Having worked as a journalist in his homeland, Canada, and then as a writer for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) Alvin was sponsored by the CBC to visit the UK – ‘the place where TV started’. Within days of arriving, Alvin sold his first script to the BBC, the UK’s only television broadcaster at the time. He was soon invited to join the BBC’s director’s training course and, at the age of 26, become the youngest producer/director in the BBC drama department.
He was a leading light in the early days of television drama, wining awards and international acclaim from the beginning and working with the leading actors and writers of the day. He was selected to represent the best of British talent on the international stage and to direct the very first productions to launch BBC2.
He frequently produced deeply thought-provoking drama – dealing with issues such as racism, the Holocaust and feminism that are as topical today as they were untouched then.He pioneered and pushed the available technology to the full, yet retained his fast-paced and sensitive style.
All this was achieved under difficult circumstances. Most significantly, at the time television was broadcast live – nothing could be pre-recorded. There was no room for error. Cameras, usually 4 in number; and sound booms, usually 2; and lights, always dozens; and multiple sets; and not forgetting other crew members, designers, set dressers, wardrobe, stage managers, floor managers, studio managers, etc; and last – but hardly least – the actors. Each aware of precise split-second positioning throughout the hours-long dramas as planned by the director. Live tv was not for sissies.
REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1957)
** Sean Connery's First Leading Role **
Requiem for a Heavyweight tells the story of a washed-up boxer (a part filled at the last minute by the then unknown Sean Connery). His hopes of ever becoming heavyweight champion of the world are dashed when he is told he can never fight again. Not only does his body take a beating, but his spirit too.
In this prestigious production Alvin took a chance on an untried actor and gave Sean Connery his first leading role (at the suggestion of Alvin’s soon-to-be-wife and Doctor Who actress, Jaqueline Hill). A young Michael Caine was also cast as a background boxer.
” My hat is off to Alvin Rakoff and his entire company “ Evening Standard
” Opened with a fight sequence that made my 17 inch screen seem yards wide ” Daily Mirror
THE ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE (1972)
This rendition of the classic novel sees Rex Harrison as Don Quixote and Frank Finlay as Sancho Pancho. In contrast to live television it was shot all on film under a searing Spanish sun in La Mancha, in locations indicated by the Cerventes novel.
” There are scenes that Picasso might have painted .. a splendid, robust, rich and varied experience, funny thoughtful and provocative. An extraordinary production. Everything about it cries for massive canvas “ Los Angeles Times
“ A marvelous sense of visual rhythm “ Washington Post
” An absolute delight. A two hour programme I would happily have seen twice ” Financial Times
” One of the great moments of television “ Toronto Globe & Mail
” Magical – that’s the triumph of the Don. I really felt television had at last moved on ” Daily Express
” Intelligent and strikingly handsome “ New York Times
” Director Alvin Rakoff works a minor miracle with his transition from humor to pathos. Extraordinarily sensitive use is made of color, impressionistically establishing moods and tuning the viewer’s response ” The Australian
” The sun-beaten, dusty magnificence of the Spanish landscapes ” The Guardian
WAITING FOR GILLIAN (1954)
** National Television Award Winner **
One of his very first productions brought a play that had failed on the stage to the television screen. So successful was his adaptation that it gained a Daily Mail Award for him and his two lead performers. He was then invited to Paris to direct & produce it – live and in French.
“The production of Alvin Rakoff achieved a blend of sensitivity and heavy drama “ News Chronicle
“A most polished performance” Daily Telegraph
“Every now and then TV puts on a play which is so good that the studio and the camera work are forgotten” Daily Herald
HEART TO HEART (1962)
In 1962, the BBC chose Alvin to direct and produce the UK’s entry for ‘The Largest Theatre in the World’. This European-wide initiative was designed to showcase leading talent from countries across Europe. The UK’s entry, ‘Heart to Heart’, written by Terence Rattigan, was viewed by an estimated audience of 80 million.
” Deep etched performances ” Variety
” Compellingly acted ” Dennis Potter, The Herald
” Towering head and shoulders over most TV drama ” Sunday Telegraph
” A masterpiece of writing, production and acting ” Sunday Post
The Seekers (1964)
** First Plays Broadcast on BBC2 **
A trilogy of plays by Ken Taylor: The Heretics, The Idealists, The Materialists
Alvin was selected to launch BBC 2 – with the remit of producing ‘drama in depth’. He did so with the first three Sunday night plays transmitted on BBC 2, ‘The Seekers’. This trilogy of plays looks at man and his beliefs at three key points in history – the 12th century treatment of heretics in England, the French Revolution, and the Nazi regime in Auschwitz. The same actor – going by variations of the name ‘Gerard’ – represents the same reasonable individual in all three plays.
Recordings of the three plays exist and were screened in 2013 at the British Film Institute.
” Mr Alvin Rakoff’s production was vigorous, handsome, and as big in style as the play” The Times
“Michael Bryant gives a tremendous series of performances” Sunday Telegraph
“Could be broadcast today” – BFI viewer
CALL ME DADDY (1967)
** EMMY Award Winner **
Starring Donald Pleasance and Judy Cornwell this two-hander was initially little more than a sketch but in rehearsal was soon enlarged by the two actors and Alvin into a full-length tv play. And became one of most successful UK tv plays ever transmitted garnering international plaudits and winning Alvin his first EMMY award.
“…staggering achievement…Call Me Daddy wins top US award.” The Guardian
“..open to every country in the world to send in its best work, Call Me Daddy took the award outright and received the gold statue.” Queen
“…that bright young director collected the award…” Daily Cinema
A copy of Call Me Daddy is extant at BFI and was screened in 2011.
Transferred later to the cinema screen ‘Call Me Daddy’ was re-titled ‘Hoffman’ and starred Peter Sellers and Sinead Cusack.
ROMEO & JULIET (1978)
Starring Celia Johnson, Michael Hordern, Jacqueline Hill – & featuring, in his first professional role, a newcomer – Alan Rickman
“Alvin Rakoff’s direction, like the bard’s pen, runneth over with rich, textured imagery, creating television picture that could hang in a gallery ” Los Angeles Times
” Grand acting ” Daily Variety
” A tremendous achievement in boldly bringing one of Shakespeare’s greatest works to, perhaps the biggest audience ever to see it ” Daily Express
“Like a sort of classic Italian painting “ Sunday Mirror