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ACTION TV ONLINE EPISODE GUIDE
Following BBC Television's successful flirtation with the soap opera genre via The Grove Family and Starr And Company in the late 1950s, the network was keen to consolidate the audience-attracting power of this brand of television by establishing a long-running twice-weekly serial with a strong premise and addictive storylines. Hazel Adair, a notable contributor to Home Service Radio, was approached to devise a serial in line with the network's guidelines, and she entered into a writing partnership with Peter Ling (also a seasoned radio script veteran) which would successfully continue beyond this project to the creation of ITV's popular soap-serial Crossroads.
Adair and Ling developed a treatment for the BBC's proposed series which centred on the professional and personal lives of the staff (male and female) of a women's magazine which had only recently been brought into being. The heart of the action would transpire at Enterprise House in London, the headquarters of the publication, but would by no means be bound to this location. The series assumed the name of the magazine publication - Compact - later to be hailed by the Radio Times as "a pocket-sized, topical weekly aimed at the busy woman".
The magazine, owned by Harmon Enterprises and backed by wealthy industrialist Sir Charles Harmon (Newton Blick), would be heavily scrutinized and monitored to assess its public appeal, and the pressure fell upon the shoulders of Editor Joanne Minster (Jean Harvey) - who had approached Harmon Enterprises with the magazine's initial concept - to ensure that the team she assembled to produce the publication were competent, capable individuals who could interact productively in such a high-octane environment. Compact opened on January 2nd, 1962, taking as its initial premise the launching of the first edition of the magazine onto an unsuspecting public. The team Ms Minster had assembled at Compact had worked on the publication for six months, and now all waited with baited breath for the public reaction to their creative efforts. Ultimately, the publication was moderately successful, but the corporation financially supporting the magazine recognized very early in the course of events that administrative changes were required
BBC Television commissioned the serial for a three-month run, and would then await the outcome of viewing appreciation figures before considering cancellation or continuation. Hazel Adair and Peter Ling remained scriptwriters throughout this initial three-month period, during which time the meat-and-drink of soap serials - dramatic themes (adulterous affairs, budding relationships, secrets and lies, successful and failure) - were introduced as the cast list rapidly gained additional performers to support so many storylines. Audiences warmed to the characters - and particularly the blossoming relationship between central characters Ian Harmon (Ronald Allen) and Sally Henderson (Monica Evans) - and with healthy appreciation figures the programme continued long after its initial three-month probationary period.
By August 1962, Compact was not only surviving but thriving beneath the weight of its multitude of storylines and soap trimmings. Nine romance, two marriages and one potential coupling had kept audiences glued to their screens, yet the series lacked the substance and trappings of contemporary soap-serials such as EastEnders and Coronation Street (earthy realism, manifestations of actual physical contact, the classic "bitches" and "bastards" which make programmes such as these what they are).
In point of fact, Compact was always undermined and hamstrung by BBC Television's desire to sustain a fictitious reflection of a perfect Britain (where characters did not swear, they did not indulge in vices such as cigarettes, sex was certainly out of the question - despite pregnancies in the series appearing to be the production of immaculate conception, and not a coloured performer in sight). This smack of cleanliness throughout the programme may, in part, be a result of its early transmission time, however the serial itself could never fully explore the depths of its characters' affection for one another, and as such relationships were portrayed in the prim-and-proper fashion of a 1950s production (hold hands, looking longingly into one another's eyes, exchange a kiss on the cheek and book a wedding for the following decade).
The strenuous efforts with which the BBC endeavoured to ensure that the popular Twist dance was not depicted in the programme, replaced by their own self-created and thoroughly wholesome Method (the very name conjures up images of detailed paperwork provided to youngsters with complicated instructions for a dance routine which involved girls in a hall and boys dancing four doors down the road).
The essential drive throughout the series depended upon sudden and surprise announcements, the cut-and-thrust of obtaining research material for scoops and difficult stories, the preparation, attendance and eventual fall out surrounding staff and social functions, interwoven with the complex relationships between staff members and their colleagues, and staff members and their friends. Perfect examples of the scriptwriters' restraints courtesy of the "Keep Britain Wholsesome" mandate are also reflected by virtue of just how many unexpected visitors, surprise announcements, sudden holiday jaunts and arrivals of old friends and enemies which beset the continually fluctuating cast throughout the series. However, in an effort to counterbalance the soap side of the storylines, boardroom machinations at Harmon Enterprises were introduced (as a means of diverting the attention away from a purely relationship-based serial, and also as a means of promoting Ian Harmon's character away from the editorial side of the business and into a financial capacity).
By the time the series had reached its two-hundredth episode in December 1963, the serial had changed beyond all recognition, with the majority of the original cast replaced by younger characters within the staff of Compact and older, more seasoned characters introduced into the personal lives of the characters, and as staff members on other floors at Enterprise House. Ian Harmon's stewardship at the helm of Harmon Enterprises had resulted in the amalgamation of Compact and its rival, Lady Fair, as a means of averting spiralling costs (and a rich source of fresh characters to introduce to the workplace at the heart of the serial). Previous staff were sacked, transferred or conveniently found somewhere better to drift away to, and the serial entered a state of flux in which popular characters survived and those without a purpose or a potential storyline faded into the background and disappeared altogether (in much the same vein as The Bill experienced after the departure of Billy Murray's corrupt officer, Detective Sergeant Don Beech).
In March 1965, after three astounding years in which Compact had become the longest-running serial the network had ever produced, Hazel Adair and Peter Ling were informed that the BBC intended to rest the series in July of that year, and instructed them to provide guidelines to writers (or write the scripts themselves) tying together all the loose threads in an attempt to bring the programme to a tidy conclusion. This decision came about owing to the increased costs associated with the programme (a large cast, coupled with an attempt to "spice up" the programme by moving its storylines to Paris on a far more regular basis) and the fact that it was struggling to draw viewers away from ITV's Emergency - Ward 10, which was cultivating a healthy audience by this stage.
Appreciating that three years of portraying the lives and loves of journalists was now wearing thin with viewers, the BBC sought to inject its resources and creative talent towards a brash new venture - United! - a serial to concern itself with the professional and personal lives of players and staff at a fictional football club. The programme came to an end on 30 July 1965 after three-hundred-and-seventy-three episodes with the appropriately titled "Journey's End". Unique in terms of the first attempt by BBC Television to produce a serial centring on a professional organization as opposed to a family, a street or a square (how times changes twenty years later), Compact was an undoubted success in terms of its longevity and the ability to entice viewers with the promise of unexpected twists and turns, and the utilization of cliff-hanger endings (something of a novelty for the time).
Whilst Adair and Ling's Crossroads would prove to be a far more popular format for ITV, Compact was ostensibly the breeding ground from which the latter was borne. The series is fondly regarded as BBC Television's great experiment into soap serials, a dubious flirtation which forged the way for United!, The Newcomers, Angels (to a certain extent), Triangle, World's End and EastEnders to reach television screens. The programme was never commercially exploited (save a twelve-part Radio Times serial printed during the first year of transmission, and two popular singles apparently performed by a lyrically-gifted Compact staff member), and owing to the practice of live broadcasts and the BBC's junking policies of the 1960s and 1970s, precious little remains of the serial in their archives.
Text © Matthew Lee, 2004. Thanks to David Brunt, Ian Beard and David Auger for additional information.
The series was produced by Alan Bromly (Parts to 46), Douglas Allen (Parts 47-to 109), Morris Barry (Parts 110 to 243; Parts 292 to 321 and Parts 330 to 347), Bernard Hepton (Parts 244 to 277), Joan Craft (Parts 278 to 291), Harold Clayton (Parts 322 to 329) and William Sterling (Parts 348 to 373).
Story editors were Alice Frick (parts 97 -131), Michael Imison (parts 132-141), John Wiles (parts 142-167 and parts 322-323), Betty Willingale (parts 168-245), Donald Tosh (parts 246-321 and parts 324-339) and Lennox Philips (Part 340-end of series).
* Parts 1 to 273 were transmitted on Tuesdays and Thursdays
* Parts 274 to 283 were transmitted on Mondays and Thursdays
* Parts 284 to 373 were transmitted on Tuesdays and Fridays
The series followed a production pattern of an episode being transmitted live followed by the studio recording of an episode for transmission later in the week. Were details are available episodes are indicated as being transmitted live.
COMPACT EPISODE GUIDE:
Part 1: Production Overview
Part 2: January - September 1962
Part 3: October 1962 - March 1963
Part 4: April 1963 - October 1963
Part 5: November 1963 - June 1964
Part 6: July 1964 - February 1965
Part 7: March 1965 - July 1965
|Please note synopsis are taken from the original Radio Times listings for the day of transmission.|