Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1954: The BBC TV adaptation

Dir: Rudolph Cartier
Star: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Mitchell, André Morell, Donald Pleasence.

It’s hard to appreciate the impact the BBC adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four had on the country at the time. The first of the two broadcasts, in December 1954, triggered an enormous furor, with motions proposed in Parliament criticizing “the tendency, evident in recent British Broadcasting Corporation television programmes, notably on Sunday evenings, to pander to sexual and sadistic tastes.” When the performance was repeated the following week, needless to say, it got the biggest television audience in the country since the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. [Some things don’t change!]

That was not a repeat of the original screening, as both broadcasts were largely performed live, with some filmed inserts to allow for scenery, costume, etc. changes. Fortunately, the second showing was recorded; this being the days before video-tape (which would become available a couple of years late), the process basically involved filming a TV monitor, and the resulting picture quality leaves more than a little to be desired, especially when you start watching it. However, the brain adapts, and the grainy, ghostly quality of the images eventually ceases to matter.

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