Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

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Wakey
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Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

Does anyone know when exactly (i.e. with which edition) Armchair Theatre moved from ABC's Didsbury to the Teddington studios?

I was going to post this in the Armchair Theatre Archive thread but that, and Billy Smart who was working on those DVDs, seem to have mysteriously vanished from this forum!

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by stearn »

Billy is still around (last posting earlier this month on the Ace of Wands thread). It is possible that it was discussed on the 'Network's Forgotten TV Drama range' thread.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

stearn wrote:Billy is still around (last posting earlier this month on the Ace of Wands thread). It is possible that it was discussed on the 'Network's Forgotten TV Drama range' thread.
Ah, that was it, thanks. Since that thread's been inacitive several months I'll leave this one going for now. Strange about Billy, I tried replying to a PM from him and it said the user ddn't exist or words to that effect. Maybe I just did something wrong. Good to know he's still here.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Billy Smart »

Wakey wrote:Strange about Billy, I tried replying to a PM from him and it said the user ddn't exist or words to that effect. Maybe I just did something wrong. Good to know he's still here.
The user assuredly does exist!

I don't know what date production moved. I think that the first steps I'd take to find out would be to see if Leonard White says anything about it in his Armchair Theatre book (he probably doesn't).

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by fatcat »

Wasn't Afternoon of a Nymph filmed at Teddington ?

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Simon Coward
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

There's not necessarily one answer to the question.

It seems as though Armchair Theatre productions were based and rehearsed at Teddington from April 1959, the first probably being "Parole", broadcast 19/04/1959.

In a feature about Teddington in Television Today (23/04/1959) there are various references to the play and its cast, and to director John Moxey who's described as "the first director to rehearse his cast here".

But it also seems clear that the programme wasn't yet broadcast from Teddington as the same feature says that, "It is fairly certain that by the end of the year Armchair Theatre will be transmitted from Teddington".

At the moment, I can't find anything which mentions that part of the move so I don't know if it there was a point where they stopped using Didsbury and then forever more it was Teddington, or whether there was a cross-over period. But unless the prediction is a long way out, it looks as though it would have happened on Sydney Newman's watch and not on Leonard's.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

Thanks for all the replies. I did look in the White book but as Simon indicates the move had already happened by the time White was involved with Armchair Theatre.

I note that, according to Kaleidoscope, Armchair Theatre was always broadcast live until The Scent of Fear, broadcast from videotape on 13 September 1959. Thereafter they were all videotaped. Might it be reasonable to conclude that Didsbury did not have videotape facilities whereas Teddington did, and that this production change signals the move between the two? Or is that too simplistic an assumption?

Do we know of any programmes being videotaped at Didsbury, or any Armchair Theatres definitely made in Didsbury after mid-September 1959, as that would contradict the theory?

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by JezR »

Howard Thomas' 1977 autobiography says: 'In November 1958 I inspected the empty film studios of Warner Brothers at Teddington … Within four months the staff moved in to produce Armchair Theatre at its London base.'

This autobiography is not always reliable as to timings or details but this lends support to a move in Spring 1959.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

Wakey wrote:Do we know of any programmes being videotaped at Didsbury, or any Armchair Theatres definitely made in Didsbury after mid-September 1959, as that would contradict the theory?
I don't think taping at (or at least from) Didsbury was an issue. Television Today (16/04/1959) notes the following about the Armchair Theatre play "The Trouble with Benny", transmitted on 12/04/1959.
The wonder of Ampex came into full use for the first time last weekend. In the North and Midlands ABC Television screened Armchair Theatre at nine o'clock, but because of a disagreement over networking with ATV, London viewers were not allowed to see it until five minutes past ten.

A company spokesman said: "Ten o'clock is really rather late to put on a full-length play and as we must consider our own particular viewers first, we decided to go ahead and screen the play live from Manchester and Ampex it at the same time."
Obviously, I'm making the assumption that "Manchester" in this context means Didsbury and that ABC didn't de-camp to Granada's studios for the evening.

The next seven AT plays were split-networked in the same fashion and so, presumably, similar methods were employed on those weeks too.

Edit: There's also confirmation from Television Today (28/05/1959) that "Girl on the Beach" (AT, 24/05/1959) was broadcast from Didsbury.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

Thanks Jez and Simon for those last two posts. The plot thickens!

So we know videotaping isn't a useful clue to the move, but also that Didsbury was still in use in May 1959, whereas Howard Thomas suggests the move happened by that spring (but as Jez says, that may not be totally accurate). As it stands, then, all we really know is that the move was sometime after May.

By the way, what's the title of Thomas' autobiography? For other reasons I'd like to read it but googling is struggling to help me due to the common name.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

Wakey wrote:By the way, what's the title of Thomas' autobiography? For other reasons I'd like to read it but googling is struggling to help me due to the common name.
Oh hell, now I've thought of it I'll be humming the bugger all evening. The book is called "With An Independent Air."
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Mark »

Wouldn't have happened in August would it?

Only "Invitation To Murder" 30/8/59, was made at Elstree, could that have been some sort of crossover?
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

Mark wrote:Wouldn't have happened in August would it?

Only "Invitation To Murder" 30/8/59, was made at Elstree, could that have been some sort of crossover?
Both that and "You'll Never See Me Again" (tx 16/08/1959) were made on film, and I assume both were made at Elstree. They were pilots for a possible series Crime Club which never actually came to pass.

"Young David" was also a film - or rather two films, as I believe it was a joining together of a pair of episodes from the forthcoming (and already completed) film series Tales from Dickens, which had also been made at ABPC Elstree.

All of these were the work of Harry Alan Towers' company Towers of London.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

Found this in Television Today (01/10/1959) with regard to the Armchair Theatre production "Worm in the Bud" (tx 27/09/1959).
The designs by Voytek managed to get a great number of sets into the Manchester studio and still make them look large and expansive.
Unlike other comments I've pulled out of Television Today this is a bit throwaway, so I wouldn't like to take it as gospel. Worth bearing in mind, though.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

Thanks for the further replies. I'd never realised Armchair Theatre did filmed plays. Fascinating stuff.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

Wakey wrote:Thanks for the further replies. I'd never realised Armchair Theatre did filmed plays. Fascinating stuff.
In the instances I mentioned, I think it was more that the Armchair Theatre slot was used to show those films than they were specifically made for AT.

In its early days Armchair Theatre sometimes filled in the summer months with a kind of interlude season, "Summer Armchair Theatre" in 1957 and 1959 (when the three filmed plays I've mentioned were shown) and "Armchair Mystery Theatre" in 1961 - the latter also reappearing in 1964. These might have a different producer to the main run - e.g. Harry Alan Towers in 1959 and Leonard White in 1961, while Sydney Newman was in charge of the main series.

By the way, has anyone looked at Sydney Newman's autobiography to see if he mentions Teddington in this context? Embarrassingly, I still haven't got around to buying it.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by fatcat »

Simon Coward wrote:
Mark wrote:Wouldn't have happened in August would it?

Only "Invitation To Murder" 30/8/59, was made at Elstree, could that have been some sort of crossover?
Both that and "You'll Never See Me Again" (tx 16/08/1959) were made on film, and I assume both were made at Elstree. They were pilots for a possible series Crime Club which never actually came to pass.

"Young David" was also a film - or rather two films, as I believe it was a joining together of a pair of episodes from the forthcoming (and already completed) film series Tales from Dickens, which had also been made at ABPC Elstree.

All of these were the work of Harry Alan Towers' company Towers of London.
You may know this? but Harry Towers started film production by looking for an economical quick way to make movies..in front of him was the answer - television multi camera studio shoots- he got involved with television engineering sage Norman Collins who found him some high resolution (800-1000 line) Pye TV cameras to help disguise the fact they were more or less cheap TV rather than a traditional film. Things did not go to plan with getting his films distributed, but then ITV came along and he found a market for the ones he had already shot ..and thus these 'plays' turned up in early ITV umbrella titles. Being tiny budgets many were shot in the smaller (now long gone)London studios rather than Elstree etc.

Something like that anyway.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

fatcat wrote:You may know this? but Harry Towers started film production by looking for an economical quick way to make movies..in front of him was the answer - television multi camera studio shoots- he got involved with television engineering sage Norman Collins who found him some high resolution (800-1000 line) Pye TV cameras to help disguise the fact they were more or less cheap TV rather than a traditional film. Things did not go to plan with getting his films distributed, but then ITV came along and he found a market for the ones he had already shot ..and thus these 'plays' turned up in early ITV umbrella titles. Being tiny budgets many were shot in the smaller (now long gone)London studios rather than Elstree etc.
Ah yes, the so-called "High-Definition Films" shot at Highbury.

I'd be interested to see a bit more info which showed which of these had been produced in advance of ITV's existence. I don't mean just those filmed in the summer of 1955 ready for the September, but those which had already been made but which had failed to find a home until ITV came along.

Until recently, I'd assumed that these were just glorified telerecordings, live productions captured via a fancy TV monitor straight to film. But a script I've seen recently shows that at least some of the films created using this method were shot across multiple days and edited together afterwards. It was still a quicker process than proper filming, because the multi-camera set-up enabled a single scene to be shot from all the necessary angles in one go, but they were (or could be, I don't know how typical this example was) a long way from an as-live production.

At the risk of derailing this thread further, similar ideas were being tried in the 1970s. This from Genome, the BBC's Cinema Now series.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

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Simon Coward wrote: Ah yes, the so-called "High-Definition Films" shot at Highbury.

I'd be interested to see a bit more info which showed which of these had been produced in advance of ITV's existence. I don't mean just those filmed in the summer of 1955 ready for the September, but those which had already been made but which had failed to find a home until ITV came along.

Until recently, I'd assumed that these were just glorified telerecordings, live productions captured via a fancy TV monitor straight to film. But a script I've seen recently shows that at least some of the films created using this method were shot across multiple days and edited together afterwards. It was still a quicker process than proper filming, because the multi-camera set-up enabled a single scene to be shot from all the necessary angles in one go, but they were (or could be, I don't know how typical this example was) a long way from an as-live production.

At the risk of derailing this thread further, similar ideas were being tried in the 1970s. This from Genome, the BBC's Cinema Now series.
I hope I have not derailed the thread?..as I just wanted to bring to attention that some of those Harry Tower films may have turned up in AT or ITV Playhouse etc slots in the early days of ITV. I think a recently discovered 16mm print of the ITV television Playhouse Quay South was one of those films?

Whatever happened to the Towers films, Harry has kept close to his chest, he appears to have given up on his original venture around the start of ITV , one of the studios he was using was taken over by AR for Double Your Money and it is rumoured that the first TR's of the show were made using the HD cameras that were already there..however AR soon replaced them with normal 405 line cameras.
I think Harry's last flirtation with TV was a historical adventure series called The Gay Cavalier which I believe is also missing?

i suppose one of the last successful marrying of electronic and film in the UK was Rock and Roll Circus for the Rolling Stones using cameras which i think produced a 16mm colour film and a B & W VT ..which of course the RS abandoned as a TV production but kept the 16mm forgotten in a safe for many years..However these temperamental cameras then went into history as the BBC Cream concert and ITV's Liberace show etc proved that standard colour TRs from regular electronic cameras were quite adequate and disposable copies for situations with limited VT facilities and differing standards.



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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

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fatcat wrote: I hope I have not derailed the thread?..as I just wanted to bring to attention that some of those Harry Tower films may have turned up in AT or ITV Playhouse etc slots in the early days of ITV. I think a recently discovered 16mm print of the ITV television Playhouse Quay South was one of those films?
Without doubt, "Quay South" was one of the productions produced in that way, it was more the "sitting on a shelf with no buyer" aspect that I was particularly keen to learn more about. The script I mentioned seeing was for another production shown in the same series as "Quay South": "Frolic Wind". All the paperwork for that shows that rehearsal and production took place in September and October 1955 and, given that the series of films / plays was already airing by that point, presumably it was an ATV commission. I suppose I should have said "ABC commission", but in a thread related to the more familiar ABC it would just be confusing.
fatcat wrote:Whatever happened to the Towers films, Harry has kept close to his chest, he appears to have given up on his original venture around the start of ITV , one of the studios he was using was taken over by AR for Double Your Money and it is rumoured that the first TR's of the show were made using the HD cameras that were already there..however AR soon replaced them with normal 405 line cameras.
It's certainly the case that Double Your Money was filmed, presumably using a similar method, in order that the finished shows had a good balance of contestants and successes / failures. I've no idea about the cameras / monitors used.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

Simon Coward wrote: By the way, has anyone looked at Sydney Newman's autobiography to see if he mentions Teddington in this context? Embarrassingly, I still haven't got around to buying it.
Yes, I read it recently. It isn't terribly helpful on this point and he doesn't write about Armchair Theatre in strictly chronological order so it's hard to draw any conclusions from his various remarks about Didsbury and Teddington. I'd definitely recommend giving it a read though, it's very interesting in places, though often as much for what he omits as for what he includes.

Thanks for the book name, Simon.

All fascinating stuff about the filmed plays, so no one need worry about 'hijacking' the thread. I think we've concluded we don't have an answer to my initial query anyway.

I think there's something about using a VT studio to make films in Rex Firkin's book 'High Drama', but I don't recall much about it.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by fatcat »

Harry Towers possible last flirt with Armchair Theatre was Young David circa 1959. The presence of Sherwin Greene indicates that this was a film shoot rather than a traditional AT studio production. As we know AT was a quick turnaround show and subject to the forces of the day (religious groups etc) and this may have been on the shelf to fill a slot left by a play that had been delayed,censored etc ?....or indeed it may have been commissioned just for AT ?

It will be interesting what you can find out Simon ..as also not sure if HAT worked for or just sold to Lew Grade as well?
ie his series Tales of Dickens was that an ITC production or a pure HAT production? ...this apparently garnered very little interest in the UK but sold well abroad.....the AT ep Young David could have well been an orphaned ep from this series as it was a cod hash on young David Copperfield.


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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Simon Coward »

fatcat wrote:Harry Towers possible last flirt with Armchair Theatre was Young David circa 1959. The presence of Sherwin Greene indicates that this was a film shoot rather than a traditional AT studio production. As we know AT was a quick turnaround show and subject to the forces of the day (religious groups etc) and this may have been on the shelf to fill a slot left by a play that had been delayed,censored etc ?....or indeed it may have been commissioned just for AT ?
A review (Television Today again - 10/09/1959) mentions that "Young David" is two episodes of the series Tales from Dickens
"Young David" was a film or rather two films — they come from a series made by Harry Alan Towers — which dealt with the early days of David Copperfield.
which at least helps to explain why it no longer seems to survive, perhaps the combined version (assuming they were actually combined and not just run one after the other, credits and all) was specially put-together for Armchair Theatre, although you can imagine other broadcasters might have wanted a longer - if not exactly feature-length - pilot.

In fact there are a few other occasions where pairs of episodes were shown together in a 50-60 minute slot, though in they instances I've spotted they were billed separately e.g. "The Runaways" and "A Christmas Carol" together on 27/12/1959 and "Miss Havisham" and "The Old Soldier" on 25/12/1966.

Although the series wasn't exactly pounced-upon as a winner by the ITV companies in the late 1950s and early 60s, it had some longevity. Yorkshire Television showed a number of them in late 1969, Thames broadcast a couple in December the same year, while Border showed a few in 1970 and 1971.
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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by TonyCurrie »

Much earlier, Towers was one of the first indie radio producers, making a variety of series for syndication to stations mostly in the British Empire, some sponsored by the Daily Mail. What happened to him .... well, I've often thought of cobbling together a book about the man, because Wikipedia says that

"in 1961 Towers, with girlfriend Mariella Novotny, was charged with operating a vice ring at a New York hotel, but he jumped bail and returned to Europe. Novotny, in her statement to the FBI, claimed Towers was a Soviet agent responsible for providing compromising information on individuals for the benefit of the USSR. Lobster Magazine ran an article in 1983 citing sources who alleged Towers was linked with (among others) Stephen Ward, Peter Lawford, the Soviet Union, and a vice ring at the United Nations. Hearst Corporation newspapers had already mentioned Towers' name in a 1963 article featuring coded references to a liaison between a pre-White House John F. Kennedy and Novotny, a known prostitute. The charges against Towers were dropped in 1980 after he paid a £4,200 fine for jumping bail."

oh, and as for using VT for the Teddington stuff - possibly the original reason was the (at the time) absence of BT circuits from Teddington into the rest of the ITV Network.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Brian F »

Technically at that time, Tony, they would have been GPO circuits. BT didn't exist until 1981 and then it was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Post Office. I was working for Post office telecoms at the time the first step to privatisation took place

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Wakey »

TonyCurrie wrote: oh, and as for using VT for the Teddington stuff - possibly the original reason was the (at the time) absence of BT circuits from Teddington into the rest of the ITV Network.
Apologies if I'm being dim, but what's the significance of that? Does it mean that from Teddington ABC could transmit only to their own region and not the whole network? If so, why would they operate from there at all? And from where would a videotaped programme get networked?

All that aside, in view of information in earlier posts that videtaping began in Didsbury, and that according to Kaleidoscope taping was then solidly used without a return to live transmission, I'm inclined to think the change was deliberate, not forced upon ABC by a technical obstacle.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by TonyCurrie »

Wakey wrote:
TonyCurrie wrote: oh, and as for using VT for the Teddington stuff - possibly the original reason was the (at the time) absence of BT circuits from Teddington into the rest of the ITV Network.
Apologies if I'm being dim, but what's the significance of that? Does it mean that from Teddington ABC could transmit only to their own region and not the whole network? If so, why would they operate from there at all? And from where would a videotaped programme get networked?

All that aside, in view of information in earlier posts that videtaping began in Didsbury, and that according to Kaleidoscope taping was then solidly used without a return to live transmission, I'm inclined to think the change was deliberate, not forced upon ABC by a technical obstacle.
The ITA leased Post office circuits for the ITV companies to send programmes from studio centres to PO switching centres, where the ITV network was configured for every programme transmission. ABC had the contracts for Midlands and North weekends, not London (where Teddington is) and it may have taken some time to add the necessary playout circuits from Teddington into the PO network. Until that happened no live broadcast from Teddington would have been possible, but as the studios would have posessed VT machines, it's logical to consider that initially programmes would have been made on VT and the tapes sent to the nearest ABC VT playout centre that was connected to the network.

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Re: Armchair Theatre query - re Didsbury to Teddington

Post by Mark »

Simon Coward wrote:
Mark wrote:Wouldn't have happened in August would it?

Only "Invitation To Murder" 30/8/59, was made at Elstree, could that have been some sort of crossover?
Both that and "You'll Never See Me Again" (tx 16/08/1959) were made on film, and I assume both were made at Elstree. They were pilots for a possible series Crime Club which never actually came to pass.

"Young David" was also a film - or rather two films, as I believe it was a joining together of a pair of episodes from the forthcoming (and already completed) film series Tales from Dickens, which had also been made at ABPC Elstree.

All of these were the work of Harry Alan Towers' company Towers of London.
If TT were wrong about "Worm In The Bud", then "Invitation To Murder" and the already completed "Young David" could have been a stopgap between Didsbury and Teddington, with "The Scent Of Fear" (13/9/59) being the first from the latter.

If it wasn't wrong, the earliest mention of a Teddington play I have seen online, is "Dr Kabil" (6/12/59) which would narrow it down to nine plays between "Worm In The Bud" and "Dr Kabil".
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