Irene Shubik (born 1929) is a British television producer, notable for her contribution to the development of the single play in British television drama. Beginning her television career at ABC Television, she worked on Armchair Theatre as a story editor where she devised the science fiction anthology series Out of this World. Moving to the BBC, she briefly worked as a story editor before being promoted to producer, creating the science fiction anthology television series Out of the Unknown. Leaving Out of the Unknown after two seasons, Shubik co-produced The Wednesday Play, overseeing its transition into Play for Today in 1970. She left the BBC in 1976, and subsequently produced the first season of Rumpole of the Bailey for Thames Television before joining Granada Television where she produced Staying On and devised The Jewel in the Crown. She has also written film scripts and a novel, The War Guest.
Early life and career
Irene Shubik was born in 1929 in Hampstead, London to a Russian Jewish father and a French Jewish mother. When World War II broke out in 1939, she was evacuated to Canada. She read English literature at University College London, obtaining an MA in “The Use of English History in Drama from 1599-1642”. Uninterested in a career in academia, she applied to join the BBC but was turned down. Unable to obtain work, she moved to the United States, visiting her brother, the economist Martin Shubik, who was teaching at Princeton University. Meeting with little success in building a career in Princeton, when her brother was called before the Dean of the University for keeping a woman in his quarters, she moved to Wilmette, Chicago where her other brother, cancer surgeon Philippe Shubik, was based. Wilmette was the home of Encyclopædia Britannica Films and, impressed by her MA thesis, they hired Shubik as a scriptwriter. Shubik was subsequently offered a twelve month contract with the National Film Board of Canada but was unable to take up the position as both of her parents had become seriously ill.
Career with Associated British Corporation
By 1960, now back in England, Shubik's career was back at square one. She contributed occasional scripts to documentary series such as Associated-Rediffusion's This Week before securing employment at ABC television. At ABC, she worked as a story editor for producer Sydney Newman on the anthology series Armchair Theatre, overseeing such plays as Where I Live by Clive Exton, A Night Out by Harold Pinter and After The Funeral by Alun Owen. An enthusiast of science fiction, while working on Armchair Theatre she oversaw Murder Club, an adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s novel Seventh Victim. Its success enabled her to persuade Newman to develop a science fiction version of Armchair Theatre – this became Out of This World, a thirteen part anthology series, hosted by Boris Karloff, that aired between 30 June 1962 and 22 September 1962. Many of the stories featured in Out of this World were adaptations of stories by science fiction authors including Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Clifford D. Simak.
Career with the British Broadcasting Corporation
When Sydney Newman was poached by the BBC to head up their drama department in late 1962, he invited Shubik to join him. Accepting the offer, on the condition that she be promoted to producer within a year, Shubik joined the BBC in 1963 and was put to work as story editor on Story Parade, an anthology series of adaptations of modern novels that was intended to be the main drama strand for the new channel BBC2 due to be launched in 1964. One of the best received installments of Story Parade that Shubik worked was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's 1954 novel The Caves of Steel starring Peter Cushing. Just as the success of “Murder Club” had enabled Shubik to persuade Newman to commission Out of this World, so The Caves of Steel’s positive reception opened the door for Shubik to devise a similar anthology series for BBC2 called Out of the Unknown, on which Shubik acted as story editor and producer. Like Out of this World, under Shubik's stewardship Out of the Unknown concentrated mainly on adaptations of science fiction stories including works by Frederik Pohl, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard and Isaac Asimov (of whom Shubik was a particular fan, commissioning adaptations of six of his works for Out of the Unknown, once commenting that he was “one of the most interesting and amusing men I have ever met”). Among the most notable productions were adaptations of Kate Wilhelm’s Andover and the Android, John Brunner’s Some Lapse of Time, E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops and Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7. The adaptation of The Machine Stops won the first prize at the Fifth Festival Internazionale del Film di Fantascienza (International Science Fiction Film Festival) in Trieste on 17 July 1967.
In parallel with producing the second season of Out of the Unknown, Shubik produced Thirteen Against Fate, a series of adaptations of short crime stories by Maigret creator Georges Simenon broadcast between 19 June 1966 and 11 September 1966.
In 1967, as she began work assembling scripts for the third season of Out of the Unknown, Shubik accepted the chance to take over as co-producer (with Graeme MacDonald) of The Wednesday Play, BBC1’s premier drama slot, producing such notable plays as Tony Parker's “Mrs Lawrence Will Look After It”, William Trevor's “A Night With Mrs Ta Danka” and Peter Terson's “The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel”. In 1970 she oversaw the transition of The Wednesday Play into the equally well regarded Play for Today. The most well received play she oversaw for Play for Today was Jeremy Sandford’s “Edna, the Inebriate Woman”, which was later ranked 57th in the British Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes published in 2000.
Moving on from Play for Today she oversaw an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex Tales in 1973 before taking on the role of producer on another anthology series called The Mind Beyond, a spin-off from the Playhouse (TV series) anthology series.
Career in Independent Television
One of the plays Shubik had produced for Play for Today was John Mortimer’s “Rumpole of the Bailey” (broadcast 17 December 1975), starring Leo McKern as the eponymous barrister. McKern had greatly enjoyed playing the role and had indicated it was a part he would be interested in returning to. Shubik commissioned six new Rumpole scripts from John Mortimer with a view to making a series but a change of senior personnel in the BBC led to the project being put on hold. In late 1976, Shubik departed the BBC for Thames Television and brought the Rumpole scripts with her. Shubik produced the first season of Rumpole of the Bailey in 1978 and commissioned the scripts for the second before leaving Thames for Granada Television where she was hired to produce an adaptation of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.
When Granada got cold feet about the scale of the project and the cost of filming in India, Shubik suggested that she produce an adaptation of Scott's Staying On as a pilot. Staying On was made in 1980 and put stars Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson together on screen again for the first time since Brief Encounter. Its success led Granada to give the go ahead to the Raj Quartet, which was filmed as The Jewel in the Crown and became one of Granada's most celebrated productions, placed twenty-second in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. Shubik did not produce The Jewel in the Crown, having moved on to write the screenplay for the film Girl on a Swing for Columbia Pictures, but, having worked extensively on the fourteen scripts, was given a “devised by” credit at the start of each episode.
Other notable works
Shubik is also the author of Play for Today: The evolution of television drama, an autobiographical account of the development of the single play in British television which has become a standard reference work on the subject. The first edition appeared in 1975 and a revised second edition, incorporating new material on Rumpole of the Bailey, Staying On and The Jewel in the Crown, appeared in 2001. She is also the author of the novel The War Guest (W.H. Allen, 1986).
In 1992 Shubik was chairman of the jury which judged the controversial Best Drama Serial category for that year's British Academy Television Awards (BAFTAs). The award was presented to Prime Suspect, but following the ceremony four of the other seven members of the jury signed a public statement declaring that they had voted for G.B.H. to win. Shubik, who as chairman did not cast a vote, refused to publicly comment on the affair, but BAFTA Chairman Richard Price stated that the ballot papers passed on to him by Shubik had shown four votes for Prime Suspect and three for G.B.H.. Price claimed that the ballot papers could not be recounted as they had subsequently been destroyed. No blame was ever attached to Shubik by the four judges, and it was to her that they had initially turned to raise the apparent discrepancy with BAFTA.
- Ward, Out of the Unknown, p. 9.
- Shubik, Play for Today, p. ix.
- Shubik, Play for Today, p. x.
- Shubik, Play for Today, p. xii
- Vahimage, Irene Shubik (1935 - ).
- Cutler, Colin (1999). "Story Parade: The Caves of Steel". 625.org. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
- "The BFI TV 100: 1-100". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Wittstock, Melinda (1992-04-08). "Confusion becomes the Bafta prime suspect". The Times. p. 1.
- Wittstock, Melinda (1992-05-02). "`Fibs' slur incenses Bafta award judges". The Times. p. 18.
- Shubik, Irene (2001). Play for Today: The evolution of television drama (2nd edition ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-5687-1.
- Vahimagi, Tise. "Irene Shubik (1935 - )". BFI Screenonline. The definitive guide to Britain's film and TV history. Retrieved 2007-01-19.
- Ward, Mark (2004). Out of the Unknown: A Guide to the legendary BBC series. Bristol: Kaleidescope. ISBN 1-900203-10-3.