|The Forsyte Saga|
Title screen from the 1967 series.
|Written by||John Galsworthy (novel)
|Directed by||David Giles
James Cellan Jones
Nyree Dawn Porter
|Theme music composer||Eric Coates|
|Opening theme||"Halcyon Days" from The Three Elizabeths|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||26|
|Production company(s)||BBC television drama|
|Original channel||BBC Two, BBC One|
|Picture format||4:3, Black-and-white|
|Original run||7 January 1967 – 1 July 1967|
The Forsyte Saga is a 1967 BBC television adaptation of John Galsworthy's series of The Forsyte Saga novels, and its sequel trilogy A Modern Comedy. The series follows the fortunes of the upper middle class Forsyte family, and stars Eric Porter as Soames, Kenneth More as Young Jolyon and Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene.
It was adapted for television and produced by Donald Wilson and was originally shown in twenty-six episodes on Saturday evenings between 7 January and 1 July 1967 on BBC2. However, it was the repeat on Sunday evenings on BBC1 starting on 8 September 1968 that secured the programme's success with 18 million tuning in for the final episode in 1969.
Donald Wilson initially intended to produce the series as a 15-part serial adapted by Constance Cox in 1959. However, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer held the rights to the novels, having adapted the first novel A Man of Property into That Forsyte Woman in 1949. After a distribution arrangement with MGM was reached in 1965, the series developed into a groundbreaking 26-part serial, depicting the fortunes of the Forsyte family between 1879 and 1926.
The Forsyte Saga was the last major British drama serial to be made in black-and-white, even though the BBC was beginning to equip for full-time colour transmission. In an interview for the DVD release, Wilson admits he would have loved to have shot the programme in colour, but delaying recording would have meant re-casting and he felt he had the perfect cast for this adaptation. The series was a gamble for the BBC, with a budget of £10,000 per episode.
Although never credited, the music that opens and closes each episode is the first movement, "Halcyon Days", from the suite The Three Elizabeths written in the early 1940s by Eric Coates.
The series was adapted from the five novels of John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga; The Man of Property (1906), Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (1920) and To Let (1921), and Galsworthy's later trilogy A Modern Comedy.
The production featured a cast of well-known character actors, with the film star Kenneth More being the most famous name in the cast.
The series was originally shown in twenty-six episodes on Saturday evenings between 7 January and 1 July 1967 on BBC2. This was originally intended to encourage viewers to switch over to BBC Two, which had launched in 1964. However, it was the repeat on Sunday evenings on BBC1 starting on 8 September 1968 that secured the programme's success with 18 million tuning in for the final episode in 1969. It is often quoted that both publicans and clergymen in the United Kingdom complained that the Sunday night repeats were driving away customers and worshippers, respectively, and there are tales of Sunday Evensong services being moved to prevent a clash with the broadcast. A retrospective on the series by PBS Masterpiece Theatre notes that:
Viewers remember the way the nation shut down each Sunday night for the event. Pubs closed early and the streets were deserted. The Church even rescheduled its evening worship services so that the immense audience could be ready for the start of the show at 7:25pm.
Following its success in Britain, the series was shown in the United States on public television and broadcast all over the world, and became the first BBC television programme to be sold to the Soviet Union. The worldwide audience was estimated as something in the region of 160 million. The series won a Royal Television Society Silver Medal and a BAFTA for Best Drama Series or Serial. Following its transmission in 1967 by RTÉ, the Republic of Ireland's national broadcast service, the BBC production won a Jacob's Award at the annual presentation ceremony in Dublin.
The series' success prompted companies to invest in similarly scaled drama serials, which resulted in programmes such as The Pallisers (which was also produced by Donald Wilson) and Upstairs, Downstairs.
Writing after a new adaptation was produced by Granada Television in 2002, Sarah Crompton noted that even Galsworthy's novels paled in comparison to the television series, noting that the adaptation set a lasting precedent for television dramas:
Poor old Galsworthy may in his day have won the Nobel prize for literature, but now he is just a footnote in televisual history - the begetter of the most popular classic serial of all time. This is no exaggeration. One hundred million people in 26 countries ended up seeing Donald Wilson's version of the saga. It was not the first literary adaptation on TV, but it was longer and more ambitious than anything screened before, and it has come to represent every value and standard to which British TV has aspired ever since.
Because of its black and white picture, the series has not been shown on British television since the introduction of colour, although in 1992 it was released in the UK on an 8-volume set of videos, and on region 2 DVD in 2004.