British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Screen Plays – Methodology

The Screen Plays database holds information on all known British television productions of plays which were originally written for the theatre. To be clear, these are ‘television plays’ in the sense of Shakespeare’s Macbeth produced for television, rather than plays written especially for the medium (such as Cathy Come Home, 1966) or dramatizations of novels.

Furthermore, the scope of the database extends only to productions of theatre plays which were presented on British television as acknowledged productions of the original plays in their entirety or as substantial extracts. It is accepted that, in very many cases, theatre plays are abridged in order to fit in with the television schedule: abridgements of plays, or extracts from plays, which are presented as the main body of a programme, do fall within our remit. Sometimes severe abridgements of plays are presented as programmes televised for schools. Decisions on their inclusion, or not, have usually been made bearing in mind the broader context of the series in which the programme was presented.

A theatre play which has been significantly adapted into a new work specifically for television falls outside the methodological boundaries of the database: an example would be Andrew Davies’ re-imagining of Othello (ITV, 2001), with a black Metropolitan Police Commissioner played by Eamonn Walker as the central character.

Pantomimes fall within the Screen Plays net, but ice shows do not. Opera is beyond our methodological remit, but musical theatre is included on the basis that, in musicals, words are of greater dramatic force than the music (and see here for John Wyver’s discussion of this point).

Occasionally, difficult decisions have had to be made about whether what appears to be a theatre play produced for television falls within the methodological net or not. Occasionally, a play originally written for the theatre had its premiere performance on television, in advance of its stage premiere. Similarly, plays written for radio sometimes developed a performance life both on the stage and on television, often in tandem. Where there is a clear relationship between the play and the stage or where further research is necessary – for example, to ascertain the relationship of a television version of a play to an original radio play and to a subsequent theatre version – we have tended to err on the side of inclusion, adding some words on the rationale in the notes on the production record. Also, there are cases when what appear to be dramatizations of novels are included, but this is only when the television production draws on a theatrical adaptation of the novel, a relationship which is again outlined in the notes.

Occasionally, a planned production, which appears in the television schedules, did not make it to the screen for one reason and another. These productions are not usually included in the database.

The television transmission of each production is, ideally, supported by evidence from two separate sources of information – so, a listings magazine such as TV Times and a review in The Times. Work on adding sources to production records is ongoing. In fact, the database aspires to document all the audiovisual and print sources that are known to exist for each of these productions – from archival production files, contemporary newspaper reviews and scholarly work to any extant recordings (both those that exist in archives and those that are available commercially). The process of fully documenting each production in this way is also ongoing.