Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cryptopopology: Bob Dylan in The Madhouse on Castle Street

The Madhouse on Castle Street

While Bob Dylan was a burgeoning newcomer performing in New York City circa 1962, he was watched closely by directer Philip Saville who was apparently impressed enough with the performer's charisma that he asked Mr. Dylan to come to London to star in a television play entitled The Madhouse on Castle Street.

The Madhouse on Castle Street
was written by Evan Jones and directed by Philip Saville, and it told the tale of a lonely man who locked himself in his room, refusing to emerge until the world has become a better place.

Bob Dylan was initially slated to play the lead role of Lennie--'an anarchic young student who writes songs'--but indeed he had no prior acting training or experience. This also seemed to entail a lack of acting ability as well, and during early rehearsals it was discovered that he could not remember his lines--which could be considered odd, seeing as how many song lyrics he already had in his repertoire.

Not ready to call it quits with Dylan, Saville shuffled the play a bit and created an additional role for him. Actor David Warner took over as Lennie, and Dylan became something of a wandering minstrel by name of Bobby, performing songs that commented on the action taking place on stage. At the finale of the play, Dylan is said to have performed Blowin' in the Wind, the first in a long line of huge public performances of the song that would later become a hit.

Dylan and Warner, who was just starting out in his career and would later go on to participate in such eclectic genre features as The Omen, Tron, Twin Peaks, and Batman: The Animated Series, were also joined by television performers Maureen Pryor, Ursula Howells, Reg Lye, James Mellor, and Georgina Ward.

The teleplay was broadcast on the BBC on Sunday January 13, 1963, part of the network's Sunday-Night Play series, with a running time of sixty minutes. One would think that a copy of this early performance of Bob Dylan's must exist, but it would seem that footage is forever lost. As was common practice of the era, the 35mm master was junked in 1968, after its shelf life had "expired" in accordance with the contract. Reportedly an unfathomable amount of priceless television footage had been destroyed by the BBC before their 'junking' policy was revoked in 1978, and The Madhouse on Castle Street was only one of many, many shows to have disappeared forever.

Still photographs of the production have survived, however, as well as some audio recordings made by viewers utilizing their then-advanced reel-to-reel recorders. Although a full-length audio copy of the proceedings has yet to surface (and it is very unlikely that it ever will), fans and collectors alike keep their fingers crossed, and keep the hope alive.

Below is a sample of one such song, "The Ballad of the Gliding Swan", said to be taken from the missing teleplay.

Along with "The Ballad of the Gliding Swan" (largely thought to be a collaboration between Dylan and playwright Evan Jones) and Dylan's own "Blowin' in the Wind", Dylan also performed the traditional tracks "Hang Me Oh Hang Me" and "The Cuckoo".

To coincide with the release of Martin Scorsese's 2005 Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, the BBC broadcast a documentary entitled Dylan in the Madhouse that detailed the musicians first BBC appearance, and issued a worldwide plea for collectors to come forward with any footage they may have in their possession.

The Beeb (and the rest of the world) is still waiting.
Further Reading:
Don't think twice, it's all right...

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