The Man With The Flower in his Mouth
The Weekly Play

The Weekly Play: The Man With The Flower in His Mouth (1967)

July 14 1930 was an auspicious day for TV plays, as it marked the first time that a play was ever transmitted on TV. The BBC had been experimenting with John Logie Baird’s TV technology since 1929, running test transmissions from both Baird’s premises and their own radio headquarters at Savoy Hill. In the summer of 1930 it was decided that a drama should be produced as a new test for and demonstration of the medium.

The lucky title was Luigi Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth. Val Gielgud (yes, a relation), the production’s director, chose the play as it was only about half an hour long, had a confined setting and only had three characters: The Man (Earle Grey), The Woman (Gladys Young) and The Customer (Lionel Millard).

The production was broadcast live from a set at the Baird company’s headquarters, 133 Long Acre in London. Generally regarded as a successful experiment, it was watched by prime minister Ramsay MacDonald with his family at 10 Downing Street, where Baird had installed one of his prototype ‘televisors’ two months previously so MacDonald could view the test transmissions he and the BBC regularly broadcast.

Given it was early days for TV, don’t be too surprised to learn that it wasn’t shown in 1080p high-def or 4K Ultra. Instead, the video was a mere 30 lines – 1/36th the resolution of HD and a 1/20th the resolution of PAL. It also also wasn’t recorded, so that first ever TV play is lost to history, I’m afraid.

Recreated

However, in 1967, a shorter version of the play was remade entirely in 30-lines by Bill Elliott of Granada TV in Manchester. He used student actors to play the parts and recorded the performance a stereo tape recorder: one track held the 30-line video signal; the other track held the audio. Not only did use his own home-built recreation of Baird’s televisor to act as camera and monitor for the recreation, he also brought in the play’s original producer, Lance Sieveking, to authentically reproduce and present it. Sieveking was also able to provide the original artwork used in the play and the same 78-rpm gramophone record that had provided the music in 1930.

This clip is restored from a Betamax copy of the 1967 video, filmed off-screen at 30 lines. And it’s this week’s TMINE play. Enjoy!

Lost Hearts
The Weekly Play

The Halloween Play: A Ghost Story For Christmas – Lost Hearts (1973)

It’s Halloween today. It’s also Wednesday. As it’s an occasional TMINE tradition to feature not only a spooky play at Halloween but also a play on Wednesdays, how can I resist featuring one today, in this year of all years?

But what to choose? Well, since I’ve been talking about The Haunting of Hill House quite a bit of late and since I happened to mention Lost Hearts in passing thanks to certain bad make-up decisions, there’s an obvious choice, isn’t there?

It’s Lost Hearts. Wasn’t that obvious? It was certainly as obvious as just about everything in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

A Ghost Story For Christmas

For those of you who don’t know, Lost Hearts was one of the much revered scary plays the BBC put out every Christmas during the 1970s, usually as part of the A Ghost Story For Christmas strand. As with most of the plays, Lost Hearts was an adaptation of a classic MR James ghost story. This one sees a young orphan sent to stay with his much older cousin at a remote country mansion. His cousin is a reclusive alchemist obsessed with making himself immortal and Stephen is repeatedly troubled by visions of a young gypsy girl and a travelling Italian boy…

Adapted by Robin Chapman and directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, it’s notable as both the shortest of the Ghost Story For Christmas series as well as the only one to use hurdy-gurdy music to scare the crap out of the viewer.

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first British TV adaptation of Lost Hearts, since it was featured in ITV’s Mystery and Imagination series in 1966. However, just like The Road (recently remade by Radio 4) no copy of that first version exists, unfortunately.

Sleep well, everyone.

As always, if you liked the play, support its creators by buying it on DVD

Stand Up Nigel Barton
Events

What TV’s on at Birkbeck in November? Including Stand Up, Nigel Barton and The Land of Green Ginger

Not exactly a regular TMINE feature, this one, but Birkbeck College is putting on a Classic TV event next month, so I think it’s worth letting y’all know about it. Plus it only costs a fiver.

British TV and the Working-Class Homecoming

Birkbeck Cinema, 2nd November 2018: 18:00-21:00

As university fees sit at record highs and the cost of accommodation and living in major university cities continues to spiral, the gap between working-class and lower-middle-class students and their more well-off peers grows wider and more self-evident. The idea of a ‘flattened’ culture is being exposed for the myth it is, and the ‘classless society’ truly has never arrived.

This programme represents a timely intervention in a phenomenon currently being underexplored; by returning to two classic British television presentations of the ‘working-class homecoming’ we can begin to find some representation of the experiences of current young working-class people attempting to bridge the gap between two worlds – the world of privilege and ‘opportunity’ and the oft-threatened and ‘common’ world of their background, and what happens when they return to the place of their birth.

The Wednesday Play: Stand Up, Nigel Barton (1965)

Stand Up, Nigel Barton is acclaimed television playwright Dennis Potter’s first great play; Potter draws on his own experiences of moving from the mining villages of the Forest of Dean to Oxford on a scholarship in showing a young man (Keith Barron) tortured by his inability to fit in with rich academia and student life, and his alienation from his old village way of living. Mocked by both his fellow students and his father’s friends, Nigel attempts to untangle a knot of guilt-ridden memories and find the room at the top without betraying his family background. Presaging Potter’s celebrated Blue Remembered Hills and The Singing Detective, Stand Up, Nigel Barton demonstrates the ways that those who attempt to traverse class boundaries can find themselves caught in a sort of no-man’s land.

Play For Today: The Land of Green Ginger (1973)

The Land of Green Ginger is rarely-screened but is a jewel in the crown of the career of Alan Plater (The Beiderbecke Affair, Trinity Tales). Plater’s alter-ego is Sally (Gwen Taylor), a young woman who has moved from university into a career in London. Offered an long-term job abroad she attempts to make up her mind about whether to leave or return to Hull, her family roots and her fisherman boyfriend. Almost impressionistic at times in its montages set to folk songs performed by The Watersons, the play serves as a celebration of Hull and maritime industry, a bitter lament for its decline and (again) a portrait of the siren call of the past, a working-class rootedness that is nonetheless under attack by the ruling powers, grappling with ideas of personal social and economic mobility.

Book tickets

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
BFI events

What TV’s on at the BFI in September/October? Including The Bisexual, Butterfly and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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

We’re now up to the traditional weird BFI-only month of September/October. This is usually a time when there’s not much on, usually due to one film season or another. However, there’s actually a bumper range of programming. The main highlight is a season of archive shows and plays written by women, including the likes of Fay Weldon, but there are previews as well of the forthcoming The Bisexual and Butterfly, a reshowing of Fable, and May’s postponed event timed to coincide with the launch of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Blu-Ray has finally got itself a new date.

All that after the jump.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in September/October? Including The Bisexual, Butterfly and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Bodyguard
BFI events

What TV’s on at the BFI in August? Including the rest of the Harold Pinter season, Langrishe Go Down, Bodyguard and Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry

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

Not as jam-packed as July thanks to the summer holidays, August at the BFI still has a lot to offer. The Harold Pinter season continues on from last month, but there’s also two ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ sessions, celebrations of puppeteers Ivor Wood and Ray Harryhausen and previews of the forthcoming Bodyguard and Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry, complete with Q&As with cast and crew.

That’s after this week’s weekly play, Langrishe Go Down. Originally conceived for the cinema, and based on a novel by Aidan Higgins, this is a classic Harold Pinter work about passion, politics and class: in particular it shows his preoccupation with time and memory. Set on a run-down Irish estate, and cutting between the late and early 1930s, it charts a summer-long affair between a gentrified country girl and an exploitative Bavarian student. The cast is superb and the atmosphere distinctly Chekhovian.

No, I’ve not watched it. Yes, I have just copied and pasted that from the BFI guide. But I’m sure it’s great.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in August? Including the rest of the Harold Pinter season, Langrishe Go Down, Bodyguard and Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry”