Oddly enough, my first writing job for BBC TV was also about junior reporters, only this time it was a group of youngsters who set up their own newspaper, calling it "ADVENTURE WEEKLY". Originally conceived as a seven-part childrens’ drama series by the late Shaun Sutton, who was later to become BBC TV’s Head of Drama, I was called in to write six of them, mainly, I was told, because Shaun was too pre-occupied with other projects.
Although the idea was hardly earth-shattering, the series and characters were really very appealing. I enjoyed the job very much, not only because it gave me valuable television writing experience, but also because it gave me the chance to work with the late Joan Hickson, that enchanting Miss Marples in a later BBC TV series.
In 1980, Cedric Messina, who had seen the favourable newspaper reviews I had received for my BBC radio play, 'NIGHT OF THE WOLF', asked me to write a massive television version of 'THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS', which I adapted from the collected translations of the ARABIAN NIGHTS by the distinguished Victorian explorer and writer, Sir Richard Burton. It was a truly mind-shattering challenge. Trying to select which stories to use out of so many caused me a great deal of anguish, not only for artistic reasons, but because of the restraints put on funds that were available. The BBC’s budget for drama in those days did not altogether allow for the production of such large-scale epics!
However, 'THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS' was an astonishing, innovative experience, for, apart from the beautifully designed costumes, and a wonderfully supportive production team, the entire extravaganza was shot in CSO, or Colour Separation Overlay as it was then called, which meant that there was no set for the poor actors to work in, only a large blue backcloth spread out in the background of the vast Studio 1 complex at the BBC Television Centre. As I don’t even have enough talent to master my own computer, please don’t ask me to explain the details of all that technological wizardry. All I can tell you is that I was in awe of the skilled team who produced all those dazzling effects, and even though their efforts may look a bit tame against today’s 'LORD OF THE RINGS' film technology, I tip my hat to the team who brought my adaptation to life in such a magical way. Oh, and by the way, the fine cast was headed by Frank Finlay, Stratford Johns, and Patrick Troughton. The transmission was on New Year’s Eve, and, thank God, was well received by both critics and viewers.
In 1982, Cedric Messina asked me to write another television play for him, this time based on the old Edgar Wallace play and film, 'THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY'. It was really a wonderful piece of Grand Guignol, and I enjoyed every minute of working on it, and so I think, did the cast. And what a distinguished cast it was: Virginia McKenna, Warren Clarke, and Tim Woodward. The director was Chris Menaul, who had a very innovative way of directing, almost like a film in bits and pieces, rehearse, record etc. The result was a good old yarn told in a fresh new way. Chris went on later to direct the memorable 'PRIME SUSPECT' with Helen Mirren.
In the same year, BBC English by Television asked me to write a drama-documentary series about a travel agent touring around the Far East doing business with local officials in the travel industry. The reason I was chosen was because of one of my former jobs as a travel agent clerk with Sir Henry Lunn Limited, which had given me some inside knowledge of international flights, shipping, rail services, and hotel reservations. The twelve-part series turned out to be a formidable assignment, for the reconnaissance work alone took me to countries such as Hong Kong, Indonesia (including Bali), the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. However, I seemed to be a walking prophet of doom, for soon after I departed each of these magical locations, I seemed to have left in my wake one natural disaster after another, including a typhoon in Hong Kong and an erupting volcano in the Philippines! But the series achieved what it was designed for, namely to teach travel agent employees through the Far East region how to conduct their business in English. Mind you, I’m not so sure my own brand of English helped them all that much!
The rest of my BBC television work was done through our own SAFFRON PRODUCTIONS.