Production Overview: 1.The Four Icons / 2.A New Man / 3.The End of the Festival / 4.Twenty-Four Steps / 5.Arrival / 6.Stand Up And Vote / 7.From Boneyards To Courting Pits / 8.Normal Service / 9.Homes Fit For Cathy / 10.Sleeping Dogs / 11.Last Orders / 12.Casualties of War
Episode Guide: Season 1 / Season 2 / Season 3 / Season 4 / Season 5 /
Season 6 / Season 7 / Season 8 / Season 9

From Boneyards To Courting Pits

Barlowe of the Car Park
Afforded a second bite of the cherry, Peter Luke returned to The Wednesday Play to produce the twenty-five plays which comprised the fourth series of the programme, premiering in January 1966. Having laid down the strong foundations of the series in line with Sydney Newman's grand vision for challenging and thought-provoking television, series producer James MacTaggart reverted to a directorial capacity, employing his services on the opening play of the new season, The Boneyard, in a comfortable hand-over to Luke. Clive Exton's comic offering found its setting in a police station far removed from Dock Green or Newtown starring Nigel Davenport and Neil McCarthy.

A wholly diverting enterprise which continued the festive air of light entertainment which had concluded the previous season, The Boneyard reflected a change in emphasis The Wednesday Play would undertake under Luke's tenure; far from the high drama which had predominately underscored MacTaggart's production, Luke would employ a lightness of touch which would combine light entertainment and comedy with diverting, undemanding comedy-drama as opposed to the "straight" variety (as particularly reflected in the fact that, of the twenty-five writers for the series, only John Hopkins stood apart from the others as a recognised producer of "drama"). The move was somewhat inspired, as the programme was in danger of running out of steam under the demands of producing regular, consistently controversial and highly-charged drama on a weekly basis.

This season also became the first to employ the repeat transmission of plays which had previously enjoyed pride of place on BBC Television's new player on the block, BBC-2, and more specifically from the high-profile anthology series Londoners (which Luke had produced), which had become one of the more notable success stories of the corporation's new arm. Luke's vision statement for the new series reflected the desire of each incumbent programme producer to firmly stamp their own identity on the proceedings, as outlined by Lez Cooke: "The role of producers and story editors in commissioning scripts from writers was crucial in determining the ideological and aesthetic nature of any particular Wednesday Play. Indeed, the question of `authorship' on The Wednesday Play, and other single play anthologies, would make an interesting study, with the producer, story editor and director all helping to shape and influence the work of a writer. The role of the producer on The Wednesday Play was certainly decisive in determining which plays appeared on screen, through the commissioning process, and the composition of a Wednesday Play season varied considerably according the producer in charge" (British Television Drama: A History).

The Executioner
Peter Luke's theatrical background heavily influenced his selection of writers and commissioning of plays for the fourth series of The Wednesday Play, with the selection of actors appearing in episodes drawn from a strong repertory background, and the visual realisation of the staging of these plays bearing all the hallmarks of the so-called "classic" productions which had previously featured in Festival and which, according to Newman, had marred the first series of this august vehicle. However, in this particular instance he benefited from the framework which had already been established by MacTaggart, and whilst the stories presented were a far cry from the cutting-edge drama of previous years, their filmic appearance still ensured that the occasional blurring of the lines between fiction and reality courted critical acclaim and fostered healthy audience figures.

This season, more so than any other, consisted of a large quantity of adaptations of published works rather than original scripts, and for the second play of the new run Luke himself adapted William Samson's novel A Man On Her Back, exploring the eternal triangle, and featuring notable performances from Norman Rodway, Valerie Gearon and Barrie Ingham. Further comic offerings throughout the season were Brian Finch's Rodney, Our Intrepid Hero, Vernon Bartlett's Calf Love (as adapted by Philip Purser), the wonderously Keatonesque near-silent Irish comedy Silent Song (by Frank O'Connor and Hugh Leonard), Richard Harris' Who's A Good Boy Then?, A Game - Like - Only A Game (bearing all the instantly watchable hallmarks of John Hopkins' previous plays), Ernie Gelber's Why Aren't You Famous? and Hugh Whitemore's wonderfully claustrophobic comedy Macready's Gala. Marius Goring and Nora Nicholson starred in James Hanley's A Walk In The Sea, which was followed by Boy In The Smoke - the opening episode from the popular Londoners series, and then Barlowe Of The Car Park. Approximately mid-way through this new season, Peter Luke was responsible for commissioning the first of a delightfully entertaining and comic trilogy of plays from Nemone Lethrbridge, which would become popular diversions over the course of the next three years.

A quirky exploration of the comic misadventures arising from the legal fraternity, and in particular a ducking-and-diving practitioner known as Plantagenet King (as portrayed by Brian Godfrey), an ambitious lawyer prepared to use anyone and anything to further advance his own personal social and occupational standing, The Porstmouth Defence was the first of three tales, continuing in Little Master Mind in December of the same year, and concluding in An Officer Of The Court in December 1967. Further reflecting Luke's adherence to repertory traditions, the same cast appeared in all three productions, and became the first of a series of three trilogies to make their appearance over the course of The Wednesday Play's duration. The final episode of the popular Londoners series, Pity About The Abbey (a marvellous tale of property developers and the potential sale of one of London's most notable fixtures and fittings) followed shortly thereafter, continuing the tradition of high comedy boasting strong performances and deftly-scripted humour. The Big Man Coughed And Died, The Snow Ball, A Cheery Soul (a first television adaptation of the works of Australian novelist Patrick White), The Connoisseur (a rare foray into the exploration of the world of homosexuality) and The Retreat were followed by an adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Ape And Essence, a portrait of a post-holocaust Britain which attracted high praise and high controversy in equal measure.

Toddler On The Run, Robert Muller's The Executioner (an examination of the tensions between Trotsky and Stalin), Way Off Beat and A Soiree At Bossom's Hotel continued the season, which concluded with David Halliwell's Cock, Hen And Courting Pit, a play exploring the destructive power of passion between a young man and a young woman. Entirely diverting, high calibre entertainment had become the hallmark of The Wednesday Play, and Peter Luke's second tenure as the producer of this quality vehicle confirmed his capacity to produce excellent mid-week drama, comedy-drama and comedy plays which further advanced Newman's mission statement to expand the boundaries of the televisual medium. After a brief spate of four isolated plays, the series would triumphantly emerge in the most internationally successful season of the series, which would produce one of the landmark British Television productions over the course of twenty-eight unforgettable plays.

© Matthew Lee, 2004