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A pile of old retro televisions piled on top of each other

Description of the project

This research project was funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and ran from July 2010 to March 2015. It concered television fiction produced in the UK from 1955-94.

It analysed how spaces of production (in TV studios and on location) conditioned the form and visual style of programmes, and how fictional spaces represented on screen used the opportunities and constraints of studio and exterior space, film and video technologies, and liveness and recording.

So, for example, we investigated how BBC studios in London and the regions were used, filmed TV production in sound-stages, and the location shooting of TV drama series and serials. Genres of programme studied include the police and adventure series, science fiction, soap opera and period costume drama.



The Principal Investigator on the project was Professor Jonathan Bignell (University of Reading), working alongside Co-Investigators Professor James Chapman (University of Leicester) and Professor Stephen Lacey (University of South Wales).

Three Postdoctoral Research Assistants were also based at the University of Reading, Leah Panos, Lucy Fife Donaldson and Billy Smart. Two students wrote PhD theses as part of the project; Victoria Byard at Leicester and Ben Lamb at South Wales.


Topics and research questions

Some issues addressed in the project include:

  • how archival work can trace the history of production spaces in British TV
  • how TV assimilated spaces and uses of space from cinema (e.g., using film studios, location shooting, film cameras and directors)
  • comparisons between videotaped and filmed television in terms of their uses of space
  • how the changing uses of the TV studio affected the performance styles of actors
  • how production spaces and technologies impacted on the work of directors
  • comparisons across genres, institutions and periods to chart how uses and representations of space change over time
  • what testimony from TV production staff and performers can tell us about spatial opportunities and constraints.


Results of the research

The project produced a series of listings of British TV drama 1955-1994 as a set of freely available downloadable and searchable documents, called British Television Drama 1955-1994 Databases.



The project's published outcomes include a second edition of British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future with contributors from the TV industry as well as academics.

Three further books, and special issues of the journals Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and Critical Studies in Television, are devoted to our topic.


Chapman, J. (2015), Swashbucklers: The Costume Adventure Series. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Edited collection

Bignell, J. and Lacey, S., eds. (2014) British television drama: past, present and future. 2nd edition. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp272. ISBN 9781137327567

Refereed journal special issue

Critical Studies in Television, 10:3 (2015) edited by L. Panos and S. Lacey.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34:3 (2014) edited by L. Panos.

Refereed journal articles

Donaldson, L. F. (2016), 'Series spaces: Revisiting and re-evaluating Inspector Morse', Journal of Popular Television, 4: 1, pp. 3-28.

Panos, L. (2015), 'The Arrival of Colour in BBC Drama and Rudolph Cartier's Colour Productions', Critical Studies in Television, 10 (3), pp. 101-120.

Panos, L. and S. Lacey (2015), 'The Spaces of Television', Critical Studies in Television, 10 (3) pp. 1-4.

Donaldson, L. F. (2015) 'Reading Spaces in Cracker', Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, 6, pp. 40-45.

Smart, B. (2015), 'Producing Classics on Outside Broadcast in the 1970s: The Little Minister (1975), As You Like It (1978) and Henry VIII (1979)', Critical Studies in Television, 10 (3), pp. 67-82.

Smart, B. (2014), 'Three different Cherry Orchards, three different worlds: Chekhov at the BBC, 1962-1981', Critical Studies in Television, 9 (3), pp. 65-76.

Bignell, J. (2014) The spaces of the Wednesday Play (BBC TV 1964-1970): production, technology and style. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34 (3). pp. 369-389. ISSN 0143-9685 doi: 10.1080/01439685.2014.937182 (Special issue "Production, site and style")

Byard, V., 'Style, Space and Seriality in Early Children's Television Drama: Puck Of Pook's Hill, Five Children and It (BBC, 1951) and Man In Armour (1951-1954)', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34:3 (2014), 345-346.

Lamb, B., 'Narrative Form and the British Television Studio 1955-1963', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34:3 (2014), 357-368.

Panos, L. (2014) Postmodernism, Culture and Feminism: The Aesthetics of Space and Performance in Rock Follies and Rock Follies of '77. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 11 (1). pp. 41-67. ISSN 1755-1714 doi: 10.3366/jbctv.2014.0191

Panos, L. (2013) Chaos, culture and fantasy: The television plays of Howard Schuman. Journal of Screenwriting, 4 (3). pp. 287-303. ISSN 1759-7137 doi: 10.1386/josc.4.3.287_1

Panos, L. (2013) Stylised worlds: Colour Separation Overlay in BBC television plays of the 1970s. Critical Studies in Television, 8 (3). pp. 1-17. ISSN 1749-6020 doi: 10.7227/CST.8.3.2

Panos, L. (2013) Trevor Griffiths' 'Absolute Beginners': socialist humanism and the television studio. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 10 (1). pp. 151-170. ISSN 1755-1714 doi: 10.3366/jbctv.2013.0127

Smart, B., 'The BBC Television Audience Research Reports, 1957-1979: Recorded Opinions and Invisible Expectations', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 34:3 (2014), 452-462.

Smart, B. (2013) The Life of Galileo and Brechtian television drama. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 10 (1). pp. 112-129. ISSN 1755-1714 doi: 10.3366/jbctv.2013.0125

Smart, B. (2012) Cosmic effects on the intimate screen: J. B. Priestley, Ralph Richardson and 'Johnson over Jordan' (1965). Critical Studies in Television, 7 (1). pp. 49-63. ISSN 1749-6020 doi: 10.7227/CST.7.1.6

Chapman, J. (2011), 'The Adventures of Robin Hood and the origins of the television swashbuckler', Media History, 17:3, 273-287.

Book chapters

Byard, V., 'A Hero Mumsy: Parenting, Power, and Production Changes in The Sarah Jane Adventures' in Bignell, J. and S. Lacey (eds), British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future, second edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 118-130.

Chapman, J. Downton Abbey: Reinventing the British Costume Drama in Bignell, J. and S. Lacey (eds), British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future, second edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 131-142.

Lamb, B., 'Ah! Our very own Juliet Bravo, or is it Jill Gascoine?' Ashes to Ashes and Representations of Gender', in Bignell, J. and S. Lacey (eds), British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future, second edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 203-213.

Smart, B. (2012) Brechtian television: theatricality and adaptation of the stage play. In: Loiselle, A. and Maron, J. (eds.) Stages of reality: theatricality in cinema. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, pp. 30-52. ISBN 9781442643529

Smart, B., 'Plot Inflation in Greater Weatherfield: Coronation Street in the 1990s', in Bignell, J. and S. Lacey (eds), British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future, second edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 70-83.


Public screenings

In February 2014, the British Film Institute in London held a season of seven screening events suggested by our research and curated by Leah Panos and Billy Smart. Rarely-seen television dramas from the 1960s to the 1980s showcased creative uses of TV studio space in both naturalistic and highly stylized productions.

The relationship between their production methods and mise-en-scene, and the popular and critical status of 'Golden Age' studio drama were reflected upon in accompanying blog posts. Leah Panos blogged about the series for CSTonline, introducing it through a consideration of the imaginative world of the TV studio and reflecting on the process of curating and screening the selected programmes.

Leah Panos and Billy Smart also wrote about the season on the Spaces of TV project blog.


'Politics of Television Space' one-day conference

The first symposium arising from the research took place at the University of Leicester on Friday 8 April 2011. Victoria Byard's report on the conference for the Journal of British Cinema and Television can be downloaded here.


'Performance and Television Space' one-day conference

The second symposium arising from the research took place at the University of Glamorgan on Friday 20 April 2012. Ben Lamb's report on the conference for CSTonline can be downloaded here.

'Spaces of Television: Production, Site and Style' three-day conference

The conference was held from Wednesday 18 to Friday 20 September 2013 at the University of Reading. Reports on the conference were published online by Ben Lamb and Victoria Byard, Andrew Pixley, John Wyver (who also blogged about the archive panel) and Kevin McMahon, among others.

Blogs about our research

We produced a blog, titled Spaces of Television.

Members of the team have contributed several blogs to CSTonline: Jonathan Bignell has blogged about TV police series and about Doctor Who's TARDIS. Billy Smart has blogged about the work of dramatist Pat Hooker, and the TV series Juliet Bravo and Colin's Sandwich. Leah Panos has blogged about TV historiography and 'blue screen' technology. James Chapman blogged about swashbucklers, Stephen Lacey about drama on Sky TV and Victoria Byard about children's TV. Lucy Fife Donaldson has blogged about domestic space in Inspector Morse. On other online sites, Ben Lamb has blogged about BBC Pebble Mill, and Billy Smart has blogged for the University of Westminster's 'Screen Plays' project, and for the CrossRoads Network Forum.

For further information please contact:

Professor Jonathan Bignell