librettist John Wells and composer Carl Davis, the Orpheus legend is retold by constructing it around eight pop songs. Orpheus becomes a busker in a London underground subway and Eurydice his unhappy girlfriend. With music played by the Gabrieli String Quartet and guitar by George Fenton the opera builds to an emotional climax, and makes full use of the experimental techniques available in the television studio to find an effective visual style that is very much of the 1970s.
+ Monitor: Italian Opera Company
BBC 1958. Dir John Schlesinger. 17min
An Italian opera company visits Drury Lane Theatre in 1958. By simply observing the staff and performers before his camera, with no voiceover, Schlesinger builds an atmospheric snapshot which brilliantly debunks any pretensions surrounding opera
+ Panel Discussion and Q&A: Where next for Opera on TV?
Director Jonathan Miller, television opera director Brian Large (work permitting) and Humphrey Burton, former head of music and arts at the BBC, debate the future of opera on TV.

Champions’ priority booking: March 3 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: March 4 11.30am
Public booking opens: March 11 11.30am

£9.50 (members)
£7.00 (member concs)
£11.00 (non-members)
£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.