Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Southern Television's dramatisation of T.H. White's The Master

Southern Television, which held the ITV broadcasting licence for the South and South-East of England until the end of 1981, had a reputation in the 1960s for its children's programmes.

Most of these were wiped long ago, including the drama series Mystery Hall, which I think I remember watching in 1967.

But the lost Southern series I really mourn is The Master from 1966, because it was based on a book by T.H. White.

As the blurb on my Puffin edition says:

This is, in some ways, a surprising book to come from the author of The Sword in the Stone and Mistress Masham's Repose, for it is, at first reading, a straightforward thriller.

In fact it's almost a James Bond thriller, in that it involves an evil mastermind bent on world domination. His lair is inside Rockall, a rock in the North Atlantic that Britain claimed two years before The Master was published in 1957. And because it is a children's book he is foiled, not by 007, but by a pair of twins and their dog.

The blurb goes on to suggest that the book

also has the quality of writing and the subtle undertones which made the late T.H. White a superlative story-teller.

The undertones are certainly there, including discussion of the morality of warfare. And the first sentence, enticing and perfectly pitched at its intended audience to be see what a fine writer White is:

It was a blistering day in July, and the swell of the sea was like melted lemonade bottles.

The other evening I discovered a Twitter account dedicated to missing television programmes and run by Sam Czopanser. (I suspect this is a pseudonym as it was the name of a character in a largely lost 1970 science fiction series called The Adventures of Don Quick.) Anyone with an interest in missing TV should follow him.

And in a recent thread Sam included TV Times cuttings on The Master.

There was the full-page feature you can see above, including an overacting John Laurie two years, the two young heroes and the only adult goodie George Baker.

Then there was the cast list from TV Times - the first episode was broadcast on 11 January 1966.

Have a look too at the programme before The Master. Five O'Clock Club featured Alexis Corner, a pioneer of British blues, and an 18-year-old David Essex.

And there was a feature on the making of The Master and on its young stars in particular, which for some reason refuses to appear as large as I would like, so zoom in if you wish.

Adrienne Poster, under the name Adrienne Posta, appeared in films of the 1960s and early 1970s, with Up the Junction being the most notable, and also did a lot of televions and recorded pop singles.

The reference to Paul Guess having already appeared in Oliver! reminded me of Alan Bennett's diary entry, later published in his Writing Home, after auditioning boys for his own play 40 Years On:

Many belong to a species of stage boy, only related to childhood by their small size. All the other attributes of boyhood - youth, gaiety, innocence - have long since gone. Squat creatures, seemingly weaned on Woodbines, they are the boys who have been in Oliver! Lionel Bart has cut a swathe through the nation's youth like the 1914-18 war. They are the new Lost Generation.

Guess can't have suffered too badly, as he was in the cast for the play's first night.


Frank Little said...

That was a strange description of "Oliver!"'s boys by Alan Bennett, almost as if he were accusing Bart of paedophilia. I knew Bart was gay, but surely not that.

Jonathan Calder said...

It's true there wasn't much safeguarding in those days, but I think you're reading something into it that isn't there.