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Kaleidoscope in Stourbridge

September 6th, 2008 (11:06 pm)

I attended a meeting of Kaleidoscope, the Classic Television Society, for the first time today in Stourbridge. Watching old television programmes in the presence of two veteran directors, Darrol Blake and John Bruce, is an educative, informative and entertaining way to spend a day. There was an embarrassment of riches: I ended up not seeing the play starring Juliet Harmer and Lalla Ward, because Darrol Blake had brought a copy of the untransmitted episode from the final season of Doomwatch, Sex and Violence, deemed too violent, too controversial, or just inappropriate for broadcast, and something of a cause celebre among some old television fans, and this was scheduled opposite it. Sex and Violence presented characters, organisations and situations analogous to Mary Whitehouse, the National Viewers and Listeners Association, and the Longford Commission, and presented a definite and probably too narrowly-expressed argument about the uncomfortable relationship between different wings of the public sector, the electorate and the far right, in a period when the highly educated were expected to assume responsibility for the less fortunate, the old landed establishment were feared to be harbouring plans to seize back power, and the conservative in the street (in the shape of June Brown as 'Mrs Catchpole'), horrified by the permissive society, might ramble about government by businessmen being better than rule by Conservative, Labour or Liberal.

Other programmes viewed included:

- a clever Bill Lyons-scripted episode of Z Cars from 1974, directed by John Bruce, where Newtown police are never fully in the picture, with a very strong performance from Sara Clee as a burglar's teenage daughter who resents her father's return from prison
- a play from Thames's Armchair Thirty (a series of thirty-minute standalone dramas spun off from the longform Armchair Theatre), directed by Darrol Blake, where Arthur Lowe plays a more sinister bank manager than Captain Mainwaring. ("They're my in-laws", explained Darrol Blake as a 1930s wedding photograph appeared, illustrating a murderer and his victim.
- another thirty-minute play, this time from the Thames children's series Shadows of 1974, concerning a scientist (the reliable John Woodvine) who brings home a Fresnel lens through which his children (who include Gwyneth Strong and a very young Sophie Ward) can see scenes from the past. Remarkably, this production, made by people I'm used to seeing working on The Tomorrow People (including Darrol Blake), was co-written by J.B. Priestley.
- Wolfshead, a 1969 London Weekend one-off (it had the air of a pilot) written by David Butler (who later wrote parts of Edward the Seventh and Disraeli) attempting to present an historically accurate version of the Robin Hood saga. I strongly suspect Richard Carpenter saw this at some point, as it comes across almost as Robin of Sherwood without the magic. The anticlericalism is there, as is the location filming against rock faces, in forests and in wattle-and-daub villages; but David Warbeck is a less charismatic Robin than Praed or Connery, or for that matter Greene. In this version Robin is based in Yorkshire, is facing an abbot and Roger of Doncaster rather than the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne, and has to balance the attractions of Marion with the demands of his mother, played by Kathleen Byron with plenty of opportunities to revisit her inimitable line in psychological distress as famously displayed in Black Narcissus. Wolfshead was never shown in the United Kingdom, apparently, but was a hit in Japan where it was released theatrically.

A highlight, though, was the interview with Messrs Blake and Bruce, outlining how they became directors - Darrol Blake was a designer for many years, including on the first episode of Adam Adamant Lives! though not on the (largely) untransmitted pilot, but was eventually given his break by Ned Sherrin on BBC 3, while John Bruce joined the BBC from the RSC in the early 60s and worked his way up from assistant floor manger before doing the directors' course - and comparing the three-camera set-up of 1970s studio drama with today's hand-held era. Blake thought that the three-camera studio was just as flexible, because the crews knew how to use them.

There was also a trailer for the next event, which will mark the fiftieth birthday of Blue Peter in October, and included a glimpse of Ray Burdis's audition tape; the concept of Burdis as presenter of the programme in place of, perhaps, Simon Groom or Christopher Wenner, had much of the audience (mostly of a certain age) stunned.

The drive back was one of the worst I have experienced; in twilight or in the dark and in driving rain it's difficult to see where water lies on the road. A slide at a flooded T-junction on the A491 a few miles south-east of Stourbridge was one thing; minor slides on the M42 and M40 when many of those about you are hurtling along at insane speeds and the surface of the road is badly drained is another. I saw four cars having run off on to the hard shoulder heading south between the Warwick and Bicester junctions of the M40, and on the M42 westbound one car had vaulted the crash barrier and landed on the verge. Thankfully pizza in Oxford with gervase_fen was steadying before I returned to Woodstock.

Edited to add more information and comment about Wolfshead 2.20am


Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: September 7th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC)

Glad you made it home safely!

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: September 7th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)


(Rationally, I'm glad I pulled out, I really wasn't in any condition to go, but will endeavour not to miss the next opportunity.)

Good to know you didn't get washed away!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 7th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)

The next one will be in December, I think; I'm now on the mailing list for the society. They don't seem to have a record of special guests at the Christmas ones, though. There's a pleasing make-do about the whole thing which reminds me of early British television. I wondered where the 'second viewing area' was, until gervase_fen pointed out that there was a television in the corner of the bar area, pointing towards a length of isolated corridor in which chairs had been placed...

It was a close run thing on the motorways; there were cars speeding past at 90mph when the road was heavily waterlogged. The M42 west of junction 3A (where the M40 joins) was particularly appalling.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: September 8th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)

The event sounds increasingly attractive :-)
- the motorway increasingly less so,
but I suppose there are always some nutters putting everyone else at risk :-(

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 8th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC)

The weather might actually be better in December!

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: September 9th, 2008 08:42 am (UTC)

I watched Black Narcissus, and was very impressed by Kathleen Byron's portrayal.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 9th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)

She's a very good actress, and I think still working.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: September 9th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)

At least into 2001, anyway, according to the IMDB.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 9th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)

Come to think of it she will be getting on a bit now - and 2001 would be about the time I saw her interviewed at the NFT.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: September 9th, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)

Born 1923, so now 85.