|Based on||Novel by George Orwell|
|Written by||Nigel Kneale|
|Directed by||Rudolph Cartier|
|Narrated by||Richard Williams|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||1|
|Running time||105-107 minutes|
|Original release||12 December 1954 (see text)|
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a British television adaptation of the 1949 novel of the same name by George Orwell, originally broadcast on BBC Television in December 1954. The production proved to be hugely controversial, with questions asked in Parliament and many viewer complaints over its supposed subversive nature and horrific content. In a 2000 poll of industry experts conducted by the British Film Institute to determine the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four was ranked in seventy-third position.
Orwell's novel was adapted for television by Nigel Kneale, one of the most prolific television scriptwriters of the time.The previous year he had created the character of Professor Bernard Quatermass for the popular science-fiction serial The Quatermass Experiment . The adaptation was produced and directed by the equally respected Rudolph Cartier, perhaps the BBC's best producer-director of the 1950s who was always adventurous artistically and technically. Cartier, a veteran of the UFA film studios in 1930s Germany who had fled the Nazi regime for Britain in 1936, had worked with Kneale the previous year on The Quatermass Experiment and was a veteran of many television drama productions.
It was his work on Quatermass that had prompted the BBC's Head of Drama, Michael Barry, to ask Cartier to work on an adaptation of the novel, having shown his abilities with literary sources in a version of Wuthering Heights , again with Kneale handling the scripting. – which would have been about 30 years before the novel was set – had to be postponed.The BBC had purchased the rights to a television version of Nineteen Eighty-Four soon after its publication in 1949, with Kenneth Tynan having apparently originally been keen on adapting the work. The first version of the script, produced in late 1953, was written by Hugh Faulks, in consultation with Orwell's widow Sonia Brownell, but when Cartier joined in January 1954 he demanded that Kneale be allowed to handle the adaptation. This and other complexities of production meant that the April airdate
The role of Winston Smith was taken by Peter Cushing, one of his first major roles.Cartier cast him after having been impressed with his performance in a BBC production of Anastasia the previous year. Cushing went on to become a film star, as would his co-star Donald Pleasence, who played Syme. Pleasence was the only member of the cast present in the 1956 feature film adaptation of the story, playing an amalgamation of Syme and Parsons with the latter's name.
Other cast members included Yvonne Mitchell, who had starred in the Kneale/Cartier Wuthering Heights, as Julia, and André Morell as O'Brien.Wilfrid Brambell, later known for his roles in Steptoe and Son and as Paul McCartney's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night , appeared in two roles, as the old man Winston speaks with in the pub and as a prisoner later on when Winston is incarcerated. Nigel Kneale who had briefly acted in the 1940s before turning to scriptwriting, had a small voice-over role as an announcer. The face of Big Brother was Roy Oxley, a member of the BBC design department whose inclusion was something of an in-joke on the part of the production team.
The composer of the incidental music for the programme was John Hotchkis, who insisted on a larger than usual orchestra to perform the piece.Kneale hated music off disc so the score was conducted live to the performance by Hotchkis from Lime Grove Studio E, next door to where the play was being staged, with Hotchkis and his orchestra following the action on a closed-circuit screen to synchronise their performance.
Until the early 1960s, the vast majority of the BBC's television was performed live.Nonetheless, there was a certain degree of pre-shooting in the form of inserts on film, which could be played into the studio and broadcast as part of the play to cover changes of scene or show location material which would have been impossible to mount live in the studio. Initial filming for Nineteen Eighty-Four took place on 10 November 1954 in Studio B of Alexandra Palace (even by then all but abandoned as a venue for shooting drama, although it housed the news and later the Open University for the next thirty years), with footage of the Two Minutes' Hate and some of the canteen scenes being filmed there.
Further location shooting took place on 18 November which were exterior scenes featuring Smith's travels in the proletarian sector. According to Peter Cushing, speaking on Late Night Line-Up in 1965, these scenes were filmed on the demolition site that became BBC Television Centre.Following the filming, rehearsals for the cast began at Mary Ward Settlement, Tavistock Place from 22 November (moving to 60 Paddington Street from 29 November). During these rehearsals, the cast memorised their lines and cues as important in a live television production as in a stage play.
The cast and crew moved to Studio D at the BBC's Lime Grove Studios on Saturday 11 December 1954 for a full camera rehearsal and run-through. Rehearsals continued the following day until shortly before transmission, which began at 20:37 Sunday 12 December and continued for the best part of two hours.
Kneale's script was a largely faithful adaptation of the novel as far as was practical. The writer made some small additions, the most notable being the creation of a sequence in which O'Brien observes Julia at work in PornoSec and reads a small segment from one of the erotic novels being written by the machines.
The play provoked something of an upset.There were complaints about the "horrific" content (particularly the Room 101 scene where Smith is threatened with torture by rats) and the "subversive" nature of the play. Most were worried by the depiction of a totalitarian regime controlling the population's freedom of thought. There was also a report in the Daily Express newspaper of 42-year-old Beryl Merfin of Herne Bay collapsing and dying as she watched the production, under the headline "Wife dies as she watches", allegedly from the shock of what she had seen. An anonymous reviewer in The Times wrote: "Inevitably, in a dramatic presentation of the book much of the irony is lost; and the weakness of this television version was that concentrating on the action it reduced the ideological explanation so drastically that it robbed the story of at least half its power". It was a "pictorial simplification" of "Orwell's vision". The writer, however, admired the performances of Cushing, Mitchell and Morell.
Political reaction was divided, with several early day motions and amendments tabled in the Parliament. One motion, signed by five MPs, deplored "the tendency, evident in recent British Broadcasting Corporation television programmes, notably on Sunday evenings, to pander to sexual and sadistic tastes".An amendment was tabled which sought to make the motion now deplore "the tendency of honourable members to attack the courage and enterprise of the British Broadcasting Corporation in presenting plays and programmes capable of appreciation by adult minds, on Sunday evenings and other occasions." It was signed by five MPs. Another amendment added "but is thankful that the freedom of the individual still permits viewers to switch off and, due to the foresight of her Majesty's Government, will soon permit a switch-over to be made to more appropriate programmes." A second motion signed by six MPs, applauded "the sincere attempts of the BBC. to bring home to the British people the logical and soul-destroying consequences of the surrender of their freedom" and calling attention to the fact that "many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play Nineteen Eighty-Four are already in common use under totalitarian régimes.", Even the Queen and Prince Philip made it known that they had watched and enjoyed the play.
Amidst objections the BBC went ahead with a complete live restaging on Thursday 16 December, although the decision went to the Board of Governors, which narrowly voted in favour of the second performance. This was introduced live on camera by Head of Drama Michael Barry, who had already appeared on the Monday's edition of the topical news programme Panorama to defend the production. The seven million viewers who watched the Thursday performance was the largest television audience in the UK since the Coronation the previous year.
At the time, television images could only be preserved on film by using a special recording apparatus (known as "telerecording" in the UK and "kinescoping" in the USA) but was used sparingly in Britain for preservation and not for pre-recording. It is thus the second performance, one of the earliest surviving British television dramas, that is preserved in the archives.
Spike Milligan wrote a parody of Nineteen Eighty-Four for The Goon Show entitled 1985, broadcast on 4 January 1955.The cast of characters included Worker 846 Winston Seagoon (Harry Secombe), Miss Sfnut (Peter Sellers) and Worker 213 Eccles (Milligan); Big Brother was replaced by the Big Brother Corporation (i.e. the BBC) and Goldstein's revolution by Horace Minikstein's Independent Television Army (i.e. the Independent Television Authority). Jokes included such stabs at the BBC as:
Announcer (Sellers): "Attention BBC workers! Lunch is now being served in the BBC Canteen. Doctors are standing by."
Seagoon is tortured in Room 101 by being forced to listen to clips from Ray's a Laugh , Life with the Lyons and the singing of Harry Secombe. Unlike the original script, Seagoon is freed from Room 101 and the ITA overthrows the BBC after a three-day phone call and a £10 bribe. However, when Seagoon hears the ITA's output, he wants the BBC brought back.
The programme was such a success that the script was performed again on 8 February 1955. This was not a repeat – it was a new broadcast of the same script with minor changes. One change was the recorded addition of John Snagge as the BBC announcer previously portrayed by Sellers.
The first version exists in pristine form in the BBC archives, the second performance only as a lower-quality off-air recording, which excludes the first five minutes of the programme and both musical interludes, preserving about 18 minutes of material.
Although the 35mm telerecording of the 16 December show was fortunately spared from the BBC's wiping policy, it was twenty-three years before it received a repeat broadcast in 1977. Another proposed repeat as part of the BBC's fiftieth anniversary of television celebrations in 1986 was overruled by the producers of the 1984 John Hurt/Richard Burton feature film, who felt that earlier versions would affect income for their film. The BBC was permitted to show the play again in 1994 on BBC Two, as a tribute to the recently deceased Cartier and again in June 2003 on digital station BBC Four as part of the George Orwell centenary celebrations.
Kneale's adaptation was produced again by the BBC, with some modifications in 1965. Starring David Buck, Joseph O'Conor, Jane Merrow and Cyril Shaps, it was broadcast in BBC2's Theatre 625 anthology series as part of a season of Orwell adaptations sub-titled The World of George Orwell, on 28 November 1965.Long believed lost, on 12 September 2010 it was announced that a copy had been located at the American Library of Congress, although an approximately seven-minute segment in the middle was unrecoverable from the NTSC video tape recording. It was recovered amongst a horde of over 80 lost British television episodes dating from 1957 to 1970. In 1965, a radio adaptation was broadcast on the BBC Home Service with Patrick Troughton, soon to become the Second Doctor in Doctor Who .
Scenes from Nineteen Eighty-Four, along with the 1954 adaptation of Animal Farm, were featured in "The Two Winstons", the final episode of Simon Schama's program A History of Britain .
Professor Bernard Quatermass is a fictional scientist, originally created by the writer Nigel Kneale for BBC Television. An intelligent and highly moral British scientist, Quatermass is a pioneer of the British space programme, heading the British Experimental Rocket Group. He continually finds himself confronting sinister alien forces that threaten to destroy humanity.
Thomas Nigel Kneale was a Manx screenwriter who wrote professionally for more than 50 years, was a winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and was twice nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay. In 2000, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association.
Quatermass and the Pit is a British television science-fiction serial transmitted live by BBC Television in December 1958 and January 1959. It was the third and last of the BBC's Quatermass serials, although the chief character, Professor Bernard Quatermass, reappeared in a 1979 ITV production called Quatermass. Like its predecessors, Quatermass and the Pit was written by Nigel Kneale.
The Quatermass Experiment is a British science fiction serial broadcast by BBC Television during the summer of 1953 and re-staged by BBC Four in 2005. Set in the near future against the background of a British space programme, it tells the story of the first manned flight into space, supervised by Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group.
Quatermass II is a British science-fiction serial, originally broadcast by BBC Television in the autumn of 1955. It is the second in the Quatermass series by writer Nigel Kneale, and the oldest of those serials to survive in its entirety in the BBC archives.
Cecil André Mesritz, known professionally as André Morell, was an English actor. He appeared frequently in theatre, film and on television from the 1930s to the 1970s. His best known screen roles were as Professor Bernard Quatermass in the BBC Television serial Quatermass and the Pit (1958–59), and as Doctor Watson in the Hammer Film Productions version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). He also appeared in the films The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Ben-Hur (1959), in several of Hammer's horror films throughout the 1960s and in the acclaimed ITV historical drama The Caesars (1968).
Quatermass is a British television science fiction serial produced by Euston Films for Thames Television and broadcast on the ITV network in October and November 1979. Like its three predecessors, Quatermass was written by Nigel Kneale. It is the fourth and final television serial to feature the character of Professor Bernard Quatermass. In this version, the character is played by John Mills.
Rudolph Cartier was an Austrian television director, filmmaker, screenwriter and producer who worked predominantly in British television, exclusively for the BBC. He is best known for his 1950s collaborations with screenwriter Nigel Kneale, most notably the Quatermass serials and their 1954 adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Yvonne Mitchell was an English actress and author. After beginning her acting career in theatre, Mitchell progressed to films in the late 1940s. Her roles include Julia in the 1954 BBC adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. She retired from acting in 1977.
The Wednesday Play is an anthology series of British television plays which ran on BBC1 for six seasons from October 1964 to May 1970. The plays were usually written for television, although adaptations from other sources also featured. The series gained a reputation for presenting contemporary social dramas, and for bringing issues to the attention of a mass audience that would not otherwise have been discussed on screen.
Theatre 625 is a British television drama anthology series, produced by the BBC and transmitted on BBC2 from 1964 to 1968. It was one of the first regular programmes in the line-up of the channel, and the title referred to its production and transmission being in the higher-definition 625-line format, which only BBC2 used at the time.
The Year of the Sex Olympics is a 1968 television play made by the BBC and first broadcast on BBC2 as part of Theatre 625. It stars Leonard Rossiter, Tony Vogel, Suzanne Neve and Brian Cox, and was directed by Michael Elliott. The writer was Nigel Kneale, best known as the creator of Quatermass.
Patricia "Paddy" Russell was a British television director. She was among the earliest female directors at the BBC.
The Stone Tape is a television play directed by Peter Sasdy and starring Michael Bryant, Jane Asher, Michael Bates and Iain Cuthbertson. It was broadcast on BBC Two as a Christmas ghost story in 1972. Combining aspects of science fiction and horror, the story concerns a team of scientists who move into their new research facility, a renovated Victorian mansion that has a reputation for being haunted. The team investigate the phenomena, trying to determine if the stones of the building are acting as a recording medium for past events. However, their investigations serve only to unleash a darker, more malevolent force.
The Abominable Snowman is a 1957 British fantasy-horror film directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale, based on his own BBC television play The Creature. Produced by Hammer Films, the plot follows the exploits of British scientist Dr. John Rollason, who joins an American expedition, led by glory-seeker Tom Friend, to search the Himalayas for the legendary Yeti. Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis and Arnold Marle appear in supporting roles.
George Orwell's dystopian political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, has been adapted for the cinema, radio, television, theatre, opera and ballet.
British television science fiction refers to popular programmes in the genre that have been produced by both the BBC and Britain's largest commercial channel, ITV. The BBC's Doctor Who is listed in the Guinness World Records as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world and as the "most successful" science fiction series of all time.
Arrow to the Heart is a British television drama, broadcast live twice by BBC Television in 1952, four days apart, and again in 1956. It was adapted from the 1950 German novel Unruhige Nacht by Albrecht Goes.
Jane Josephine Meirowsky, known professionally as Jane Merrow, after a suburb of Guildford, is a British actress who has been active from the 1960s in both Britain and the United States.
Sunday Night Theatre was a long-running series of televised live television plays screened by BBC Television from early 1950 until 1959.