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Orson Welles' Sketch Book

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Title: Orson Welles' Sketch Book  
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Language: English
Subject: Isaac Woodard
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Orson Welles' Sketch Book

Orson Welles' Sketch Book
Genre Commentary
Written by Orson Welles
Directed by Orson Welles
Starring Orson Welles
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 6
Producer(s) Huw Wheldon
Running time 15 minutes
Production companies BBC-TV Drama Department
Original channel BBC
Original run 24 April 1955 – 28 May 1955
Followed by Around the World with Orson Welles

Orson Welles' Sketch Book is a series of six short television commentaries by Orson Welles for the BBC in 1955. Written and directed by Welles, the 15-minute episodes present the filmmaker's commentaries on a range of subjects. Welles frequently draws from his own experiences and often illustrates the episodes with his own sketches.[1]


  • "The Early Days" — Welles discusses his early days in the theatre.[2] (First broadcast 24 April 1955.)
  • "Critics" — Welles discusses his love-hate relationship with critics. (First broadcast 8 May 1955.)
  • "The Police" — Welles relates the story of Isaac Woodard, a decorated black World War II veteran who was blinded in a brutal 1946 beating by South Carolina police. Welles first told the story in July 1946 on his radio show, Orson Welles Commentaries (ABC), and made the case a focus of his weekly broadcasts throughout September 1946. Welles's comments on his BBC-TV series foreshadow a speech made in Touch of Evil (1958): "I'm willing to admit that the policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job. But it's the essence of our society that a policeman's job should be hard. He's there to protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals — that's an incidental part of the job."[3] (First broadcast 22 May 1955.)
  • "Houdini/John Barrymore/Voodoo Story/The People I Missed" — Several anecdotes from Welles. (First broadcast 5 June 1955.)
  • "The War of the Worlds" — Welles recounts the story of the famous 1938 Mercury Theatre broadcast that was mistaken by many listeners for a real Martian invasion, and the mass panic caused. (First broadcast 19 June 1955.)
  • "Bullfighting" — Commentary includes the true story of Bonito the bull, a story written for the screen by Robert Flaherty that Welles filmed in 1942. It was to make up the first third of his unfinished film, It's All True.[4] (First broadcast 3 July 1955.)

Reviews and commentary

  • Ben Walters, The Guardian (17 December 2009) — Although famous as a large actor in every sense, Welles was always more comfortable as a storyteller than performing in character, and in television he felt he had found an ideal platform. He saw it not as a vehicle for spectacle like film or theatre, but as a conversational form like radio, perfect for his preferred role of hands-on narrator or personalised chorus, mediating between audience and tale. The Sketch Book testifies to this sensibility: addressing the camera directly, Welles makes eye contact with his viewers as he holds forth on subjects ranging from "the precious gift of stage fright" to state interference in private life, all the while doodling illustrative sketches on a pad. He fosters an intimate, even conspiratorial tone that makes him an impeccable embodiment of the medium's proverbial status as a guest in the front room … To our digitally accustomed eyes, the one-to-one timbre of the programme comes off like a monochrome forebear of Skype or YouTube.[5]

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Transcripts and screenshots of Welles's sketches at Episode 6
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