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Compact (1962-65)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Compact (1962-65)
BBC, 2/1/1962-30/7/1965
373 x 30 min episodes, black & white
Created byHazel Adair
 Peter Ling
Producers includeDouglas Allen
 Chris Barry
 Morris Barry
Directors includeChris Barry
 James Cellan Jones

Cast: Jean Harvey (Joanne Minster); Gareth Davies (Mark); Frances Bennett (Gussie); Ronald Allen (Ian Harmon); Moray Watson (Richard)

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Drama and romance in the editorial offices of a woman's glossy magazine.

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Compact was the BBC's second attempt at a full-blown soap opera, and the broadcaster had clearly learnt a great deal about the genre since its first effort, The Grove Family (1954-57). Unlike its predecessor, which had been focused on a single family, Compact told the everyday story of a glossy women's magazine, the eponymous Compact, and its staff, led by feisty editor Joanne Minster. Middle-class suburbia had been supplanted by gossip column glamour and the cosmopolitan world of publishing.

The programme was devised by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling, who went on to create Crossroads (ITV, 1964-88; 2001-), and was screened on a Tuesday and Thursday night so as not to clash with Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-), which had already established itself as the dominant force in early evening TV.

Compact is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it accepted that people who work together often lead quite separate lives away from the office and that people in the same environment don't all interact - a world away from the general genre convention that everyone knows everyone else's business. It was also the first soap opera to include a regular role for a black actor, Horace James, who played magazine photographer Jeff Armandez for 26 episodes during 1964.

Aside from focusing on the high-pressure business of putting together a successful magazine, Compact carried storylines about quitting smoking, a post room junior selling cannabis and a slew of office romances. These included senior executive Ian Harmon (played by Ronald Allen, later of ( Crossroads) falling for secretary Sally (Monica Evans). His advances were initially spurned for purely practical reasons - Evans was about to leave the series, but an inability to find other work resulted in her returning to the programme, when she finally got to marry Harmon.

Responses to the programme were mixed, with critics mainly siding against it. However, viewers thought differently, and from 1964 there was a regular Sunday omnibus edition to meet the demands of people who missed the twice-weekly instalments. Despite its popularity, the BBC felt uncomfortable with the idea of a soap opera, albeit a quite glamorous one, and unceremoniously cancelled it.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Editorial dilemma (2:01)
2. Ted Willis advises (3:05)
3. Intimate confessions (1:50)
Complete episode tx. 4.1.1962 - Part 1 (15:36)
Part 2 (14:11)
Crossroads - The 1960s
Grove Family, The (1954-57)
Newcomers, The (1965-69)
Smith, Julia (1927-1997)
Soap Opera