The Man with the Flower in His Mouth (lost early BBC television drama; 1930)

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Production images.

Status: Lost

The Man with the Flower in His Mouth is a 1922 Italian play written by Luigi Pirandello. It details a man dying of an epithelioma discussing life and his wife with a stranger who just missed his train. In 1930, it was adapted for television, becoming the first British television drama.


The Man with the Flower in His Mouth details the story of a man whose life is nearing its end after a losing battle with terminal throat cancer, engaging in a philosophical confrontation with a businessman in a bar, the latter having failed to get the train to work and has plenty of time left on the planet.[1] It consisted of three characters, including the Man, the Woman (his wife), and the Customer.[2]

Meanwhile, the BBC and Baird Television were making progress in the development of 30-line television transmissions.[1] Having recently installed a Marconi transmitter that enabled sound and vision to be broadcast simultaneously from 14th March 1930, both organisations were seeking to experiment with how entertaining the television service could be.[1] Thus, it was decided that plays should be adapted for television, with Val Gielgud becoming the productions director.[1] Gielgud decided that The Man with the Flower in His Mouth would be an ideal play to adapt, because it was a short play lasting only 30 minutes, with only three characters situated within a confined setting that was suited to the 30-line system's 7:3 aspect ratio.[1][2] Lance Sieveking was chosen as the play's producer.[1][2]

While The Man with the Flower in His Mouth was not the first television drama, with The Queen's Messenger achieving this distinction in the United States on 11th September 1928,[1] it was the first in Britain, and also the first to be adapted from an existing play.[3][2] Earle Grey starred as the Man, with Gladys Young playing the Woman, and Lionel Millard performing the role of the Customer.[2] Gielgud was to have played the Man, but was ill on the day of the broadcast.[4] A few challenges emerged during the airing of the play on 14th July 1930; firstly, only a fixed flying-spot camera was utilised, and was unable to simply to cut to each face.[1] Thus, when a scene change occurred, a chequered fading board had to be used to maintain the picture signal, being operated by future Black and White Minstrel Show producer George Inns.[1] Additionally, due to the Baird system's limited definition, the actors' faces were coated in grey-white makeup, with blue lips for greater quality.[1]

Despite the challenges, the broadcast would be witnessed at a theatre on the roof of Baird Company's premises at 133 Long Acre, with then-Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald also viewing the play at 10 Downing Street after having been gifted a Televisor by John Logie Baird himself months prior.[1] The broadcast lasted around 22 minutes.[4]


Ultimately, The Man with the Flower in His Mouth was televised live and was not recorded. The only possible way it could have survived was if it was subject to a rare recording from a videodisc, which did not happen.[5] Thus, the original adaptation is now permanently missing.[4] However, in 1967, Radio Rentals, the owners of the Baird brand at the time, made an agreement with the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) to provide an authentic recreation of an extract of the play for the 1967 Ideal Home Exhibition.[2][1] It would be filmed on 30-line equipment built by Granada Television's Bill Elliot, with ILEA students performing the roles, with direction coming from the original play's producer Sieveking.[2][1] It is considered a near-authentic recreation according to television experts like Donald McLean,[2] and is publicly available.



The 1967 recreation.

See Also

Early BBC Television

Early BBC Sports Television