The work of Nigel Kneale is some of the finest and most prophetic to have appeared on British TV. It was sufficiently good that he has been elevated to God-like status on this ‘ere blog.
However, for a large part of his career, television was regarded as an ephemeral medium, one that would be watched and then forgotten about, never to be revisited. Indeed, had his pioneering 1953 adaptation of 1984 not proven so controversial, its second performance would never have been telecorded and the whole thing would have been lost forever, rather than released on DVD to be enjoyed by subsequent generations.
Even once telerecording and then prerecording and filming, rather than live performance, became standard, broadcasters’ attitudes towards archive material was variable, with the BBC famously purging its archives in the 60s and 70s, bar ‘representative examples’ of particular shows.
Naturally, many of the corporation’s play strands were among the purges, which meant that several Nigel Kneale productions were ‘disappeared’. Among these is perhaps one of his best: The Road. His first piece for the BBC since Quatermass and the Pit, it is set in an 18th century village, whose inhabitants are haunted by visions and sounds along a nearby road. Are they ghosts, demons or something else? All is revealed at the end, in one of the most troubling revelations of Kneale’s entire body work.
The original, which starred Norman Kaye, Joy Mitchell, Alexander Archdale and others, is with us no more, unless somebody, somewhere has managed to save a copy that hasn’t yet been returned. But that doesn’t mean the script has gone. And if you have the script for a play, it can be re-performed, which is precisely what some fans of the original have done. And you can watch it below in this week’s Wednesday Play.