ScreenPlays.tv (http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com), “Theatre Plays for British Television” is documenting Stanley Houghton’s The Younger Generation that was produced in 1959. Far from a brief mention, those documenting it are digging to the very bottom of everything the production offered. The Younger Generation has never been forgotten and this new documentation will make sure it never will be.
Welcome to the first Screen Plays blog post of 2014, the last full year of the Screen Plays research project. John and I will be spending a lot of time this year creating detailed database records for the 3000+ British television productions of theatre plays that are known to have been transmitted. There is so much of potential interest that we must necessarily skip lightly over during the information gathering and data entry processes, just to make sure that we cover all the necessary ground before the database is published online in 2015. It is a shame, however, not to flag up some of these potentially interesting productions, both for ourselves – topics for future research, perhaps? – and for our readers. One of my new year resolutions is, therefore, to post shorter and more frequent blog articles on productions which have caught my eye but which I don’t presently have the time to research in depth owing to my other research and writing commitments.
I shall start off the new year by registering a few thoughts arising from the 1959 Granada production ofThe Younger Generation by Stanley Houghton (1881-1913) which I have recently added to the database and which John and I watched together last week as part of John’s preparation for programming the BFI Southbank season of Edwardians plays on British television. Houghton, one of the Manchester School of dramatists whose work had regularly premiered at Annie Horniman’s Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, is best known for Hindle Wakes (1912). Whereas Hindle Wakes was produced at least four times on television (BBC, 1947, 1950 and 1957; Granada for ITV, 1976), The Younger Generation seems only to have received the one production in 1959, directed by John Knight for ITV’s Play of the Week series. As John has outlined in his blog post on Granada’s Manchester plays, Houghton had an important place in Granada Television’s project to adapt and produce many of the plays of the Manchester School first produced at the Gaiety half a century earlier, ‘both as celebrations of regional identity and as precursors of contemporary writing by authors such as Arnold Wesker, Alun Owen, John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney’.
The Younger Generation, subtitled A Comedy for Parents, premiered at the Gaiety in 1910, a time as yet untroubled and unshaken by the world war soon to come. It is a gentle comedy portraying generational conflict in a pious, supposedly teetotal, middle-class family in Salchester (a Manchester suburb derived from combining Salford and Manchester). The three children of the family are now young adults in their late teens and early twenties: the eldest, Grace (played by Prunella Scales in the Granada production), has found the man she wishes to marry (Clifford, played by Donald Pickering) and they frequently spend time together alone, in secret; Arthur, played very convincingly by Dinsdale Landen, works in a bank but longs for a more interesting and exciting life; and the youngest is Reggie (Terence Knapp) who dreams of giving up the secretaryship of the Sunday School and emigrating to Canada to live ‘a man’s life’.
Their parents, especially James Kennion (played by John Barrie: see portrait shot from the TV Times adjacent, and the listing above for the rest of the cast), have too little confidence in their own upbringing of their children and attempt to maintain too tight hold on the parental reins as their children begin navigating adulthood. Other perspectives on this tussle are offered by Uncle Tom, brother to Kennion, who privately reminds him of the drunken larks they shared as young men; Mr Fowle, a Councillor of the Liberal Association who approves of Kennion’s abstinence for political purposes, even if he doesn’t go in for it himself; and the Kennion brothers’ own mother, who has clearly ruled her sons with a rod of iron. The play’s comic potential lies in the concentration of all three young adults deciding, independently, to break out from their parents’ strict grip at the same time: all of a sudden, they gain the confidence to say what has hitherto been the unspeakable and demand the unthinkable, leaving their parents baffled, alarmed and reactionary.
Neither the original play nor the television production seem to have created much of a critical splash. The nearest thing I’ve come across to a review of the television production is a note by Maurice Richardson to the effect that he had wanted to watch it but the BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen’s 1935 novel The House in Paris was just too absorbing to allow him to change channel (‘Knocking Copy’, The Observer, 6 September 1959, p. 22). One can imagine that this was a nicely diverting Tuesday-evening entertainment for the Granada audience (although what that audience, which was spread across Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and North Wales thought of some of the ‘northern’ accents assumed by the non-northern players remains to be discovered).
Finish this article here: http://screenplaystv.wordpress.com
The Younger Generation may not hit as well in the current generation but we shall see. Sometimes digging up the past isn’t as popular as embracing the future. It’s good that we have people documenting the history of older television shows as The Younger Generation and many shows like it were pivitol in their day and lend themselves to modern adaptation.