New Directions 

23 May 2017

From Television & Radio 1983, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority

With the restructuring of ATV as Central Independent Television from the beginning of 1982 the company took the opportunity to bring a fresh look to many aspects of its programming. ‘We intend to establish Central as a company recognised and acclaimed for the adventurous, open-minded and risk-taking television programmes it produces,’ announced Charles Denton, the Director of Programmes. ‘We shall make drama programmes which will attempt to break free of formula.’

So began a new drama policy under the guidance of Controller of Drama Margaret Matheson. Immediately, Central presented an original and ambitious film series, Muck and Brass. With Mel Smith in the role of a ruthless property developer, this powerful six-part series got Central’s drama policy off to a flying start.

Muck and Brass was a hard-hitting commentary on corrupt practices in a Midlands city, very much a contemporary story of one side of life in our modern society. Written by Tom Clarke and directed by Marek Kanievska, it was in some aspects reminiscent of The Power Game, ATV’s distinguished series of the late 1960s about the boardroom politics of the aircraft industry. A contemporary and forward-thinking drama of its day, it was one of the first and the best of its kind. But Muck and Brass, in its first minutes, showed how Central’s drama style has been changed, with its realistic and cynical approach to the intricacies and machiavellian intrigue of some big business practices.

Muck and Brass. Mel Smith as the unscrupulous Tom Craig, a property developer with an iron determination to get what he wants and not scared to break a few rules on the way.

In complete contrast there quickly followed the startlingly lavish I Remember Nelson, four self-contained plays which portrayed Nelson as seen through the eyes of people close to him at different times in his life. The first, ‘Love’, was narrated by his wife Fanny, at the time of the break-up of their marriage; the second, ‘Passion’, covered an earlier part of his life – the beginning of his infatuation with Emma Hamilton – and was narrated by her husband; the third, ‘Duty’, narrated by Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, explored the conflicting sides of his character at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar; and the last, ‘Battle’, was narrated by one of the gunners and was set below decks on the ‘Victory’. This was not a conventional biography: instead, it attempted to show the human face beneath the public image of a great hero.

Oi For England. Neil Pearson and Lisa Lewis in a scene from a gritty look at youth in contemporary Britain.

Still in its first few months of operation, Central followed up with a number of single dramas which took an uncompromising view of life in Britain today. They attracted both notoriety and acclaim. Les Blair’s Four in a Million, first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, dealt with four entertainers staying at the same guest house, whose late night conversations reveal their differing attitudes to a business with which they are becoming rapidly disillusioned. Trevor Griffith’s Oi for England brought a new step forward in drama and pushed back some of the conventional barriers with its outspoken and controversial opinion about the youth of today; it was screened at a later hour than usual. Grazyna Monvid’s A Change in Time was both controversial and at times extremely moving as it told of a family’s changing attitudes brought about by a terminal illness. There was also Peter Cheevers’ and Ian La Frenais’ Harry Carpenter Never Said It Was Like This, Barry Hines’ and Ken Loach’s Looks and Smiles, which highlighted unemployment in Britain and the bleak prospect of the dole queue, continued the proud association with Ken Loach which had previously brought about The Gamekeeper; further work is already being planned.

The Home Front. Brenda Bruce (left) as Mrs Place with one of her sons, Garfield (Malcolm Tierney), and his wife Hazel (Sue Robinson). The series makes unusual use of flashbacks and voiceovers, and of the acted-out fantasies of the sons whose lives have not gone quite as they feel they should have. The style of presentation is down-to-earth and topical, and surprisingly representative of modern society.

The Home Front, six plays dealing with aspects of the English domestic scene, is another example of bold and uncompromising attitudes. The plays are dramatic – always very funny, and very typical of their author, the well-established comedy writer Peter Tinniswood who already has novels as well as work for television and radio to his credit. The series revolves around a North Country family, with the linking character of Mrs Place (Brenda Bruce) and her three grown-up sons.

Shine On Harvey Moon. Set in 1946, this is the story of an East London family coping with the changes which followed the Second World War. Kenneth Cranham (centre) as Harvey Moon with mother (Elizabeth Spriggs) and son Stanley (Lee Whitlock).

Shine On Harvey Moon, written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, is another series with a large following of viewers, telling of the somewhat quirky home life of East Londoners soon after the Second World War. And Pictures, seven hour-long programmes, tells of the efforts of a movie-struck chorus girl to break into the world of pre-war films.

So, in its first few months of operation. Central established a very different pattern of drama programming covering a wide range of subjects. ATV had a long and worthy record, especially in historical drama, as one of the major producers of drama for the network, including such memorable series as Clayhanger, Flickers, Disraeli and Edward the Seventh. It also produced many popular adventure and action series such as The Persuaders, The Saint and the unusual The Prisoner. Although Central has continued the production of historical drama, in a different manner, the main emphasis has recently fallen on contemporary drama, obviously of importance to Margaret Matheson. The approach is more forthright and realistic and possibly less sentimental; perhaps this is the major change which has been wrought on the drama department by its new controller.

A Change in Time. Marjorie Yates and Malcolm Storry in a moving drama about a man who learns to relish life when his redundancy coincides with the discovery that he is suffering from a terminal brain tumour. Written by Grazyna Monvid, it is her first television play for the ITV network.

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