The British are here, the British are here.
There was something of an outcry when it was announced that the British were coming to American television screens in productions of all of Shakespeare's plays over the next six years. American labor unions and some American theater pros thought the job should have gone to Americans -- themselves, for example -- and that Shakespeare would become known in tender young minds as something unnecessarily foreign.
But the British have finally arrived, and the assortment of actors and BBC officials who were honored at a reception last night at Decatur House are not really such an exotic lot after all. Their series will be presented on PBS, beginning with "Julius Caesar" on Valentine's Day.
In England three of the plays have already been on the air. Over there, "Romeo and Juliet" came first. Leave it to the Americans to decide that "Julius Caesar" would be better suited for Valentine's Day then "Romeo and Juliet."
Actor Anthony Quayle, who's about to rush across the waters to play Falstaff in the productions of "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2" for the series, was at the reception last night, declaring that American concerns over the Anglicization of Shakespeare are "a lot of crap." Shakespeare is "an immensely English author," said Quayle. Did Americans really want to see an all-British cast in Arthur Miller's plays, he asked.
Cedric Messina, who produced the Shakespeare plays for the BBC, noted that the PBS version of Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" has been bought for BBC use, "and we're not saying 'Why the f -- aren't there any Englishmen in it?'" (Actually Roberta Maxwell, who plays Lavinia in "Mourning," is British. But then no analogy is perfect.)
The BBC officials appeared pleased by the reception their work had received so far in England. Quayle said the quality of the two plays he had seen was "varied," but parts of them were "very, very good."
"You put something written for the stage in another medium and you can't do it without some distortion." said Quayle. He's concerned that Falstaff is the "huge kind of character who suits the stage but might be too big for the TV screen, which is smaller than life." Quavle is gaining a beard for the role, but he is determined not to gain much extra weight. Padding will have to suffice.
Celia Johnson, who played the nurse in the "Romeo and Julet" which will be seen later in the series here, said she hadn't watched it when it was aired in Britain. She gets depressed when she watches herself, even claiming to see flaws in her legendary performance in "Brief Encounter."
Johnson was fascinated to learn that the nice senator she was chatting with was an astronaut, Sen. Harrison Schmitt (R-N.M.). Such an activity was "the queerest thing in the whole wide world," she said, "but then I suppose it's not in the whole wide world, is it?"