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Richman, Stella (1922-2002)

Executive, Producer

Main image of Richman, Stella (1922-2002)

Although she was a trained actress, Stella Richman started as a freelance script reader for various ITV companies in their early days, succeeding in an eventful career that led eventually to her becoming the highest paid woman executive in British television.

In 1960 ATV offered her the unprecedented job of creating a television script department to develop single plays, for which she drew on her associations with writers from her script reader days. This script editorship led Richman to the role of executive producer on ATV's long-running anthology series Love Story (ITV, 1963-67; 1969; 1972-74) during its formative years.

Under her executive guidance, Love Story presented such notable productions as Doris Lessing's 'The Habit of Loving' (tx. 17/6/63), featuring Eric Portman as a despairing middle-aged theatrical producer who marries a naïve out-of-work actress (Lana Morris); Edna O'Brien's sad and tender tale of an autumnal affair, 'Three Piece Suite' (tx. 7/4/64); and 'La Musica' (tx. 6/12/65), an emotional portrait of a newly-divorced woman (Vanessa Redgrave), from a play by Marguerite Duras. In a an extraordinary move, Richman cast the popular comedian-musician Dudley Moore in a serious role as a shy young Polish student in love with 'The Girl Opposite' (tx. 1/11/65), developed from a script by filmmaker Roman Polanski.

As producer and/or executive producer, she oversaw and coordinated the Rediffusion drama series The Hidden Truth (ITV, 1964), Blackmail (ITV, 1965-66), The Informer (ITV, 1966-67), The Gamblers (ITV, 1967-68), A Man of Our Times (ITV, 1968) as well as the comedy The Ronnie Barker Playhouse (ITV, 1968), with the latter series under executive producer David Frost (for his David Paradine Productions).

The innovative drama collection Half Hour Story (ITV, 1967-68; 1971) proved to be one of her more exciting productions of the late 1960s. As a showcase for new as well as established talent, Richman chose to feature the work of such writers as Alun Owen, Edna O'Brien, Fay Wheldon, Roy Minton, Jim Allen and Doris Lessing, as well as employing the craft of such young directors as Alan Clarke and Ridley Scott.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Richman became the first woman in British television to be appointed Programme Controller with the newly launched London Weekend Television. Unfortunately, it was to be a short-lived experience. Her falling-out with LWT executives led to her becoming an independent drama producer. In 1972, her independent company, Stella Richman Productions, joined with David Frost's company to develop properties for television and cinema (with Frost taking on chairmanship of her company).

As an independent producer, Richman developed the seven-part dramatised life story of Jennie Jerome, Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill (ITV, 1974), for Thames TV. Considered a splendid contribution to the Churchill Centenary Year, the remarkable story of the American debutante who married into British society and politics and who became the mother of Winston Churchill became a sure-fire audience-puller. The £500,000 production (shot on tape and film) starred Hollywood actress Lee Remick as the vivacious, determined wildcat Jennie, whose much-married life made her a figure of scandal.

In 1976, Richman's 26-part dramatisation of Arnold Bennett's Midlands trilogy for ATV, Clayhanger (ITV, 1/1-24/6/76), joined the costumed ranks of the other period working-class sagas popular on British television at that time, such as The Duchess of Duke Street (BBC, 1976-77) and When the Boat Comes In (BBC, 1976-77; 1981). Although the period and content of Clayhanger spans 25 years in the lives of people around Stoke-on-Trent during the late 19th century, and relates in part the development of the Trade Union Movement, Richman's next project focused squarely on a working-class rebel, Bill Brand (ITV, 1976).

The mini-saga of leftwing Liberal Studies lecturer Bill Brand (played by a glowering Jack Shepherd) follows his progress from becoming a Labour MP to conflict with the Labour Party establishment and, ultimately, into final disillusionment as he realises that changes are not brought about by entrepreneurial young politicos. As something of a downbeat examination of British socialism, the eleven-part drama seemed like an appropriate summation of the then recent television political drama themes: Howard Brenton/David Hare's 'Brassneck' (for Play for Today, BBC tx 22/5/75), Looking for Clancy (BBC, 1975), Sam (ITV, 1973-75) and The Nearly Man (ITV, 1975).

Tise Vahimagi

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Ambitious series exploring the turmoil of the 1970s Labour Party

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