Ian Curteis

Originally an actor, Ian Curteis graduated to BBC staff direction in 1963 and worked on episodes of Z Cars, Kipling, Out of the Unknown (William Trevor's Walk's End in 1966), and John Betjeman's Pity About the Abbey, before turning to full-time writing on the likes of Sunday Night Theatre (The Haunting, 1969), Doomwatch, The Onedin Line, and Thirty-Minute Theatre (A Distant Chill, 1971). Curteis' greatest talent is for biography and historical reconstructions, as reflected in his two contributions to Biography in 1970, Beethoven and Sir Alexander Fleming, which were followed by the somewhat dreary three-part Long Voyage Out of War (1971). In 1972 he wrote for another biographical series, BBC2's The Edwardians (Mr Rolls and Mr Royce).

1977's Philby, Burgess and Maclean was a reconstruction of the story of the three traitors (at a time when "the fourth man" wasn't yet known), directed by Gordon Flemyng for Granada. The late-70s were very much a boom time for Curteis, seeing him write People Like Us and Hess (1978), the six episode serial Rough Justice, The Atom Spies and The Prince Regent (1979). 1979 also saw Curteis' epic three-hour Churchill and the Generals for the BBC, with Timothy West as the Prime Minister and Ian Richardson as Montgomery. Later in the year, Suez 1956 was about the failed Anglo-French military attempt to take over the Suez Canal after the Egyptians nationalised it.

In late 1982 Curteis casually mentioned to BBC Director General Alasdair Milne the possibility of doing a similar play on the Falklands War and was surprised when Milne almost immediately commissioned it. Wary about the timing (the war had only ended a few months before), Curteis set to work, but because the BBC (with whom Curteis had a good working relationship, having most recently written Miss Morrison's Ghosts for BBC2 in 1981) was already under attack over its news coverage of the war, it was decided to shelve the project. Work re-commenced in 1985, the aim being to transmit the play on the anniversary of the Argentine invasion. Curteis began to sift through all the published sources of information, as well as interviewing top civil servants, military figures and politicians. The highly respected Cedric Messina was appointed as producer, he suggested David Giles as director, and studio time at BBC Television Centre was booked. Almost at the last minute, BBC Head of Drama Peter Goodchild (whose programme-making background was in documentaries rather than drama) suggested replacing Messina (who was in Kenya filming The Happy Valley at the time) as producer and requested - and then demanded - that alterations be made to the script to have ministers discussing the positive effect winning the war would have on the next election. Curteis was adamant that there was no evidence that such discussions had taken place, and as his contract (which also gave him right of veto on all major casting and production decisions) made him liable for the veracity of the play, he did not want to include such suggestions, which might be considered libelous. The play was cancelled, with the resulting controversy made worse when production of Charles Wood's Tumbledown went ahead. To date the only transmission of any part of the play has been the reading of a few excerpts in The Liberal Conspiracy in Channel 4's Banned season in 1991

In recent years Curteis has worked on The Nightmare Years (1990) for American television, the Channel 4/European co-production Mission Eureka (1991), and - marking a return to the BBC now under "new management" - the five-part adaptation of The Choir, from the novel by his then-wife, Joanna Trollope.

2002 finally saw the transmission of The Falklands Play - with Patricia Hodge giving a commanding performance as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - initially on the fledgling BBC4 satellite channel (a few days after an audio version with a slightly different cast on Radio 4), which was almost immediately followed by a terrestrial repeat on BBC2. Many of Curteis's long-time supporters praised the quality of the play and reiterated that it should have been transmitted at the time it was written. Sadly, as only a 90-minute timeslot was available on BBC4, Curteis's original script had to be reduced by some 50% (it was originally intended to comprise two 90-minute segments, separated by an interval for the 9 O'Clock News). Most the scenes involving members of the Argentine fascist junta were lost, along with all of those featuring Pope John Paul II, leading Curteis to note: "I'm sorry he had to go because the Pope had some rather good jokes - and you don't often hear the Pope tell jokes." The remainder of the script was essentially unchanged from the version published in 1986.

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[Biography as submitted for inclusion in The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (1996, 2nd edition), with minor corrections and updated material]

PAGE HISTORY:
28/10/01 Transferred to 625.org.uk
29/06/02 Updated; minor corrections; reformatted
08/03/04 Reformatted
04/03/13 Amendments and corrections