The Madhouse on Castle Street

The Madhouse on Castle Street

"The Madhouse on Castle Street" was a British television play, broadcast by BBC Television on the evening of January 13 1963, as part of the "Sunday-Night Play" anthology strand. The production is notable for featuring the young American folk music singer Bob Dylan, who went on to become a major musical star.

Dylan had been seen performing in New York City by director Philip Saville in 1962, and in December that year he contracted Dylan to come to London for three weeks to star in "The Madhouse on Castle Street", which he was directing for the BBC, in spite of Dylan's complete lack of any acting training or experience. This was the performer's first trip outside of North America.

The sixty-minute play was written by Evan Jones, and tells the story of a man who locks himself in his room at the boarding house where he lives and refuses to come out until the world has changed. His friends and fellow residents attempt to discover why. Dylan was originally supposed to have played the leading role in the play, but during rehearsals it became apparent that he lacked the ability to learn lines, stating that he would rather "express himself in song", was lax in his time keeping and would often wander off to smoke cannabis. Sounes, Howard. "Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan." Doubleday 2001. p159. ISBN 0-552-99929-6] It was quickly decided that he lacked the acting ability to be able to perform the part. Saville was still keen to include Dylan, so re-structured the play to create two characters out of the original one Dylan had been hired to perform. Actor David Warner was hired to play the main acting role of Lennie, while Dylan performed songs commenting on the action in the manner of a Greek chorus as the new character Bobby, essentially playing himself. At the conclusion of the play, Dylan performed "Blowin' in the Wind", one of the first major public performances of the song.

As was the usual method of BBC television drama production at the time, the play was produced in a multi-camera electronic studio on video cameras, although it was recorded as a 35mm film telerecording rather than on videotape. This 35mm master was released for junking in 1968, and no copy of the play is known to exist. While from a retrospective viewpoint it may seem surprising that such an early performance of Dylan's was destroyed, this was common practice in British television of the era. Contracts with the actors' union, Equity, and other trade bodies meant that only a certain number of repeat broadcasts of a production were allowed, and then only within a five-year period. Once the ability to re-use a programme had expired, if it were of no further value it would be usually be destroyed, as was the case with "The Madhouse on Castle Street".

No other copies are believed to have been made from the original master, as these would usually only be produced for overseas sales purposes by BBC Enterprises, who are not believed to have requested any copies of "The Madhouse on Castle Street", presumably deeming it to be of little overseas sales value, even after Dylan's rise to fame. This is by no means a unique situation, as thousands of hours of television programming were disposed of by the BBC in this manner until the junking policy was halted in 1978. By that stage the ability to further exploit programmes in the new medium of home videocassette recorders was becoming apparent, and the idea that programmes should in any case be preserved for posterity and historical and cultural reasons was also coming to be realised.

Still photographs and scripts for the production survive, as do some amateur off-air reel-to-reel audio tape recordings of some of Dylan's songs made at home by viewers of the programme. A full off-air audio copy is not believed to exist, however, and as of 2007 it seems highly unlikely that a telerecording copy will ever be recovered.



*Fiddy, Dick. "Missing, Believed Wiped – Searching for the Lost Treasures of British Television". London: British Film Institute. 2001. ISBN 0-85170-866-8.

*Saville, Philip. "Knockin' on Dylan's Door". "Radio Times", Volume 326, Number 4252, cover date 24–30 September 2005 (page 16).

External links

* [ "The Madhouse on Castle Street"] on the BBC Four website at
* [ Off the Telly's take] on a BBC documentary on the programme.
* [ "The Madhouse on Castle Street"] at the Internet Movie Database.

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