|Subject: Irene Shubik, TV producer (" Rumpole of the Bailey")
Dead at 89
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Date Posted: Thursday, October 24, 11:52:31am
Irene Shubik obituary
Television drama producer best known for Rumpole of the Bailey
Irene Shubik, who has died aged 89 after having dementia, was a television drama producer whose work ranged from sci-fi to socially relevant modern stories for the BBC’s The Wednesday Play and its successor, Play for Today, and adaptations of 19th- and 20th-century literature.
Her most significant legacy was Rumpole of the Bailey, which she commissioned as a 1975 Play for Today. She was instrumental in changing the name of John Mortimer’s crumpled, liberal defence barrister from Horace Rumbold and casting Leo McKern in the role, while the writer wanted Michael Hordern.
When BBC bureaucracy made it difficult to get a series of Rumpole off the ground, Shubik left and took the six scripts she had already commissioned to ITV. She produced the first run, in 1978, setting up a much-loved drama that ran until 1992.
Earlier, Shubik had made a notable contribution to television sci-fi as story editor and producer of Out of the Unknown, a BBC anthology series featuring adaptations of published works, along with new ones from writers such as William Trevor and Terry Nation. The Machine Stops, adapted from EM Forster’s short story, won first prize at the 1967 International Science Fiction film festival.
Shubik was tireless in her quest to find suitable stories to put on screen and, although she left after the first two series (1965-67) of Out of the Unknown to join The Wednesday Play, she commissioned most of the subsequent 1969 run.
She was similarly a guiding light for Wessex Tales (1973), adapted from six short stories by Thomas Hardy. She stamped her mark on it by insisting that each would begin and end with a long shot of characters being seen from afar, dwarfed by the landscape.
As a producer of The Wednesday Play from 1967, Shubik’s notable successes included The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel (1969), Peter Terson’s story of a trainspotter discovering repressed homosexuality, dysfunctional marriages and suggestions of paedophilia among the strangers he meets, and Chariot of Fire (1970), Tony Parker’s exploration of the mind of a sex offender facing release from prison.
However, her commitment to the radicalism of The Wednesday Play and Play for Today was more questionable. While lauding the work of Parker, David Mercer and Clive Exton, she was less supportive of those writing politically charged dramas.
Sandford rebutted claims she made about the factual accuracy of both that and his classic 1966 play about homelessness, Cathy Come Home. He added that she had seemed to “sabotage” the potential of Edna, the Inebriate Woman to have a similar impact on politicians and the public.
After launching Rumpole of the Bailey on ITV, Shubik concentrated on historical drama. Her suggestion to the channel that it should turn Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet into a series was met with the idea of trying out his later work, Staying On, as a pilot. Julian Mitchell’s adaptation, produced by Granada Television and screened as a single play in 1980, starred Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in a moving portrait of old age and those colonials who had no wish to return to Britain after Indian independence.
Shubik then returned to The Raj Quartet to devise The Jewel in the Crown (1984), working on scripts with the writer, Ken Taylor, and researching locations for this 13-part high point of television drama that was put on a pedestal alongside Granada’s earlier production of Brideshead Revisited.
Shubik was born in London, the daughter of Jewish immigrants, Sara (nee Soloveychik), from France, and Joseph Shubik, who came from Russia and traded in the flax market. Shortly after the outbreak of the second world war, she was evacuated to Canada, to live with relatives.
On her return, Shubik gained a master’s degree in English literature from University College London and, after being turned down by the BBC, emigrated to the US and began her career as a documentary scriptwriter for Encyclopaedia Britannica Films in New York.
In 1960, after returning to Britain, she was appointed a story editor on the ITV drama series Armchair Theatre – and told by Sydney Newman, the Canadian-born producer, that he did not want any “costume crap”. In the same anthology format – the first featuring sci-fi stories – she created Out of This World (1962).
Newman took Shubik with him to the BBC in 1963 and she was story editor on Story Parade (1964-65), dramatisations of modern novels for the newly launched BBC2. In 1965, with Out of the Unknown, she became a producer, and she stayed in that role for Thirteen Against Fate (1966), Hugh Leonard’s adaptations of Georges Simenon stories.
Before switching to ITV, she worked on the BBC2 anthology series Playhouse (1973-76). Her commissions included half a dozen original dramas about the paranormal from writers such as Brian Hayles and Trevor.
She left Granada before The Jewel in the Crown went into production because she was asked by Columbia Pictures to work on the screenplay of the film The Girl in a Swing (1988), based on Richard Adams’s novel. However, her script did not proceed beyond a first draft.
In 1991 Shubik was embroiled in industry controversy when she chaired the Bafta TV Awards jury. She declared Prime Suspect to be best drama serial, but the seven judges publicly stated that four of them had voted for GBH. The ballot papers no longer existed and no blame was attached, but the affair became known as Baftagate.
Shubik had a 10-year relationship with the journalist Andrew Dickson, who died in 2004. Her brothers, Martin, an economics professor at Yale University, and Philippe, a cancer researcher, predeceased her. Shubik is survived by her nieces, Claire and Anna.
• Irene Shubik, TV producer and story editor, born 26 December 1929; died 26 September 2019
Ironically, Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971), Jeremy Sandford’s tale of a down-and-out played by Patricia Hayes – the most celebrated Play for Today production commissioned by Shubik and winner of two Society of Film and Television Arts awards – was one that Shubik herself expended much space on criticising in her 1975 book, Play for Today: The Evolution of Television
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