On Stage and Screen
The Definitive Helene Hanff Website
Helene spent almost her entire working life trying to write a successful play or screenplay -
only to have others do it for her, from her book....
'84' on TV... In 1975, "84" was made into a BBC TV "Play for Today", starring Anne
Jackson as Helene andFrank Finlay as Frank Doel. This production was shown in the UK, and
later in the US, but is not now commercially available.
How did this come about? In her book 'Q's Legacy', Helene Hanff wrote:
"On a January day in 1975, a cable arrived in my agent's office and she called to read it to
me. "KEEN TO ACQUIRE 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD FOR BBC TELEVISION - MARK SHIVAS".
Mark Shivas, she told me, was one of the BBC's best young producers. Being a fan of BBC
television, I was very flattered. I phoned the news to all my friends and it was my friend
Susan who said brightly: "You'll see your whole life pass before you and you won't have
even have to drown." In February Hugh Whitemore's script arrived. I'd wondered how on
earth he was going to trun a book of letters into television dialogue. He hadn't tried to. You
might say he scorned to try. He'd let the letters speak for themselves take the place of
dialogue by doing the whole script in a television technique known as 'voice-over'.
'Voice-over' meant that the audience would hear a letter read by a disembodied voice while
the owner of the voice performed pantomime action on the screen. To do an hour-long TV
show this way from beginning to end required the kind of audacity known as 'chutzpah'."
Chutzpah or no, the production went ahead. Anne Jackson (an American actress, more
usually known as Annie) played Helene, and Frank Finlay (a British actor) played Frank Doel.
Promising an article about it all to the Reader's Digest in return for a plane ticket and some
hotel money, Helene went to London to attend the three-day taping of the programme. After
all, as she said, I had no work in the typewriter. I can only write about what happens to me
and nothing much had happened to me lately. But it occured to me that sitting in a TV studio
watching an actress pretend to be definitely classified as something-happening-to-me.
The production was a BBC 'Play for Today', lasting an hour and twenty minutes. As far as I can
ascertain, it was shown just once on British television, and several times over the years on
American television, but it is sadly not available on general release on video.
Cuttings from the
UK's "Radio Times"
magazine in 1975
Anne Jackson and Frank
Finlay as Helene Hanff and
Select a production...
ON STAGE - LONDON
1981 - Rosemary Leach and David Swift as Helene
Hanff and Frank Doel.
1988 - Anne Bancroft and Sir Anthony Hopkins as
Helene Hanff and Frank Doel.