Our Archives Assistant Steph Basford-Morris follows the trail of the Explore Your Archive theme this month – #ArchiveMystery – leading her to discover links with pioneering ITV mystery drama!
The starting point for this mystery trail was the papers of Elaine Morgan, part of the Richard Burton Archives’ Welsh Writers in English collection. It includes her script for ‘License to Murder – A Play in Two Parts’ (WWE/3/14/1). This play was produced by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, but also appeared in 1965 when ITV broadcast it as an episode for the third series of ‘Armchair Mystery Theatre’, produced by Leonard White and introduced by actor Donald Pleasence.
‘Armchair Mystery Theatre’ was a summer season spin-off of the popular ITV drama, ‘Armchair Theatre’ (1956-1974). Mark Duigad writes that it became the ‘spearhead of live drama innovation’, with pioneering producer Sydney Newman (creator of ‘Doctor Who’ and other TV greats), steering it away from heavy drama to reflect a ‘changing Britain with dynamic, socially relevant themes’1. Under his leadership viewing figures had reached 12million by the end of 19592.
The Elaine Morgan Collection contains many scripts for radio and TV including plays, dramas and adaptations with associated notes and letters. She had a distinguished career as a writer for TV and as an author, winning two BAFTAs, and being awarded an OBE for services to literature and education in 2009.
She is also known as an influential feminist and evolutionary theorist and it is here we found our second ‘mystery’ theme, in the script Elaine wrote for BBC’s 1982 film – ‘The Forgotten Voyage’, the story of Alfred Russell Wallace (WWE/3/9/1). Elaine, like Wallace, and his contemporary Darwin, looked to understand what can be considered the ‘greatest Mystery’, the origin of species. The film can still be viewed on YouTube.
Elaine Morgan’s life and work is passionately described in a video for BBC ‘Hidden Heroines’ by Cerys Mathews, revealing that her name surely deserves to come out from the shadows.
- Mark Duguid, BFI Screen Online, ‘Armchair Theatre 1956-74’ – http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/534786/index.html
- Tise Vahimagi, BFI Screen Online ‘Newman, Sydney (1917-1997) – http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/522017/index.html