Question: Yesterday's Week In History has inspired this week's question - I thought The Norman Conquests was the first television adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, do you have any further details on Relatively Speaking in 1969 and were there any other plays broadcast before The Norman Conquests?
Answer: Relatively Speaking was the first television broadcast of an Ayckbourn play and was shown on 2 March, 1969; two years after the play had opened in the West End. The production starred Celia Johnson (who had been in the West End production) as Sheila and Donald Sinden as Philip - although now more famously known as an actor, he had in fact directed the first national tour of Relatively Speaking in 1968. The roles of Greg and Ginny were played by John Stride and Judy Cornwell. The play was truncated and ran to only 50 minutes and was directed by Herbert Wise, who would direct several other Ayckbourn television broadcasts including The Norman Conquests.
That is literally all that is known about the broadcast as no copy of it is known to have survived. Unfortunately, the BBC did not implement an archival policy for its broadcasts until 1978, which resulted in a vast swathe of recorded drama from the 1960s and and 1970s being lost (the cost of recording programmes meant the tapes were frequently re-used and recorded over). In 2011, researchers behind the BBC's Imagine documentary on Alan Ayckbourn undertook a diligent search of the BBC Archives for Ayckbourn related material and confirmed that no copy of Relatively Speaking (1969) survived in archive.
Relatively Speaking is one of three television adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn's plays to have been broadcast before The Norman Conquests in 1977. The second was his short play Countdown (originally written for the play Mixed Doubles). This one act play was recorded in its entirety and broadcast as part of the arts programme Full House. It featured Clive Dunn and Sheila Hancock and although it has never been repeated, it is believed to still exist in the BBC archives. In 1976, Casper Wrede directed a television version of Time And Time Again, featuring Tom Courtenay reprising his acclaimed West End role of Leonard. Produced by Anglia Television, very little is known about this production and it is not believed to have survived in archive and is presumably now lost for posterity.
For completist's sake, there was also Service Not Included, which was broadcast in 1974; this was not an adaptation of an existing Ayckbourn play, but remains to this day, Alan's only produced screenplay.
To find out more about the television adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, visit the TV, Film & Radio section of Alan Ayckbourn's website.