15 December 1955 (BBC 1) Othello

Patrick Wymark as Montano orders the guards to hold Iago (Paul Rogers) as his villainy is unmasked.

Patrick Wymark plays Montano, former governor of Cyprus, in Tony Richardson's BBC adaptation of Othello. Back in 1951, Wymark had made his professional stage debut with a one-line walk-on part in the Old Vic production of Othello. There, as here, Paul Rogers had played Iago. In the intervening years, Wymark had worked his way up the cast list, most recently playing the Porter in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre production of Macbeth and in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the host of the Garter Inn. It was in a special performance for the BBC on 2nd October 1955, that Wymark had made his TV debut.

The BBC production of Othello was ground-breaking in many ways. Winning the front page of that week's Radio Times, drama head Elwyn Jones proclaimed that it was the first performance in the UK to have Othello played by a black actor, since Paul Robeson in 1937. American-born Gordon Heath had starred in a BBC production of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones in 1953 and narrated the Halas and Batchelor cartoon version of Animal Farm.*

Gordon Heath as Othello with Rosemary Harris as Desdemona

Staff director Tony Richardson was still some months away from his stage success with the Royal Court Theatre, but took a bold approach to the production. Broadcast from 7:30pm to 9:30 pm on Thursday 15 December 1955, the first 25 minutes set in Venice were telerecorded in the studio on 4th December. This was supposedly to get around a shortage of studio space. The bulk of the play, set on Cyprus, was performed live.

Although an early role for Wymark, he is assured and soldierly as Montano - former Governor of Cyprus, now replaced by Othello who he respects as a former commanding officer. He has a good scene celebrating with Iago (Paul Rogers) and the increasingly drunken Cassio (Robert Hardy). It is Montano who steps in (to his cost) when Cassio flies off the handle and Montano who later restores order at the play's tragic conclusion. Although not recognised at the time, Wymark delivers solid support to the lead actors.

*Gordon Heath and his partner Lee Payant ran a cafe of Paris' left bank called L'Abbaye. Here they performed and recorded American and French folk and blues songs.Payant also dubbed Robert Hoffman's character in the English language version of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

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