Lost Nigel Kneale Adaptation of 1984 Discovered in USA
by Anthony Harvison
A TV adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 by sci-fi legend Nigel Kneale has been found in America after being lost for over 40 years.
The find has been hailed as an “important insight” into the early work of the acclaimed scriptwriter, best known for the creation of iconic character Professor Bernard Quatermass.
Broadcast in 1965 by the BBC, the black and white production was subsequently lost to history, until a copy recently came to light in Washington, DC.
The two-hour adaptation of Orwell's dystopian classic – remembered for introducing the infamous “Room 101” to popular culture – was found languishing among a huge collection of vintage TV held in the capital's Library of Congress.
It was spotted by Kaleidoscope, a research organisation which actively seeks to recover missing British TV and radio shows, who took steps to return it to the UK.
The 1965 version of 1984 has largely been left in the shadow of the groundbreaking 1954 adaptation directed by Rudolph Cartier and starring Peter Cushing, despite both being penned by the same writer.
“This is mainly due to it simply not being there to watch,” said Kaleidoscope's Chris Perry, who put the LOC in touch with the British Film Institute to recover it and a “treasure trove” of previously missing British TV dramas aired between the 1950s and early '70s.
“Even though it will probably remain in the shadow of its predecessor in terms of sheer quality and public impact, the 1965 adaptation of 1984 is nevertheless an important production by arguably one of the UK's greatest sci-fi and horror writers.”
Directed by Christopher Morahan and starring David Buck as Norman Smith, the remake was broadcast on November 28, 1965, as part of a season entitled “The World of George Orwell” in BBC Two's drama anthology series Theatre 625.
Kneale, who updated his script to reflect the intervening 11 years, would later criticise the production - saying the acting was “much less good” than the 1954 original.
But at the time it was judged a success, with The Guardian commenting that it was "immensely hard and gripping”, featuring torture scenes that were”flawlessly achieved”.
Though a recording was made, the BBC subsequently had it 'wiped' (erased) to allow the expensive tape to be re-used.
A copy, however, made its way to New York public television station WNET, along with “hundreds of hours' of British TV drama” which have also come to light.
They were donated to the LOC, where they lay until being noticed by Kaleidoscope in 2009.
The organisation catalogued the missing recordings using its own database online at Lost Shows.com and involved the British Film Institute in their recovery.
In addition to 1984, finds include a 1959 adaptation of Greek tragedy Antigone starring Sapphire and Steel and The Man From Uncle actor David McCallum, a Play of the Week from 1962 featuring future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton and an early BBC outing for Bond star Sean Connery in French play “Colombe”.
A selection of clips from some of the recovered dramas will be shown as part of the BFI's annual Missing Believed Wiped event taking place at BFI Southbank, London, on November 7.
For a full list of recoveries visit www.kaleidoscope.org.uk