November 13, 2012

On April 2, 2005 at 8:20pm the BBC did something it hadn't done in 22 years - it transmitted a live drama.

The Quatermass Experiment was broadcast as part of BBC Four's TV on Trial season, a week-long season exploring the past 50 years of British programming.

The BBC had alloted two hours for the transmission but the ran short finishing in only 97 minutes!  Also the news of the Pope's death broke during transmission, luckily BBC Four chose to insert a news crawl across the bottom urging viewers to tune to News 24 for “a major announcement”, rather than break the live feed of the show. 

David as Dr. Gordon Briscoe
"As harried cameramen, technical staff and actors criss-crossed the vast set on a disused Ministry of Defence base in Chobham, Surrey, with just one day of rehearsals left, the executive producer, Richard Fell, defined the mood as one of nervous excitement. The last live drama on the BBC was an edition of the afternoon play from Pebble Mill in 1983, but it has been more than 30 years since it was common practice.

Visitors to the set are greeted by the sight of the rocket from which astronaut Victor Carroon will emerge having crash landed back on Earth. Around the back of the MoD hanger is an area which will double as the exterior of the Tate Modern for the climactic showdown.

Fell admits he has been obsessively checking the weather forecast. "But if it rains, we get wet," he shrugs.

There are 17 locations, with indoor sets including a lab oratory, a newspaper editor's office and a ministerial den. Ten minutes of pre-recorded footage apart, much will depend on getting cameras, actors and sound people from one set to another on cue. Even the music will be played live by an onset composer. "It's bringing back that sense of event, of place and time," Fell said. "Once the story gets going, you're hoping that the live element will add to it rather than distract the viewer." 

"We're hoping that the ability to run the scenes in real time and the fact that they're playing it live to an audience will give you the kind of intensity you get in the best theatre. It's like a first night, specifically performed for you in the comfort of your own home."

The team, from cameramen to producers to actors, has had to learn from scratch the process of making a live drama. Only fragments of the originals remained after the tapes were recorded over by BBC archivists. For the cast, including Mark Gatiss, Jason Flemyng and David Tennant, it has been invigorating yet nerve-racking experience." - The Guardian - April 2, 2005 - Owen Gibson

The DVD had interviews from the cast that were filmed after the event the BBC Cult website also had a few clips of the cast talking about the event while they were in rehearsal - here are David's:

 The 10th season of the BFI at Southbank featured a month of film and discussion about live TV drama in February 2009 - the Quatermass Experiment was featured on February 10th, after the screening there was a Q&A with director Sam Miller, executive producer Richard Fell and producer Alison Willett. The poster for the season featured David.