Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Houseman's Tale (BBC/1987)

The Houseman's Tale was a 1980s BBC drama tinged with notoriety because the original version of it was "banned" by BBC bosses and had to be re-edited for transmission.

The story centres around Dr David Campbell, a young medical intern gaining hands-on experience working in a busy teaching hospital (such a person is termed a "Houseman").  It starred Colin Forsythe as David Campbell.

The Houseman's Tale was originally made by BBC Scotland in 1985 as a four-part drama with each episode lasting 50 minutes.  However it was considered too controversial to be shown in its original form and it was edited down into a two-part drama for eventual transmission.  This was finally broadcast on 21st and 28th March 1987.  The original episodes 1 and 2 were merged into a single first episode lasting 75 minutes (losing approximately 25 minutes of material) and episodes 3 and 4 were amalgamated to become the new part two lasting 80 minutes (losing 20 minutes of material).

The programme has never been commercially released and only a few retained collectors' clips from the broadcast version have emerged showing Julie Graham in two topless scenes.

Two full episodes were posted on YouTube in 2011 (in multiple parts) and interestingly it turns out to be the unbroadcast version rather than the transmitted version.  The YouTube posting includes the whole of episode 1 and 2 and about the first 10 minutes of episode 3.  For some reason the rest does not seem to have been posted. 

Here is a YouTube collection link which contains most of the parts although the last few are separately posted and not on this link, but can be searched for separately.

Watching it now it is hard to see what was so controversial about it.  In many ways it actually seems quite a modern drama, so perhaps its storytelling style was too ahead of its time?  It shows the overworked Dr Campbell's daily routine treating ward patients and socialising with other junior doctors and nurses.  From watching just episodes 1 and 2, there isn't too much of an actual story plot that drives it, and is mainly just slice-of-life stuff - the only recurring thread being a mystery illness which the doctors seem unable to properly diagnose.

It was already known that Julie Graham had some nudity in the broadcast version, but now it can be seen that these scenes were different in the untransmitted version.  And additionally there are a couple of scenes featuring other actresses that quite possibly didn't make it into the broadcast version at all.

Julie Graham
In the unbroadcast original version of episode 1, Julie Graham, who is playing Dr Campbell's girlfriend Nurse Joan Masson, is seen fully frontal as she is getting dressed for work while she chats to Campbell who is still in bed.

However in the transmitted version (as seen via collectors' retained clips) she is just seen topless in the scene.  This was achieved in a somewhat sneaky way by placing a bannered caption across the picture telling us her character name which also serves to hide her lower parts.  This captioning device was already being used by the programme to display each characters' name on screen when they first appear, so the editors simply took advantage of this and moved her caption to serve a dual purpose.

This shows how the broadcast version differs from the original

Later in the same episode Julie Graham had a further topless scene in bed when she is complaining of stomach pains and Campbell examines her.  This scene appeared in the broadcast version but in a shortened form and the scene ended before the part where Campbell pulls the sheets further down to examine her abdomen.

Julie Graham's two scenes

Other Actresses
The unbroadcast version contains nudity that has never previously been seen in vintage collectors' clips or screenshots and so it's a fair bet that they were edited out entirely.

In the original episode 2, Juliet Cadzow has a topless bed scene with Dr Campbell.  It occurs after a party when Campbell takes her back to his room to console her for her boyfriend going off with another woman at the party.  It seems possible that the entire (quite long) party scene was dropped because the original end credits show the name of the actor playing the party's DJ (Alex Mathieson).  This actor's name does not appear on any of the official credits for the broadcast version either on IMDB or Kaleidoscope Guide perhaps suggesting that the party scene was not used. 

Juliet Cadzow

And in episode 3 (in the first 10 minutes thereof that appears on YouTube).  Mary Ann Reid is seen topless in a hospital bed scene where her breasts are being examined by a consultant and his staff (including Campbell) prior to having a removal operation.  This scene is especially cringe worthy for the insensitive way the senior consultant treats her and you can see why it might have decided not to use it in the edited version, if that was indeed the case.  Mary Ann Reid still appears in the official episode credits so she wasn't edited out entirely.  Because the posted material ends soon after that scene I don't know how her storyline progressed.

Mary Ann Reid

Even in its edited form it clearly wasn't considered something that many viewers would want to watch because it was tucked away in a very late Saturday night slot (10:30pm).  Perhaps so as to "offend" as few people as possible!  But no doubt if it was repeated today, in either form, it would be reassessed as groundbreaking.

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