Constipated, studio-bound, wall-confined, rigid: The influence of british actors' equity on BBC television drama, 1948-72
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McNaughton, D. (2014) ‘“Constipated, studio-bound, wall-confined, rigid”: the influence of british actors’ equity on bbc television drama, 1948–72’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 11(1), pp. 1–22. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3366/jbctv.2014.0189.
Critical orthodoxies around the multi-camera television studio characterise it as a 'theatrical' space, driven by dialogue and performance. Troy Kennedy Martin (1964) decried television drama's essential naturalism, demanding a more filmic form of drama in a polemic which has strongly influenced critical thinking on multi-camera studio television. Caughie (2000) suggests that Armchair Theatre created a 'space for acting', but in the main, the studio is seen as a constraining and interiorising dramatic site, in thrall to liveness and reliant on theatrical unities. This article draws on research at the BBC Written Archives to extend current understanding of the determinants working upon multicamera, studio television up to and into the 1970s. It shows how the actors' union Equity insisted on preserving continuous performance as a specific feature of television drama. While other determinants (technical, institutional and economic) of course come into play, Equity's insistence on 'theatrical' continuous performance inhibited the narrative and aesthetic possibilities of studio drama, resisted the move to rehearse-record studio taping, and delayed the turn to all-film drama production at the BBC. Drawing on key productions which acted as contentious 'test cases' for negotiations, this article explores tensions between institutional and artistic determinants, complicating technologically determinist accounts to argue for a greater understanding of the role of Equity in dictating material conditions of production in the multicamera studio paradigm. Journal of British Cinema and Television.