Exploring the lost television and technique of Fred O'Donovan

Wyver, J. 2017. Exploring the lost television and technique of Fred O'Donovan. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 37 (1), pp. 5-23.

TitleExploring the lost television and technique of Fred O'Donovan
AuthorsWyver, J.
Abstract

In the history of British television drama few notable creative figures are as forgotten as the actor, film director and pioneer producer Fred O’Donovan. After a distinguished career at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, after directing Ireland’s first feature film, and after nearly two decades’ work on the London stage, O’Donovan joined BBC Television in early 1938. As one of the first directors of studio drama he earned a ‘Produced by’ credit on more than 60 broadcasts. These included plays by the major Irish writers J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey as well as dramas by Eugene O’Neill, Chekhov and Molière.
Along with other television drama producers at that time, including Dallas Bower and Stephen Harrison, O’Donovan was a key agent in the fledgling form’s development. With his background in theatre and the cinema he also exemplified the medium’s intermedial engagement with the stage and other media of the day. According to his contemporaries he also worked with a highly distinctive studio style involving lengthy shots without cuts that was known as the ‘one camera technique’. But to date no moving image trace has been discovered of what at the time was a celebrated body of work.
In part because of this lack of recordings, and despite both his centrality to early television drama and the ‘one camera technique’ representing a significant aesthetic alternative for studio drama, Fred O’Donovan has received little attention in the literature on early television. Drawing on a range of written sources, and in particular the records of the BBC’s Written Archives Centre (WAC), this article begins the process of recovering O’Donovan’s work by offering a critical introduction to his career, an exploration of the production context in which he was operating, and a consideration of the significance of his ‘one-camera technique’ and its resonances in moving image culture since his death.

KeywordsBBC, television, Alexandra Palace, Fred O'Donovan, theatre, adaptation
JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Journal citation37 (1), pp. 5-23
ISSN0143-9685
Year2017
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Accepted author manuscript160923_finalFredO'Donovan.pdf
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/01439685.2016.1272807
Publication dates
Published19 Apr 2017

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