ITV Play of the Week: The Breath of Fools 1957, The Darkness Outside 1960The Sound of Murder 1964, The New Men 1966, On the Island 1967

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.

"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

                                                             

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...?

"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

Reviews: THE STAGE and TELEVISION TODAY, July 14, 1960 Review by John Price

 

"THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE Screened: Tuesday, July 12 Associated-Rediffusion

 

Peter Graham Scott is connected with this play in more ways than one. Not only did he collaborate in its writing with Eve Martell (his wife) but he directed as well.

 

The result: an outstanding production in very conception of the word.

 

The Darkness Outside, a story of fear, was taken from the novel by George Johnston.

 

An old man (Wilfred Lawson) is found exhausted and unconscious on the banks of the Tigris by a group of archaeologists intent on discovering a lost city buried by the centuries.

 

In periods of consciousness the old man tells them of a terrible disaster in Europe and an annihilating horde marching from the East.

 

The team led by Professor Purcell (Marius Goring) have no radio or link with the outside world and become infected by fear; a fear that they are scholars representing a civilisation about to be engulfed.

 

Arab workmen in the camp panic and run away leaving another undercurrent of drama.

 

There is no-one to build flood-gates and the excavations will shortly be covered by the rising river.

 

One of the archaeologists (Frederick Jaeger) steals away in the night with a jeep and is killed when it falls down a wadhi.

 

Another (Anthony Newlands) is steeped in superstition and hangs himself believing that a sacrifice will save the rest from disaster.

 

Strong melodrama indeed. And a gripping story. But requiring powerful acting.

 

Romantic interest was supplied by Virginia Maskell and Patricia Driscoll.

 

Jack Hedley added character to his part of an Australian trying desperately to overcome his own fear.

 

But for Marius Goring this was an outstanding role."

                                                                             

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.

Reviews: THE STAGE and TELEVISION TODAY, November 5, 1964 Review by Bill Edmund

 

On stage this may have mystified but weak plot shows up in adaptation.

 

The Sound of Murder

Anglia, Monday, November 2

 

"Peter and Anne decide to murder her husband in order to be free to marry—and prove to be the silliest pair of murderers who ever dabbled in the art of homicide. On the stage, perhaps, this play was convincing—television showed up the weaknesses. We are used to plotters plotting at the top of their voices on the stage and going over every detail for our benefit. Not on television. These two were bound to be heard—the fact that they were overheard by a tape recorder rather than the intended victim was only a detail.

 

This is not a good play for Marius Goring. As Charles Norbury, he was the sort of stage villain I thought had left us—the man who sneered and snarled and spoke in the hateful but smiling way beloved of the old time villain, just to show that he was deserving of being done in.

 

Neither was it a good play for Elizabeth Sellars whose chief claim to fame in this hour and twenty minutes of screen time appeared to be the amount of anguish she could pack in between the commercials. Charles wanted to keep this woman as his wife, Peter wanted to marry her. I’m still wondering why either of these men wanted Anne Norbury.

 

Only Patricia Jessel was genuine and she used her part as Miss Forbes, the secretary, to be the woman who saw the murder as a means to an end— and did it without undue histrionics. She radiated the sort of calmness we have come to associate with anybody mixed up with fictional murder—in contrast to the smirking jeering Charles, the unending misery of the frightened Anne and the heavy dramatics of Peter—the other man—played by Conrad Phillips.

 

Designer Reece Pemberton gave us a typical stage set country house complete with the necessary French windows. The whole play took place in the living room of the Norbury’s home and none of the actors moved more than twelve feet. A director’s dream, or nightmare.

 

Meredith Edwards was Inspector Davidson, a part that he underplayed so carefully that he was my only surprise of the play. I felt sure that the casual manner hid the cool brain that would reveal the truth. But it didn’t. No matter. I had long guessed the correct solution long before the end."

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).

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.

Reviews: THE STAGE and TELEVISION TODAY, November 10, 1966 review by David Robinson

 

Skilful Anglia Adaptation.

 

"Basic though the method is to the cinema and to television, I think that on all logical grounds one must suspect the principle of adaptation. The chances that a work that has succeeded in one medium will succeed as well or better in another are (judged from results) rather worse than one intends.

 

From start to finish, I felt that Troy Kennedy Martin’s adaptation of C. P. Snow’s The New Men on Tuesday revealed its novel form. Its best parts were origins in the novel form. Its best parts were the most talky, the least apparently televisual. The attempts to introduce visual excitement—the scenes in the atomic research laboratory— were awkward, interpolated, never quite convincing. 

 

And then, television has to explain so much more, to assume so much less than the novel; while the novelist has time and scope for much wider and deeper intellectual discussion. Here one always felt that words and the thinking of the book were being abridged and simplified—a sort of Reader’s Digest condensation.

 

This is the more unfortunate in a work which is already a little effected by the shifts of time. Snow’s subject is an imaginary group of British pioneers of atomic research, and the agonies of conscience which physicists here and in America suffered—and must still suffer—from the use to which their discoveries were put. Scientists, he said, cannot live in a vacuum: Cambridge laboratories are no longer cloistered retreats. Science involves inescapable moral, social, political responsibilities. The problem became acute in August 1945, with Hiroshima. That was more than twenty years ago. Snow’s book was written about half way through the interim period. In the meantime—and in no small part due to people like Snow—our own attitudes to the problem, like the relationships of scientists and politicians have become more complex, if no nearer resolution.

 

This much said, one must acknowledge the effectiveness of Anglia’s network production on Monday. The structure of Troy Kennedy Martin’s screen play was extremely skilful (though I am not sure whether a couple of verbal anachronisms were his or Snow’s.) Michael Wield’s design succeeded in characterising a period which is still close enough to be elusive.

 

Under John Jacob’s direction the performances achieved a notable (and from the nature of the play, essential) quality of ensemble. Lyndon Brook almost surmounted the problems presented by the unconvincingly sudden change of character he was required to make; Michael Bryant confirmed what a sensitively good player he has become. Marius Goring, as the civil servant caught between his loyalty to the scientist and his politician’s instinct, gave a performance of a calibre not often seen in television drama."

The Birmingham Post Midland Magazine, November 12, 1966 Review by Linda Dyson

 

"C. P. Snow’s novels about the Lewis Eliot clique have provided the raw material for some excellent plays. The New Men should perhaps be the most compelling of them all. It deals with the most momentous subject— the race to produce the first atomic bomb during the second World War. Why then did Troy Kennedy Martin’s adaptation (ITV, Tuesday) fail to live up to expectations?

 

Snow is a master at creating conflicting personalities and showing how their ambitions and ideals affect their actions. But until the final scenes of this play, when Martin Eliot showed such a cold, cynical change of heart, the personalities of the group of scientists did not come over as strongly as they should have done.

 

The motives and background of Sawbridge, the idealist young Communist, could have been explored more fully; and so could the  contrasting relationships between Martin Eliot and his aloof wife, and Walter Luke and his scientist wife who took part in the project.

 

It is many years since I read The New Men, but I had the feeling that some of the lines in the play were tempered with the knowledge and mood of the 1960’s, rather than the mid-fifties, when the book was written.

 

The casting and direction which made use of some newsreel film, which always gives reality to historical events, were exemplary."

                      

                                                         

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.

Reviews: THE STAGE and TELEVISION TODAY, January 12, 1967 Review by Margaret Campbell

 

"A thriller on a cold winter’s night is as strawberries and cream are to midsummer, and ATV’s On the Island  by Jacques Gillies (Thursday, January 5) kept the blood tingling throughout.

 

A lazy island off the coast of South America where nothing ever happens: Robert Cosgrove, philosopher and Nobel prizewinner, played with superb detachment by Marius Goring and his ex-actress wife (Helen Cherry) are at odds with each other. To him the island is a refuge from the world of reality where he can work; to her it is anathema and she is near breaking point. Their teenage daughter—an intelligent performance by Michele Dotrice—suffers in silence and consoles herself with a horse called Napoleon.

 

Their private conflict is suddenly eclipsed by the arrival of Colonel Guzzman, the cool and aggressive advance envoy of an impending revolution—Ian Hendry with a thick South American accent was horribly convincing and almost unrecognisable in the part.

 

The house is requisitioned as the revolutionary headquarters and the focal point of the action is when Cosgrove is asked to broadcast a message to the free world. Even though the safe conduct of his family depends on his co-operation, he refuses. Finally persuaded by his wife, he makes a speech condemning the revolution. The General and his troops move on leaving Guzzman in control. He promptly reveals himself as a counter-revolutionary and tells Cosgrove that his speech has been of the greatest assistance and will send countless men to their death. A very neat and clever twist in the plot.

 

Cosgrove, “the theorist in human suffering”, tries to shoot himself but is prevented from so doing and is dragged by his family to the ship which will take him back to the “reality from which he can never escape”.

 

Quentin Lawrence’s masterly direction made everything sizzle from the onset and Vic Symond’s settings were excellent. I also liked the rhythmic drum patterns used to heighten the more dramatic moments.

 

There were, however, two disturbing factors. The gun which appeared in the credit titles—a foretaste of Cosgrove’s attempted suicide—never went off! It hung over me like the sword of Damocles, and even though I knew the deed would not succeed per se, I felt cheated when the gun was laid on the desk with near-nonchalance. With a revolution handy, surely an excuse for a shot could have been found.

 

The other puzzler was when in the introductory scene the wife accuses Cosgrove, “You have all your women” or words in similar vein. I expected some revelation or manifestation of the carnal side of this obviously aesthetic man who patted rather than caressed his wife—but in vain! Surely this is what is called “Teasing the viewer”? When the rest was such splendid drama it seems superfluous."