Jonathan Bignell
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Vanity Fair and the contradictions of colour
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In 1967, the first colour drama serial in the UK was broadcast: an adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. This chapter evaluates the colour in Vanity Fair using analysis of the programme, archival documentation and public discourses at the time. The significance of colour in this serial relates to the aesthetic frameworks through which literary adaptations were conceptualised, and to what colour meant in the television culture of 1967. The achievement of Vanity Fair depends not only on how it looks today but also how it could have been viewed at the time it was made. As Britain’s first and oldest television institution it might seem simple and obvious that the BBC would take the next technical step in broadcasting. It might also seem simple and obvious that colour would offer greater realism and visual pleasure to viewers. These ways of understanding simplicity depend on an assumption of incremental development, adaptation and extension. But conversely, the engineering challenges of making colour pictures and the production challenges of staging a multi-episode serial in colour were immense. For cultural commentators and BBC executives, there were also concerns about the tastefulness of colour, which was tainted both by an association with Hollywood and the uneven technical quality of US colour television. Introducing colour was fraught with difficulty and risk, and meant finding a way through complexities of technology, institutional policy and cultural politics. It also demanded creative responses to new artistic challenges, making the most of colour while maintaining conformity with established aesthetic norms.

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Complexity / simplicity

Moments in television


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