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Mackie, Philip (1918-85)

Writer, Producer

Main image of Mackie, Philip (1918-85)

In a career that was for the most part freelance, but which included some four years as Granada Television's head of drama (1958 to 1962), Philip Mackie was responsible for many early series based on classical sources such as Saki, de Maupassant and Feydeau.

Born in Salford, Lancashire, on 26 November 1918, he read English at University College, London, and graduated in 1939. After military service during the Second World War he joined the Ministry of Information Films Division in 1946 to produce documentaries around Europe.

In 1954 he returned to England and began writing for the BBC and the theatre. Among his early BBC plays was the Ontario family saga The Whiteoak Chronicles (1954-55), adapted from the popular novels written by Mazo de la Roche. In 1958 he joined Granada TV as their first head of drama and four years later went freelance while still remaining under contract to the company.

The 1960s was an exciting period for Mackie and Granada. He wrote and produced five remarkable series for the company. The first of these productions was Saki (ITV, 1962), an eight-part collection of adaptations from the short stories of H.H. Munro (writing under the pen name of 'Saki'). The hour-long format allowed each episode to accommodate four, five or even six of Saki's stories to be told in a convenient manner. The built-in device of having each story narrated by one of the characters allowed the author's best asides to be preserved; the strong cast consisted of Martita Hunt, Fenella Fielding, William Mervyn, Richard Vernon, Mark Burns and Rosamund Greenwood.

The success of Saki led to The Victorians (ITV, 1963), a series of eight plays first produced during the 19th century and ranging in style from comedy to drama. Their value as television entertainment, as Mackie saw it, was their faithful picture of the Victorian age; the plays depicted a vigorous, bustling, acquisitive society with every theme (class, sex, marriage, crime) seen in relation to money.

Both Granada and producer Mackie saw that the policy of presenting seasons of drama linked through time, content or authorship was proving to be a successful format. Therefore it seemed all too natural that after The Victorians Mackie produced Maupassant (ITV, 1963), a selection of 13 plays from the work of the French master of the short story, grouped by theme. But despite a dependable cast of familiar television players (including Moira Redmond, Vivien Merchant and Kenneth Griffith), Maupassant was not received with the same enthusiasm by the viewers and critics. This was perhaps inevitable. The style of the stories became dramatically elusive and the sombre theatricality creaked with age.

When Mackie's Paris 1900 (ITV) began in late 1964, it seemed that the format had been played out. The series, consisting of six farces by Georges Feydeau with typically Gallic flavour (masters and mistresses, deceived husbands, a French parlour maid), again employed a resident company, but the time for this flavour of prime-time television seemed to be past.

However, toward the end of the decade, Mackie, as producer and writer, presented the prestigious The Caesars (ITV, 1968), a high-quality series about the emperor-dictators of Ancient Rome. While not quite of Korda proportions, the large-scale production (some 50-plus sets) virtually took over Granada's TV centre in Manchester. The six-part, hour-long series was a popular triumph. So careful was Mackie's preparation for the series that contemporary reviewers tended to mistake The Caesars for a BBC production (the BBC's I, Claudius was still eight years away).

In the 1970s he produced a group of compelling TV plays: the period detective tales of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (ITV, 1971-73), the office politics drama The Organization (ITV, 1972), and the nine-part Napoleon and Love (ITV, 1974). For the latter Mackie devised his scripts around the young Bonaparte not so much as an ambitious general brooding over a battlefield but as a gauche young man on the make.

Thames TV's The Naked Civil Servant (tx. 17/12/1975), Mackie's version of self-proclaimed exhibitionist homosexual Quentin Crisp's autobiography, was an extraordinary television film. In a television period where viewers were allowed to snigger at Larry Grayson routines or the cheap campness in parts of such popular series as It Ain't Half Hot Mum (BBC, 1974-81) and Are You Being Served? (BBC, 1973-85), Mackie's deft screenplay contrived to be neither the case history of an outsider nor a tract pleading for tolerance; John Hurt's engaging performance as the defiant Crisp defined both and perhaps something more.

Mackie returned to period dramas in the late 1970s with Yorkshire TV's Raffles (1977), featuring Anthony Valentine as the feline Victorian gentleman-thief, and the four-part BBC production of author Francis Iles's 1931 murder thriller Malice Aforethought (1979).

Among his final television works was a steamy adaptation of Emile Zola's novel of passion and adultery, Therese Raquin (BBC, 1980), and the eight-part costume serial The Cleopatras (BBC, 1983), the latter a horror-comic history lesson about the Ancient Egyptian dynasty. He died on 23 December 1985.

Tise Vahimagi

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