Friday, December 14, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth (BBC, 1956)

So, have you ever seen the TV series Jesus of Nazareth? No, not that series, but the one made twenty years earlier by the BBC? Me neither. In fact I didn't even know about it until yesterday. Here's the story.

I have been reporting recently on my research into the forgotten BBC production Paul of Tarsus (1960), research which led to the book of the series produced by its writer, producer and director Joy Harington. In the preface to that book, she writes the following:
The idea for this book and the Television series that preceded it was born in 1956 when the series 'Jesus of Nazareth' ended with these words from Jesus to his disciples: 'Go and teach all nations the things that you have seen and heard . . . . . And know that I am with you always -- even unto the end of the world.' It left one with the feeling 'What happened then?' After all, it was a big order to give a handful of fishermen and peasants in a small occupied country . . .
And so on. So, it seems, there was a TV series on Jesus' life broadcast in 1956 on the BBC. I didn't think I had heard of this before, so I went to the net to see how many others had heard of it. The answer is: very few.

IMDb weakly mentions Jesus of Nazareth from 1953, starring Tom Fleming. In the light of the above, the date is certainly wrong. Is it even the same production? Well, it looks like it is because this TV series clearly featured Tom Fleming playing Jesus. There is a good paragraph or so on it on the BFI's Screenonline Profile of Joy Harington:
But perhaps what is considered her most notable work for television was the eight-part Sunday serial Jesus of Nazareth (BBC, 1956) for which she received the 1956 award of the Guild of Television Producers and Directors (now BAFTA), the first to be presented for a children's serial. A live studio production with exteriors filmed on location in Galilee and Jerusalem, it was a courageous undertaking. At that time, censorship regulations prohibited the portrayal of Christ by an actor in public performances. However, the Central Religious Council approved the project and Tom Fleming was cast as Jesus Christ. The serial was an outstanding success. Harington followed with a similar ten-part series, Paul of Tarsus (BBC, 1960), for which the exteriors were filmed mainly in Crete.
So we now know that Paul of Tarsus was filmed in Crete, and Jesus of Nazareth was partly filmed in Israel, and the latter was considered "a children's serial". There is more research to be done about this lost series, and I look forward to reporting back on this in due course.

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