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

The End Of The Festival

The abrupt demise of Festival had left Peter Luke with a selection of orphaned plays which never made it to the screen under this programme title, and as such they formed the basis of the first official season of The Wednesday Play, a collection of eight plays, with an average running-time of seventy-five minutes, six of which were produced in the United Kingdom and accompanied by two Canadian imports. Hailed as "a stimulating season of international drama" by the Radio Times, the series premiered on October 28th 1964, with Nikolai Leskov's A Crack In The Ice, and despite Luke's laudible ambition to provide entertainment catering to a specific audience (he went to great pains to underline the fact that the material presented in the new series had keenly considered the interests of its viewership), the first eight plays were somewhat pedestrian in terms of their visual realisation, based largely on adaptations of old plays and novels without a contextual bearing on contemporary life.

Two scenes from The July Plot
The performances from the likes of such notable actors as Patrick Wymark, Bill Fraser, Harold Pinter (in a rare television appearance), Nigel Stock and Michael Goodliffe could not be faulted, but for the most part the supporting performances were run-of-the-mill and the plays mustered nothing more than the customarily supportive murmurs from the media and critics. However, one particular episode exposed a lifeline for The Wednesday Play, presenting audiences with the briefest hint of what would come with further refinement and retuning of the programme barely twelve months after its premiere.

Introduced by Tom Driberg MP and adapted by Roger Manvell from his book (co-written by Heinrich Fraenkel), The July Plot remains an outstanding reflection of the capabilities of the televisual medium, thanks chiefly to the expert handling of director Rudolph Cartier. Set in July 1944 and chronicling a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the play proved an ideal forum for Cartier, something of an expert when it came to realising World War Two material for British television.
A strong, gripping affair with an air of pseudo-documentary in terms of its visual style, the play illicited potent performances from John Carson, Charles Lloyd Pack, Peter Copley, Cyril Luckham and John Abineri, and proved to be the most memorable entry in the first two months of the programme's history.

Notable directorial contributions from Ronald Eyre, Philip Saville, Gilchrist Calder and Christopher Morahan reflected the desire of the production to attract the most reputable handlers of the material, yet in these formative stages the only glimmer of hope for future entries lay in the stylistic treatment of Manvell's play. Lukewarm audience and critical appreciation of the first series of The Wednesday Play failed to establish the format as a firm fixture in BBC Television's future schedules, and it took all the powers of persuasion at Sydney Newman's disposal to ensure that the programme was given a more appropriate running-in period, a second extended season of twenty-five proposed plays. However, Newman's disappointment at the realisation of his labours under the production stewardship of Peter Luke resulted in the services of his long-term partner from Armchair Theatre no longer being required (although Newman would reverse this decision in January 1966, having distanced himself from his colleague so as to restructure the series). In a bid to put The Wednesday Play on a more assured footing, commanding audience attention, critical praise and lucrative international sales, Newman would call upon the experimental expertise of a director north of the border.

© Matthew Lee, 2004