British Universities Film & Video Council

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Television production of Hamlet, heavily abridged. Directed by Peter Brook with Paul Scofield as Hamlet. The Phoenix Theatre, London stage production went out live from a studio; it was thought that such a drastically cut version required elucidation to clarify the plot for the viewers and Brook provided a narration between cuts. Brook opened the production by stating ‘We have about 90 minutes and are trying to show you a play which in the theatre takes us well over three hours. We are going to try to swoop down on to some of the highlights of the play’.
Great Britain
Transmission details
27 Feb 1956 at 20:00 (Channel: ITV)
90 mins
No archive copy known to exist.


Peter Brook
Paul ScofieldHamlet
Alec ClunesClaudius
Diana WynyardGertrude
Ernest ThesigerPolonius
Mary UreOphelia
Harry H. CorbettGravedigger
Richard JohnsonLaertes

Additional Details

Production type
Television and Radio Drama
Shakespeare, William (1564-1616)
Related items
Christmas Afternoon


Associated Television Ltd (ATV), the weekday contractor, agreed a policy with Associated-Rediffusion Television, the London contractor, whereby a series of plays would go out live on Monday evenings and be seen on Channel 8 & 9 in London and the Midlands. HAMLET was the first of these.

The play was shown in three parts. Between Parts one and two an advertisement for MacDougall’s flour was shown; between two and three an advertisement for sausages. The perceived collision between culture and commercialism was debated by several reviewers.

The 1955 staging of Hamlet, along with The Family Reunion and The Power and the Glory was part of a Brook/Scofield season at the Phoenix Theatre, London It was the third-longest unbroken run of Hamlet in English stage history (124 performances). Hamlet had a triumphant reception in Moscow at the Moscow Arts Theatre and Scofield was awarded the CBE on the strength of his performance shortly after his return in 1956.
This was the first production of a Shakespeare play on British commercial television. The sound faded out before the close of Fortinbras’ final speech and moved into an advertising jingle for Sunfresh orange juice with the announcer saying ‘and there we must leave Hamlet’. Peter Brook was outraged and sent a telegram to Kenneth Clark, Chairman of the IBA, who later apologised for the technical problems.

TV Times was not published for the week of transmission (and for several weeks afterwards) due to an industrial dispute.
The play commanded 16% of Band III homes [homes that could receive both BBC and ITV]; audiences fell to 8% in the first quarter of an hour and never rose beyond 15%.
Minty, John. Birmingham Gazette (28 February 1956)
W.H.W. Birmingham Mail (28 February 1956)
G.B-R. The Star (28 February 1956), p12
Jay, Ivor. Birmingham Evening Despatch (28 February 1956)
Black, Peter. Daily Mail (28 February 1956).
Terris, Olwen. ‘The Forgotten Hamlet’, Shakespeare Bulletin, vol.25, no.2, Summer 2007, pp. 35-9.

Production Company




H.M. Tennant Globe Productions

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