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Stand Up, Nigel Barton: From Script to Screen

Posted 25th February 2018

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Stand Up, Nigel Barton - title card

“Television brings us the Prime Minister, and a faith healer, a bleeding boxer and a sinking ship, a coronation and an assassination. The picture we see may have been thrown across the Atlantic or even off the moon: it can then seem a highly comic sort of activity to write Act One, Scene One, rehearse in a draughty Territorial Army drill-hall for a fortnight, remove the expletive ‘Christ!’ and finally sandwich yourself between Harold Wilson being frank and somebody walking in space.”

– Dennis Potter, Introduction to The Nigel Barton Plays

Much has been written about Dennis Potter’s two plays Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton, which aired in consecutive weeks on BBC1 as part of The Wednesday Play in December 1965. About their takes on class and politics; on how both are some of the most autobiographical works in the Potter canon; and how both plays point to themes present in Potter’s later work.

None of that is what I want to talk about here, however. Instead, I want to take a look at the Penguin paperback The Nigel Barton Plays, published two years later in 1967. This contains an excellent introduction by Potter, and scripts for both plays. Note the word “scripts”, there. They aren’t transcripts of the broadcast version of the plays. These contain numerous differences – in fact, they are the original scripts written by Potter, stage directions and all. Which means, by comparing the contents of the book to the final plays as broadcast, we can tell exactly what Potter originally intended to make it to air – and exactly how the rehearsal process changed things.

Spoiler: Potter wasn’t lying with his amusing anecdote about removing “the expletive ‘Christ!'”.

This article, then, is not a general analysis of Stand Up, Nigel Barton. Rather, it’s a look at exactly what changed between that script and the final programme. Of course, it can’t be a comprehensive list of all changes made to the show; that would be immensely tedious, and any good points would be lost in a sea of minor word changes and rephrases. I have, however, picked up on what I think are the most interesting differences – and I have tried to include every single change when it comes to profanity, as I think that’s the most important aspect of how Potter’s work was changed from script to screen.

While writing this piece, I have also had the pleasure of taking a look at pages of an actual copy of the script, as taken into rehearsals by Ian Fairbairn who was one of the children in the play. Aside from some different scene numbers, studying it gives confirmation that the text printed in The Nigel Barton Plays is the actual material taken into rehearsals. Many thanks to Andrew-Mark Thompson for his help here.

Let’s get going. Material from the book is styled like this, and dialogue from the show as broadcast is styled like this.

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‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Experiment

Posted 20th December 2015

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Quatermass addressing the nation

On the 2nd April 2005, BBC Four broadcast the BBC’s first live drama for over 20 years: a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, starring Jason Flemyng. It had a mixed reaction at the time – and indeed since – but I thought it was absolutely fabulous. Both as a programme in itself… and to finally watch a complete version of that first Quatermass story which doesn’t involve Brian Donlevy.

On the 31st October 2005, the DVD of the programme was released. Right at the beginning of the show, this caption was added:

Additional opening DVD caption

This caption is a blatant lie.

The version of the programme on DVD is not what audiences saw live on the 2nd April. It is, in fact, an entirely different edit. If you’re familiar with the programme, perhaps you’ve heard that one scene was replaced with a version from the rehearsal due to an actor drying, or that an off-screen crash was trimmed. Both are true; however, this is far from the full story. The programme was extensively re-cut, with many changes made across the entire programme.

I think you can see where this is leading. Below is a list of all the changes made to the DVD version compared to the programme’s original broadcast. All times given are for the DVD release, so even if you haven’t got access to the original version, you can still tell at which point a change was made.

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