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Dear Mr Thurley
Thanks for yours of 24 March 1993, and I regret my reply has taken so long.
As you will remember, I wanted to set the record straight about a number of statements which I am confident I can demonstrate are inaccurate and in some cases also damaging to the professional reputation of myself and other colleagues in my old friend Irene Shubik’s book ‘Play for Today, the Evolution of Television Drama’. Of course I would be writing to her direct if it were not that Irene has asked me to send any further correspondence to you, her agent.
A meeting over a drink with Irene would have seemed the best way of discussing and achieving some degree of damage limitation, so that the inaccuracies don’t go on being repeated, and I thought that she might be interested, at the least, to renew an old acquaintance in discussing where I feel she has gone wrong. I am sorry that Irene declined my invitation to meet, and also that she preferred to communicate with me through you, her agent, rather than directly; and that you felt communication through a solicitor might be the best mode of solving an academic disagreement.
I’ve been busy on other projects and it has taken me a while, but I have now scribbled the essay that follows, outlining a number of errors to which I’d like to draw Irene’s attention. Students, journalists, historians, and fellow professionals have told me of their confusion that the content of Irene’s book differs from accounts in other books which mention my work or that period; for example, George W Brandt’s ‘British Television Drama’, Alan Rosenthal’s ‘The New Documentary in Action’ and ‘The Documentary Conscience’, the text accompanying the published screenplays of ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’ and ‘Cathy Come Home’ and the novels derived from them.
I suppose history (what actually happened) is slowly defined through the decades and centuries by writers, researchers, historians, sending each other letters, meeting, discussing the evidence, trying to support or undermine each other, etc., a process of slow refinement. It is as a historian wishing to set the record straight that I have made this list and I hope that it is as a historian that Irene will feel able to respond, rather than interpret it as a personal attack. The latter is absolutely not intended and she does, after all, in her book describe herself as a ‘professional historical researcher’.
Irene has asked me, in a letter, ‘why do you think that anyone at all is interested in events so long past?’ but my experience is that I am, every now and again, questioned about them, especially by students.
The period Irene writes of has been described as the ‘Golden Age of Television’ and it is just possible, 400 years hence, that scholars will be interested in our plays, just as present day scholars ponder over and write books about the work of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster. I think it unlikely, but it is possible.
Both yourself, myself, and Irene have university degrees. The academic process is well established. Amongst its prerequisites must be accuracy, good faith, courtesy, and the desire not knowingly to propagate falsehoods. I would go as far as to say that, at our older universities at any rate, communication through an agent, or through solicitors, are really very rare responses to queries from fellow historians.
As a matter of simple academic courtesy, I’d like to offer my old friend a chance to see this essay in draft form and offer her comments, which I will be happy to print as part of the document. At the very least that would be a simple and, I feel, necessary courtesy, though it is in fact one which she failed to show me.
With best wishes
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