British Universities Film & Video Council

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The History of Forgotten Television Drama in the UK

Dr Lez Cooke provides an introduction to anew project on the history of forgotten television drama in the UK.

birthday_005About the author: Dr Cooke has been researching and writing about television drama since 2000 when he had a sabbatical to research the history of British television drama while working as a Principal Lecturer in Media Studies at Staffordshire University. That research was published three years later: British Television Drama: A History (BFI, 2003). His other publications include A Sense of Place: Regional British Television Drama, 1956-82 (MUP, 2012). He also co-edited, with Robin Nelson, an issue of Critical Studies in Television on ‘Television Archives: Accessing TV History’ (5/2, Autumn 2010).

This 3-year AHRC-funded research project is investigating ‘forgotten’ television dramas produced in the UK between 1946, when television resumed after the Second World War, to the arrival of Channel Four in 1982, when a new era in broadcasting began. The project started in September 2013 and will run until September 2016. The research team consists of Professor John Hill, Dr Lez Cooke and Dr Billy Smart, based in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The project is designed to uncover a ‘lost’ history of British television drama by looking at productions that are largely unknown, perhaps because they were transmitted live and not recorded, or because they were recorded but subsequently wiped, junked, mislaid or lost. It will also examine dramas that exist, either in part (e.g. as individual episodes within a series or serial) or complete, but which have rarely been seen, if at all, since their original transmission.

What may be defined as ‘forgotten’ is, of course, a key question for the project. It could be argued that nothing is completely forgotten because there will always be someone, somewhere, who remembers a particular ‘forgotten’ drama, although as time passes the chances of someone remembering a live transmission such as J.B. Priestley’s The Rose and Crown (BBC, 1946) diminish. A glance through the extremely useful guides to British television drama published by Kaleidoscope, listing every television drama produced in Britain since 1936, reveals many ‘forgotten’ dramas that have not been seen or written about since they were first transmitted and which are ripe for rediscovery. In some cases there may be a good reason why a drama has not been seen since its first screening, such as it being shown live (the first telerecordings date from 1953, but the vast majority of drama shown before 1960 was not recorded). It may also be that a production has been ‘forgotten’ because it was not networked, or because it was poorly received, leading to it being wiped or junked, or stashed away in an archive, never to be seen again.

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