Underground (lost ITV teleplay broadcast; 1958)
On November 30th, 1958, the British anthology series Armchair Theatre broadcasted a live production of James Forsyth's science fiction play Underground. The performance starred Donald Houston, Ian Curry, Patricia Jessel, Warren Mitchell, Peter Bowles and Gareth Jones as survivors of a nuclear war living underground in the railway tunnels beneath London. It would be the final performance for Jones, who was 33.
In the play, the character "Carl Norman," played by Jones, was to have suffered a fatal heart attack. This scene was never filmed, however, as Jones began to complain off-set that he was not feeling well. As his co-star Peter Bowles would later recall, "a little group of us was talking on camera while awaiting the arrival of Gareth Jones's character, who had some information for us. We could see him coming up towards us, but we saw him fall. We had no idea what had happened, but he certainly wasn't coming our way." In fact, Jones had suffered a real heart attack while preparing for his scene and collapsed and died backstage.
The other actors were not told what had happened to Jones until after the end of the performance. While the broadcast was in a break for commercials, director Ted Kotcheff quickly re-wrote the remainder of the play so that the character would not need to be seen until his in-story death. The cast improvised around Jones's lines and the camera crew followed them, directed impromptu by a production assistant, through the play's conclusion. Recalled Bowles: "The actors started making up lines, 'I'm sure if [Carl] were here he would say...'."
Live television transmissions at the time were not automatically recorded or preserved in tapes, and no off-air recording of the broadcast is known to exist.
- Quentin Falk and Ben Falk Television's Strangest Moments: Extraordinary but True Tales from the History of Television, London: Robson Books, 2005, p.41