More musings on Doctor Who and national identity from me have been published at John Connors's Time Lines blog. I've written an introduction with more ideas at The Event Library, and the posts themselves are available at part two and part three.
The first part of a series of musings on Doctor Who and British identity, at John Connors's Timelines blog, originally commissioned by John for the fanzine Plaything of Sutekh which he co-edited with Richard Farrell. A short introduction can be found at The Event Library, too.
The userpic associated with this post is from a Doctor Who comic strip drawn by Gerry Haylock for TV Action, and Countdown to TV Action by Steve Holland tells the story of this comic and its first incarnation Countdown. Unexpected characters in its tale are Rupert Murdoch (whose role in the decline and demise of TV21 I had not known) and John Selwyn Gummer; the enterprise seemed based on poor market research, nostalgia for happy working conditions at former employers (especially the pre-Murdoch TV [Century] 21) and a publisher which was focused on editorial, advertising and circulation being dealt with by its parent who commandeered pages as required. Good to see a picture of Polly Perkins House, the office of Polystyle Publications for most of the 1970s, too - I'd wondered where it was for years, and had been misled by its 'Paddington Green' address, because strictly speaking it isn't there. Holland specialises in the indexing of British comics and there are full content listings and many, many reproductions of art, though apart from the cover it's in black and white. Nevertheless it's a valuable addition to Paul Scoones's The Comic Strip Companion, the first volume of which looks at Doctor Who in the pages of TV Comic, Countdown and TV Action, a must for historians of the creations of Gerry Anderson (whose characters and series were the original lead features of Countdown) a strong source of information about the careers of several British comic professionals and the comics industry in the early 1970s, though being me I have to note that the common ownership of Polystyle and TV Publications (from whom Polystyle 'bought' TV Comic, Playland and Pippin in 1968) isn't picked up, nor the nature of Independent Television Publications (a subsidiary of the ITV companies acting together under the ITA's supervision) and its acquisition of TV Times from TV Publications in 1968 quite understood. The shake-up of the youth market from ITP's Look-In is a constant presence and one Polystyle never quite dealt with - Look-In relied on more than constant promotion on ITV to help it, but its rivals could never get past that fact, it seems.
Butley was given to me by my sister after we went to see a revival of a Simon Gray play in London several years ago. This film version was produced as part of the American Film Theatre seasons, where producer Ely Landau drew on his television experience to make two packages of cinema adaptations of stage plays and sell them in advance to networks of cinemas in the US. The scene is set by a caption reading 'LONDON' at the start of the film, as Alan Bates's Ben Butley cuts himself shaving on a morning, and then by a sequence shot on the northbound platform at Kilburn Park station, moving onto a train (complete with Bakerloo line diagrams showing both branches) where Burley's rudeness, selfishness and uneasy eye towards men are pointed out by Bates's gesture and the sullen curious camera. Most of the two-hour running time is spent in the office Butley shares at Queen Anne College, University of London (with rebellious indifference but solipsistic indulgence too, Butley is always seen entering its precincts through the 'OUT' gateway) with his former pupil, protégé and lover Joey Keystone (Richard O'Callaghan). Joey is disentangling himself from Ben, finding a new partner in publisher Reg (Michael Byrne). Ben snipes continually at Joey's willingness to work within the university career structure, his sexual identity and presentation, while reeling him in to jibes at their older colleague Edna (Jessica Tandy), her teaching (probably diligent) and publishing record. Ben seems to hanker after reconciliation with his estranged wife Anne (Susan Engel), and peppers his conversation with arguments with himself over the location and nature of their last sexual encounter. Georgina Hale, Darien Angadi, Colin Haigh and Simon Rouse play disgusted, belittled, exasperated and furious students.

The self-absorbed alcoholic protagonist who dares the audience to be driven to sympathise with him and so become complicit in his destructive narcissism feels like a 1970s device especially, Butley being a representative of the old professional class overtaken by men who have climbed the new ladders provided by the Welfare State, and women whom he feels really just shouldn't be there. The ground over which the story is told is familiar to an audience in the 2010s, though: society's understanding of gender and sexuality, disintegration and relayering of class structures, academic reform and the need to produce outputs (though we don't hear that term) juxtaposed with teaching demands and assumptions of a new student generation which are incomprehensible to or rejected by their jaded or self-interested elders. It's no spoiler that Ben is eventually left alone in his office with a bottle of Haig's whisky, seemingly content with his own inadequacy. There are aspects of the character close to Alan Bates's own life and large sectors of British society seemed to negotiate the 1970s in a spirit-soaked haze, but though a period piece now Butley is a reminder that social and psychological problem-solving can take a very long time indeed.
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For reasons clear to anyone who studies his Twitter feed and interactions, veteran Doctor Who fan Ian Levine is keen to make it known that this short series of articles published in DWB in 1992 is available to read online. It's been supplemented and superseded by other work, such as Richard Molesworth's DWM articles and the two editions of his book Wiped published by Telos, and by the ongoing work by the BroaDWcast site, but it's still readable and tells Levine's side of the story as well as convey how horrified first-generation Doctor Who fandom was when they learned that episodes which they often remembered from childhood and which they imagined survived at some BBC vault no longer existed, with anecdotes of early fandom and the dawn of home video.
sir_guinglain: (Devil's Crown)
( Oct. 10th, 2013 12:09 am)
[livejournal.com profile] nwhyte has directed me towards the long-sought The Devil's Crown, the BBC's lavishly non-naturalist drama about the early Plantagenets from 1978. A French edition, though with English soundtrack, has turned up on YouTube. I'm only a few minutes into the first episode, with Brian Cox's Henry not-yet-II courting Eleanor of Aquitaine (Jane Lapotaire) despite her being married to the pious guilt-ridden Louis VII of France. Lots of familiar faces from British television drama in the 1970s wander through, including (so far) Charles Kay, Bruce Purchase and Paul Greenwood, and Brenda Bruce choosing to play the Empress Matilda with a German accent (slightly confusing if one doesn't know her backstory). All wholeheartedly perform a vigorous script from Ken Taylor. A pity that the BBC's illuminated-manuscript title sequence (IIRC) is missing from this version in favour of the less dramatic French titles.
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