Don's diary

June 27, 1997

Monday

The BBC Wednesday Plays and postwar British drama project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is now in its second year and my mail is becoming relentless. Mondays are dedicated to answering the piles of post which arrive daily; several letters are responses to my requests for interviews from writers, producers and directors involved in the Wednesday Play series, all of whom are immensely helpful and eager to share their memories. Make appointments to meet and interview Nell Dunn, Verity Lambert and Ken Loach. Become excited as I am pathetically star-struck.

Tuesday

A regular meeting with the project directors, Jonathan Bignell and Stephen Lacey. We discuss my latest article. One of the main research aims is to evaluate the Wednesday Play in its institutional, ideological and aesthetic processes (each connected), and we decide to concentrate our attention on the last emphasis in the coming months. The project's book proposals are being read by two publishers but we have just received interest from a third: we have to make decisions quickly. To London in the evening for much-needed distraction at the theatre.

Wednesday

Letters from Melvyn Bragg and John Tulloch expressing great interest in the project. Both promise to give papers at a conference on television drama we are organising next April. Respond instantly as I am anxious to add their names to the luminaries who have already agree to speak. Send a mailshot of 100 fliers advertising the event. Become certain that I have poisoned myself by licking the glue of 100 envelopes but my sudden weakness could just be the result of receiving a letter from Melvyn Bragg. Confine myself to the library for the next seven hours in an effort to pull myself together.

Thursday

A day researching Wednesday Play source material at the BBC written archive centre, Caversham. All the files are held here, together with internal records detailing shifts in BBC policy direction 1964-1970 and the power struggles and ideological fights such shifts caused and expressed. The individual play files contain original audience research reports which assess reaction to the dramas at the time of transmission: press cuttings are usefully set against the responses found here, since they are often radically at odds with them. Meanwhile, furious memos pass backwards and forwards between drama chiefs, the corporation hierarchy, and their producers and directors; disgruntled writers fire off broadsides (a field Dennis Potter made his own). By 5pm I am exhausted by my day in a battle zone and return shell-shocked to gaze at the letter from Melvyn Bragg. Realise a slot on the South Bank Show is out of the question and seek solace over dinner with my partner and some colleagues.

Friday

Respond to an invitation to deliver a paper at a Baird Centre research seminar. They ask me to expand upon an article I wrote in Screen, but this may be a good opportunity to prepare a new piece introducing the major new line of inquiry discussed on Tuesday and receive feedback. Spend the second half of the day writing a short article outlining the project's work for a media journal.

Saturday

Finish the media journal article and update myself on the mail. Begin work on a new pre-commissioned article discussing David Mercer's contributions to the Wednesday Play. Although the deadline on this piece is months away, I am writing it immediately because the demands of conference organisation are growing all the time. I congratulate myself for diligence but this article is hardly duty: discovering plays such as Let's Murder Vivaldi and In Two Minds has been one of the revelations of this research. Mercer's plays deserve renewed scrutiny, and ensuring that they receive it does not seem to muchconstitute work.

Sunday

Due to a little-known clause in the Ten Commandments, the rules of the Sabbath do not apply to post-doc research fellows. Not only is the flow of work continuous, but it is so engrossing that it is impossible to leave alone. The more you find out, the more you want to find out; the fights, tensions and struggles pieced together through archival records become compulsive dramas in their own right, commenting upon an entire history of representation and of sociocultural movement; the series and serials viewed nightly for "relaxation" purposes increasingly slot into a framework of dramatic development and trigger new ideas for research avenues. Switching off from the Wednesday Play, as millions of viewers found 30 years ago, is hard to do.

Madeleine Macmurraugh-Kavanagh is a post-doctoral research fellow on the BBC Wednesday Plays and postwar British drama project at the University of Reading.

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