What TV’s on at the BFI in December 2014?

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in December 2014. And it’s Christmas, everyone, because we have the continuing science-fiction season, which will give us a Blake’s 7 evening and several Quatermass evenings, there’s a Doctor Who movie, a Maggie Smith season, The Boy From Space complete with appearance by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, some recently recovered missing episodes of At Last The 1948 Show, introduced by John Cleese no less, and previews of the forthcoming Mapp and Lucia and The Boy In the Dress. How can you turn all that down?

Tue 2 Dec 18:10 NFT3
Play of the Week: For Services Rendered
Granada 1959. Dir Henry Kaplan. With Maggie Smith, Ursula Howells, Robert Urquhart, Jack Hedley, William Fox. 111min
In a rare surviving tape of her early television work, Maggie Smith plays Lois, the youngest of three daughters in a country household torn apart in the aftermath of the Great War. Somerset Maugham’s bitter 1932 play was confirmed a classic in this ‘live’ performance, and Smith’s Lois is a thoughtful portrait of a girl waking up to her own ability to exert power over men.

Fri 5 Dec 18:00 NFT1
Blake’s 7 + Panel Discussion
Dalek creator Terry Nation was also responsible for this slice of space opera, featuring a gang of interplanetary rebels battling a totalitarian empire. Renowned for its spiky mix of idiosyncratic characters, the series was sometimes witty and frequently dark, boasts one of the most controversial finales in TV history, and has since become a cult classic. We’re delighted to welcome members of the cast and crew for an on-stage discussion (actors Paul Darrow and Michael Keating are confirmed) throughout which we’ll present an eclectic collection of clips from various episodes. An unmissable opportunity to revisit one of the best shows in the UK sci-fi pantheon.
Check bfi.org.uk for updates on guests

Sat 6 Dec 13:00 NFT1
The Boy from Space + Panel Discussion and Q&A with Radiophonic Workshop
BBC 1971. Dirs Maddalena Fagandini, Pat Farrington, Jill Glindon Reed, Paul Willey. With Sylvestra Le Touzel, Colin Mayes, Stephen Garlick. 70min edit. Digital. PG
To celebrate our BFI DVD release of the remastered and rarely seen The Boy from Space we present a specially edited 70-minute version of the series. Made by the BBC education department, The Boy from Space tells the story of two children who try to conceal an alien, and has since gained a reputation as one of the finest children’s series ever made. The eerie nature of the show was greatly assisted by the music and audio effects supplied by the Radiophonic Workshop for the BBC. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with key Workshop figures Paddy Kingsland, Dr Dick Mills and Roger Limb, who provided the original music for this and many more shows. We’ll also screen clips of other rarely seen series that the BFI is releasing, such as The Changes and Out of The Unknown, and our special guests will demonstrate their unique working methods and how they contributed to these productions.

Sun 7 Dec 14:40 NFT1
John Cleese Introduces: At Last the 1948 Show
ITV 1967. With John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Aimi MacDonald. TRT 110min
We’re delighted to welcome John Cleese to BFI Southbank for an on-stage discussion about the seminal ITV comedy sketch series At Last the 1948 Show. The BFI has been painstakingly restoring the series with material found from various sources. A significant new discovery earlier this year provided us with two episodes previously thought lost – fittingly, the very first and very last episodes, complete save for a few minutes in each case. We screen this newly retrieved material either side of our discussion.

Sun 7 Dec 17:10 NFT1
Our World
BBC 1967. TRT 150min

The Missing Believed Wiped initiative not only concerns lost material, but occasionally highlights significant discoveries of items that are in better condition than the footage currently held. In Norway’s NRK archive the BBC unearthed a mint-condition copy of the epic, globe-spanning 1967 live television event Our World, which linked broadcasters across the planet, with each one presenting significant cultural moments from their homelands. This is a rare opportunity to see the complete recording.

Sun 7 Dec 14:00 NFT2
Daleks – Invasion Earth
UK 1966. Dir Gordon Flemyng. With Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Roberta Tovey. 84min. Digital. U
The Doctor travels forward in time to the year 2150. He arrives in London to find that the Daleks have invaded, and are either sending human beings to toil in their vast mines or turning them into Robomen – their slaves. Working alongside the resistance movement, the Doctor and his companions must find a way of thwarting his arch enemies before they too are brainwashed and turned into Robomen.

Mon 8 Dec 20:40 NFT2/Fri 12 Dec 18:20 NFT2*/Wed 17 Dec 20:40 NFT2
Quatermass and the Pit
UK 1967. Dir Roy Ward Baker. With James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover. 77min. Digital. 12A
The film version of Nigel Kneale’s third Quatermass story boasts one of the finest British scripts ever written. As boffins, army officers and politicians argue over a mysterious object – an unexploded Nazi bomb or a spacecraft? – unearthed at a London tube station, Kneale introduces and interweaves numerous narrative threads to intriguing and increasingly apocalyptic effect. The effects might have been more spectacular, but the devil is in the thematic detail.
* Introduced by Kim Newman

Tue 9 Dec 18:00 NFT2
Much Ado About Nothing
BBC 1967. Dir Alan Cooke. With Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Ronald Pickup, Frank Finlay, Robert Stephens. 123min. Digital
This black-and-white television version of another National Theatre hit still conveys the vivacity of Franco Zeffirelli’s production, with Beatrice (Smith) and Benedick (Stephens) engaged in a witty war of words, echoing an off-stage relationship that went sour five years later. Beatrice’s mention of her mother’s pain at childbirth – ‘but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born’ – is one of many magical moments.

Tue 9 Dec 18:10 NFT1
Puppets at Christmas: Celebrating Puppets with Attitude
TRT 90min. Parental guidance advised, some material may be risqué
A major feature of the 60s and 70s British TV schedules was the regular appearance of a host of beloved puppet entertainers. They could be glove puppets, marionettes or ventriloquist dummies, but the one thing they had in common was fully realised personalities that made them as memorable as any human performer. Join our host Clementine the Living Fashion Doll as she introduces us to the puppet stars of yesteryear, with clips including the likes of: Pinky and Perky; Basil Brush; Mademoiselle Zizi; Topo Gigio; Lamb Chop and Lord Charles.

Wed 10 Dec 20:30 NFT1
TV Preview: Mapp and Lucia + Q&A
BBC 2014. Dir Diarmuid Lawrence. With Miranda Richardson, Anna Chancellor, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss. Ep1: 60min
The teacups are rattling and umbrellas raised as Mapp and Lucia prepare to do battle over issues of etiquette and status. It’s 1930, and Mrs Emmeline Lucas (Chancellor) arrives to take her holiday in the historic town of Tilling, only to find herself at odds with self-appointed social doyen Elizabeth Mapp (Richardson). EF Benson’s comic creations are affectionately brought back to the screen by Steve Pemberton in this charming BBC drama.
We’re delighted to welcome director Diarmuid Lawrence, writer-actor Steve Pemberton and actor Miranda Richardson for a Q&A

Sun 14 Dec 14:00 NFT1
Funday TV Preview: The Boy in the Dress + Q&A with David Walliams
BBC 2014. Dir Matt Lipsey. 60min
Dennis is an ordinary boy who lives in an ordinary town, but he feels different. A glimpse of a fashion magazine introduces him to a whole new world of colour and creativity, but can a boy wear a dress, and what will the headmaster, his Dad, and his friends in the football team think if they find out? The Boy in the Dress is adapted from David Walliams’ best-selling book for children.
We’re pleased to welcome David Walliams for a Q&A, plus he’ll be signing copies of his books at the BFI Shop after the screening

Sun 14 Dec 18:20 NFT2/Tue 16 Dec 17:50 NFT2
Acting in the Sixties: Maggie Smith
BBC 1967. Producer Humphrey Burton. 44min
Kenneth Williams joins Smith in discussion with Clive Goodwin, and provides a rare chance to see her talk about acting in general with words on Olivier ‘I was in awe of him… at first’, comedy, controlled hysteria, clips and cigarettes. The documentary also features precious footage from otherwise missing TV productions such as her role in The Recruiting Officer.
+ Talking Heads: Bed Among the Lentils
BBC 1988. Dir Alan Bennett. With Maggie Smith. 49min. PG
Susan is a repressed vicar’s wife in Alan Bennett’s Bed Among the Lentils, part of his BBC Talking Heads series of monologues, and it’s one of Smith’s greatest performances: ‘Geoffrey’s bad enough, but I’m glad I wasn’t married to Jesus.’

Mon 15 Dec 17:40 NFT3
Play of the Month: The Merchant of Venice
BBC 1972. Dir Cedric Messina. With Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay, Christopher Gable, Charles Gray. 131min
Portia was not an ideal Maggie Smith role – she makes the priggishness seem weird but finds a touching persuasiveness, which melds into implacable cruelty in her disguise as a lawyer nailing Frank Finlay’s Shylock to his own argument. This is a fine example of the ‘BBC Shakespeare’ of the time, with a superb all-round cast of men in tights, Renaissance landscapes derived from Giorgione and costumes from Titian.

Wed 17 Dec 18:20 NFT2
Witness the earliest appearances of the godfather of British TV sci-fi, Professor Bernard Quatermass, played in these examples by Reginald Tate, John Robinson and (in the films) American actor Brian Donlevy. The series – and films – proved hugely popular and gave birth to a continuing vein of adult sci-fi on the small screen in the UK.
The Quatermass Experiment (Episodes 1 & 2)
BBC 1953. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With Reginald Tate. 2x 30min
Along with his laboratory assistants, Professor Bernard Quatermass anxiously awaits the return to Earth of his new rocket ship and its crew, who have become the first humans to travel into space. But things don’t go according to plan…
+ Quatermass II (Episode 1)
BBC 1955. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With John Robinson. 1x 30min

Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group, also known as ‘the rocket man,’ is called in to investigate a meteorite.
Plus extracts: Quatermass Experiment (Hammer Films 1955) and Quatermass II (Hammer Films 1957).

Thu 18 Dec 18:00 NFT2/Fri 19 Dec 18:20 NFT3
Play of the Month: The Millionairess
BBC 1972. Dir William Slater. With Maggie Smith, James Villiers, Priscilla Morgan, Peter Barkworth, Tom Baker. 100min. PG

Smith is transformed again in this BBC Play of the Month, as George Bernard Shaw’s Epifania Fitzfassenden, the richest heiress in England. She cuts a beautifully-designed 30’s swathe through a father fixation, cheap-labour sweatshops and a life of advantage ‘we call marriage.’ It’s a tour-de-force performance, imbued with a fierce nervous energy. Critic Nancy Banks-Smith hailed Smith’s ‘“singing Shaw” as well worth an hour and a half of anybody’s life.’

Mon 22 Dec 18:30 NFT2
Play of the Month: The Devil’s Eggshell
BBC 1966. Dir Gareth Davies. With Leonard Rossiter, Keith Barron, Bernard Hepton. 90min

Perhaps because this was written as a Play of the Month this script by David Weir feels very different to the usual sci-fi fare. It stars Leonard Rossiter as the Prime Minister and Keith Barron as an idealistic scientist caught up in a web of conspiracy and intrigue when strange egg-shaped objects are discovered at the scenes of disasters all over the world. This production has not been seen since its original transmission in 1966, and the BFI has restored the archive copy especially for this screening.

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

Prices (excluding gift aid)
£8.95 (members)
£6.65 (member concs)
£10.45 (non-members)
£8.15 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00

Prices (including gift aid and voluntary contribution)
£10 (members)
£7.50 (member concs)
£11.50 (non-members)
£9 (non-members concs)

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.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.