Best British Drama In The 1960s
Emergency Ward 10 lead the way in 1960 as the top drama show and for all intents and purposes it was the UK’s actual first soap opera, albeit set in a hospital rather than a street.
Emergency Ward 10 had already been on British television since 1954 and its excellent storylines lead to its longevity and of course, successful soap operas do last a long time, just look at Coronation Street.
However, the real fun and games in British drama happened later in the decade when real innovation and boldness won the day. Shows like Danger Man and The Prisoner, both starring Patrick McGoohan were both enormously successful.
The Prisoner could, arguably, be seen as a forerunner to the likes of The Matrix. McGoohan became quite obsessed with the show but some of the story lines were really out there but its blend of sci-fi, drama and political subjugation seemed to strike a chord with the British public.
The Prisoner was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion, a sort of utopia designed and built by Sir Clough Williams Ellis in the style of an Italian village. It gave The Prisoner a unique landscape on which to roll out its bizarre themes.
Other dramas which enjoyed success in the 1960s include The Avengers, Doctor Finlay’s Casebook and Z Cars. The themes were all so different – The Avengers was a fabulous romp if a show with a sophisticated crime stopper in a bowler hat, assisted by a beautiful girl, played by future Bond girl Diana Rigg ( the BEST Avengers girl in my humble opinion), international espionage at its best.
It was copied by shows like The Champions, Jason King and Department S.
Doctor Finlay’s Casebook was about a local GP in a small Scottish village but British people seem to love these stories of local communities and their inhabitants and we do love a medical drama.
Z Cars was a cop show about British policemen fighting crime. It was hugely popular and ran for many years.
Other one off dramas caught the public attention.
‘Cathy Come Home’ caused a real stir when it was first shown as the young couple lose their home and eventually their child in a Britain without the right apparatus to support them. It shocked its 12 million viewers ,(almost a quarter of the UK tuned in to watch) and led to questions in the House of Commons and the BBC received thousands of phone calls and letters from people genuinely worried about the couple.
It was directed by the now reknowned director, Ken Loach who gave it a documentary style look and always worked with an ad hoc approach to scripts; it had real grit and genuine despair. Carol White used to talk later of people pushing money into her hands when they saw her shopping in London, truly believing that she was Cathy, the homeless girl who loses her husband and child to hard times.
‘Cathy Came Home’ was voted the best ever British drama in 2009, the accolade was well deserved.