Anthea Boulton on writing her first play – and moving to Coronation Street

It was at this time, with all the confidence of youth, that I decided to try my hand at writing a play. Margaret Morris, head of the Drama department, was friendly and encouraging. I had always admired Anton Chekhov’s short stories and, for my first attempt, I decided to adapt one of his longer ones, Ward 6, for TV – a 90-minute drama, no less. Margaret approved my draft so it was duly presented to Denis (Forman), and I was astonished to find that not only was it accepted but it was printed in white, skipping the usual, ‘blue’ draft stage. I always suspected it was Denis’ highly gifted wife, Helen, who recommended the play to him.  Denis suggested I might relocate the story from Russia to Ireland but I wasn’t convinced. 

Accordingly, the play was cast with Eric Porter and John Shrapnel in the leading roles. A corner of Lyme Park was decorated with Russian-style huts and snow from a machine, and I’m sorry to say one of the technicians broke his leg by sliding off a slippery roof.  Rehearsals were fairly fraught. On one occasion I crept in to watch, only for Eric Porter to complain, loudly, that the rehearsal room was like Piccadilly Station!   However, the cast were appreciative when I had to produce brief re-writes off the cuff.

The show got mixed reviews. The Guardian writer, standing in for the regular drama critic, didn’t like it. The Telegraph critic said it broke new ground in television. I decided that I needed more experience, so I got a job as storyline writer on Coronation Street.

After FOG (Forward Outlook Group,) I was given my own office, where I vetted scripts. A new Granada training scheme had been set up and amongst the first five trainees was a certain John Birt. John and his mates cut their teeth on putting together a mock version of the local magazine show, inevitably called UnScene at 6.30. John collaborated with a fellow trainee on a drama script, which they wrote under false names. I still remember John’s eager face, keen to know if the script had been accepted. Sadly, it had not. I wonder what became of him……

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