What TV’s on at the BFI in December 2017? Including Shada, The League of Gentlemen and the Sydney Newman season

Sydney Newman
Sydney Newman

Every month, TMINE lets you know what TV the BFI will be presenting at the South Bank in London

It’s the end of the year but it seems the BFI has saved the best for last. Following on from October-November’s bounty, we’ve got a whole host of TV events lined up for us in December. We do, of course, have the annual ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ event, which will be airing formerly missing episodes of Till Death Us Do Part and Late Night Horror.

However, the main season is dedicated to the marvellous Canadian TV producer Sydney Newman who so revolutionised British TV in the 50s and 60s. As part of that, we’ll be getting episodes of Doctor Who, Adam Adamant Lives!, The Avengers and Pathfinders, as well as two plays from the series he helped to create for ITV and the BBC: Armchair Theatre and The Wednesday Play.

Talking of Doctor Who, there’ll be a preview of the recently reconstructed (yet again) Douglas Adams story Shada, complete with animation replacement scenes for the bits that never got filmed. That’s among previews that include one of the new League of Gentlemen episodes, ITV’s forthcoming Hatton Garden, the Beeb’s new Agatha Christie adaptation Ordeal By Innocence and the latest David Walliams, Grandpa’s Great Escape.

Phew. Full details after the jump.


Saturday 2 December

12:30 NFT1
Preview: Doctor Who: Shada (live action & animation) + Q&A UK 1979/2017. Dir Pennant Roberts. With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Christopher Neame. 120min. Courtesy of BBC Worldwide

In 1979 Douglas Adams, who was working as a script editor on Doctor Who, wrote Shada, which was intended to run as the final story of season 17. Industrial action at the BBC meant that, despite some footage being shot, it was never completed. The story finds the Doctor in Cambridge, working alongside companion Romana and Professor Chronotis, a retired Time Lord, as they battle to defeat the evil alien Skagra who’s attempting to steal the secrets to the prison planet Shada. We’re delighted to preview this specially commissioned, part-animated version of the story, painstakingly matched with the existing live-action footage, recreated by BBC Worldwide for release on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.
All tickets are £25 restricted to two per booker (Members pay £2 less, no concs) This price includes a copy of the DVD, which will be available to collect after the screening on the day. Please note that the Blu-ray version is not available with this offer
Visit bfi.org.uk for updates on special guests

Monday 4 December

18:15 NFT1
TV Preview: Hatton Garden + Q&A with screenwriter Jeff Pope, actor Timothy Spall, director Paul Whittington and producer Imogen Cooper
ITV 2017. Dir Paul Whittington. With Timothy Spall, Kenneth Cranham, Brían F O’Byrne, Alex Norton, David Hayman. Ep1 46min

The ‘most spectacular’ British crime of the decade has been dramatised, in four parts, by acclaimed BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jeff Pope and Terry Winsor. Hatton Garden depicts the audacious jewellery and cash burglary at the heart of London’s diamond district executed by an elderly gang of career criminals across the Easter bank holiday weekend in April 2015. Cannes Film Festival Best Actor award-winner Timothy Spall OBE, Olivier award-winning actor Kenneth Cranham and Brían F O’Byrne, recently seen in Jeff Pope’s real-life drama Little Boy Blue, play leading roles.

20:30 NFT1
Sydney Newman on Screen

On the panel of this discussion event we’re pleased to welcome Graeme Burk, who has recently transformed Sydney Newman’s memoirs into the new book Head of Drama, alongside other guests to be announced. We’ll explore Newman’s career and legacy with a fine collection of clips, some featuring the man himself in conversation. Join us to mark the centenary of an extraordinary talent, whose shadow still looms large today.

Wednesday 6 December

18:15 NFT1
TV Preview: Ordeal by Innocence + Q&A with writer Sarah Phelps, actors Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor and Ed Westwick, director Sandra Goldbacher and exec producer James Prichard
Mammoth Screen-Agatha Christie Limited-BBC 2017. Dir Sandra Goldbacher. With Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, Ed Westwick. Ep1 59min

Award-winning writer Sarah Phelps builds on the enormous success of her two previous Agatha Christie adaptations (The Witness for the Prosecution, And Then There Were None) with this major three-part drama for BBC One. Christmas 1954. When wealthy philanthropist Rachel Argyll is brutally murdered at her family estate of Sunny Point, her adopted, delinquent son Jack is immediately arrested, but he dies in prison before going to trial. The case is closed. Eighteen months later, the mysterious Dr Calgary knocks on the door claiming he’s Jack’s alibi. But if Jack was innocent, then someone else killed Rachel – someone at Sunny Point…
Please check bfi.org.uk for final panel confirmations

Saturday 9 December

16:10 NFT2
Sydney Newman Sci-fi: Doctor Who + Pathfinders

Doctor Who wasn’t Newman’s first foray into sci-fi; at ITV he launched Target Luna, a genuine attempt to educate young audiences about science and the developing space race. It led to the smash hit Pathfinders series, examples of which screen here alongside the very first Doctor Who episode.

Pathfinders in Space: Ep1: Convoy to the Moon (ITV 1960)
+ Pathfinders to Mars: Ep1: The Imposter (ITV 1960)
+ Pathfinders to Venus: Ep1: SOS from Venus (ITV 1961)
+ Doctor Who: Ep1: An Unearthly Child (BBC 1963)

Sunday 10 December

15:10 NFT2
Armchair Theatre
And Now for Your Sunday Night’s Dramatic Entertainment: Armchair Theatre.
Ch4 1987. Dir Laurens C Postma. 40min

Channel Four’s fascinating look back at Armchair Theatre features Sydney Newman and a host of others recalling the development and heyday of the flagship drama series.

+ Armchair Theatre: Where I Live
ITV 1960. Dir Ted Kotcheff. With Ruth Dunning, Robert Brown. 50min

This powerful domestic drama was the first of eight Armchair Theatres – six of them in 1960 alone – to come from the pen of Clive Exton, who did much to help realise Newman’s vision of ‘agitational provocation.’

Tuesday 12 December

20:30 NFT1
TV Preview: The League of Gentlemen + Q&A with Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson
BBC 2017. Dir Steve Bendelack. 30min + clips

The much-anticipated return of The League of Gentlemen promises to be one of this year’s TV highlights, and here we preview the first episode in the presence of the League themselves. With the content shrouded in secrecy, the most we can do is assure you that there will be plenty of comedy wrapped in the darkest layers possible. As well as bringing you right up to date with the inhabitants of Royston Vasey, we’ll also take a look back at where it all started as we celebrate their 20th anniversary at the BBC.

Thursday 14 December

18:20 NFT2
The Wednesday Play: And Did Those Feet
BBC 1965. Dir Don Taylor. With Patrick Troughton, Anna Wing. 106min

Lured over to the BBC to shake up their drama output, Sydney Newman developed The Wednesday Play, a series gifted by Director of Television Kenneth Adam following the cancellation of earlier, underperforming drama strands. It was conceived to support new television writing, and one of its most explosive new talents was David Mercer – here turning in a scintillating social satire on class and privilege.

Saturday 16 December

12:45 NFT1
Missing Believed Wiped 2017
Session 1: 110min.

The annual round-up of recent rediscoveries returns to BFI Southbank and although (at time of going to press) some titles are still to be verified, we’re delighted to announce that Session 1 has an emphasis on comedy and will feature a missing episode of one of the 1960’s best-loved and most controversial sitcoms, Till Death Us Do Part: Sex Before Marriage (BBC 1967).

15:00 NFT1
Missing Believed Wiped 2017
Session 2: 120min.

For fans of TV horror, Session 2 will feature a recently disinterred Late Night Horror episode, The Corpse Can’t Play (BBC 1970). Please keep checking the BFI website as titles will be revealed as they’re confirmed, but regular visitors will know how popular these events are, and how much of the material is consistently fascinating.
Joint ticket available for both sessions £15, concs £12 (Members pay £2 less)

Tuesday 19 December

18:00 NFT1
TV Preview: Grandpa’s Great Escape + Q&A with David Walliams and Tom Courtenay BBC-King Bert 2017. Dir Elliot Hegarty. With Kit Connor, Tom Courtenay, Jennifer Saunders. 60min. Digital

When his family is unable to look after him, Grandpa is moved to an old people’s home run by the troublesome Miss Dandy. His grandson Jack helps him attempt a daring escape which, if successful, will reunite Grandpa with the Spitfire he piloted during WWII. The traditional pairing of David Walliams and family Christmas TV continues with this all-star production, which includes a role for the author too.
David Walliams will be signing books after this event for ticket holders only (time permitting)

Wednesday 20 December

The Avengers: Nutshell
ITV 1963. Dir Raymond Menmuir. With Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman. 50min

By the time Newman left ITV, The Avengers series he’d instigated had started to develop into an ambitious blend of drama and surreal whimsy – this episode is an early example.

+ Adam Adamant Lives!: The Sweet Smell of Disaster
BBC 1966. Dir Philip Dudley. With Gerald Harper, Juliet Harmer. 60min

Newman attempted to create an Avengers-style adventure for the BBC with this swashbuckling, great fun, fantasy series.

Booking times

Patrons and champions’ priority booking: November 6 from 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: November 7 from 11.30am
Public booking opens: November 14 from 11.30am


Members: £9
Member concs: £7.20
Non-members: £11
Non-member concs: £8.80
Under 16s: £6

Reduced prices for weekday matinees. 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.