GARNETT, TONY

British Producer

Tony Garnett, producer, was a central figure in the group (including writer Dennis Potter and director Ken Loach) which revolutionized British television drama in 1960s, creating something of a golden age.

An actor, he was recruited by Sidney Newman in 1963 as a script editor for a new BBC drama series The Wednesday Play. British television drama in the 1950s had been dominated by classic theatrical texts done in the studio, normally live, with occasional 35mm film inserts. The coming of videotape meant only that these productions were done live-to-tape. The Wednesday Play, with a commitment to new talent and new techniques, changed all this. Influenced by the theatre of Joan Littlewood (Oh What a Lovely War) and the cinema of Jean-Luc Goddard (A bout de souffle), Garnett sought contemporary, overtly radical, scripts for the series which he was producing by 1964.

In 1966, he produced, with Loach directing, Cathy Come Home. In a Britain complacent that its welfare system was among the best in the world, this documentary-style film of the devastating effects of homelessness on one young family had enormous impact. It was to be the first of many controversies. Between 1967 and 1969, Garnett mounted 11 productions ranging in subject from the plight of contemporary casualized building workers (The Lump by Jim Allen, directed by Ken Loach) to aristocratic corruption in Nazi-era Germany (The Parachute by David Mercer, directed by Anthony Page). Garnett's productions became TV "events".

In the 1970s the pace slowed somewhat but not the combative quality of the work. In 1975 Days of Hope, a Jim Allen miniseries, rewrote the history of the decade before the 1926 General Strike as a betrayal of the working class by its own leaders. In 1978, another Allen miniseries, Law and Order, caused an uproar by treating professional criminals as just another group of capitalist entrepreneurs trying to turn a profit.

The cockney criminal slang in Law and Order was so authentic that the BBC program guide had to provide a glossary. The language and Northern accents in Kes, Garnett's first feature script produced in 1969, were also so authentic that this story of a disadvantaged boy and a kestrel had to be subtitled.

Uncompromising politics--"self-righteous idealism" as Garnett recalls it--and rigorous authenticity created a passionate, if completely uncommercial, oeuvre. But Garnett then discovered the critical importance, the "disciplines," of popular genres during the 1980s, a decade he spent in Hollywood. Here he learned "a movie should never be about what its about". Thus, for example, he produced in Follow That Bird and Earth Girls are Easy, two films about racial prejudice disguised as, respectively, a Sesame Street adventure and a comedy about space aliens.

In the 1990s, back in England, Garnett revisited the subjects of earlier work but now in popular genre form. Between The Lines was a hit crime series focused on police corruption because it was set in the internal investigation department of the force. Cardiac Arrest was a bitter examination of the state of Britain's socialized medical system but in the form of a black situation comedy series. Garnett, characteristically, continued to rely heavily on new talent.

Tony Garnett has been, and remains, one of the major shaping intelligences of British television drama.

-Brian Winston

 

TONY GARNETT. Born in Birmingham, West Midlands, England, 3 April 1936. Attended local primary and grammar schools; University of London. Began career as assistant manager and, briefly, actor; script editor for producer James McTaggart on The Wednesday Play series, BBC, meeting longtime collaborator Kenneth Loach, 1964; first collaboration as producer with Loach, on Cathy Come Home, 1966; co-founded, with Loach, Kestrel Films, 1969; debut as film director, 1980. Chairman, World Productions.

TELEVISION SERIES

1975      Days of Hope
1978      Law and Order
1992-94 Between the Lines

TELEVISION PLAYS

1962 Climate of Fear
1962 The Boys
1965 Up the Junction
1966 Cathy Come Home
1966 Little Master Mind
1967 The Lump
1967 In Two Minds
1967 The Voices in the Park
1967 Drums Along the Avon
1967 An Officer of the Court
1968 The Golden Vision
1968 The Gorge
1969 The Parachute
1969 Some Women
1969 The Big Flame
1970 After a Lifetime
1972 The Gangster Show: The Resistible Rise of         Arturo Ui
1973 Hard Labour
1973 Blooming Youth
1974 Steven
1974 The Enemy Within
1975 Five-Minute Films
1976 The Price of Coal
1978 The Spongers
1979 Black Jack
1989 Fat Man and Little Boy/Shadowmakers

FILMS

Kes (also writer), 1969; The Body, 1970; Family Life, 1971; Prostitute (also director), 1980; Deep in the Heart/Handgun (also director and writer), 1983; Follow That Bird, 1985; Earth Girls Are Easy, 1989.

 

See also Cathy Come Home; Loach, Ken; Wednesday Play