The last major British serial to be filmed in black and white, The Forsyte Saga, at a cost of 250,000 GBP was the BBC's most expensive drama ever made at that time.
In spite of the fact that producer Donald Wilson had to overcome a number of problems in order to get the production to the screen in the first place (the BBC's reluctance to negotiate the publishing rights of novels being an example), the 26 episodes became a resounding success, winning universal acclaim and becoming the first BBC serial ever purchased by the Soviet Union.
The series chronicled the saga of a London merchant family between 1879-1926, beginning with Jo Forsyte (Kenneth More), who is seen leaving his wife for his pregnant mistress. His cousin, a calculating lawyer by the name of Soames (Eric Porter), marries the beautiful Irene (Nyree Dawn Porter), but it is a loveless marriage and Irene soon turns to architect Phillip Bosinney (John Bennett). In one of television's most memorably shocking scenes, Soames rapes his wife in an attempt to reclaim her. The marriage ends in divorce and Irene marries Jo before giving birth to a son, Jon. Soame's remarries and his second wife, Annette (Dallia Penn), gives birth to a daughter, Fleur (Susan Hampshire).
As the series moves into the 1920's the infidelity continues as Fleur and Jon become involved in a tempestuous relationship. In spite of being tucked away on BBC2, the series attracted no less than six million viewers on its first showing and when repeated on BBC1 the following year a staggering 18 million people tuned in.
The Forsyte Saga spawned a number of copycat series such as The First Churchills and The Pallisers and was so popular when shown on the PBS networks across the US that it prompted other literary works to be adapted for the small screen, the most memorable being Rich Man, Poor Man.
A new production of The Forsyte Saga came to our screens in 2002.
Published on December 13th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.