WWII planes over Pebble Mill by Bhasker Solanki

These photos probably date from the early 1980s. The planes are from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Lancaster Bomber joined the Flight in 1973, so the photos certainly post-date that. The event was probably an item for the lunchtime magazine show, Pebble Mill at One.

Brian Parker

Brian Parker on his 90th birthday. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

This blog is written by academic Lez Cooke about director Brian Parker, who worked on a number of significant Pebble Mill dramas. It was published on the Forgotten Drama website: https://forgottentelevisiondrama.wordpress.com/2021/01/03/brian-parker-1929-2020/
“Brian Parker, who died on 8 December 2020, had a long and eclectic career in television, initially as an actor, first appearing as a seventeen year-old in a live production of Dickens’ Bardell Against Pickwick (BBC 1946), where he played Master Bardell, and then as director of a wide variety of television drama, including popular series such as the BBC’s Softly Softly (from 1966-71) and The Troubleshooters (1966-68), YorkshireTelevision’s Hadleigh (1969-71), Granada Television’s Crown Court (1973-77) and Thames Television’s The Bill (1988-2001). Alongside these assignments he directed single plays for series such as The Wednesday Play and Play for Today, including Auto Stop (BBC 1965) with David Hemmings, Julia Jones’ A Designing Woman (BBC 1965), Peter Terson’s Shakespeare – or Bust (BBC 1973), Alan Plater’s Land of Green Ginger (BBC 1973) and James Duthie’s Donal and Sally (BBC 1978), for which Parker won the award for Best Direction at the 1979 Prague International Television Festival. Donal and Sally was about the relationship between two young people with learning difficulties, a subject Parker had previously explored in Steven (BBC 1974), a play he devised and directed for a short series produced by Tony Garnett.
In the 1960s-70s Parker had a particularly productive working relationship with David Rose, appearing as an actor in episodes of Scotland Yard (BBC 1960) and Z Cars (BBC 1964), both produced by Rose, then as director on 18 episodes of Softly Softly, for which Rose produced the first two series, and on four episodes of Alan Plater’s The First Lady (BBC 1968) which Rose also produced. In the 1970s Parker was reunited with Rose when the latter became Head of BBC English Regions Drama in Birmingham, directing four Plays for Today produced by Rose: Shakespeare – or Bust, Land of Green Ginger, David Halliwell’s Steps Back (1973) and Barry Collins’ The Lonely Man’s Lover (1974), plus four half-hour plays: Jack Rosenthal’s Thirty Minute Theatre play, And For My Next Trick (BBC 1972) and three Second City Firsts.
I first met Brian Parker at a Kaleidoscope event in 2014 where David Rose was introducing Medico (BBC 1959), a recently discovered drama-documentary which Rose directed. Parker described Rose as his ‘mentor’, underlining the important influence Rose had on his career. After the event he emailed me:
I really enjoyed the event last weekend and made amazing discoveries! My acting and directing mentor is still brilliantly defying Parkinson, one of my early shows is in the Library of Congress (after it was transmitted the writer took me to lunch, we ordered, and he said “what went wrong?”) and people are actually looking at stuff made long before home-recording was possible.
Sadly, the next occasion we met was at the memorial service for David Rose in 2017.
In July 2020 I contacted Brian Parker to see what he remembered about Steps Back, the David Halliwell Play for Today about which I was writing a piece as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Play for Today. Parker replied immediately, providing much useful information about the production of the play and it sparked an exchange of emails about his television work which continued until shortly before his death.”
Lez Cooke

Pebble Mill at One, Studio C

Copyright Simon Harris, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980’s photo of the Pebble Mill at One studio, in the converted foyer of Pebble Mill. Note the Links cameras

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Wendy Lewis Edwards: Four years on Pebble Mill at One then back years later for Good Morning with Anne and Nick. Remember Beryl Reid crawling on all fours across the floor between cameras to pull faces at Val Doonican singing away with his guitar. The viewing audience were completely unaware…

Julian Hitchcock: I hardly know where to begin. I first worked in the foyer in late 1978, worked on countless Saturday Night at the Mill programmes and hundreds of PM@1s.

Oddly, my last visit was as a guest on the Anne and Nick daytime show that took the same slot, in 1995, when I was escorted there and back in a limousine. On that occasion, I deliberately wore a checked jacket to pull the TM’s leg. (Sorry).

Eurwyn Jones: I remember working on Saturday Night at the Mill and Ginger Rogers arriving in a big car and walking in through the double doors.

The production team were Roy Ronnie, Roy Norton, Patricia Mifflin and Peter Wisdom.
David Crozier: I have many happy memories of being the designer on both Pebble Mill at One and Saturday Night at the Mill. I always loved the live TV atmosphere on both these shows. It was the Pebble Mill live TV experience which inspired my career change, a few years later, to becoming a TV director. I always enjoyed directing multi-camera live TV shows and the impression left by my time at Pebble Mill has never left me!
Carolyn Davies: Forgot how narrow it was! Amazingly well utilised space, remember it well for Daytime and Good Morning with Anne and Nick, bands, demos, cooking, how did we fit it all in!?!
Tim Dann: Great ‘daze!’…& who will forget Roy Norton in the Gallery; at the end of the show jumping up, knocking his chair over & screaming at ‘Presentation’…”Take me prez, take me, take me!!”….then as Susie says…Off to the ‘Strathallan’ for hospitality. Wonderful times.
Ruth Barretto: I used to work for john Grantham in Engineering (one of the loveliest boss) and I remember he had these huge rolled up artist impressions of the foyer area when it was in the planning stage. It was initially the reception area . He asked me if I wanted them . Being young I thought ‘why would I want them?’ Wish I had said yes now!!!
David Shute: I recall when the Wild Eyed Sidey was hot to go with this idea that the head of Engineering, a pleasant person, said it wouldn’t work ‘cos you can’t combine daylight & studio lighting. Phil gave him 30 mins back in his own office to come up with reasons WHY or come ready to discuss his early retirement. What a surprise, it all happened at speed !

My Top Five Plays for Today from Pebble Mill

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the BBC anthology drama series – Play for Today, making it an appropriate time to reflect on our favourites.

My top five Plays for Today were all filmed by the English Regions Drama department (ERD), at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham in the 1970s, when it was led by the renowned producer, David Rose. I worked in the Drama department at Pebble Mill myself in the late 1980s, when Michael Wearing was in charge, and remember the place, the people and the output fondly. Some years ago, I interviewed several of the key programme makers of the Plays for Today listed below and draw on their memories for this blog. 

All the Plays for Today discussed here have something unusual or innovative about how they were made, which is why I have chosen them. They illustrate the quality and range of Plays for Today made at Pebble Mill. I’ve listed them in chronological order of transmission.  

Shakespeare or Bust. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare or Bust, written by Peter Terson, produced by David Rose, directed by Brian Parker. Broadcast BBC1 on Monday 8th Jan 1973 at 21.25. 

In June 1972 The Fishing Party, by Peter Terson, was broadcast. It was the story of three miners on a weekend fishing trip to Whitby. Producer, David Rose thought the characters, Art, played by Brian Glover, Ern, played by Ray Mort and Abe, played by Douglas Livingstone demanded another story or two, which he made sure they got. He suggested taking them on a canal narrow boat trip from Birmingham to Stratford Upon Avon. Writer Peter Terson went on the canal trip himself, and David expected that by the end of it he would have an idea for the play. Instead, he had a completed script, with Peter writing on the boat as he went. 

Tara Prem was the script editor and remembers being phoned from lock-keepers’ cottages along the route and told there were another 30 pages for her to come and collect. After several trips to collect the bundles of pages, the script was complete. 

The miners were on a pilgrimage to see Anthony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Company, sadly they don’t get into the theatre, there being no seats left, and instead they meet the actors playing Anthony and Cleopatra, Richard Johnson and Janet Suzeman, outside the RSC and get the Shakespeare from them.  Peter had not exactly decided on the ending, saying to Tara that the miners meet the actors, and that she should sort out what happened after that. The sorting it out, seemed to involve everyone swimming in the river in the dark. 

Penda’s Fen
Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penders Fen, written by David Rudkin, produced by David Rose, directed by Alan Clarke. Broadcast on Thursday 21st March 1974 at 21.25 

Pender’s Fen was the third play written by David Rudkin produced at Pebble Mill, the others being shorter dramas, Bypass (BBC2 1972) and Atrocity (BBC2 1973). It is an astonishing film, and very different from the harsh realism usually associated with Rudkin.  We have a sixth former, Stephen, in love with Elgar’s music, who has awakened pagan forces within the local landscape. It has surreal elements including a macabre and memorable hand-chopping off scene. 

David Rudkin explained that the drama explores several simultaneous contradictory dimensions of reality, including shared and unshared realities. It was visionary writing. There was great difficulty in transferring it to the screen without it looking clumsy, which was partly to do with how discreetly those elements were shot (this would be much easier to achieve nowadays using CGI). David thought the Elgar scene was tremendous, because of its physicality and truth, but felt that the scene with Penda on the hillside at the end lacked mystery. The piece was outside the comfort zone of director Alan Clarke, who was known for directing gritty dramas. According to David Rudkin, Alan felt insecure about the musical and theological dimensions, but trusted his advice to leave all those elements to him, and just deal with the emotion, which Alan did. 

David Rose told me of the delight he took in looking at David Rudkin’s scripts, with their beautifully laid out pages, their precision and the puzzles placed on the page. He said he did not know entirely what Pender’s Fen was all about, but that he was happy with that. His mother had never said anything to him about his work in television except for Pender’s Fen, which she said haunted her for three days and nights, which pleased him. 

Gangsters. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gangsters, written by Philip Martin, produced by Barry Hanson, directed by Philip Saville. Broadcast on BBC1 on Thursday 9th January 1975 at 21.25. 

The Radio Times billing for Gangsters reads: 

Blackmail, extortion, drug-peddling and the ‘Blackbird Run’ of illegal immigrants to the West Midlands… How involved is Rafiq, the respected Indian community leader? Rawlinson, the night-club owner? In this hard adventure story, released prisoner John Kline comes up against his old enemies – the gangsters. 

Gangsters was a ground-breaking film, inspired after David Rose saw French Connection in the cinema. David gave Philip Martin a writer’s stipend to spend three months in Birmingham to see if he could come up with an idea for a film. Martin researched police corruption, the criminal underworld, and the nightclub scene. The landscape of Birmingham figured strongly, even including an actual speed car chase along the Aston Expressway, which resulted in the crew being pulled over and reprimanded by the police. 

There was a lot of sensitivity at the time about how race and people from different backgrounds were depicted, because in Gangsters there were just good and bad people and they might be black, white or Asian. This led to nervousness within the BBC about the film. The great and the good of the BBC, including the controllers and some heads of department, gathered in London to watch the film a few days before transmission. They reacted very favourably to it and only asked for just one edit. There was a shot of a black woman with electrodes on her nipples and they wanted this cut. The director, Philip Saville, said he could edit the visual, but not the sound, so a reaction shot of another character looking was inserted, which David Rose thought made the scene more frightening. 

Gangsters got a very good audience and was developed into two prime time series for BBC1. 

 

Nuts in May.Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nuts in May written by Mike Leigh, produced by David Rose, directed by Mike Leigh. Broadcast on BBC 1 on Tuesday 13th January 1976 at 21.25. 

This is almost certainly the best known of Pebble Mill’s Plays for Today, but Mike Leigh’s first television drama for ERD was a half-hour studio piece called Permissive Society in 1975, which led indirectly to Nuts in May. At first, a lot of BBC staff were rather nervous of Mike Leigh’s improvisatory way of working. The crew would be chatting in the canteen saying, there’s a guy down there in the studio and they’re making it up as they go along, which fails to appreciate Mike Leigh’s careful observation of the actors interacting as the characters and developing storylines from those interactions.  

David Rose originated from Dorset and was keen to depict the area, as part of the ERD remit to reflect life outside of London. There seemed to be few writers from the South West, and therefore he invited Mike Leigh to make a film set around the Isle of Purbeck: Nuts in May was the result. 

David was delighted that the characters of Candice-Marie and Keith were so vivid that they lived on in the memories of the audience for many years, chewing their food very ,very slowly and carefully, and driving round the lanes in their Morris Minor, whilst encountering wild Brummies in local camp sites. 

Licking Hitler.Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Licking Hitler, written and directed by David Hare, produced by David Rose. Broadcast on BBC1 on Tuesday 10th January 1978 at 21.25. 

A glowing review in The Times summed the play up thus, “Licking Hitler began with unnerving brilliance – impeccably in period and hypersensitive to feeling and mood.” 

David Hare won the BAFTA for best single television play for Licking Hitler in 1978. Remarkably, it was his television directorial debut. Set in an English stately home in 1941, it tells the story of Anna, played by Kate Nelligan, who is thrust into a secret world, broadcasting propaganda to Nazi Germany. After the war, Anna, and Archie, the chief writer of the now disbanded unit, played by Bill Paterson, long for the meaning of their wartime work, and the excitement of their former lives. It was shot at Compton Verney House in Warwickshire. 

Peter Ansorge, who script edited the play and was a friend of David Hare, thought it astonishing that Hare was allowed to direct it, having never directed television before. Even in the late 1970s it was a tremendous risk to give a high profile and complex drama to someone without television experience. However, it paid off, and Peter acknowledges that no one could have made the film better. It was Peter who brought David Hare to television and helped him overcome the prejudices he had about it as a medium. 

David Rose described Licking Hitler as an absolute gem, that he could just keep on watching. He had seen a number of plays of David Hare’s in the theatre and had no qualms about him directing, saying he appreciated how precise he could be and how he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the script. 

Interviews with the following programme makers have been used in this blog: 

David Rose (d.2017) – producer and Head of ERD 

Tara Prem – script editor and producer at ERD 

David Rudkin – writer Pender’s Fen 

Barry Hanson (d.2016) – script editor, producer and later Head of Drama at Pebble Mill 

Philip Saville (d. 2016) – director of Gangsters 

Michael Wearing (d. 2017) – script editor, producer and later Head of Drama at Pebble Mill 

Peter Ansorge – script editor and producer at ERD 

 

Telly Addicts Clock

Telly Addict clock, copyright Gail Everett

Telly Addicts clock, courtesy of production assistant Gail Everett. I’m not sure if this was Telly Addicts’ merchandise.

Telly Addicts was a BBC 1 television game show presented by Noel Edmonds between 1985-1998.