Costume and space: Inspector Morse in his pyjamas

Morse in pyjamasIn the process of thinking through how Morse’s domestic space is presented across the course of four series, I have been struck by particular consistencies of how Inspector Morse is presented in his home, specifically the number of times he appears in his pyjamas and dressing gown. As I suggested in the CST blog, during the course of the series run (ITV, 1987-1993) the space of Morse’s sitting room becomes the site of both work and relaxation. Moreover, the prominence of experiencing his home as a lived-in space – seeing Morse at home discussing a case with Lewis or not working and enjoying his domestic space – works to define the character (doing the crossword, drinking beer and listening to opera) and at the same time seems unusual for a programme where some of the generic tensions between work and relationships are not present. In this context, the decision to present Morse in his pyjamas is not only a striking one for the way it contributes to character development, but also for how it speaks to the ways in which the qualities of a particular space might be communicated and nuanced through costuming.

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Landscape in the Studio: Play for Today: Desert of Lies (BBC, 13/3/84)


The final play in our season, ‘Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the Television Studio’ is Desert of Lies, written by Howard Brenton for television. The play interweaves the narratives of two expeditions to the Kalahari, one historical and one contemporary.In 1848 a family of Christian missionaries travel to the desert to find and civilize a mythical vlcsnap-2014-01-24-11h37m33s108tribe of savages whose heads are in their stomachs.  Over a century later, in 1984 an explorer, George (Tim Wylton), leads a journalist, Sue (Cherie Lunghi) and a young man, Jake (Mick Ford), recently unemployed and up for the adventure, in an attempt to follow in the missionaries footsteps, to find out what happened and seek out the tribe. Neither group is able to cope with the harsh reality of the desert conditions: The missionaries are driven mad by the heat and solitude, and slowly perish through hunger and, in the case of Uncle Abel (Tom Bell in a stunning performance),vlcsnap-2014-02-27-22h45m52s250 alcoholism. In the modern group, George is fatally wounded after their jeep overturns, Jake eventually dies of thirst, and Sue, the sole survivor, is rescued by bushmen and bears a child by one of them, eventually returning to England but refusing to tell her story.  Brenton cleverly weaves in moments of great humour through two bushmen who observe the struggling group with amusement,  cleverly inverting Western voyeurism and paternalistic attitudes while introducing a welcome relief from the scenes of suffering: (“Who are these idiots?”/ “We could leave them food.”/”No, they won’t know what it is.”)

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The Stripped-Down Studio Space: Play for Today: Psy-Warriors (BBC, 12/5/81) & Centre Play: The Saliva Milkshake (BBC, 6/1/75)

by guest writer, David Rolinson


Psy-Warriors explores the military use of psychological operations as writer David Leland poses “the moral dilemma [of] how far we can torture and degrade prisoners in the name of democracy and freedom” (Radio Times). It unflinchingly depicts the physical and mental treatment of terrorist suspects, drawing from official reports and research. Images of the practices of humiliation and interrogation are troubling – The Listener’s David Wheeler called it a “sado-masochist’s special” – but so are the concepts behind those practices, which are explored in provocative yet witty dialogue. Apart from a few filmed inserts, Psy-Warriors was shot on video in the studio and, in director Alan Clarke’s characteristically passionate and precise handling, the dramatic spaces of television reinforce the play’s ideas.

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Mixing Genres in the Studio: Playhouse: The Journal of Bridget Hitler (BBC2, 6/2/81)


In the fifth screening of the ‘Dramatic Spaces’ season, The Journal of Bridget Hitler, Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) is used in an entirely different way than in our previous double bill of ‘studio trickery’, this time within a self-reflexive drama-doc that brings together an eclectic mixture of generic devices. Developed by Philip Saville and Beryl Bainbridge, the play is an ‘investigation’ (Cooke 2003:135) into Adolf Hitler’s youth, dramatising experiences recounted by his sister-in-law, Bridget (Siobhan McKenna), who was married to Hitler’s half-brother, Alois (Dennis Lill), in a memoir she published years later. Her account describes a journey that Adolf supposedly made to Liverpool in 1912 to visit them and their son Patrick William (Vincent Hall), and the family’s subsequent contact with Hitler during his rise to power in Germany.

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Studio trickery: Censored Scenes From King Kong (BBC, 1973) & Play For Today: The After Dinner Joke (BBC, 14/02/78)

Kong 3

This double-bill, the fourth screening in our ‘Dramatic Spaces’ season at the BFI, features two remarkable BBC television plays that take advantage of electronic ‘studio-trickery’: Howard Schuman’s never-transmitted Censored Scenes From King Kong (1973) and Caryl Churchill’s 1978 Play For Today, The After-Dinner Joke. Both used Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), an analogue form of blue or green-screen compositing, to create stylised backdrops for their action which function in different ways.

We are delighted to be showing Censored Scenes From King Kong, which, since it was pulled from the BBC schedules (more on this below), has only ever been seen by audiences in a side room of the 1977 Edinburgh Festival, and at a 1981 NFT Schuman retrospective. Moreover we believe this is the most ‘complete’ form in which it has yet appeared, a version which includes the full musical number ‘Bear Market Blues’ previously cut from the original for scheduling reasons, making it doubly galling that even the cut version was then never shown.

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Entrapment & Confrontation in the Studio: Theatre 625: Miss Julie (BBC, 3/10/65) & The Wednesday Play: Let’s Murder Vivaldi (BBC, 10/4/68)


The ‘Dramatic Spaces’ BFI Season continues with a double-bill of television plays directed by Alan Bridges, Miss Julie and Let’s Murder Vivaldi demonstrating how successfully entrapment and confrontation could be expressed through and within the studio. As well as sharing a director, the plays compliment each other particularly well as dramas about couples’ intense and twisted power dynamics, and their propensity to violently destroy each other verbally and physically. Whilst the phrase ‘sexual politics’ feels incongruous in this context (particularly about Miss Julie, written by August Strindberg in 1888) the intersection of gender, power and social values are central to both, with class conflict especially crucial to Miss Julie. The dangerous and socially-taboo nature of the plays’ subject matter is suggested by the fact that both productions discussed here underwent cuts, about which I will say more below.

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Festival: The Life of Galileo (BBC, 1964)


Our ‘Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the TV Studio’ film season continues at BFI Southbank this afternoon, with a screening of ‘The Life of Galileo’, a version of Brecht’s epic history, recorded in Television Centre for the BBC’s Festival series in 1964. Over the course of the season we will be writing short posts about each play shown, and would welcome thoughts and responses from those who attend the screenings.

Charles Jarrott’s[i] Galileo exuded a confident sense of certainty about what could and could not be achieved in the BBC Television Centre studio, acknowledging that the production was studio-made through the inclusion of cameras and the production gallery in shot, an artistic decision that complicates the view of ‘as live’ studio television as being best suited for an “intimate” form of drama.

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‘Dead of Night: The Exorcism’ (BBC, 1972)

Our ‘Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the TV Studio’ film season opens at BFI Southbank tonight, with a screening of ‘The Exorcism’, Don Taylor’s play for made for the BBC2 horror anthology series Dead of Night. Over the course of the season we will be writing short posts about each play shown, and would welcome thoughts and responses from those who attend the screenings.


The season opens with a striking example of Don Taylor’s mastery of close studio form, his ‘socialist ghost story’, The Exorcism, a chilling tale of two middle-class couples who become subject to a supernatural presence in a recently renovated 18th Century farmhouse. The terror of the haunting was achieved through Taylor’s skilful treatment of the characters within the confined studio interiors, which exploited the intimate visual language of the studio.

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BFI Season: Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the Television Studio

dramatic-spaces-seasonWe are delighted to announce our forthcoming season of television plays at BFI Southbank in February 2014, ‘Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the Television Studio’, curated by Leah Panos and Billy Smart of the Spaces of Television project.

Featuring exemplary and extraordinary studio drama productions from the 1960s to the 1980s, the season showcases the diverse ways that the studio has been used: as intense, claustrophobic space, sprawling desert landscape, fantastic videographic setting and stripped-down box.

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‘Hunters Walk: Local Knowledge’ (1973): Representing rape in the studio police drama



(Text of a paper given by Billy Smart at the University of Glamorgan ATRiuM in Cardiff – twice! – at ‘Spaces of Television: The Performance of Television Space’ on Friday 20 April 2012 and ‘Cops on the Box: Crime Drama on UK TV Screens’ on Friday 15 March 2013.)

What I’m going to do today is to reconsider the form that most British television drama took between the 1960s and the 1980s – programmes that were shot in the television studio on multiple cameras, recorded onto videotape, and that used pre-filmed inserts for exterior scenes. I shall attempt this through identifying particular qualities inherent to studio drama, suggesting that there were types of story that could be told especially well in this form.

I shall illustrate this by showing how studio drama told stories through visual details of performance as much as it did through dialogue, exploring this idea through investigating how popular police dramas used rape storylines, showing ways in which the effects of rape were conveyed to the viewer through the non-verbal means of looks and gestures.

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