What TV’s on at the BFI in October/November? Including Diana Rigg and The Avengers

Around August, things get a bit weird with the BFI’s scheduling and it starts putting out brochures for a month and a half at a time. As I was away on holiday in August, I missed out on September/October, but now we have October/November, which gives us a fair few events from the tail end of October together with a copious number from November.

The highlight of the list is an afternoon with Dame Diana Rigg to celebrate 50 years of Emma Peel and air a couple of episodes of The Avengers, including the superb The House That Jack Built. However, there’s also a preview of ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde, talks on romance and race and disability on TV, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard’s reunion in Staying On, showings of all seven episodes of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, and a season on the evolution of the TV documentary. 

All that and more after the jump. But first, do yourself a favour and if you haven’t watched it already, watch The House That Jack Built. It’s aces.

Monday 19 October
18:00 NFT2
Denis Mitchell: The Poet + intro by Dr Ieuan Franklin, lecturer in film and media
Regarded by Dennis Potter as ‘the most talented and humane documentary maker television has yet produced,’ Mitchell directed and produced portraits of daily life that remain as lyrical and intimate today as they were at their time of transmission. We present some of his finest work, featuring life in northern cities and preparations for a wedding in a small mining town. 
+ Morning in the Streets 
BBC 1959. Dirs Denis Mitchell, Roy Harris. 35min 
+ A Wedding on Saturday 
Granada 1964. Prod Norman Swallow. 40min 
+ The Entertainers 
Granada 1964. Dir John McGrath. 52min

Thursday 22 October 
18:10 NFT1
TV Preview: Jekyll and Hyde + panel discussion, to include writer and exec producer Charlie Higson, actor Natalie Gumede, exec producer Francis Hopkinson and series producer Foz Allan 
ITV Studios 2015. Dir Colin Teague. With Tom Bateman, Richard E Grant and Natalie Gumede. 60min 
Join us for a special preview of this 1930s-set action-adventure, written by acclaimed novelist Charlie Higson; a heady mix of fantasy, horror and sci-fi. Richard E Grant is Bulstrode, who heads the secret government department MI0, Natalie Gumede is the alluring Bella and Tom Bateman plays Robert Jekyll, a man on a quest to discover the truth behind his identity, family history and the nature of his ‘curse.’

Sunday 25 October 
15:00 NFT1
50 Years of Emma Peel with Dame Diana Rigg 
The Avengers had already blazed a trail for strong female leads with its introduction of Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) in 1962. But the arrival of Emma Peel – coinciding with the switch to shooting on film and the increased foreign sales – propelled the series to unprecedented global success. To celebrate her 50th anniversary, we look at the phenomenon that is Emma Peel, and discuss the character with the woman who brought her to life: one of the UK’s most cherished actors, Dame Diana Rigg. 
Joint ticket available for both events £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.50 less)

The Avengers: The House That Jack Built + discussion with Dame Diana Rigg 
ITV 1966. Dir Don Leaver. With Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee, Michael Goodliffe. 52min + discussion
In a key episode (written by Brian Clemens) we discover Emma Peel’s backstory as she’s trapped in a strange house fighting a deadly machine programmed to kill her. The screening will be followed by an on-stage chat with Dame Diana Rigg about her time in The Avengers and her work with co-star Patrick Macnee, who sadly died earlier this year

17:20 NFT1
The Avengers: Return of The Cybernauts 
ITV 1967. Dir Robert Day. With Diana Rigg, Patrick Macnee, Peter Cushing. 52min + clip compilation 
Mrs Peel seems very taken with the suave Beresford (played by the suave Peter Cushing), causing Steed to reveal rare flashes of jealously, in this (colour) episode which brought back the cult, Karate-chopping killer robots, The Cybernauts. This episode will be followed by a compilation of oddities and rarities from the world of Emma Peel and The Avengers.

Tuesday 27 October
18:15 NFT3
Love & Disability: Shifting Perceptions on TV 
Panel discussion to include screenwriter Jack Thorne, actress and campaigner Victoria Wright, writer-actor Nabil Shaban, BBC Disability Lead Alison Walsh. Chaired by Richard Rieser (worldofinclusion.com) 
TRT 90min 
TV has made huge efforts over recent years to shift perceptions of disability and to engage with the disabled community in order to present them as rounded individuals with active love lives. How successful has this policy been across drama such as Cast Offs and reality shows such as The Undateables? Alongside clips, our guest panel will consider TV’s achievements and failures and impart their hopes for the future.

Wednesday 28 October
18:10 NFT3
Philip Donnellan: the Polemicist + intro by Professor Paul Long, Birmingham City University 
While working within the BBC, the passionate and provocative Donnellan used his anti-establishment sensibilities to tell the stories of marginalised individuals and communities. In The Colony, West Indian immigrants in Birmingham describe how their expectations have been tempered by experience. Current affairs series Landmarks portrayed stages of life from birth to old age; The Fortress shows how it felt to live on a Sheffield estate. 
+ The Colony 
BBC 1964. Dir Philip Donnellan. 58min 
+ Landmarks: The Fortress 
BBC 1965. Dir Philip Donnellan. 30min

Friday 30 October 
18:15 NFT3
Peter Morley: ITV Pioneer + Q&A with Peter Morley 
Peter Morley was among a handful of pioneering directors making factual programmes for ITV in its early years. Following two of his most impactful films, in which he tackled social issues not previously aired on TV, we’re delighted to invite Morley, now 91, on stage for a Q&A. 
+ People Are Talking: Fan Fever 
Associated Rediffusion 1956. 22min 
+ Black Marries White – the Last Barrier 
Associated Rediffusion 1964. 55min

Wednesday 4 November
18:30 NFT1
Life on TV: Sir David Attenborough and the Evolution of Natural History Programming 
We’re delighted to welcome the world’s pre-eminent maker of natural history programmes, Sir David Attenborough, to BFI Southbank. In this session, illustrated with some stunning clips, he’ll describe the key milestones in the presentation of the natural world on TV in the 1950s and 60s, and will talk about his own contribution, before taking your questions. 
Joint ticket available with Milestones… event £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less)

20:45 NFT1
Life on TV: Milestones of Natural History Programming 
TRT c110min 
We present episodes from three natural history series, personally selected by Sir David Attenborough. In Zoo Quest (BBC 1954-63) Attenborough introduced filmed reports on the search for specimens for British zoos. Survival (Anglia 1961-present) was ITV’s most important contribution to the genre and is one of TV’s longest-running nature series. The World About Us (BBC 1967-87) was commissioned by Attenborough for BBC2

Friday 6 November 
18:20 NFT2
Growing Up: Portraits of Young People from School to Work 
Baby boomers are the focus of these documentaries, beginning with a study of five-year-olds in Lancashire and their unwittingly alarming attitudes to life. Newly styled teenagers are on the rise in a look at London life with five very different adolescents, and a young man in Grimsby strives to fit in on a deep-sea trawler in the beautifully shot Deckie Learner
+ This England: The Good Morning 
Granada 1966. Dir John Gibson. 25min 
+ On the Threshold 
BBC 1958. Dir Denis Mitchell. 29min 
+ Deckie Learner 
Granada 1965. Dir Michael Grigsby. 40min

Saturday 7 November
14:20 NFT2
Therese Raquin 
BBC 1980. Dir Simon Langton. With Kate Nelligan, Brian Cox, Mona Washbourne, Kenneth Cranham, Alan Rickman. 3x 55min episodes (165min + interval) 
Émile Zola’s dark tale of passion tainted by murder has the raw power of a Greek tragedy combined with a detailed psychological study of guilt. Langton’s direction perfectly captures the intense claustrophobia experienced by the conspiring lovers Therese (Nelligan) and Laurent (Cox) as guilt gradually begins to overwhelm them, while the performances and intensity of this magnificent production leaves us enthralled.

18:00 NFT2
Staying On 
Granada 1980. Dir Silvio Narizzano. With Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Saeed Jaffrey, Zia Mohyeddin. 86min. 
This was commissioned by Denis Forman, Granada’s chairman, as a trial for his passion project The Jewel in the Crown. Set in 1972, Colonel ‘Tusker’ and his wife Lucy have ‘stayed on’ in an India that has changed around them, and now all they have is each other. All the chemistry of Brief Encounter is present in reuniting Johnson and Howard in this heartbreaking story of loss, isolation and cultural identity.

Tuesday 10 November 
18:10 NFT2
The Road to Civilisation? The Arts on TV in the 50s and 60s + intro by arts producer John Wyver 
Henry Moore 
BBC 1951. Dir John Read. 28min 
This beautifully shot film, focussing on the creation of a new work for the Festival of Britain, set the standard for arts documentaries for the decade. 
+ Monitor: Watch the Birdie 
BBC 1963. Dir Ken Russell. 28min 
This portrait of photographer David Hurn illustrated how Russell’s work for Monitor represented a one-man reimagining of the possibilities of the arts documentary. 
+ New Tempo: Heroes 
ABC 1967. Dir Dick Fontaine. 25min 
A satire on celebrity from the most experimental arts television series of the 1960s.

Friday 13 November
20:40 NFT2
Uncomfortable Truths: The Rise of the TV Journalist + intro by Pat Holland, Bournemouth University Documentary or journalism? 
Pat Holland introduces the key titles in current affairs TV from the 50s and 60s: 
Panorama: Salvador Dali
BBC 1955. 12min
+ Visit to Belsen
BBC 1965. 15min 
Featuring Malcolm Muggeridge and Richard Dimbleby
+ This Week: The Negro Next Door 
Associated Rediffusion 1965. 27min 
Desmond Wilcox exposes street-level racist attitudes towards immigrants in Leeds
+ World in Action: Grosvenor Square
Granada 1968. 26min
Captures the dramatic and violent events of an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in close-up.

Sunday 15 November
12:15 NFT3
A Bouquet of Barbed Wire Eps 1-6 
LWT 1976. Dir Tony Wharmby. With Frank Finlay, Susan Penhaligon, Deborah Grant, James Aubrey, Sheila Allen. Eps 1-3 (158min), interval, Eps 4-6 (158min)
Garnering 26 million viewers in 1976, this was the series that seemed to capture the 70s’ changing attitudes to sex, morality and relationships. Peter’s unhealthy obsession with his daughter leads him to fret about her abusive marriage and turn to his secretary for solace, while his wife embarks on her own risky affair. Plot aside, it was the sheer sexual chemistry and erotic on-screen charge that made the show stand out and had the nation gripped. 
Joint ticket available with Ep7 + discussion £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.70 less)

18:00 NFT3
A Bouquet of Barbed Wire Ep7 + panel discussion to include author Andrea Newman, actor Susan Penhaligon and Dr Helen Wheatley, Associate Professor in Film & TV studies 
LWT 1976. Dir Tony Wharmby. With Frank Finlay, Susan Penhaligon, Deborah Grant, James Aubrey. Ep7 (52min) 
After screening the final episode of this seminal TV series, we invite both the writer of A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and the TV show’s star to join other distinguished guests in a discussion about the impact of the series, and how the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s affected the portrayal of love and sex on our screens.

Wednesday 18 November 
20:30 NFT2
Play of the Month: The Love Girl and the Innocent 
BBC 1973. Dir Alan Clarke. With David Leland, Gabrielle Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Barry Jackson. 127min 
Adapted from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s play by David Burg and Nicholas Bethel, this astonishing drama was shot entirely on location, and the fantastic ensemble cast rise magnificently to the challenge of recreating the volatile dynamics of love and brutality within a Stalinist prison camp. The play questions how love and common humanity could survive in such conditions, and its emotional power lingers long after viewing.

Thursday 19 November
18:10 NFT2
The Training Ground: TV Documentary Makers Who Made it in the Movies 
With freedom to innovate and the opportunity to learn their craft, it’s no surprise that many directors who started out in factual TV later progressed to the cinema. Includes:
A House in Bayswater
BBC 1960. 30min
Ken Russell’s brilliant portrait of the bohemian residents of an elegant mansion 
+ Tonight: Song of the Valley
BBC 1957. 3min
A short made by John Schlesinger.
+ Six Days to Saturday
BBC West 1963. 40min
John Boorman’s football doc for local TV
+ Sharon
Granada 1964. 15min
Made by Mike Newell (extract only)

Tuesday 24 November 
18:15 NFT1
Race & Romance on TV 
Panel discussion to include director Gurinder Chadha, BBC’s Head of Drama Hilary Salmon and BBC’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion Tunde Ogungbesan 
TRT 90min 
Illustrated by archive clips, we’ll discuss how TV has represented BAME relationships over the years, from the ‘radical’ plays of the 60s that aimed to break taboos, right up to the present day. We pose questions such as where is the black-led ‘romantic’ primetime series? And is TV guilty of turning romance into a white middle-class affair? Our distinguished panel will discuss these important issues and how TV might address them in future.

Wednesday 25 November 
20:45 NFT3
Pop Culture 
The power of the 1960s pop revolution is all-pervasive in these two documentaries. Presenter Daniel Farson ventures to The Cavern Club to find out what makes Liverpool ‘Beat City’ in a film that features Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Chants and many more. And Tony Palmer’s explosive documentary looks at the darker side of pop’s dominance, and asks contributors such as Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa what pop means to a changing world. 
Beat City 
Associated Rediffusion 1963. Dir Charlie Squires. 40min 
All My Loving 
BBC 1968. Dir Tony Palmer. 57min

Thursday 26 November 
18:20 NFT3
White Heat: Science and Technology + intro by Tim Boon, Head of Research and Public History, The Science Museum 
Taking inspiration from Aubrey Singer’s 1966 science broadcasting lecture – in which he identified the atomic bomb, computing, space exploration and DNA as the key scientific revolutions of the day – we’ll explore the social and cultural context of science within TV documentary. This engaging programme includes:
Eye on Research: Test Flight
BBC 1959
Horizon: The Building of the Bomb
BBC 1965

20:45 NFT2
The South Bank Show: The Trespasser 
LWT-Colin Gregg Productions 1981. Dir Colin Gregg. With Alan Bates, Pauline Moran, Dinah Stabb. 90min 
This adaptation of DH Lawrence’s novel was transmitted on the 50th anniversary of his death. Siegmund is infatuated with Helena and deserts his family to spend five days away with her. As they get to know each other better they’re forced further apart by the guilt of their illicit love, with tragic consequences. Gregg’s sensitive direction and Bates’ and Moran’s deeply felt performances elevate this TV film into something very special.

Champions’ priority booking: September 28 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: September 29 11.30am
Public booking opens: October 6 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.