Monday, March 14, 2011


As I mentioned below one of the programmes we watched for British Invaders was a TV adaptation of 1984 from the BBC in 1954. Orwell's book was adapted for the small screen by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame, and it starred Peter Cushing as Winston Smith and Andre Morell (who would later go onto play Professor Quatermass) as O'Brien.

It's a fantastic production. It was all done live to camera apart from a few pre-filmed exterior shots, and they were mainly used to allow the cast and crew to move sets. The whole thing has a bit of the feel of a tightly knit theatrical performance. Cushing and Morell spark off each other and the exchanges between the two are riveting. And, of course, there is the infamous Room 101 sequence which was recently featured in the 100 scariest moments from film and TV, over 50 years after its first broadcast.

What must it have been like to watch this in 1954? There was Britain just emerging from post-war austerity watching this terrifying portrayal of a rationed and oppressed society. It's no wonder that it provoked a considerable response. There were the proverbial howls of protest in the press and this led to a great story. The production was scheduled for a second performance a week later but there were calls for it to be banned. And then the Duke of Edinburgh happened to be speaking at some television event and mentioned that he and Queen had watched and enjoyed the show. At which point the newspapers had to reverse their opinions and set different critics to review the second performance. Perhaps this was why the BBC gave the go ahead for the second live performance to be recorded for posterity on expensive videotape so that we can watch it today.

You can find 1984 at the internet archive here. It's really worth watching. For more information and reviews of the show give our British Invaders shows a listen here and here.

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