How it is done

The cast sit around a large table with their scripts
The cast meets for the first time to read through the script at an outside rehearsal room. Before them are three weeks of rehearsal.

A television production is a complicated affair in which the practical and æsthetic are related. On the television screen a BBC Television play lasts ninety minutes; but behind those ninety minutes are weeks of preparation. A play is not simply a matter of words or a producer’s interpretation of a classic drama. There are physical questions of scenery to be dealt with; or a decision has to be taken about the style of mantelpiece to be used. These are the good housekeeping aspects of a television play upon which the final product depends for its effect. In July 1955, Rudolph Cartier produced a television version of Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice. The life-story of Eurydice, renamed The Vale of Shadows, is the life-story of every television play.

The play needs settings. So the designer, Stephen Taylor, discusses the working drawings with a draughtsman.

After the dressing of the studio comes the dressing of the actors. Laurence Payne is measured for his costume in the Wardrobe Department. The wheels of the production have begun to turn. The rehearsals can begin. Still in the outside rehearsal room, the cast go through a scene from the play.

(Below) The action begins and the players are watched with eagle attention by producer Rudolph Cartier (left).

Like Masefield’s British coaster, the property stores carry everything – from a telephone kiosk to a pool of water. Eurydice needs ‘props’; so a selection is made while, in another part of London, the actors rehearse their parts.

In a television play, as in the theatre, back-cloths are needed. Now the scenic artists are preparing them in their gallery. They paint in the grand manner, across yards of canvas which unroll through a vent in the floor.

The scenery is constructed by the carpenters in their shops at the Television Centre. But the Lime Grove studios are a quarter of a mile away. So, piece by piece, the scenery is loaded into pantechnicons and is driven to the studio.

And in the plaster shop at the Centre, other specially constructed essentials of the play are prepared, perhaps from papier mâché. They, too, go into the delivery van.

The moment is arriving for the final rehearsal, this time before the cameras at the Lime Grove Studios. The lighting supervisor (top left) directs the positioning of the lights under which the actors will work. An artist (below left) paints the title caption of the play. And Miss Sterke (top right) goes to the make-up room. The pieces of the jig-saw are coming together. It is now the afternoon of the evening transmission – and the cameras are ready for the last rehearsal. The producer and his assistants (bottom right) sit before the screen linked with each camera on the studio floor.

On the floor itself, amid a forest of equipment, under the cold stare of the camera and the blaze of lights, Laurence Payne and Jeannette Sterke play a scene.

And on the screen that night Mr. Payne and Miss Sterke are seen in The Vale of Shadows. It is the culmination of weeks of work involving scores of people. Tomorrow there will be another play, by another author with other actors.

Some BBC Television dates

Inauguration of experimental television transmission of still pictures by the Fultograph process from Daventry

30 August 1928

First experimental television programme from Broadcasting House, 30-line system (Baird process taken over by BBC)

22 August 1932

High-definition Television Service from Alexandra Palace officially inaugurated

2 November 1936

Coronation of King George VI: first outside broadcast by Television Service

12 May 1937

Television Service closed down for reasons of national defence

1 September 1939

Television Service resumed

7 June 1946

First television outside broadcast from No. 10 Downing Street: Commonwealth Conference

11 October 1948

Sutton Coldfield television transmitting station opened

17 December 1949

First television outside broadcast from the Continent (Calais)

27 August 1950

First ‘live’ air to ground television broadcast (from an aircraft in flight)

30 September 1950

Holme Moss television transmitting station opened

12 October 1951

First television election address – given by Lord Samuel for the Liberal Party

15 October 1951

Kirk o’ Shotts television transmitting station opened

14 March 1952

First direct television from Paris (experimental)

21 April 1952

First schools television programme (4 weeks experiment)

5 May 1952

First public transmission in the UK of television from Paris

8 July 1952

Wenvoe television transmitting station opened

15 August 1952

Pontop Pike and Glancairn temporary television transmitting stations opened

1 May 1953

Truleigh Hill temporary television transmitting station opened

9 May 1953

Coronation ceremony televised for the first time

2 June 1953

Television relayed from ship at sea for the first time during the Royal Naval Review

15 June 1953

Temporary television transmitting station near Douglas (Isle of Man) opened

20 December 1953

First European exchange of television programmes with eight countries taking part (to 4 July)

6 June 1954

Rowridge temporary television transmitting station opened

12 November 1954

Redmoss temporary television transmitting station opened

14 December 1954

North Hessary Tor temporary television transmitting station opened

17 December 1954

Norwich television transmitting station opened

1 February 1955

Divis television transmitting station opened (replacing Glencairn in Northern Ireland)

21 July 1955

First section of permanent two-way television link with Continent completed

15 September 1955

Les Platons (Channel Islands) television transmitting station opened

3 October 1955

Colour television test transmissions began from Alexandra Palace

10 October 1955

Meldrum television transmitting station opened (replacing Redmoss, near Aberdeen)

12 October 1955

Demonstration of colour television to members of the press

20 October 1955

Pontop Pike television transmitting station completed

15 November 1955

First live television programme from Northern Ireland

17 November 1955

Crystal Palace television transmitting station opened replacing Alexandra Palace

28 March 1956

First public colour television test transmissions from Alexandra Palace

3 April 1956

First Ministerial television broadcast (Prime Minister)

27 April 1956

North Hessary Tor television transmitting station completed

22 May 1956

Rowridge television transmitting station completed

11 June 1956

First ‘live’ television broadcast from a submarine at sea

16 June 1956

First television transmission from a helicopter

4 August 1956

Source: BBC Handbook for 1961

A statue of Apollo stands in front of the lattice mast at Crystal Palace.
On 28 March 1956, Crystal Palace took over from Alexandra Palace as the London transmitter.