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BEHIND THE GAMES AND JOKES THE TV DRAMAS OF JOHN MORTIMER + JOHN

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					                  BEHIND THE GAMES AND JOKES:
                THE TV DRAMAS OF JOHN MORTIMER.
                               +
                  JOHN MORTIMER REMEMBERED




In December 2008, Sir John Mortimer was in talks with BFI about presenting a season
focused on his TV plays. With the death of Sir John in January 2009 this programme of
lesser seen work taking place at BFI Southbank throughout May becomes a tribute to
his genius; and one which we hope does justice to his work.

Rather than concentrate on the better known series such as Paradise Postponed (1986) and
Brideshead Revisited (1981), it was decided by BFI programmers and Sir John Mortimer to
concentrate on the single plays to provide an opportunity to screen works buried in the
archive and to provide a sense of Mortimer’s immense contribution to television since the
early 1960s.

The season spans the period from the early 60s to the 90s and demonstrates Mortimer’s
prolific output and the apparent ease with which he tackled subjects as diverse as the
uncomfortable leaning of the English aristocracy toward the ideals of fascism in the run up to
WW2; the Catholic condition (in his adaptations of Graham Greene); his own intimate
relationship with his father; and the life of Shakespeare.

Few writers could claim to have worked across such a range of subjects and genres, and fewer
still could do so with such wit and humanity. Humour emerges – from his television plays as
from so much of his other work – as his greatest tool and weapon, whether it be the dark,
sinister kind displayed in The Wrong Side of the Park (1960) or the all out farce of
Knightsbridge (1972) or Mill Hill (1972). Like all the finest exponents of the comedy of
manners, Mortimer uses humour to reveal a deeper level of subtext and meaning beneath the
glittering surface of his dialogue.

Author, playwright and barrister– Mortimer leaves behind a wealth of work in various media.
We are fortunate indeed to have these TV plays as one testament to his immense talents.

For further information please contact:
Tim Mosley on 020 7957 8918 or email tim.mosley@bfi.org.uk

PROGRAMME:

The Wrong Side of the Park
The Sunday Night Play. BBC 1960, 94min.
Dir Stuart Burge.
With Brenda Bruce, James Villiers, Nigel Stock.
Into a large Victorian Hampstead house comes a charming but sinister lodger. His destabilising effect
on the family is immediate as Elaine, bored with her husband, falls for his easy charm. Declaring that
nothing will be the same after tomorrow, he pursues his aims to their conclusion. A neglected
masterpiece, yoking Pinter-on-laughing-gas to the intensity of Tennessee Williams.
Plus Mortimer’s Hampstead, a 1960 Monitor item (13min) providing wry context for this play.
Mon 4 May 20:45 NFT2
Fri 22 May 18:30 NFT2

Collect Your Hand Baggage
Television Playhouse Anglia, 1963, 50min.
Dir Ted Kotcheff.
With Kenneth More, Jennifer Wilson.
More brilliantly portrays the pathos of a character who has never grown up. Inviting Miss Chisholm to
Paris as a joke, he never expects her to turn up at the airport... Razor-sharp dialogue and humour infuse
this exploration of the power of lies.
+ two entries from the Shades of Greene strand (Thames 1975, both dir Alastair Reed). Special
Duties (40min) showcases a fine performance by John Gielgud as the Catholic owner of a multi-
national, hiring a nun to buy his way out of purgatory; while The Invisible Japanese Gentleman
(15min) features Denholm Elliot musing on the curse of ‘the writer’s eye’.
Fri 8 May 18:20 NFT2

A Voyage Round My Father
Thames 1982. 82min
Dir Alvin Rakoff.
With Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates, Jane Asher.
From stage to screen and back again (with the fantastically successful Donmar Warehouse revival of
2006), this remains Mortimer’s most enduring and best loved play. Olivier gives one of his last great
performances for TV and Mortimer’s adaptation paints a vivid, humorous and touching portrait of an
exasperating man he struggled to fully comprehend. In doing so he taps into universal truths about the
father-son relationship.
+ A South Bank Show devoted to Mortimer’s methods and philosophy. (LWT 1986, 40min).
Sun 10 May 15:00 NFT2
Mon 18 May 20:10 NFT2

Thirty Minute Theatre
BBC 1972. 4x30min
The format of Thirty Minute Theatre played perfectly to Mortimer’s strengths: allowing him to display
his liking for a plot with a twist in the tail and for characters compromised by their own obsessions and
lies. Bermondsey (dir Claude Whatham, with Rosemary Leach, Edward Fox, Dinsdale Landon) is
a heady and then controversial mix of gay sex and class tackled with an almost casual flair and ease.
Two men from different sides of the tracks, thrown together by National Service, maintain a
relationship for 18 years despite one of them marrying and having children. In Knightsbridge (dir
Mark Cullingham, with Googie Withers), a misunderstanding about the nature of mother’s business
activities leads to wrong assumptions and high farce. King’s Cross Lunch Hour (dir Gilchrist Calder,
with Pauline Collins, Joss Ackland, Lila Kaye) is the most Pinteresque of Mortimer’s plays, with an
afternoon assignation explained to the hotel manageress via an ultimately self-destructive tissue of lies.
In the comedy of manners Mill Hill (dir Michael Hayes, with Peter Cook, Geraldine McEwan, Clive
Revell) a dentist tries to play out his sexual fantasies with his partner’s wife, but when the partner
returns home unexpectedly his deceptions take a surprising turn.
Thu 14 May 18:20 NFT2

Rumpole of the Bailey
Play for Today. BBC 1973. 65min
Dir John Gorrie. With Leo McKern.
John Mortimer’s wish to create a character that would outlast him is triumphantly realised as Rumpole
arrives fully formed in this play that led to the Thames TV series. The partly autobiographical character
delights in mischief and pricking pomposity and hypocrisy wherever they are to be found. The play
also explores
Rumpole’s domestic life – his relationship with his son and with ‘she who must be obeyed’.
+ John Mortimer Remembered
A distinguished panel who knew and worked with Mortimer across the spectrum of his television plays
talk about the man and his influence on British television drama, which is also illustrated by clips from
some of his greatest TV plays, adaptations and series. We hope to welcome alongside chairperson
Daisy Goodwin her fellow producers Jacqueline Davis and Colin Rodgers, and director Alvin
Rakoff.
Sun 17 May 15:00 NFT1

Will Shakespeare (Eps 1 & 2)
Ep 1 - Dead Shepherd.
ATV 1978. 50min
Dir Peter Wood With Tim Curry, Ian McShane.
Ep 2 - Alms For Oblivion.
ATV 1978.
Dir Mark Cullingham. With Tim Curry, Nicholas Clay.
Dead Shepherd tackles Shakespeare’s arrival in London and the intrigue that leads to the death of
Marlowe and the crowning of Shakespeare as his successor. Mortimer uses every cliché in the book to
paint a rich and vibrant picture of Elizabethan London; the script may not be his most original, but it is
vastly entertaining. Alms for Oblivion cleverly demonstrates how Shakespeare’s life experiences fed
into his work, bringing him face to face with death, the Earl of Southampton and his own naked
ambition.
Thu 21 May 18:30 NFT2

Unity
Playhouse. BBC 1981. 105min
Dir James Cellan Jones. With Leslie-Anne Down , Jerem Kemp.
‘You can’t be honest, can you – only diplomatic,’ says Unity Mitford in this frank dramatisation of the
English aristocracy’s collusion with fascism in the run up to the Second World War. A fascinating and
complex insight into the mindset of Mitford and the political atmosphere in which she lived,
demonstrating how her naivete was exploited by both sides of the political divide.
Fri 22 May 20:50 NFT2
Thu 28 May 18:10 NFT2

Edwin
Anglia 1984. 80min
Dir Rodney Bennett. With Alec Guinness, Paul Rogers, Renee
Asherton.
Guinness effortlessly fits the part of Sir Fennimore Truscott QC, a testy retired judge, now wondering
whether his old friend Tom Marjoriebanks is really the father of his beloved son Edwin. With Edwin
now returning home from a long absence in Canada, Truscott decides to put the matter on trial in his
own home...
+ On Reflection: Mortimer On Oscar Wilde
(LWT 1975, 25min): ‘The law courts are different to the theatre, the bores usually win’.
Fri 29 May 18:15 NFT2
Sun 31 May 18:10 NFT2

Titmuss Regained
Newpenny Productions/Thames/WGBH 156min + interval 1991.
Dir Martyn Friend. With David Threlfall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rosemary Leach, Peter Capaldi.
Complete three-part series.
Consumed by feelings of inadequacy and a hatred of the Old Etonian establishment, Titmuss destroys
all that he touches. In this devastating satire on the Thatcher era, Mortimer makes clear the link
between a minister’s private prejudices and the bankrupt policies they generate in the world at large.
Yet Threlfall’s performance as Titmuss makes us feel a strange pity for this deeply fl awed individual.
Finely crafted TV with much to say on the state of postwar British society.
Sat 23 May 15:00 NFT2

                                                  - END -

NOTES TO EDITORS:
The BFI Southbank John Mortimer season runs from 4 to 31 May

Booking information
The BFI Southbank is open to all. BFI members are entitled to a discount on all tickets. BFI Southbank
Box Office tel: 020 7928 3232. Unless otherwise stated tickets are £8.60, concs £6.25 Members pay £1
less on any ticket. Website www.bfi.org.uk/southbank

  There’s more to discover about film and television through the BFI. Our world-renowned archival
   collections, cinemas, festivals, films, publications and learning resources are here to inspire you.

                                     *** PICTURE DESK ***
A selection of images for journalistic use in promoting BFI Southbank screenings can be found at
                        www.image.net under BFI / BFI Southbank / May

				
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