This is a book-length study of one of the most respected and prolific producers working in British television. From ground-breaking dramas from the 1960s such as Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home to the ‘must-see’ series in the 1990s and 2000s such as This Life and The Cops, Tony Garnett has produced some of the most important and influential British television drama. This book charts his career from his early days as an actor to his position as executive producer and head of World Productions, focusing on the ways in which he has helped to define the role of the creative producer, shaping the distinctive politics and aesthetics of the drama he has produced, and enabling and facilitating the contributions of others. Garnett's distinctive contribution to the development of a social realist aesthetic is also examined, through the documentary-inspired early single plays to the subversion of genre within popular drama series.
This chapter focuses on two film adaptations, conceived in different genres: The Admirable Crichton, directed by Lewis Gilbert in 1957 from the play by J.M. Barrie written in 1902, and Look Back in Anger directed by Tony Richardson in 1959 from John Osborne's play of 1956. Both play and film are, therefore, comedies of social reversal; Crichton, the butler, champions the established social order, whilst his employer, the aristocrat, pontificates about the coming egalitarian society. The Admirable Crichton has an interesting relationship to another, earlier film based on a stage play from about the same historical period, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Look Back in Anger sits easily within the dominant conventions of the European naturalist tradition, its single playing space functioning as an embodiment of the forces of determinism that constrain the characters that inhabit it.
This is a study about Tony Garnett, forty-year actor, story editor and then producer, within the context of British television, film and Hollywood cinema. This chapter attempts to describe, explicate and analyse Garnett's work. Garnett has been responsible for a considerable variety of work, including some of the most influential plays and films in British television history. Garnett is one of a small group of television producers who have helped to define what being a television producer is. He is particularly hostile to ‘auteurism’, insisting that drama production is a collective practice, artistically and socially. Auteurism in its crudest form explains the creation of ‘significant’ drama as the product of a single, authorial consciousness. Garnett has worked in a variety of production contexts across the decades, and his role as producer has altered in the process. Garnett's authorial signature is intimately connected to a realist politics and aesthetics, which is still the best way of describing the spine that runs though his work. Realism, with its various qualifiers— social, magical, hyper—and its near-synonyms (notably naturalism), is a much-debated term in cultural criticism.
This chapter focuses on Garnett's journey from an actor to a producer. The study briefly highlights the interests and works of Garnett. His chief interest was always acting, and he spent much of his time as a teenager at Stratford, the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. After leaving school, he acted in local repertory theatres before taking up a place at the University of London where he studied psychology. He spent little time at the university, and developed a parallel career as an actor whilst studying. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a relatively successful actor, rarely out of work, and with a profile of creditable performances on television and, occasionally, film. Eventually, he stepped into the driving seat as a producer. Garnett was one of the first generation of producers who were also directors and operated in different ways to other producers employed in the Drama Group.
This chapter revolves around the two Wednesday Plays, Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home. The Wednesday Play anthology series has acquired a pivotal role in the history of television drama, providing a showcase for drama that was formally experimental, distinctive to the medium of television, socially and culturally provocative. It was designed as a replacement for two existing play strands, Festival and First Night, as a response to a series of pressures that were being applied to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the mid-1960s. The best known and most widely debated of The Wednesday Plays in the 1965 season was Up the Junction. Up the Junction is set in and around the eponymous Clapham Junction, and concerns the lives of its inhabitants, notably three young women, Sylvie (Carol White), Rube (Geraldine Sherman) and Eileen. It connects immediately to a contemporary sense of a hitherto unrepresented and socially extended reality—and thus to social realism. One of the main differences between Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home is that the latter has a single protagonist, around whom the narrative is organised (something which gave the film a more accessible narrative shape, from an audience viewpoint).
This chapter shares some excerpts of Garnett's acting and production career. After revolutionary forces, left-wing teachers, union activists and television producers all found themselves branded, in a much-quoted phrase, as the ‘enemy within’. In this climate, conspiracy theories abounded; indeed, conspiracy, and its twin, betrayal, run through much discourse off both right and left in the decade. It is not surprising that they also surface in television drama, both on and off the screen. Kestrel Productions was the first independent drama production company in British television, and had its origins in the shake-up that followed the re-franchising of commercial television in 1967. The chapter also briefly discusses Kes—the development of a political aesthetic. However, radical television drama did not go uncontested, and there were high-profile cases of dramas being challenged across the media and other public discourses, and in some cases, withdrawn from the schedules before screening.
This chapter gives an overview of Tony Garnett and his career. His work was diverse, in terms of both programme format and subject matter, and his company produced work for all the terrestrial channels. Garnett adopted two separate but connected roles within World Productions, that of head of the company, responsible to Heyman and the parent company, and that of executive producer for specific projects. In the former role, he supported others and defined a policy for the company not according to a manifesto but as a diverse body of work; in the latter, he assumed overall responsibility for a limited range of projects, to which he was particularly connected. The chapter briefly discusses broadcasting in the Thatcherite and post-Thatcher eras, working with the BBC and new technologies and new working practices. Garnett remained a socialist, and engaged with politics, intellectually and creatively.
Some reflections on the relationship between television and theatre
This chapter traces some of the relationships between the theatre of the late 1950s and 1960s and television drama of the 1960s and 1970s. Bertolt Brecht casts a long shadow across the theatre of the late 1950s and 1960s, although his work was appropriated in particular and idiosyncratic ways. Like sitcom, Theatre Workshop's productions reworked the familiar devices and routines of the music hall, such as the double-act, within the framework of a more traditional extended narrative. Theatre Workshop's productions were resolutely anti-naturalistic, in ways that loosely paralleled the 'non-naturalism' called for by Troy Kennedy Martin and others working in television at the time. The idea of a canon of television drama is contestable, and is best thought of as a set of overlapping definitions that describe different kinds of texts and practices from different viewpoints.
This book aims to provide resources for critical thinking on key aspects of television drama in Britain since 1960, including institutional, textual, cultural and audience-centred modes of study. It explores the continuing popularity of the situation comedy, and makes a convincing case for considering sitcom as a key popular genre. By offering a sense of how 'real' audiences respond to, and engage with, actual programmes in specific social situations, dominant conceptions of the social meanings of Carla Lane's Butterflies and Jimmy Perry and David Croft's Dad's Army are challenged and renegotiated. The book takes up Queer As Folk to focus on its status as an authored intervention in debates about the representation of homosexuality. It demonstrates that The Prisoner series inhabits contradictions by unpacking the complex question of the series's authorship, and the inadequacy of attributing its meanings to its creator, star performer or production team, for example. The book argues that The Demon Headmaster makes a significant contribution to the project of exploring and defining questions of ethics and justice in social organisation, in part, by claiming children's culture as a space of experimentation, resistance and subversion. It looks at the ways in which television drama embodies assumptions about its audience, and pursues this in a sophisticated way in relation to late twentieth-century television adaptations of 'the female Gothic'. The struggle between the BBC power-base in London and its satellite Departments in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales is also dealt with.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book provides resources for critical thinking about key aspects of television drama in Britain since 1960, including institutional, textual, cultural and audience-centred modes of study. Helen Wheatley's analysis of Rebecca, The Wyvern Mystery and The Woman in White distinguishes the gendered concerns of the Gothic as a mode that encompasses literary and cinematic realisations of narratives that reflect on the politics of domesticity. The book emphasises the relationships between the television drama text and its contexts of production and viewing. It investigates how the programme's production and realisation negotiated the possibilities that television offered for realising both conventional 'pulp fiction' monster stories and the aspirational claims for 'serious' speculative and educational drama in science fiction.