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Stephen Poliakoff laments lack of single dramas on television: 'the glorious art form has died'

Alice Jones' Arts Diary

Stephen Poliakoff has some stern words for television commissioners. “From the 1960s to the 90s was a boom time for single dramas on television. Almost overnight it disappeared and I don’t think it will ever come back”, he said at the theatre festival, High Tide in Suffolk last week. “One of the most important art forms of 20th-century Britain had a glorious life and has now died.”

The writer was inspired by a childhood spent watching plays on television while his parents hosted dinner parties in the next room. “A Harold Pinter play on primetime - that era feels as long ago as Edwardian times now. Longer, even”, he said. The success of Downton Abbey, “which would have looked exactly the same, had it been made 40 years ago”, shows that there is still a “huge thirst” for drama of all shapes and sizes on television.

At 60, is he now eyeing retirement? “Dancing on the Edge was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Just relentless. I’m not sure at this stage in my career, I want to do it again.” Instead, he is “just gingerly” beginning to write a new stage play.

What did he think of the lukewarm reviews for Dancing on the Edge, his last television outing? “I never read my reviews. I have not read my reviews since 1985 when I was moving house and while clearing out found an excellent Time Out review of my play Breaking the Silence. I didn’t remember it all and I thought, if I’ve forgotten it then everyone else will have forgotten it too. So I decided I wouldn’t concern myself with them anymore. I mean, if you can forget a review that good…” It must be nice to forget the bad ones, too. 

Also in the Arts Diary:

Homeland casting crew hired British actors as a last resort after Americans snubbed roles

What will Olivia Colman do next after Bafta and Broadchurch success? Quite a lot, actually

Rediscovered two page plays by Harold Pinter and John Mortimer to be performed