Club Havana

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

Here is a series of screen grabs from the Second City First, Club Havana. It features a very young Julie Walters as the barmaid, Terry, and Don Warrington (perhaps best know from Rising Damp), as a young man just arrived from Jamaica to go to university. It was produced by Tara Prem, and was shown at the recent Flatpack Film Festival in April 2016, at the Midlands Arts Centre, which Tara attended.

The transmission copy of the studio drama is lost, so the version shown was a rough cut. Which made for interesting viewing, as we saw when recording was stopped and picked up by the actors.

It was transmitted on BBC 2, on 25th October 1975, at 21.30.

Here is the Radio Times entry for the drama, courtesy of the BBC Genome project:


A series of new plays from Birmingham
Club Havana by BARRY RECKORD
Mrs Jordan left her son behind in Jamaica. He’s finally arrived in Birmingham, after 12 years …
Script editor PETER ANSORGE Designer GAVIN DAVIES Producer TARA PREM

Under the Skin polaroids

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Photos by Janice Rider, no reproduction without permission.

These polaroids are from the 1982, Pebble Mill, Play for Today: Under the Skin, written by Janey Preger. They were taken by costume designer, Janice Rider, for continuity reasons. The director was Tony Smith, and the producer was Peter Ansorge.

Included in the photos are: Jacqueline Tong, who played ‘Deb’; and Bill Nighy, who played the photographer, ‘Dave’.

Under the Skin

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

This photo is from the 1982 Pebble Mill Play for Today, Under the Skin. Peter Ansorge was the producer and Tony Smith the director. Janey Preger wrote the script, with lighting by  Alec Robson and Sally Engelbach as production designer.

The play was about three women involved in different ways in the women’s movement.

The drama starred: Frances Tomelty, Barbara Rosenblatt, Imogen Bickford-Smith, Jacqueline Tong, Bill Nighy, Michael. J. Jackson, George Costigan, and Michele Winstanley.

Janice Rider was the costume designer.

Thanks to Janice Rider for sharing the photograph.

The following information was added on the Pebble Mill Facebook Page:

Peter Ansorge: Janey Preger wrote three wonderful TV dramas for us at Pebble Mill. The other two were Fattening Frogs For Snakes and the glorious Bobby Wants To Meet Me. The latter about a journo meeting his god – Bob Dylan – at Earls Court, also directed by Tony Smith.

Vision of a Nation: Making Multiculturalism on British Television

Gavin Schaffer bookCopyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This newly published book by Gavin Schaffer, from the University of Birmingham, explores the development of multiculturalism on British television. It includes several mentions of programming from Pebble Mill and BBC Birmingham. Gavin’s research for the book included a detailed interview with Stephanie Silk, who was a PA in the Immigrants Programmes Unit in the late 1960s, as well as interviews with English Regions Drama Department producer, Peter Ansorge (producer of Empire Road , Britain’s first black soap opera, written by Michael Abbensetts).

It is Steph Silk on the front cover, with Saleem Shahed on the left, and Mahendra Kaul in the middle, from the Immigrants Programme Unit. The photo is from summer 1968, at a charity dinner in London, arranged by the Indian High Commission.

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

Julian Hitchcock: ‘Many, many memories…. Mahendra (who was also a restaurateur) was rather grand. Saleem gave off an air, not only of pipe tobacco, but of a university vice-chancellor.

Studio B! Ah, the glamour!

I was always proud of Pebble Mill’s role in the policy. There were ups and downs, as well as hours of incomprehensible chat shows, but you felt that it was engaging its audience keenly and in a vital way. Year on year, you felt it responding to social developments as, in the other direction, the rest of BBC programming caught up.

Before that happened, there was a period in which the Unit was thought by all too many as a silo for people whose epidermis was insufficiently French. I recollect being mortified with embarrassment by the “helpful” suggestion of a senior producer to a bright new graduate [of Asian complexion] who was gaining work experience at Pebble Mill and who was interested in getting into production. Fag in hand, she advised the girl to try Asian programmes.

The remark was simultaneously offensive and very good advice. I’m delighted that those days are behind us. That they are is in no small part due to the efforts of the Asian Unit.’

Lynn Cullimore: ‘Yes, remember all that. I worked in what was called The Asian Unit at one time and have to say I never went hungry because there was always a restaurant of a relative somewhere near where we were filming. I worked on Black Christmas too – John Clarke being the producer. There was also a couple of series called “Together” which was about ethnic minorities living in the Midlands. It was interesting and I learnt such a lot.’

Games Without Frontiers


Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent

Christopher Fairbank

Christopher Fairbank

Philip Jackson

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I attended the Kaleidoscope, Pebble Mill archive screening event on Saturday in Stourbridge, and had the opportunity to see some wonderful shows from the 1970s and ‘80s. An added bonus was that some of the programme makers, actors and presenters were able to come along and discuss their work.

One treasure from the archives was the 1980, BBC 2 Playhouse: Games Without Frontiers. It was a multi-camera studio drama, devised and directed by Michael Bradwell, who came along to the screening, as did Philip Jackson, one of the lead actors. The play also featured Jim Broadbent, Eric Allan and Christopher Fairbank – so a very strong cast.

The drama was improvised by the actors during the rehearsal period, and then written down, so that it could be plotted for the cameras, in a similar way to how Mike Leigh’s dramas worked.  It was set on a North Sea ferry from Holland. In order to research ideas for the play the actors went on a weekend away to Amsterdam – including the obligatory trip to the red-light district, paid for, of course, by the BBC!

The action was almost all set in the ferry bar, with a couple of scenes in the corridor, so it had quite a claustrophobic feel. The set was built on the top floor of the Pebble Mill office block, which acted as the studio.

The play was remarkably watchable, mainly because of the developing relationships between the characters. There were some funny comic touches and excellent character acting.  The story revolves around the two main characters, Clive (Philip Jackson) and Stewart (Jim Broadbent), who are on their way home after a weekend in Amsterdam.  They describe their weekend’s adventures, including the trip to the red-light area, and we learn a lot about their home and working lives. Technically the pictures and sound were still good quality.

This kind of drama would not be made nowadays: it is a character driven study, with nowhere near enough action to satisfy a contemporary audience. Also it would not fit into the popular sub-genres of modern drama – it isn’t crime related, or a thriller.

Peter Ansorge was the producer of Games Without Frontiers; he came along to the showing and took part in a panel discussion about it, and other dramas, before the screening. He said to me afterwards that he had no idea that the play still existed, and he hadn’t seen it for many years! So many studio dramas of this era were junked, as videotape was expensive, and tapes were wiped to be re-used.

Vanessa Jackson