This film is part of Free
Peter Wyngarde stars in the earliest surviving gay-themed British television drama, set on a Deep South plantation.
Now recognised as the earliest surviving gay-themed British television drama, this ITV Play of the Week centres on Lt. Jan Wicziewsky (Peter Wyngarde), a guest on a wealthy family’s Deep South plantation as the American Civil War looms. Wicziewsky’s initial arrogance gives way to emotional disintegration when the arrival of Eric MacClure (Graydon Gould) forces him to face up to his darkest secret: his love for another man. Just two years after the Wolfenden Report, homosexuality was still taboo. Though the word itself is not mentioned, Wyngarde’s bravery in taking on the role cannot be overstated.
The wonderful supporting cast includes Hollywood veteran Bessie Love and pioneering black British actor Johnny Sekka (the play addresses race as well as sexuality). Like much of 1950s TV output, South was broadcast live. Despite the odd minor slip-up it’s a dazzling technical achievement and one we are lucky exists at all: many live dramas of the period were not recorded for posterity, or were later wiped. After the broadcast, a Daily Sketch reporter wrote: "I do NOT see anything attractive in the agonies and ecstasies of a pervert, especially in close-up in my sitting room. This is not prudishness. There are some indecencies in life that are best left covered up."