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Messina, Cedric (1920-1993)

Producer, Director

Main image of Messina, Cedric (1920-1993)

Cedric Messina worked at the South African Broadcasting Corporation both before and after the Second World War, initially as a radio announcer and later as a drama producer. After a temporary assignment to the BBC, he joined the Corporation permanently in the late 1950s. He was a successful writer and producer of radio drama before moving onto television in the early 1960s.

Although he also directed, it was as producer that Messina spent most of his television career and had his greatest success, with well over 200 credits to his name between 1962 and 1987, all for the BBC. After a stint on the popular series Dr Finlay's Casebook (BBC, 1962-1971) he was given the job of overseeing BBC2's premier drama strand Theatre 625 (1964-1968), for which he produced 50 instalments in three years. Theatre 625 aimed to explore dramatic themes in depth and under Messina commissioned a large number of original teleplays, although adaptations also featured. For a period, Messina was concurrently producing Thursday Theatre (1964-1965) which aimed to transfer stage successes to television.

In 1966 Messina was made producer of the prestigious Play of the Month (1966-1983), becoming the series' guiding light for its first eleven years and personally producing over 90 of its plays. Under Messina, the strand favoured lavish versions of classical stage plays by the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde, among many others.

Messina was a great proponent of televised opera and at the same time as taking on Play of the Month, he oversaw all BBC studio opera productions. His aim was "to win wider audiences for opera by presenting imaginative productions of high quality." These productions included established works such as La Boheme (tx. 16/1/1966), Die Fledermaus (tx. 26/12/1971), and The Marriage of Figaro (tx. 21/9/1974) but he was also keen to commission new opera for television and amongst these were Some Place of Darkness (tx. 23/1/1967) and The Rose Affair (tx. 19/5/1968).

In 1975 Messina originated the idea that the BBC should televise new productions of each of Shakespeare's 37 plays. It was the biggest drama project the BBC had ever undertaken, with American finance helping underwrite the massive cost. Messina favoured straightforward period treatments in the belief that this would prevent the productions from dating, though this led to some criticism of a perceived lack of imagination in the resulting productions. He produced the first twelve plays of the series, opening with Romeo and Juliet (tx. 3/12/1978) and concluding with Hamlet (tx. 25/5/1980), before being succeeded by Jonathan Miller.

The later years of his career saw Messina producing a diverse selection of dramas, including instalments of Playhouse (1974-83) and Theatre Night (1985-91), and Ian Curteis's epic drama-documentary Suez 1956 (tx. 25/11/1979). He was to produce the same author's The Falklands Play until its controversial cancellation in 1986. His final production was 'The Happy Valley' (Sunday Premier, tx. 6/9/1987), a drama based on a notorious unsolved murder which occurred in Kenya in 1942.

Oliver Wake

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Doctor Knock (1966)Doctor Knock (1966)

Leonard Rossiter and John Le Mesurier unite in a vintage French farce

Thumbnail image of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980)Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980)

BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation with Derek Jacobi

Thumbnail image of Henry V (1979)Henry V (1979)

BBC Shakespeare adaptation that restores the title character's ambiguity

Thumbnail image of Henry VIII (1979)Henry VIII (1979)

Adaptation of Shakespeare's late play, filmed in various stately homes

Thumbnail image of Romeo and Juliet (1978)Romeo and Juliet (1978)

BBC Television Shakespeare version of the classic doomed romance

Related collections

Thumbnail image of BBC Television Shakespeare, The (1978-1985)BBC Television Shakespeare, The (1978-1985)

Monumentally ambitious small-screen adaptations of all 37 plays

Thumbnail image of Shakespeare on TelevisionShakespeare on Television

Seven decades of the Bard on the box

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