Friday, 20 February 2015

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter by Sheridan Le Fanu / Schalcken the Painter by Leslie Megahey

"You will no doubt be surprised, my dear friend, at the subject of the following narrative. What had I to do with Schalken, or Schalken with me? He had returned to his native land, and was probably dead and buried, before I was born; I never visited Holland nor spoke with a native of that country. So much I believe you already know. I must, then, give you my authority, and state to you frankly the ground upon which rests the credibility of the strange story which I am, about to lay before you"

The young seventeenth century painter Godfried Schalcken forsakes love for ambition, but in later life discovers that there is still a terrible price to pay

'Schalcken the Painter', one of various television films by Leslie Megahey that explore the creative nexus between the lives and work of painters, focuses on the Dutch artist Godfried Schalcken (1643-1706), and, like Jonathan Miller's 'Whistle and I'll Come to You' (BBC, tx. 7/5/1968), was made for the arts series Omnibus (1967-).

Megahey's ravishingly shot horror story explores the nature of art, money, sexual politics and ambition in a style indebted to the work of Stanley Kubrick. The elegant, slowly paced narrative, the carefully composed tableaux, the discreet but meticulously designed tracking shots and the ironic detachment of the narrator are reminiscent of Barry Lyndon (UK/US, 1975); the throbbing music presaging ominous or supernatural moments recalls Richard Strauss's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra', used to similar effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK, 1968).

'Schalcken' is based on Joseph Sheridan Lefanu's story, which is read on the soundtrack by Charles Gray, who also narrated Megahey's 'Cariani and the Courtesans' (Screenplay, BBC2 tx. 5/8/1987); like 'A Question of Attribution' (Screen One, BBC, tx. 20/10/1991) it weaves a fictional story around real people and paintings. Schalcken is introduced at the height of his fame in a brooding pre-title sequence, before flashing back to the artist's apprenticeship under Gerrit Dou. His gauche attempts to romance Dou's niece Rose provide the few moments of sweetness and warmth in an otherwise unremittingly chilly look into the hard heart of the painter.

When Rose is bound over to a (literally, as it turns out) cadaverous man, this serves as a bleak comment on the cruelty behind such marriage 'contracts', in which women were treated as mere chattel or breeding stock. Vanderhausen (John Justin under heavy make-up) is a marvellously unsettling creature, who tests Schalcken and makes him face the consequences of his failure to help Rose. This precipitates the artist's moral downfall and as the years pass we see Schalcken, like his master Dou (played to cruel perfection by Maurice Denham), place commerce above art and love. It is the cost to his soul that Megahey imaginatively explores in the film's climactic supernatural vision as Schalcken is forced to watch Rose and Vanderhausen have sex after she mocks his liaisons with prostitutes. In an ironic coda, the narrator ponders what effect this experience really had on Schalcken's painting of a woman apparently menaced by unseen forces, the same work with which the film began.

Sergio Angelini

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


"Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions - a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door - which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiae grew upon him in his trance of abstraction. He mentions among the coffee-shops into which he crept in those wretched days one in St. Martin's Lane, "of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with 'COFFEE ROOM' painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood." That wild word, "Moor Eeffoc," is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle - the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects"

Charles Dickens: A Critical Study by G. K. Chesterton. New York, Dodd, Mead & Company (1906).

"As a literary critic, Chesterton was without parallel. His biography of Charles Dickens is credited with sparking the Dickens revival in London in the early 20th century. His biography of St. Thomas Aquinas was called the best book on St. Thomas ever written, by no less than Etienne Gilson, the 20th century’s greatest Thomistic scholar. His books Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man are considered the 20th century’s finest works of Christian and Catholic apologetics. And audiences still delight in the adventures of Chesterton’s priest sleuth, Father Brown, as well as such timeless novels as The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and others"

"Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. That kind of "fantasy" most people would allow to be wholesome enough; and it can never lack for material. But it has, I think, only a limited power; for the reason that recovery of freshness of vision is its only virtue. The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realize that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future to be reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits; but it cannot do more than that: act as a time-telescope focused on one spot. Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you. The "fantastic" elements in verse and prose of other kinds, even when only decorative or occasional, help in this release. But not so thoroughly as a fairy-story, a thing built on or about Fantasy, of which Fantasy is the core. Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the art of making can give"

Tree and Leaf by J. R. R. Tolkien, George Allen and Unwin (1975).

Friday, 16 January 2015

John Bowen – A Snapshot

John Bowen was born in India, sent "home" to England at the age of four and a half, and was reared by aunts. He served in the Indian Army from 1943-47, then went to Oxford to read Modern History. After graduating he spent a year in the USA as a Fulbright Scholar, much of it hitch-hiking. He worked for a while in glossy journalism, then in advertising, before turning freelance when the BBC commissioned a six-part adventure-serial for Children`s Television. Between 1956 and 1965 he published six novels to excellent reviews and modest sales, then forsook the novel for nineteen years to concentrate on writing television drama (Heil Caesar: Robin Redbreast) and plays for the stage (After the Rain: Little Boxes: The Disorderly Women). He returned to writing novels in 1984 with The McGuffin: there were four more thereafter. Reviewers have likened his prose to that of Proust and P. G. Wodehouse, of E. M. Forster and the young John Buchan: it may be fair to say that he resists compartmentalisation. He has worked as a television producer for both the BBC and ITV, directed plays at Hampstead and Pitlochry and taught at the London Academy of Dramatic Art. He lives in a house on a hill among fields between Banbury and Stratford-on-Avon.

`I began the Introduction to The Essay Prize, my own first volume of television plays (it did not sell well: there was never a second) with the question, "Why Write For Television?" and the answer I gave was that a television play is the only way by which a writer can "share a kind of insight, a way of looking at life, an enjoyment of the complexity of human motives, the ambivalence of human behaviour ... with those many people who do not have the habit of reading books", far less of going to the theatre.

`Well, that is still true, but I was ten years younger then, and more easily swayed by my own rhetoric. The answer ignores the way television plays are sent out to this non-book-reading, non-theatre-going audience, as part of a continuous stew made up of items so diverse that they would be indigestible if anyone ever bothered to digest them. But the audience in general does not digest them. No effort is required of it, hardly even the effort of choice; no response is expected. The stew—your play, bobbing about in it—is received, excreted and forgotten. Nourishment is not a consideration.

`Indeed, the stew-givers, both of the BBC and the commercial companies, often try to exclude even the possibility of nourishment. This play, Robin Redbreast, was first commissioned as a "suspense" play by the Series Department of the BBC and rejected. The producer is a kind and intelligent man: he was distressed to have to reject a play he admired, but the "close inter-relation between the fertility rite and the church festivals" would be too much, he wrote, for "the Powers-That-Be". Something taught in school sixth forms all over the country would be "too much" for the BBC Series Department. Luckily Graeme McDonald, who produces Play for Today for the BBC Drama Department, heard of the play, read it and instantly took it on.

`Worst is the lack of a continuing life. All my novels except the last are out of print, but they are still borrowed (freely in every sense) from libraries. Dedicated amateurs win prizes at Drama Festivals with plays I wrote years ago. Films are shown throughout the world long after they have been made, and end on that very television which shows a play once, perhaps (but only on the BBC) repeats it, then wipes the tape, and the play, already forgotten by its audience, even ceases to exist as an artefact. Dead. All other forms of art continue to exist after the act of creation and first showing, except the television play. Unless, as Pinter, Peter Nichols, John Mortimer, John Hale, Alun Owen have done and I myself with this play—the writer re-works it for the theatre, and gives it a life after all.

`And yet ... and yet. I say that, if I could afford to write only for the theatre I should do so, and certainly no television play could ever give author, actors and audience the real joy which is created when play, performance and audience come together in a theatre and all goes well. But there are ways of writing for television, ways of using images which, however I may free myself from realistic theatrical production, I can't match in the theatre. I admire naturalistic acting, and television can show it more closely than someone in whatever-shaped auditorium can see from six rows back. I say nowadays that I write television plays in order to buy time to write in other ways, but nobody writes only for money, and nobody would fret so about getting it right if money were the only consideration. There is still the possibility of excellence, and even if a television play ends up as a truffle in the stew, to be swallowed unrecognized by most, complained of by some ("What's this bit of coal doing in my stew?"), someone out there may yet know a truffle when he sees it, and savour it, and be glad'.

Introduction to Robin Redbreast © 1970 John Bowen – The Television Dramatist, Published by Paul Elek Limited in 1973.

The Ice House by Alex Davidson.

Along with Stigma, The Ice House (1978) is often overlooked when critics revisit the A Ghost Story for Christmas series. This was the third of the films to break away from an MR James source, following The Signalman and Stigma; as with the latter, it is set in the present day. Yet, in some ways, The Ice House retains the flavour of the James adaptations; shunning the bloodbath of Stigma in favour of creeping dread and featuring a script — by series veteran John Bowen (The 'treasure of Abbot Thomas, 1974) — that focuses on a middle-aged male protagonist.

Bowen had previously explored paranoia and the uncanny on screen, and his scripts for the BBC's Play for Today strand established him as a writer of the macabre. Robin Redbreast (1970), in particular, has much in common with The Ice House (themes of isolation and suspicion), as a divorcée retreats to a remote country house to find herself potential prey to the menacing locals. He contributed an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen to Bedtime Stories (1974), a series which re-imagined fairy tales for an adult audience. By the 1990s he was writing tamer material, adapting John Cox's novels for Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1996-1998). The Ice House was director Derek Lister's first foray into horror. His previous experience included filming episodes of Coronation Street and the drama series Crown Court (1972-1984) — he would return to the theme of crime throughout his future career, notably on several episodes of The Bill (1984-2010).

The original screenplay, which occasionally enters David Lynchian territory in its ambiguity, follows Paul (John Stride), a lonely, slightly poltroonish man who becomes a resident at a remote health spa after the breakdown of his marriage. The other guests, of similar age, seem lugubrious and barely speak unlike Clovis and Jessica (Geoffrey Burridge and Elizabeth Romilly), the odd brother and sister duo who run the facility Strange things begin to happen: a masseur disappears under suspicious circumstances, guests become afflicted by feelings of intense coldness (described as a 'touch of the cools'), and peculiar holes appear in Paul's bedroom window. Clovis and Jessica take their guest to visit the ice house on the estate, upon which grow two vivid flowers that emit an intoxicating perfume. One evening, Paul decides to see what is inside the ice house...

Why is The Ice House not mentioned in the same breath as the established classics in the Ghost Story series? While television generally favours writers over directors, the loss of Lawrence Gordon Clark, who bowed out of the series after directing every previous A Ghost Story for Christmas, is hard to ignore. Although The Ice House boasts some eerie scenes, it never quite recaptures the chills of Clark's set pieces, although the scariest sequence — where Paul enters the pitch-black ice house for the first time, with only a burning letter as illumination — is a tour de force. Starting with Paul's walk across the garden (a green day-for-night camera filter evoking decay) and finishing with a grand reveal of what horror lies in the ice house, the sequence, which retains the flavour of the best of the MR James adaptations, recalls the frightening scurry through the subterranean tunnel in The Treasure of Abbot Thomas.

The Ice House is arguably the most daringly experimental film of the A Ghost Story for Christmas series. So much of the story is oblique, with repeated viewings necessary to unravel the mystery — a sharp contrast to the clarity and traditional storytelling of the MR James adaptations. The mannered dialogue ('our devotion to your comfort would preclude the accommodation of children') and heavily stylised performances from Romilly and Burridge constantly alienate the viewer and, were it not for the title, it would not be immediately clear that there are any ghosts in the story. It's also the sexiest of the series; the heady scent of the vampiric flowers, the bloom-shaped phallic glass cuttings that appear in Paul's window and, most outrageously, the incestuous kiss shared between Jessica and Clovis, display an eroticism unlike anything else in the series. While the previous stories often had a dry wit, Bowen toys with a different kind of comedy, which occasionally verges on the camp. The diamond lady (Gladys Spencer), a whimpering relic literally frozen in time, is a particularly outré creation, while the heightened dialogue and the mannered delivery teeter on the absurd; by the end, the repeated mantra of 'there is only ice in the ice house' rings like a catchphrase from The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002).

The role of Jessica is unusual in the Ghost Story canon. Female characters are rare in the series — only Stigma, the previous year, featured a female lead. Whether Jessica could be described as a force for evil is debatable — it is unclear how malevolent the character is — but compared to other Ghost Story female antagonists she is far more developed. The avenging girl ghost in Lost Hearts (1973) and the witch in The Ash Tree have little screen time, and the supernatural force in Stigma, the spirit of a sacrificed witch, is never seen. Fresh from her role in Another Bouquet (1977), the sequel to the saucy, taboo-busting A Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976), Elizabeth Romilly as Jessica seizes her part.

John Stride, the most established actor in The Ice House, had starred in a number of TV dramas: the lead in historical series The Scarlet and the Black (1965), lawyer David Main in The Main Chance (19691975) and alongside Julia Foster as part of a husband-and-wife detective duo in The Wilde Alliance (1978). He had also appeared in features, playing Ross in Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971), and took small roles in The Omen (1976) and A Bridge Too For (1977). After The Ice House, he continued to work primarily on television, playing Henry VIII in 1979 for The BBC Television Shakespeare series (1978-1985). Geoffrey Burridge, the partner of actor Alec McCowen, continued to perform in TV and film and starred in two of the last of the BBC Television Shakespeare adaptations, Cymbeline (1983) and Love's Labour's Lost (1985). He died from an Aids-related illness in 1987.

While The Ice House is not among the best of the A Ghost Story for Christmas series, its strangeness and its bravery — diverging as it does from an established template — make it an interesting curio that concluded the series (until it was revived with the 2005 adaptation of A View from a Hill) with a hauntingly bleak image. Having been marched to the ice house by Clovis and Jessica — a scene recalling Death leading the peasants in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) — a catatonic Paul opts to shun life in favour of this chilly, sterile limbo.

A Woman Sobbing by Lisa Kerrigan.

With its pointed references to Patrick Hamilton's Gas Light (1938) and the phantom of a mad woman in the attic, A Woman Sobbing is a contemporary variation on a classic gothic heroine's tale. Having moved out to the country to enhance their children's lives, Jane and Frank are in an increasingly staid marriage. At night Jane can't help but hear the unaccountable sound of a woman crying in the house.

By turns eerie and tragic, this episode explores what happens when loneliness and depression explode from the subconscious and refuse to be repressed. Although both Jane and Frank are frustrated and fantasising about nubile younger partners, it is only Jane who has no outlet for intellectual discussion or emotional support. Upon trying to engage with her husband's work in market research she is told that she is 'not statistically significant'.

Writer John Bowen returns to the territory he previously covered in Robin Redbreast, in which another woman was isolated in the countryside and confused by mysterious happenings in her house. But whereas Norah in Robin Redbreast was confident, independent and notably younger, Jane seems to have been worn down by motherhood and isolation. Over the years she has begun to resent and actively dislike her children and the demands they place on her, and the arrival of a Dutch au pair does not ease her burden so much as increase her insecurities.

Jane's plight bears a strong resemblance to the feverish narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gillman's feminist short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' (1892), in which a woman suffering from a nervous disposition is confined by her husband until she descends into madness. Like Gilman's narrator, Jane begins to literally tear the walls down to find out if there is another unhappy woman beneath the wallpaper. As well as her suspicion that her husband is 'gaslighting' her, Jane makes some casual enquires about carbon monoxide poisoning and 'putting your head in a gas oven', calling Sylvia Plath to mind; and her capitulation to electroconvulsive therapy links her to Esther Greenwood in Plath's novel The Bell Jar (1963). The depiction of Jane's hospital stay is suitably clinical and her ECT is accompanied by an excerpt from David Stafford-Clark's textbook Psychiatry for Students (1964). In opposition to the medical management of Jane's depression is the sinister depiction of the ghostly presence in the house.

Dark shadows seem to encroach on Jane in her flowing white nightgown, making her every bit the Gothic heroine. Scenes which take place outside the family home use telecine sequences and the use of locations by veteran BBC director Paul Ciappessoni is often bright and airy, in marked contrast to the claustrophobic set of the house, shot on video and designed with muted colours. This episode was judged to be 'beautifully creepy' by its audience, and Anna Massey's performance received particular praise. Massey's roles in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) and Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) saw her contending with dangerously unbalanced and murderous men, and here, as the victim of her own personal haunting and disturbing thoughts, she communicates a sharp intelligence which is slowly strangled by frantic desperation. As Frank, Jane's confused and oblivious husband, Ronald Hines is a far cry from his appearance in sitcom Not in Front of the Children (BBC, 1967-70).

As well as raising issues around gender roles and mental illness, A Woman Sobbing also questions faith as a minister who is called in to deal with the ghostly crying refuses to be drawn on his belief in the supernatural. As the conventional solutions presented to her fail one by one, Jane is left to deal with her phantom alone, eventually becoming the woman crying upstairs. As in Fay Weldon's contribution to Leap in the Dark (BBC, 1973-80), Watching Me Watching You, a woman's emotional turmoil seems to transform into a paranormal occurrence. In Watching Me Watching You this activity resolves itself benevolently; the female characters conclude that the 'messages' they received were helpful advice from their subconscious. In A Woman Sobbing, however, it is more ambiguous: Is the house haunted or has Jane actually been hearing herself sobbing all along?

In the original script the epilogue takes place in 2002; and while this may not be apparent, it is obvious that some years have passed and that the Pullar family has gone. Now, a new couple is resident in the house and, again, the woman wakes to the sound of weeping. Has Jane returned or is this another unhappy soul? Only one thing is clear — no man can hear or understand the crying.

Robin Redbreast and John Bowen by William Fowler

First broadcast on 10 December 1970, Robin Redbreast fell in line with a tradition of screening spooky tales on TV in the run up to Christmas. The 1960s saw a one-off adaptation of The Canterville Ghost (1962, starring Bernard Cribbins) and the spooky series Haunted (1967), amongst others. While in the 1970s, the renowned A Ghost Story for Christmas' took pride of place in the festive schedule. The series, which ran one story a year from 1971 to 1978 (beginning the year after Robin Redbreast), typically looked back to centuries gone by and spun tales around dark secrets and forbidden practices. These warnings to the curious made the most of location shooting, character actors and period detail, and paradoxically offered a degree of comfort and even reassurance in the chilly, wintry months – families gathered close to the TV hearth.

But Redbreast was different; different even from the more epic, sinister stand-alone BBC dramas that fell in the Christmas period in the 1970s (and just after): The Stone Tape (1972), Count Dracula (1977) and Artemis 81 (1981). The latter two ran over the two-and-a-half-hour mark; all three included elements of fantasy and special effects.

When John Bowen first submitted his script he was told that the 'close interrelation between the fertility rite and the church festivals' would be too much 'for the powers that be'. The droll, yet intense, Robin Redbreast mixed elements of horror with acerbic reflections on modern life and its social conventions. Norah Palmer encounters strange rites and rituals when she moves to an isolated cottage out in the country. A modern, confident woman, she is also quietly something of a lost soul and boldly takes on the local folk until their wily and ultimately horrific schemes get the better of her. It had been commissioned as a suspense drama but ended up in the BBC's Play for Today series; a varied, discursive platform presumably considered more appropriate.

Its sinister aspects were inspired by an unsolved murder that had taken place in the Warwickshire village of Lower Quiton some 25 years earlier. A friendly man, who could reputedly charm animals with his voice and knew many old rural ways and tales, had been found with a pitchfork through his chest. Witchcraft was thought to be part of the mystery and the much-publicised story brought a brutal ancient history into hard collision with modern, `civilised' post-war Britain – like Robin Redbreast.

Writing in 1980 Bowen said, 'I believe that thrillers should thrill and, following Hitchcock, that authentic thrills are caused by the confrontation of the violent with the ordinary'. Elsewhere he referred to TV as 'a continuous stew made up of items so diverse that they would be indigestible if anyone bothered to digest them. The stew – your play, bobbing about in it – is received, excreted and forgotten. Nourishment is not a consideration'. It was as though he wanted to deliberately confront his audience; shock them into consciousness – occasionally using a little humour to either sweeten or perhaps amplify the provoCation. His play A High Priority, commissioned for an education strand produced by Thames Television in 1976, was considered highly controversial. It told the story of a white girl who is made pregnant by a black boy and decides to keep the baby. When the Inner London Education Authority refused to give permission to film outside a school unless all the relevant parents agreed to the script, Bowen responded: 'simple-minded racism does exist and it is more honest and more wise to base one's teaching on what is, than what one would prefer to be'. The play, which presumably contained some contentious lines of dialogue, appears not to have been completed. Censorship and its prevention has been an on-going concern for John Bowen. He has written at length about the tensions between author rights and what constitutes public harm on more than one occasion, and in the 1970s headed-up the Censorship Appeals Committee. He has also been critical of the script-editor role – note, the very job that Norah Palmer has a break from in Robin Redbreast.

Controversy is not, however, at the heart of the 50-plus plays, books and stories that Bowen has written since 1956. If thrills come from the confrontation of the violent with the ordinary, then in Bowen's work drama emerges from the drudgery of the mundane too – and then slithers uncertainly back into it. This tension was explored quite specifically – and brilliantly – in Bowen's 1958 post-apocalyptic novel After the Rain. One character says: 'I have been thinking about the value of myth. We are, after all, in a mythological situation. Our descendants will remember us not simply as the haphazard survivors of a great catastrophe, but as the founders, the chosen, the people who came out of the sea to beget a new race'. While another, the narrator, reflects: 'there are no beginnings in history... history is too big for beginnings that we can apprehend, but men are not too big. Men are small'. Characters, people, become archetypes in his stories; important but not uniquely or individually significant.

It was the mythic, 'long view' element to Robin Redbreast that critic and jazzer George Melly found particularly striking: 'Turning back as she drives away on Easter morning, the pregnant girl sees her rural persecutioners transformed: a witch, a horned man, a magi. It was almost subliminal and very frightening', he noted in his contemporary review in the Observer.

These qualities seem to connect with John Bowen's whole attitude towards the brief and uncertain opportunities afforded by TV. 'All other forms of art continue to exist after the act of creation and first showing, except the television play', he said. In some cases he adapted his scripts into theatre pieces to give them extra life. Robin Redbreast received the stage treatment and was performed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford in 1974. (Although it had been specifically written for actress Anna Cropper after her appearance in Bowen's Little Boxes at the Hampstead Theatre in 1968).

But his play did have another moment on television. A power cut in several parts of the country – the result of the 1970 three-day week – prevented many from seeing the closing minutes of Robin Redbreast. As a consequence, it was shown again on 25 February 1971. The Radio Times highlighted the praise it had received first time around: "Brilliantly written tale, beautifully creepy" – Sunday Times'.

Although Robin Redbreast became the first Play for Today ever to be repeated, this very modern myth that in many respects foreshadows The Wicker Man has been entirely inaccessible for many years now. It is a beguiling play, one that draws you in with humour and absurdity and yet in the final count, also delivers a strong horror punch. TV plays may have only ever had very brief moments of exposure in decades previous but as John Bowen said about himself and other playwrights: 'we do occasionally chill the blood'.

Television & Film (last to first): Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1996-1998) — Screen Two: The McGuffin (1986) — Honeymoon (1985) — Singles (1981) — Sunday Night Thriller: Dark Secret: Part 1 (1981) — Can I Help You? (1981) — ITV Playhouse: The Specialist (1980) & I Love You Miss Patterson (1967) — Armchair Thriller (1978 - 1980) Dying Day, Parts 1 to 4 (1980) & Rachel in Danger, Parts 1 to 4 (1978) — Heartland: The Letter of the Law (1979) — A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Ice House (1978) — Wilde Alliance: A Game for Two Players (1978) — Play for Today: A Photograph (1977), The Emergency Channel (1973) & Robin Redbreast (1970) — Six Days of Justice: A Juicy Case (1975) — The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974) (dramatisation) — Brief Encounter (1974) (adaptation) / (screenplay) — Miss Nightingale (1974) — Bedtime Stories (1974) — Heil Caesar!: Defeat (1973) (adaptation), Murder of a President (1973) (adaptation) & The Conspirators (1973) (adaptation) — ITV Sunday Night Theatre: Young Guy Seeks Part-Time Work (1973) & The Coffee Lace (1973) — Dead of Night: A Woman Sobbing (1972) — Full House: Episode dated 25 November 1972 (1972) (drama segments) — Villains: Belinda (1972) — Gemengd dubbel (1971) — The Guardians: End in Dust (1971), The Roman Empire (1971), I Want You to Understand Me (1971), The Dirtiest Man in the World (1971), Quarmby (1971), The Logical Approach (1971) & Head of State (1971) — W. Somerset Maugham: Flotsam and Jetsam (1970) (dramatisation) — Thirty-Minute Theatre: Silver Wedding (1967) — Seven Deadly Sins: The Whole Truth (1967) — Mystery and Imagination: The Flying Dragon (1966) (adaptation) — ITV Play of the Week: Ivanov (1966) (adaptation), Finders Keepers (1965), Mr. Fowlds (1965), The Corsican Brothers (1965), A Case of Character (1964) & The Truth About Alan (1963) — The Power Game: Trade Secret (1966) & The Politician (1966) — Novela: Cuestión de carácter II (1965) — ITV Television Playhouse: A Holiday Abroad (1960).

Novels (first to last): The Truth Will Not Help Us: Embroidery on an Historical Theme. London, Chatto and Windus, 1956 — After the Rain. London, Faber, 1958; New York, Ballantine, 1959 — The Centre of the Green. London, Faber, 1959; New York, McDowellObolensky, 1960 — Storyboard. London, Faber, 1960 — The Birdcage. London, Faber, and New York, Harper, 1962 - A World Elsewhere. London, Faber, 1965; New York, CowardMcCann, 1967 — Squeak (1983) — The McGuffin (1984) — The Girls: A Story of Village Life. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986; New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987 — Fighting Back. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989 — The Precious Gift. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1992 — No Retreat. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1994.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Edge Is Where The Centre Is – David Rudkin & Penda's Fen: A Conversation

"Even though its effects are primitive by today’s standards, Rudkin’s drama, appearing a year after Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, is often hailed as a watermark of British horror. But its real peers are eldritch TV thrillers such as Jonathan Miller’s adaptation of an MR James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), Alan Garner’s The Owl Service (1969-1970) and Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape (1972). Another mystery, from a modern-day standpoint, is how Rudkin’s script was even commissioned: deeply layered, rich in sexual and mythological motifs, trusting the audience to have the patience and intelligence to engage with its handling of complex theological, historical and political ideas, it also migrates beyond the social-realist templates of the majority of screen and stage productions in the early 1970s – the West Country has never looked so Aztec – and uses a subtly minimalist sound design shaped by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Paddy Kingsland"

The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture's May screening of PENDA'S FEN elicited an enthusiastic response on both sides of the Atlantic. There were requests for more opportunities to engage with the work of its visionary screenwriter David Rudkin. To this end, the Colloquium has produced a new book, THE EDGE IS WHERE THE CENTRE IS, that features a lengthy interview with Rudkin, newly-commissioned essays by prominent English curators Will Fowler and Gareth Evans, striking design by SEEN Studio, and two accompanying prints – one of them featuring Rudkin in pyrotechnic mode – by award-winning writer and photographer S.F. Said.