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Reading between Designs

Reading between Designs

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  • Book Info
    Reading between Designs
    Book Description:

    From the alien worlds ofStar Trekto the realistic operating room ofER,the design of sets and costumes contributes not only to the look and mood of television shows, but even more importantly to the creation of memorable characters. Yet, until now, this crucial aspect of television creativity has received little critical attention, despite the ongoing interest in production design within the closely allied discipline of film studies.

    In this book, Piers Britton and Simon Barker offer a first analytical study of scenic and costume design for television drama series. They focus on three enduringly popular series of the 1960s-The Avengers, The Prisoner,andDoctor Who-and discuss such topics as the sartorial image of Steed inThe Avengers,the juxtaposition of picturesque and fascistic architecture in The Prisoner, and the evolution of the high-tech interior ofDoctor Who's TARDIS. Interviews with the series' original designers and reproductions of their original drawings complement the authors' analysis, which sheds new light on a variety of issues, from the discourse of fashion to that of the heritage industry, notions of "Pop" and retro, and the cultural preoccupation with realism and virtual reality.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79773-4
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Clifford Hatts

    As I recall those days of overlapping pressures for all of us in television design, our overriding daily concern was to get the sets and costumes made and built to meet the relentless studio deadlines.

    We designed on “the hoof” with often three programs in hand—one in the studio, one on the drawing board, one at the planning stage—relying on technical know-how supported by our training at art school, which in turn was enriched by a designer’s preoccupation with the shape and size and color of the world around us . . . “from then until now.”


    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about design for television. No serious, sustained examination of the role of scenic or costume design in the medium has been attempted. ¹ The exploratory chapter that follows this introduction is, therefore, the first essay into a hitherto unexplored area. The present volume has no pretensions toward comprehensively filling the gap. The chief concern of this study is the drama series, and even here our perspective is limited.

    While no other critical account of design for television has yet been written, there are a few significant volumes dealing with the subject of design in the cinema. To...

  6. CHAPTER ONE MAKING A SPECTACLE: Design for Television in the Arena of Cultural Studies
    (pp. 11-35)

    As the title of this book indicates, our prime concern is with the ways in which design may be said to become “meaningful” in the context of screen drama. This is not a straightforward project. The meanings of design imagery are many, and some are fugitive or indefinable. We offer neither a formula for interpreting design nor a handbook for deciphering it. Instead, we explore some of the ways in which design imagery interacts with narrative, particularly in the television series.

    As viewers, we tend to respond to design imagery at an emotional rather than an intellectual level. Designs must...

  7. CHAPTER TWO AGENTS EXTRAORDINARY: Stylishness and the Sense of Play in Design for The Avengers
    (pp. 36-93)

    Of the three series with which our book is principally concerned,The Avengerswas unquestionably the most successful in its heyday. The series developed a huge international following during its run in the 1960s, and it has continued to enjoy wide acceptance and recognition among television audiences worldwide. Like a variety of other products of British popular culture from the period—albums such as the Beatles’RevolverandSergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, images of Twiggy, Mary Quant’s “Chelsea Girl,” the boutiques of Carnaby Street, and so on—The Avengershas become a prime signifier for the Sixties. Indicative...

  8. CHAPTER THREE YOUR VILLAGE: Cultural Traps in The Prisoner
    (pp. 94-130)

    The Avengersmust be reckoned a highly successful television series on two counts: first, it ran for a whole decade, enjoying international acclaim; second, the program has had a legacy. Its offbeat whimsy and satire resurfaced in later shows, from the knowing detective spoofsRemington Steele(NBC/MTM, 1982–1987) andMoonlighting(ABC/Picturemaker, 1985–1989) in the 1980s to the fanciful tragicomediesAlly McBealandBuffy the Vampire Slayerin the 1990s. In other words, the program fulfilled the two main criteria by which the commercial and artistic success of a series can be judged: longevity and ongoing influence.

    Doctor Who,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR WORLDS APART: Originality and Conservatism in the Imagery of Doctor Who
    (pp. 131-195)

    The design history ofDoctor Who(BBC TV, 1963–1989; Fox/BBC TV, 1996) is much more complex and unwieldy than those of our other two subject dramas. As a result of the longevity of the series, the expressive function of design changed a number of times, in tune with larger shifts in the overall discursive matrix of the program. These often extreme alterations in the role of design, some of which are worth examining in detail, make Doctor Who distinctively different not only fromThe Prisonerbut also fromThe Avengers.The Prisoner, as we have stressed, was not only...

    (pp. 196-208)

    Since this book is a first foray into the subject of design for television, and adumbrative rather than definitive, it seems slightly false to offer a formal conclusion. However, in this final section we will reel in some of the lines we have cast, reexamining our core theses in light of the material we have covered in the three case studies and suggesting ways in which our ideas could be developed in relation to other television series.

    In the first chapter, we made an assertion that was as elementary as it ought to be uncontroversial, viz., that design in screen...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 209-232)
    (pp. 233-240)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 241-251)