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More O'Ferrall, George (1907-1982)

Director, Producer, Actor

Main image of More O'Ferrall, George (1907-1982)

A pioneer who produced and directed a series of British television firsts during the medium's formative years, George More O'Ferrall was one of the earliest theatre personalities to turn to television in Britain.

Born in Bristol on 4 July 1907 and educated at Beaumont College, Old Windsor, and the Central School of Dramatic Art (where he won the Dawson-Milward Cup the year after Laurence Olivier), he joined Sir Philip Ben Greet's Shakespearean company in 1924, touring in England and Paris.

He performed on the West End stage for over 10 years, as well as directing, and became a stage producer before working as assistant director (uncredited) on Carol Reed's first film, the lively juvenile adventure Midshipman Easy (1935), featuring a teenage Hughie Green.

In 1936 he joined the BBC as a member of its foundational television team at Alexandra Palace where he produced the first television variety presentation - Helen McKay singing 'Here's Looking at You' (tx. 26/8/1936) - for Radiolympia (the industry Radio Show held at the Olympia exhibition halls in London). It signalled the first daily public television service in the world (albeit for the exhibition's two-week period: tx. 26/8-5/9/1936).

In November 1936 - the official start of the television service - O'Ferrall produced the twice-weekly topical magazine programme Picture Page (BBC, 1936-39; 1946-52), presented by Canadian actress Joan Miller. Between 1937 and September 1939, he produced over twenty popular plays before the television service was forced to close down on the eve of the Second World War.

During this exciting initial period, he produced the first television presentation of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass (tx. 22/1/1937) and the first television broadcast of an Agatha Christie play, The Wasp's Nest (tx. 28/6/1937), with Francis L. Sullivan as Hercule Poirot; both under the prestigious Theatre Parade (BBC, 1936-38) banner. The strikingly cinematic presentation of Clive of India (tx. 19/2/1938), with Colin Keith-Johnston as Clive and Gillian Lind as his wife Margaret, was the result of a successful collaboration between producer O'Ferrall and British-born Hollywood screenwriter W.P. Lipscomb.

For the live BBC production, O'Ferrall and Lipscomb fashioned their television script to meet the needs of the limited studio space at Alexandra Palace while retaining the polished structure of a film scenario (Lipscomb having earlier co-scripted his stage production with R.J. Minney for 20th Century Fox's 1935 Ronald Colman version). Another highlight of 1938 television was his large-scale production of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (tx. 30/10/1938) starring Leslie Banks, Constance Cummings and James Mason. It was hailed as the most ambitious television programme attempted up until that time.

After the war - during which O'Ferrall served with the Royal Artillery as a staff officer at Fighter Command headquarters during the Battle of Britain, and later with the 14th Army in Burma and India - he rejoined the BBC as Senior Television Producer. He was awarded the first Royal Television Society Medal (a television 'Oscar') in 1948 for his two-part production of Hamlet (tx. 7 & 14/12/1947) with John Byron (Hamlet) and Muriel Pavlow (Ophelia).

O'Ferrall left the BBC in 1950 for film work, serving as second unit director on The Happiest Days of Your Life (d. Frank Launder, 1950), and as dialogue director on The Woman With No Name (also co-d. with Ladislas Vajda, 1950), The Mudlark (d. Jean Negulesco, 1950), No Highway (UK/US, d. Henry Koster, 1951) and The House in the Square (d. Roy Baker, 1951).

As a cinema director from 1952, working for companies such as British Lion and London Films, he directed the popular fighter pilot account Angels One Five (1952), Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter (1953) and the murder mystery The Green Scarf (1954), among others.

In 1956, he returned to television, at first with the BBC, then as a freelance producer working for ITV companies. He directed multiple plays for ABC's Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-69; 1970-74) in the late 1950s, among them Henry James's 'The Heiress' (tx. 5/5/1957), with Sarah Churchill, André Morell and Paul Daneman, 'The Lady of the Camellias' (tx. 16/2/1958), with Ann Todd and David Knight, and the solemn melodrama 'The Hanging Judge' (tx. 11/5/1958), about the fallibility of the judicial system, starring Raymond Massey (who also co-authored the play).

O'Ferrall joined Anglia Television as their Head of Drama, 1959 to 1964, and then moved over to ATV where he remained until his retirement in 1967. While at Anglia, O'Ferrall directed a suitably sinister version of Patrick Hamilton's classic chiller, Gaslight (ITV, tx. 20/9/1960), featuring Louis Jordan as the sadistic villain bent on driving his wife insane, with Margaret Leighton as his luckless victim. For ATV during the 1960s, he directed several well-received series, including the anthology Love Story (ITV, 1963-67; 1969; 1972-74), The Plane Makers (ITV, 1963-65) and Front Page Story (ITV, 1965).

In 1964 he was awarded the Baird Medal for his outstanding contribution to television. He worked for the British Council in London before moving to live in Spain in 1975; he died in London on 18 March 1982.

Tise Vahimagi

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