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The Wednesday Play: A Crack In The Ice (BBC Drama, Bill Fraser)

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Original Publicity for A Crack In The Ice: In planning a season of plays the producer’s first consideration is his audience. What is my audience?

I like to think it is the sort that will sit up all night to get tickets for Covent Garden, that fills the vast Royal Albert Hall for the Proms, that queues the length of Millbank for a new exhibition at the Tate Gallery, that invades Glyndebourne, Chichester, and Stratford-upon-Avon, and that keeps life pulsating at the National Film Theatre, The Arts, The Royal Court, and many other enterprising cinemas and theatres. It is to this audience that I feel we owe a debt; and the debt is to provide television drama of the sort which, without ever departing from the canons of showmanship, respects the intelligence of its audience by making some demand on its intellectual curiosity. Before making any claims for the new season it might help to analyse briefly the first eight plays scheduled for transmission. Of these eight, five have been written for television; of these five, three have their origins in literature.

Only two, In Camera and Malatesta, have ever been performed in this country before. Whereas the series is in no way a “Theatre of Reassurance” none of the plays can really be described as pessimistic except, obviously, Sartre’s parody of Hell. Nor can any of them be described as “sauce-bottle drama”; nor is there any commerce between these plays and the kitchen sink. Drama cannot survive if only old theatre pieces are to be presented on television. Creative writers must have the freedom of the television screen to explore their talents. But even the most creative writer cannot pump out original plays month after month, year after year. For the Wednesday Play series, writers have had the opportunity both to produce original work and to exercise themselves in dramatising the original ideas of others.

To foster both these ends we shall show in the new series works by Katherine Anne Porter, John Prebble, Alun Richards, Ronald Eyre, Sam Thompson, and Doctor Roger Manvell, whose new work The July Plot about the attempt to assassinate Hitler has just been published – and will be dramatised: a wide range to please all tastes either for “Tragedy, Comedy, History, Pastoral, Pastoral-Comical, Historical-Pastoral, Tragical-Historical, Tragical-Comical-Historical,” etc.

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The first play of the season, A Crack In The Ice, started as a short story called The Sentry by Nikolai Leskov, a nineteenth-century Russian (contemporary of Gorky) who was scarcely known in England until his collected works were published here recently. The story has been dramatised by Ronald Eyre who also directs the play. The play has excitement, humour, humanity, and, underneath it all, a serious contemporary meaning. This last is important because it is the intention of the Wednesday Play always to have some relevancy to our own times. The play is remarkable for two reasons: first, it experiments with new techniques which, quite unwittingly, were being used and have already been seen in Diary Of A Young Man – which proves perhaps that good ideas are endemic; secondly, in an extremely strong cast headed by Michael Hordern we bring back to the screen in his first straight part since appearing in Bootsie And Snudge that fine actor Bill Fraser. (Radio Times, October 22, 1964 – Article by Peter Luke).

This was the very first Wednesday Play and one of only three from the season that still survives.

Series: The Wednesday Play Season 1 Episode 1

Cast: Richard Hurndall (Narrator), Michael Hordern (General Kokoshkin), Bill Fraser (Lieutenant Colonel Svinin), Derek Newark (Private Postnikov), Donald Webster (Sergeant Platov), James Maxwell (Captain Miller), Jack May (Lieutenant Kirov), Trevor Peacock (Kirov’s Driver and Hospital Orderly), Ray Mort (Peasant), Anthony Brown (Guard), Jay McGrath (Guard), James Appleby (Guard), Robert Pitt (Guard), Bill McAllister (Guard), Derek Martin (Guard), David Kramer (Guard), Duncan Lewis (Superintendent of Police), Conrad Monk (Policeman), Peter Madden (The Bishop), Roger Swaine (Aide To Kokoshkin), Duncan Livingstone (Batman To Svinin), David Kelsey (Guard), John Bay (Guard), Colin Vance (Painter / Voice of Prisoner), Bill McAllister (Policeman), Derek Martin (Policeman), Bill Nicholas (Tzar)

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Writer, Producer and Director: Ronald Eyre / Story: Nikolai Leskov / Story Editor: Harry Moore / Music: Norman Kay / Drawings: Signum

UK / BBC One / 1×85 minute episode / Broadcast 28 October 1964


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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