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Dead Letter (ABC Armchair Theatre, Gwen Cherrell)



In Dead Letter, an edition of Armchair Theatre, as Alec Batty’s relatives gather for tea after his funeral, they discover that they have an inheritance problem on their hands.

Peter Coppock in the Television Weekly of 14 Oct 1962 previewed the drama: Funerals are not the happiest of things, and perhaps the worst aspect is the invasion by the deceased close relatives after the burial. Sometimes, with the smell of money in their nostrils, people appear to go completely haywire, and this comedy-drama tells just such a story. Alec Batty has died, and his two brothers, Chris and Stan, return with their respective wives to Alec’s house for an after the funeral high tea. They look forward to sharing Alec’s fortune which they believe to be considerable, but they gradually become suspicious of Mrs Kay, the middle aged housekeeper.

The same edition of the magazine also briefly touched on Gwen Cherrell’s writing career, which was bringing her some success at the time with a film script, Don’t Talk to Strange Men and two editions of Armchair Theatre – The Push Over (1963) and The Madam (1965).

The Leicester Evening Mail of Sat 13 Oct 1962 previewed the production and also focused on Gwen Cherrell (she was born in Leicester): OLD NEWTONIAN and one-time Little Theatre actress, Gwen Cherrell, now a successful West End actress, makes a television appearance tomorrow night in ITV’s Armchair Theatre. In Dead Letter she plays the part of a housekeeper in the bachelor home of a man who has just died. Gwen is a R.A.D.A. product who made her way to the top via the Old Vic. She is at present having a success in three capacities. Last week Miss Cherrell opened on the London stage in Muriel Spark’s first play, “Doctors of Philosophy.” And soon she will make her debut as a TV playwright when ABC present her first television play “The Pushover” (production date yet to be decided).

The Stage of Thursday 11 October 1962 also focused on Gwen Cherrell’s success as both actress and writer when previewing the play: ACTRESS Gwen Cherrell, who plays the attractive housekeeper in “Dead Letter”, ABC’s “Armchair Theatre” play next Sunday, will make her own debut as a tv playwright when ABC present her first tv play “The Pushover”… (production date yet to be decided). Gwen Cherrell first turned author in 1958, when her comedy “Members Only” broke box office records at Guildford Repertory and was later broadcast on the radio. While Miss Cherrell was rehearsing Dead Letter”, ABC story editor George Kerr heard that she had written a tv play, read it and bought it for production this winter.

F.G. in The Belfast Telegraph (Mon 15 Oct 1962) briefly reviewed the play: Last nights TV play “Dead Letter” had a Yorkshire setting and some quite sulphureous Yorkshire characters. The situation was neat and the greediness that was the theme of the play completely in character.

Clifford Davis in The Daily Mirror (Mon 15 Oct 1962) was positive in his thoughts on the play: Robert Storey, a Yorkshire chartered accountant who has now taken up full time writing, provided ITV’s Armchair Theatre with his first TV play last night “Dead Letter”. This story of two brothers – and their wives – wrangling over their brother’s estate immediately after his funeral, hit the screen with tremendous impact. The characters were blunt, plain-spoken and well drawn, and William T. Kotcheff’s direction had pace and vitality. “Dead Letter” was very much alive.

The Leicester Chronicle (Fri 19 Oct 1962) also carried a short review again with an emphasis on local girl Cherrell: GWEN CHERRELL, whom I remember playing one of gypsies in a crowd scene of “Maria Marten” at Leicester Theatre Royal, has certainly come on since those days. Her performance in “Dead Letter” , the play seen on ABC television on Sunday, was effectively touching. The whole thing — writing, acting and direction was well done. Drama on the ad channel can often give the BBC a run for its money. A slice of life usually makes a good theatrical meal, and this was true of Sunday’s play.

The production was popular enough to make it into the top 3 shows of the week according to ratings compiler TAM with 7289 million homes tuning in. Coronation Street was number one (and number two) with 8868 million homes tuning in.

Cast: Ruth Dunning (Ethel Batty), Brewster Mason (Chris Batty), Laurence Hardy (Stan Batty), Patricia Burke (Lorna Batty), Gwen Cherrell (Mrs Kay)

Writer: Robert Storey / Production Design: Timothy O’Brien / Producer: Sydney Newman / Director: William T. Kotcheff

UK / ITV – ABC / 1×50 minute episode / Broadcast Sunday 14 October 1962 at 9.35pm