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The Breath of Fools (1957)

Director: Peter Graham Scott

Writer: Peter Graham Scott (based on his play)

Rôle: John Hagerman

 

Broadcast: 3 July 1957 ITV

 

Synopsis: A domineering television director, Hagerman, who is skeptical of religion, conflicts with his young leading lady, a Catholic, in the way a religious play is presented.

Background: Excerpt from writer/director Peter Graham Scott's memoirs about directing the play:

 

"Returning to Rediffusion in the early summer of 1957 I found the same lamentable lack of good scripts. Vyvienne Moynihan, Norman Marshall's redoubtable auburn-haired assistant, had seen my play, The Breath of Fools, at Q Theatre and suggested I should adapt it for television. Oddly enough I hadn't considered it. The play had said what I wanted to at that time, but in the intervening two years I had matured a little.

 

I pulled the script from the bottom of a cupboard and read it again. Some of it was very naive, but overall it still hung together dramatically. There was nothing better on offer, and I’d been given an air date of July 3, exactly four weeks away. I considered all the actors who might play John Hagerman, the domineering director and remembered Marius Goring, whose strangely tortured good looks had so captivated audiences in the Powell-Pressburger films The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death.

 

With no idea whether or not he would act on television, I sent him an uncut script. The following day he phoned. “You’ve written an interesting play. Tell me, is your director character based on my friend Michael Powell?”

"No—I’ve never met Michael Powell."

“Good—because if you had I could never have accepted.” There was a long pause, then he added casually, "When can we meet?”

 

We spent the whole of the following day ruthlessly cutting and rewriting. Marius, as I soon discovered, applied his keen intelligence to his own part, and only that part, not to the play as a whole. And whereas Peter Sellers or Donald Pleasence had worked instinctively and emotionally to find their characters, Marius built his performance completely intellectually.

 

My play's tension grew from the spiritual conflict between a young girl's innocent faith and Hagerman's weary cynicism. But, as I soon perceived, Marius was afraid of losing public sympathy by playing a character he saw as "an absolute bastard." In my eyes he was anything but that - simply a man with a strong contempt for innocent belief—but slowly Marius began to water down the director’s true acid. Bitter lines like "All actresses are certifiable neurotics" were lost immediately. Speeches that revealed his broken marriage, his hatred of bogus sentimentality and superficial religious ritual all disappeared. At the end of that day Marius had a blander, more sympathetic part to play, and I was the author of Cinderella.

 

And yet—I wanted Marius Goring. Even as a whitewashed Hagerman I knew he would give the play power and energy. Most of the minor cast members from Q were free, but unfortunately not Nigel Davenport, who had given the film star seducer exactly the right slimy quality. The original Ann had lost her innocence. Looking for her replacement, I interviewed every aspiring young actress in London, until on the advice of Michael Macowan I chose Susan Wills, then aged 20.

 

I'd spread the action from the single set of the play into dressing  rooms, projection theatres, and even the film set, although, as I had to remind everyone, we were not making a documentary about film production but an emotional drama, a clash of truth and belief. Rehearsals seemed to go well, but on the day before camera-rehearsal Norman MarshalI appeared magisterially for a run-through. Susan seemed to shrivel. The performance we had found vanished. I could see how much Norman disliked what he was seeing. At the end he led me aside. "Can you replace the girl?" he demanded.

 

I explained that she was nervous. “She’d better not be ‘nervous’ on transmission,“ he snorted, and stamped red-faced down the corridor.

 

It was in any case too late to recast. But the fault was not in the actress but in the hasty rewrite that had removed the true cruelty of Hagerman’s treatment of the young girl. On transmission I concentrated on careful camerawork, knowing the play had lost its cutting edge. Having given me a year of almost consistently good press, the critics reacted with outrage at my effrontery in presenting my own play. Peter Black described me as "a much-respected and ambitious producer, now the latest to fall flat on his face" in attempting to discuss a serious theme within a simple melodramatic framework.

 

Bernard Levin, however, admitted the play "was not entirely a waste of time. Thought was definitely required. But it indicated that television directors, no matter how distinguished, should not be allowed to direct their own plays.”

 

The anonymous Times reviewer commented that the dramatic and spiritual conflict within the making of a film was "ingenious" and felt the "triumph of religious faith at the end was arbitrary and inconclusive.'' There was in fact no such "triumph."

 

Luckily all the scorn was reserved for me. In her debut Susan Wills, was complimented on everything from her "nice reserve" to a “maturity of feeling." Marius of course was "splendid" and “exciting” (He knew his own business best!) And that was that."

Scott, Peter Graham. British Television - An Insider's Story (Jefferson NC, McFarland & Co Inc, 2000), 106 - 107

Availability: The ITV Archives have been contacted and a copy of this play is not available.

The Breath of Fools review in The Times 4 July 1957
The Breath of Fools review in The Daily Telegraph 4 July 1957
The Breath of Fools review by Kenneth Pearson in The Sunday Times 7 July 1957

The Darkness Outside (1960)

Director: Peter Graham Scott

 

Writers: Peter Graham Scott, Eve Martell based on the novel by George Johnston 

Rôle: Purcell

Broadcast: 12 July 1960 ITV

Synopsis: An old man wanders haphazardly into an isolated archaeological camp in Iraq. He has tales of an apocalyptic event in Europe and a hostile crowd intent on annihilation on their way to the camp. The archaeological crew have no contact with the outside world, so do they believe him or not...?

Background: Excerpt from writer/director Peter Graham Scott's memoirs about directing the play:

"Seeking more substance, I adapted yet another novel, The Darkness Outside by George Johnston, an Australian who lived on the Greek island of Hydra. Set in the Iraqi desert, the story tells of a party of archaeologists cut off from civilisation by the failure of their radio, who are on the point of a major discovery, the climax of many years of patient excavation. They are suddenly thrown into confusion by the appearance of a wild old Englishman who staggers into their camp shouting frenziedly about "a horde" that has overrun Europe. ls he sane - or simply driven delirious by the sun? The tightly knit group, united by a common purpose, begins to disintegrate. Some argue that they should drive to the nearest point of civilisation, nearly two days away. But the leader of the expedition, Purcell, aware of the imminent rains that will ruin their dig, urges them to stay and complete their task. The action erupts into violence, and ends in tragedy and disillusion.

 

The characters were well observed, and Marius Goring, Virginia Maskell, Jack Hedley, Patricia Driscoll, and Anthony Newlands made the most of them. (Marius's suggestion that we should "have a look at the script together" was firmly resisted. The script was played as written.)

For the part of the old Englishman I decided to gamble. Wilfrid Lawson was one of the finest actors of his generation with a particularly distinctive voice; his Alfred Doolittle in the the prewar film of Shaw’s Pygmalion a definitive performance. But like many masculine actors who secretly despise the whole business of dressing and painting their faces, Wilfrid had become rather a drunk, considered unemployable. I met him when he was playing a small part in a play directed by Joseph Losey. There as something insane about his feverish eyes that made him exactly right for the old man. Peter Willes disagreed. The Darkness Outside was, as usual, to be performed live. Suppose Wilfrid was so paralytic that the whole whole stopped? I assured Peter that whatever happened we would carry on—live television always did. (A few months before, in an Armchair Theatre directed by Ted Kotcheff, an actor had actually died of a heart attack on transmission. Luckily the play was about a small group of nuclear survivors in a shelter. The actor who had to approach the collapsed figure thought he had merely fainted and filled in with "Wake-up-old-man" free speech until Ted cut to the next scene. None of the cast was told. The body was removed during the next commercial break, the survivors vamped the missing man’s lines, and viewers were none the wiser.)

 

But I had reason to remember Willes's warning when we went filming. The opening shots of the old man stumbling through the desert had to be shot in the sandy wastes of a local gravel-digging pit. Wilfrid arrived late, but he seemed to be sober so we started, although the weather was dull and cloudy. At lunchtime, unfortunately he disappeared, and on the first take in the afternoon he began to stagger, finally falling flat on his face in the sand. With difficulty we raised him to his feet, but it was obvious that there would be no more filming for Wilfrid that day. The next morning, however, he turned up bright as a button, apologised for "feeling a bit sick," and as the sun shone brightly almost made me feel he'd done us a good turn!

 

When rehearsals began, he made no effort to befriend the rest of the cast. On the third day Marius arrived with a heavyweight BBC script under his arm and announced that he'd just been offered the lead in Zuckmeyer's The Devil's General. The other actors were suitably impressed. Suddenly Wilfrid’s organ-pipe voice rang out from a far corner, "The Devil’s General, Marius? You couldn’t touch it!"

 

Marius marched furiously over to confront the old man. "Mister Lawson. Do you consider yourself a better judge of acting than the British Broadcasting Corporation and their finest producer, Mr Rudolph Cartier?"

 

Wilfrid was unabashed. "You haven't got the balls, Marius. The only man to play that part is Trevor Howard." He paused. "Or possibly me, perhaps."

 

Marius turned on his heel. War was now open between them. But it added considerable bite to their performances. Not for the first time I learned the value of personal antipathy in the strange craft of ensemble acting. But rumours of Wilfrid's "difficult" behaviour were spreading. Willes urged me to recast. I refused, but as a compromise I offered to engage an understudy and rehearse him secretly. If Wilfrid appeared at all shaky in the studio I would make a rapid substitution.

 

But Wilfrid had learned his lesson—or his agent had warned him. On transmission day he seemed quiet and abnormally well behaved. As we broke for supper I asked, "Coming for a quick drink, Wilfrid?" He stared at me and shook his head reprovingly like a temperance preacher. "Never touch a drop before the show, my boy."

 

I tottered away, unable to believe it. On transmission the cast soon realised Wilfrid was on top form. Marius Goring, blazing with hatred for the scruffy old actor, rapidly responded to Lawson’s amazing performance as it developed and blossomed in a way never rehearsed. Together with Jack Hedley and Patricia Driscoll they all lifted the play from mild melodrama to high passion.

 

The Times forgot its strictures on novel adaptations. With the headline THOUGHTFUL PLAY'S CHALLENGE it praised "notable acting, impressive settings by Frederic Pusey, and direction of grim urgency." The Telegraph called it "a spine-chilling 90 minutes with a well-written thriller." The rest of the papers were equally enthusiastic."

Scott, Peter Graham. British Television - An Insider's Story (Jefferson NC, McFarland & Co Inc, 2000), 131 to 133

 

Availability: The ITV Archives have been contacted and a copy of this play is not available.

The Darkness Outside review in The Daily Telegraph 13 July 1960
The Darkness Outside review by John Price in The Stage 14 July 1960
The Darkness Outside review in The Times 13 July 1960
The Darkness Outside review in the Birmingham Daily Post 13 July 1960

The Sound of Murder (1964)

Director: John Jacobs

 

Writer: William Fairchild (based on his play)

Rôle: Charles Norbury

Broadcast:November 1964 ITV

 

Synopsis: A tape-recording plays a vital part in a cunning murder plot.

Wardrobe Trivia: Marius wears his favourite white/cream knitted gloves which he wears in numerous film and television productions in his career starting with The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1952). The velvet tuxedo with satin lapels appears to be the same one he wore as Sholto Lewis in Circle of Danger (1951).

Availability: Available for purchase from the ITV archives in a downloadable format.

The Sound of Murder article in the Daily Mirror 2 November 1964
The Sound of Murder review by Bill Edmund in The Stage 5 November 1964
The Sound of Murder review in the Coventry Evening Telegraph 2 November 1964

The New Men (1966)

Director: John Jacobs

Writers: Troy Kennedy-Martin (adaption) based on the novel by C.P Snow 

Rôle: Lewis Eliot

Broadcast: 8 November 1966 ITV

Synopsis: In the winter of 1941, a group of scientists are rushing to produce the first atomic bomb.

Availability: Available for purchase from the ITV archives in a downloadable format.

The New Men review in The Birmingham Post 12 November 1966
The New Men review by David Robinson in The Stage 10 November 1966
The New Men review by Sylvia Clayton in The Daily Telegraph 9 November 1966
The New Men review in The Times 9 November 1966

On The Island (1967)

Director: Quentin Lawrence

Writer: Jacques Gillies

 

Rôle: Robert Cosgrove

Broadcast: 3 January 1967 ITV

Synopsis: Set on an island off the coast of South America, Robert Cosgrove (Marius Goring) is a writer and Nobel Prize winner. His wife, Linda (Helen Cherry) and daughter Tess (Michele Dotrice) live with him in a comfortable villa overlooking a pleasant and peaceful bay on the island of Serez.

 

Linda Cosgrove is not happy on the island and her husband, preoccupied with his work, seems to be deliberately ignoring her. Then strange things begin to happen on the island, and the Cosgroves find themselves involved in a political revolution.

Availability: Available for purchase from the ITV archives in a downloadable format.

On the Island review in The Stage 12 January 1967
On the Island review by Sylvia Clayton in The Daily Telegraph 6 January 1967
On the Island review in the Coventry Evening Telegraph 3 January 1967
On the Island review in the Daily Mirror 6 January 1967