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From studio realism to location realism in BBC television drama
Author: Richard Hewett

Until recently, little work had been conducted on television acting per se, let alone the various coalescing factors that underpin and help shape it. This book addresses that lack, utilising a selection of science fiction case studies from the world of BBC television drama to investigate how small screen performance has altered since the days of live production. This then-and-now comparison of performing for British television drama focuses on science fiction case studies to provide a multi-perspectival examination of the historical development of acting in UK television drama. By the mid-1970s, studio realism might be expected to have reached its apotheosis, yet it was by no means all-encompassing as a style of television acting. A new approach was therefore required, with much of the performance preparation now taking place on location rather than being perfected beforehand in a separate rehearsal space: the seeds of location realism. One of the most notable contrasts between early television drama and the modern day is the shift from multi-camera studio to single camera location filming. Comparing the original versions of The Quatermass Experiment, Doctor Who and Survivors with their respective modern-day re-makes, the book unpacks the developments that have resulted from the shift from multi-camera studio to single camera location production. Examining changing acting styles from distinct eras of television production, the book makes a unique contribution to both television and performance studies, unpacking the various determinants that have combined to influence how performers work in the medium.

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Richard Hewett

This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of the book. The book offers the working conditions of the small screen, tracing the connections between actors' background environments and the resulting television performances. It examines a 'fantastic' style of acting - which could perhaps be termed studio and location 'unrealism' - it would be fascinating to examine the development of the non-AW, futuristic cultures and scenarios presented and refined by a franchise such as Star Trek over its long television run. The book presents telefantasy case studies to trace the historical development of UK television acting as a whole. It also examines early studio realism in 'Contact has been Established', the debut episode of The Quatermass Experiment from 1953. The book then examines the revival of interest in live drama in the 2000s, and the potential for studio realism's return.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Richard Hewett

This chapter focuses on The Quatermass Experiment . Prime among the various determinants of television acting that can be seen at work in The Quatermass Experiment is actor experience, and scenes from the opening episode, 'Contact has been Established', illustrate the extent to which certain actors with a greater length (and breadth) of experience had already begun to adapt in terms of vocal projection and physical gesture, while many of their colleagues remained fixed in more stage-derived codes. Although studio realism in the early 1950s had begun to distinguish itself from more ostensive, stage-derived performance codes, it was not yet well established. Reginald Tate's performance displays various facets of a studio realist model, most notably the limited projection of voice, which is maintained at the level required by the sound equipment, and a lack of reliance on gesture to signify emotion.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Richard Hewett

By the early 1960s, television was more established in both reach and form, yet despite significant technological shifts its production processes remained largely unchanged. Actor experience had increased, yet an analysis of studio realism during this period as the result solely of actors' increased familiarity with the medium is complicated by external factors; primarily, the advent in British television and film of social realism. Pre-recorded 'as live', Doctor Who's opening episode 'An Unearthly Child' can be taken as representative of the latest production process. However, as will be seen, this differed remarkably little from the live era in terms of performance pressures. What is notable, however, is the extent to which a greater uniformity of scale had begun to emerge in terms of vocal and gestural projection on the part of actors. A marked refinement of studio realism when compared to the performances examined in The Quatermass Experiment.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Richard Hewett

This chapter compares scenes from the opening studio episode, 'The Fourth Horseman', and 'Law and Order', the ninth episode of the series and the third to be recorded entirely using Outside Broadcast (OB). The fact that these episodes shared the same director, Pennant Roberts, and many of the same cast provides two stable factors when examining the implications for studio realism of the move to location. Location filming meant that characterisations created in the earliest part of the production process, before a significant period of preparation and discussion could take place, would have to be adhered to later in the studio for the sake of continuity. Working on OB clearly necessitated a new approach on the part of directors, and by this time the training offered by the BBC was beginning to address the need for both multiple and single camera technique.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Richard Hewett

This chapter presents the case studies, Doctor Who and Survivors, which are useful in several respects. Both are representative of the production practices of modern BBC drama in that they are made primarily using a single camera location model, allowing comparisons to be made between location realism in the 2000s and its 1970s forbear. With its large regular cast, Survivors is representative of the ensemble drama that now forms the basis of much prime-time drama scheduling, while Doctor Who features a greater reliance on CGI, providing an opportunity to examine the challenges to the actor of working on visual effects-driven productions. Actor experience will then be examined, alongside generational differences - which, will have significant implications for acting style - before concluding, as always, with reception. Modern television drama production has seen a significant shift in the degree of control that both actor and director exert over screen performance.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Richard Hewett

The Corporation's first live drama in two decades, this production was a deliberate attempt to evoke the conditions of the earlier serial, and is useful here both for summarising the key determinants that have been seen to influence television acting, and to illustrate the alterations in performance style that can result when one or more of these factors is adjusted or removed. The 2005 version of The Quatermass Experiment is notable for returning to the rehearsal template that was a principal feature of studio realism, while employing sophisticated modern technology and a lead cast who had come to prominence predominantly in the era of location realism. Its live transmission from a Ministry of Defence testing base, whose buildings and grounds stood in for a variety of exteriors and interiors, represents neither the traditional, constructed sets of the studio nor the typical location shoot, in which repeated takes are the norm.

in The changing spaces of television acting
Abstract only
Richard Hewett

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in the preceding chapters of the book. The book focuses beyond screen performances as historic curiosities. It examines instead the extent to which they represent the times and environments in which they were produced; any analysis that does not take these determinants into consideration risks failing to fully understand and appreciate the performances that result from them. The book offers a complete picture as possible of the determinants of British television acting, and covers distinct historical periods. It expresses that the varying backgrounds of The Quatermass Experiment's 1953 cast informs a notably diverse range of acting styles, from the emerging studio realism of Reginald Tate to the more gesturally inflected emoting of Van Boolen. The suggested models of studio and location realism represent an important step towards counter-acting a purely immanent reading of archive texts.

in The changing spaces of television acting
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Detecting innovations in sound and image
Richard Hewett

One of the most popular and successful crime dramas of the 1990s, Inspector Morse (ITV, 1987-–2000) starred John Thaw as the Oxford detective with a passion for classical music and real ale, and encompassed seven series and five special episodes. While existing academic work has lauded the series for its ‘quality’ and ‘heritage’ signifiers, to date little research has been conducted with regard to its innovative approach to sound and image. The series was particularly notable for how it either juxtaposed these elements – as in debut episode ‘The Dead of Jericho’, in which Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ and Hubert Parry’s ‘My soul there is a country’ contrast with a police raid – or allowed them an unusual degree of dominance, as when Brian Johnston’s cricket commentary, a radio call-in show and the strains of Saint-Saens’s ‘Concerto for Cello’ compete for the viewer’s (and Morse’s) attention in the opening to ‘Deceived by Flight’. Such experimentation set the series apart from contemporary generic conventions, developing a self-conscious style that helped ensure its success, leaving audiences by turns captivated, unsettled and entranced, and reaching viewing figures of 18 million in the process.

This chapter draws upon examples from a range of episodes to examine how the series employed sound and image in often unusual, dissonant or defamiliarising ways. Inspector Morse’s pioneering approach to these elements created a truly distinctive look and feel, particularly when compared to its crime drama contemporaries, and this will be unpacked here in detail for the first time.

in Sound / image