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The Man with a Flower in His Mouth (1930)

TV Movie  -   -  Drama  -  14 July 1930 (UK)
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A man with a fatal illness whiles away his time at an outdoor cafe talking about himself and his wife to a stranger.

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Cast

Uncredited cast:
Earl Grey ...
The Man (uncredited)
Lionel Millard ...
The Customer (uncredited)
Gladys Young ...
The Woman (uncredited)
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A man with a fatal illness whiles away his time at an outdoor cafe talking about himself and his wife to a stranger.

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Drama

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14 July 1930 (UK)  »

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1 : 2.32
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British television's first drama. It was also the first dramatic television broadcast ever attempted anywhere in the world. See more »

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Not the first, but the start of something big
2 October 2006 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Often claimed (here, for instance, and at Wikipedia) as the world's first TV play, this was no such thing. As the following entry correctly records...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0378625/ ...

that honour belongs to 'The Queen's Messenger', a melodramatic piece by Harley Manners broadcast by General Electric at their Schenectady experimental station almost two years earlier. Arguably it was more venturesome than the BBC's debut: it used three cameras and the director, Mortimer Stewart, mixed their feeds in a control box.

Pirandello's 'L'Uomo dal Fiore in Bocca' is an adaptation from a short novel: essentially a philosophical dialogue in a cafe between a man with a cancerous throat (hence the title) and a businessman who has just missed the train to work and has time to kill. The Baird 30-line technology allowed only one actor to appear at a time, and since all broadcasts then were largely confined to heads and shoulders, this made it suitable fare. They were not even talking heads, since the BBC stingily did not allot enough bandwidth to let sound and vision be simulcast. Instead the few hundred viewers first saw the characters silently mouthing, then heard their words on a dark screen.

Neither could the single fixed camera, scanning the scene with a whirling Nipkow disc, cut from face to face. A chequered fading board had to be slid across the scene for a lap-dissolve effect. It was worked by 16-year-old trainee George Inns, who grew up to be producer of the long-running (and now maudit) 'Black and White Minstrel Show'. Four backdrops by the well-known artist CRW Nevinson were suitably futuristic and semi-abstract.

Fitting too was the presence of Marconi, the wireless pioneer and countryman of Pirandello. He was among dignitaries who watched the play in a canvas tent, menaced by high winds, on the roof of the Baird Company's studio in Covent Garden. The Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, is said to have tuned in at No. 10 Downing Street, to which Baird, always adept at publicity, had gifted a 'televisor'.

Apart from faces of the three actors, close-ups of their hands were cut in to vary the monotony. To get the requisite definition of features, faces had to be made up in bright yellow with blue lips. Incidental music was furnished by a gramophone. The result was deemed by critics to be wireless with illustrations, although the director, Lance Sieveking, had a reputation in the BBC for excessive 'artiness' as a radio documentary innovator. Much influenced by Russian film's theories of montage, he must have felt cramped.

The British may not have produced the first television play, but they soon led the world in this as in most branches of the infant art. By 1939 the BBC could transmit a three-hour musical from a West End theatre using an OB unit, and was regularly showing 90-minute live studio productions with filmed inserts for exteriors.


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