Intermedial Relationships of Radio Features with Denis Mitchell’s and Philip Donnellan’s Early Television Documentaries

Wyver, John and Stevens, E. Charlotte (2018) Intermedial Relationships of Radio Features with Denis Mitchell’s and Philip Donnellan’s Early Television Documentaries. Media History, 24 (2). pp. 252-265. ISSN 1368-8804

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Writing of the closure in early 1965 of the Radio Features Department, Asa Briggs identifies one of the reasons for the controversial decision as ‘the incursion of television, which was developing its own features.’ ‘[Laurence] Gilliam and his closest colleagues believed in the unique merits of “pure radio”. The screen seemed a barrier’ (The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol. 5, p. 348). Rather than the screen being ‘a barrier’ for them, a number of the creators of the emerging television documentary were from the late 1950s onwards able to transfer and transform distinctive techniques of ‘pure radio’ into highly effective visual forms. Two key figures were the producers of ‘poetic’ documentaries Denis Mitchell and Philip Donnellan, who employed layered voices, imaginative deployments of music and effects, and allusive juxtapositions of sound and image, to develop an alternative (although always marginal) tradition to the supposedly objective approaches of current affairs and, later, verité filmmakers. And a dozen years after the dismemberment of the Features Department, Donnellan paid tribute to it in his glorious but little-seen film Pure Radio (BBC1, 3 November 1977). Taking important early films by Mitchell and Donnellan as case studies, this paper explores the impact of radio features on television documentaries in the 1950s and early 1960s, and assesses the extent to which the screen in its intermedial relationships with ‘pure radio’ was a barrier or, in the work of certain creators, an augmentation.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
30 May 2018Published Online
30 April 2018Accepted
Subjects: CAH24 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01-05 - media studies
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > School of English
Depositing User: Charlotte Stevens
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2018 10:30
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2023 11:55

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