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Shakespeare live from Shepherd’s Bush, and from Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare live from Shepherd’s Bush,and from Stratford-upon-Avon

John-Wyver1About the author:  John Wyver is a writer and producer with Illuminations (, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Westminster and Media Associate with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is a historian of television with a particular interest in broadcasting, film and the arts, and he is currently Principal Investigator for the AHRC-funded research project Screen Plays (2011-15). His work as a producer and director has been honoured with a BAFTA, an International Emmy and a Peabody Award. He has produced a series of notable performance films for television, including Richard II (1997) with Fiona Shaw; Macbeth (2000), with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter; Hamlet (2008) with David Tennant; and Macbeth (2009) with Patrick Stewart. In 2013 he produced the RSC’s first live-to-cinema broadcast, which brought Gregory Doran’s production of Richard II with David Tennant to more than 370 UK cinemas.


In November last year I produced the Royal Shakespeare Company’s live cinema broadcast of Richard II from Stratford-upon-Avon. State-of-the-art digital cameras and satellite systems took Gregory Doran’s production with David Tennant to more than 380 cinemas across Britain. Also in November my independent production company Illuminations released as a 5-disc DVD box-set the BBC’s 1960 live studio staging of Richard II, along with the seven other History plays in the series An Age of Kings. Fifty-three years separated the two productions, although the similarities are perhaps as striking as the significant differences.

An Age of Kings was a ground-breaking television event in the summer and autumn of 1960. As Britain celebrated the marriage of Princess Margaret and as The Beatles played their first gigs in Germany, BBC Television broadcast a production of William Shakespeare’s eight History plays in fifteen live episodes shown fortnightly on Thursday evenings. It remains the only occasion when a single company and production team has taken on for television all eight of Shakespeare’s major History plays. The series retains a clarity and an immediacy, a sense of scale, a narrative power and a poetic depth that is unparalleled.

Each play from Richard II to Richard III, including also both Henry IV plays, Henry V and the three parts of Henry IV, was allotted two episodes, between 60 and 75 minutes in length, excepting only Henry VI, Part One, which was confined to a single programme. Writing in The Guardian, television critic Mary Crozier praised this ‘tremendous project’ as ‘ambitious… exciting… a striking example of the creative use of television.’ By presenting the eight plays in fifteen fortnightly episodes, An Age of Kings focuses attention on the links between them and effectively renders them as a television serial, giving greater emphasis to the overlapping and continuing roles of characters and issues. The episodes were watched regularly by more than three million viewers in Britain.

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