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.
, for in many respects
Ealing’s film is very different from the long stream of
horror films that eventually followed from the mid-1950s onwards.
This 1950s wave of horror was in large part initiated by the enormous commercial success of
Hammer’s SF/horror TheQuatermassExperiment in 1955.
In seeking to explain the transition from Dead of Night to
TheQuatermassExperiment , as well as the virtual absence
of horror from British cinema in the intervening years, one needs to
take into account both
Rudolph Cartier, the Austrian émigré
whose 1953 production TheQuatermassExperiment provides this
Prime among the various determinants of television acting that
can be seen at work in TheQuatermassExperiment 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.
The return of studio realism?
It is Saturday night, and on the television screen three men can be
seen, crouching round a small box, listening intently in the latest
scene from live drama TheQuatermassExperiment. By this point
in the story it has become clear that something untoward happened in the depths of space to the crew of Britain’s first manned
rocket, and the on-screen trio are now playing back a recording
of the astronauts’ final moments. To the left, the trench-coated
Quatermass holds a silencing finger aloft, gesturing at moments of
Experiment (BBC, 1953; BBC, 2005), Doctor Who (BBC,
1963–89;12 BBC, 2005–
); and Survivors (BBC, 1975–
2008–10). Each fits the requirement of the original having evolved
in a distinct production era, with the additional advantage that it
was followed by a new version in the 2000s. While TheQuatermassExperiment was broadcast as a live, six-part serial, Doctor Who was
initially pre-recorded ‘as live’. Survivors began as a multi-camera
studio production with location film inserts, but from its seventh
episode switched to an all Outside Broadcast (OB
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 fact that some –though by
no means all –of these performances were deemed worthy of censure by contemporary audiences and critics indicates that a studio
‘norm’ in acting terms had not, as yet, established itself, though
audiences at least were beginning to develop some sense of what
was acceptably ‘realistic’ from the ‘new’ medium of television.
By the 1960s the
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
TheQuatermassExperiment. The determining factors behind this
change, and their resulting manifestation on screen, will now be
examined via a selection of scenes from ‘An Unearthly Child’.
Much had altered in Britain since TheQuatermassExperiment.
A few months before that serial’s transmission, Joan Littlewood’s
Theatre Workshop, with its training
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Hammer’s The Night Creatures
invasion of Britain. The
success enjoyed by Hammer’s version of Dracula in 1958
ensured that the company would subsequently focus its attentions on
its colour gothic product, and critical accounts of Hammer horror
have commonly seen its mid-1950s science fiction cycle –
which also included TheQuatermassExperiment (Val Guest,
1955) and X – The Unknown (Leslie Norman, 1956)
– as a dry-run for the gothic horror to come.
Such a dismissal arguably does these films a
disservice, for they have a
cycle of halfhour telefilm costume adventure series in the late 1950s that – to a much
greater degree than the critically acclaimed but now for the most part
‘lost’ live studio dramas of the time – really put British television on the
international map. The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Adventures of
Sir Lancelot and The Buccaneers were all sold to American networks.
Yet these series have been marginalised in the television historiography
of the 1950s that focuses instead on innovative live dramas such as TheQuatermassExperiment and Nineteen Eighty-Four and the
working processes. While the initial six episodes followed the same pre-filming/
rehearsal/studio pattern utilised in TheQuatermassExperiment and
Doctor Who, from episode seven onwards this was replaced by an
all-Outside Broadcast location video model. A new approach was
therefore required on the part of actors and directors alike, 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. This chapter compares scenes
from the opening studio episode