Thursday, July 16, 2009

the adventures of sydney newman: bonus features

Before reading this post, check out the related installment of Historicist.

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Sydney Newman, 1963. BBC Archive

Some weeks I scramble to come up with enough material to fill out a topic I've chosen for Historicist, others I compile enough to write a book. The Sydney Newman post falls into the latter category, as I left a lot on the cutting room floor.

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One person who wasn't a fan of Newman's powers as CBC's supervising producer of drama during the mid-1950s was Toronto Star television columnist Gordon Sinclair, who, in a January 13, 1955 column, attacked Newman for not producing enough Canadian-written dramas. "Could it be that supervising producer Sydney Newman has too much authority and too little Canadianism? Is this man, nice guy as he is, a Caesar who can accept or reject without argument?” Sinclair noted that Newman had originally been hired by CBC to produce remote broadcasts and wasn't sure how he qualified for his current position. “He is a sincere, conscientious person," wrote Sinclair, "but his only drama background consists of painting the sets for a few productions.” The columnist would have preferred either a CBC veteran like Andrew Allan as overseer, or a decentralized system where each series would have its own producer. By June 1956, Sinclair was happy to pass on news from Newman that 44% of the scripts featured on General Motors Theatre were Canadian (original or adapted).

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While working for the BBC, Newman was constantly on the prowl for new writing talent. An article in the March 1, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail spotlighted one call for fresh talent. His views on the state of drama programming and the quality of writers out there testify to the colourful language he was known for:
Too many drama programs don’t stimulate, provide and excite the imagination. We are too content with evolving a formula for a series, with two or three attractive characters dangling like carrots, leading the donkey public from week to week...the writer is the man...it doesn’t matter if he is a slob, a wife-beater and an uneducated oaf, if he has an ear for dialogue and a feeling for characterization...the fault (with modern British dram) to a large extent lies with the shortage of good, audience-hungry writers.

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In a July 28, 1979 column for the Star, Robert Fulford provided a taste of what it was like to be around Newman, by then an advisor to the Canadian Film Development Corporation. “The young filmmakers he advises are grateful to have someone so knowledgeable to help them, but at the same time they learn quite early in any meeting that if he thinks their project is nonsense he’ll tell them so, bluntly.” This bluntness extended to personal situations—Newman could be abrupt if a conversation bored him. Fulford related a conversation with Newman and one other, where Fulford discussed the need for a Canadian film museum. Newman turned to the other guest and asked "can we make notes while he talks?"

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