Notes on Nutcracker

The cover of the Nutcracker script book. (c) Jaz Wiseman

For fans of vintage TV, there is a dearth of supporting material, from which more details can be gleaned. It’s one area where contemporary television has it so much better. Behind-the-scenes documentaries, cast and crew blogs, even the social media chatter of spoilers, if such activity doesn’t make you apoplectic with fury. It’s all there, at the swipe of an icon.

Learning more about shows made in the pre-digital age is a messier, dustier job. You may be rummaging about in paper files full of smudgy carbon copies and the brown ring marks of long-drunk cups of tea. You may be wading through the stock of a charity shop, or risking your eyesight spooling through a videotape from the Cretaceous era, for a local news bulletin.

Every now and then, however, a little bit of new work is added to the research material available. TV historian Jaz Wiseman has published several script books, featuring episodes from series such as The New Avengers, The Saint, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). His latest volume is an episode of The Champions, a show that I’ve written about before on this site.

The episode in question, ‘Nutcracker’, was written by Philip Broadley and directed by Roy Ward Baker, whose long career included work for both big and small screens. He’s best remembered for helming A Night To Remember, which is, 65 years after its release, still by far the best film about the Titanic. Wiseman has access to Baker’s personal copy of Broadley’s script, and it’s presented here in facsimile form, complete with the director’s handwritten amendments. There’s no way of knowing how many drafts the script went through, though as this is the director’s copy, it’s safe to assume it had already spent time on the desk of script supervisor Dennis Spooner.

Any discussion about the spy series of the Sixties with a hefty dash of fantasy must acknowledge the mighty shadow that The Avengers casts across the genre. ‘Nutcracker’ is a particularly Avengers-ish instalment of The Champions, with a brainwashing dentist, vault doors that open when the right tune is played, and coded bowties. While the finished episode never flies off into the out-and-out surrealism of Steed’s show, reading the script shows these elements are an integral part of the story, rather than stylistic add-ons with an eye on what the competition was doing.

Wrapped up with a detailed biographical essay about Broadley, this book is very welcome indeed. With The Champions currently enjoying reruns and affectionate reviews, courtesy of the Talking Pictures TV channel, there’s hopefully a market for a few more scripts from this well-made, well-regarded ITC series.

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