‘This genuine theatre condition’
Basil Dean and the 1938 BBC outside broadcast of J. B. Priestley’s When We Are Married
in Screen plays
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BBC Television aired its first live outside broadcast of a full-length play from a West End theatre in 1938: this pioneering event was the production of J. B. Priestley’s comedy When We Are Married, produced by Basil Dean for the theatre and transmitted direct from London’s St Martin’s Theatre. This chapter explores the significance of this first live outside broadcast of a full-length play, initially by locating it within a historical frame that encompasses Dean’s work between theatre and film in the 1930s. 

An outline of the creative conditions in which the broadcast took place is contextualised with reference to broader discussions around relationships between the arts in the immediate pre-war period. This discussion draws upon archival resources that point to Dean’s ideas about the relationship between stage and screen and the practical steps taken to manifest these ideas. It examines the circumstances surrounding the theatre production and then considers its adaptation for live broadcast and the technology used to achieve this. 

The discussion also looks at some of the publicity for the broadcast, including a television programme made a week before the broadcast (neither this nor the outside broadcast itself was recorded), and the press reaction to it, going on to expand the frame to investigate some of the broader dialogue taking place at this time as to how relations could be developed between theatre and television. 

Screen plays

Theatre plays on British television

Editors: Amanda Wrigley and John Wyver


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