1 9 6 2 – 1 9 6 5 (UK)
373 x 25 minute episodes
The 1960s saw commercial television in Britain establishing such a dominance in soaps with shows such as Coronation Street (1960) and Crossroads (1964-88, 2001-2003), that until the launch of EastEnders in 1985, many considered that the BBC was not committed to this type of popular drama.
This was not for the want of trying though. After the failure of the short-lived and largely forgotten attempt at a replacement for The Grove Family called Starr and Company, BBC television returned to the fray in January 1962 with a more successful and memorable drama, Compact.
The concept was created by Hazel Adair as she sat waiting to deliver an article to Women’s Own magazine.
It was written by Peter Ling, with whom Adair was to devise Crossroads.
Seen as a rival to Coronation Street, but scheduled to avoid clashing with it, Compact centred around ‘the talented and temperamental people who worked on a topical magazine for the busy woman’.
Compact was a glossy magazine that majored in schmaltzy fiction and other matters of female interest, and the majority of the action took place in the high-rise Compact offices in Enterprise House, in London’s Victoria.
Screened on Tuesdays and Thursdays following Tonight, it was swiftly dismissed by the critics as being “empty-headed”, “worthless” and “hollow”, and it absolutely oozed BBC cleanliness.
Characters didn’t smoke or swear, and the sexiest moment was a chaste goodnight kiss (the foot of the bed was only seen once, and that was when someone had the flu).
When an episode involving a dance was to feature The Twist, checks were made and, yes, a doctor somewhere had warned against sprains from the dance craze.
So a new safe dance called The Method was invented instead to keep Compact wholesome.
In the first six months alone, there were nine romances, including three marriages.
The original boss was bouffant-haired editor Joanne Minster (Jean Harvey). Other popular characters were art editor Richard, Gussie Brown the warm-hearted gushing features editor (who was so embarrassed by her Christian name that she pretended for a while that her name was Mary), managing editor Edmund Bruce (brought in from rival fashion magazine Lady Fair), American fashion editor Lois James, photographer Alec Gordon, Mark Viccars the mysterious fiction editor, features editor Jimmy Saunders, librarian Alan Drew, showbusiness editor David Rome, and tubby typist Iris and her boyfriend Stan.
The action centred around the trials of getting the magazine to the presses each week, with staff squabbles promoted to the realms of high drama.
There was much sparring for position within the office too. Ian Harmon, son of Sir Charles Harmon (the chairman of Harmon Enterprises Incorporated who owned the magazine), arrived from America using the undercover name of Ian Hart and bringing with him suave looks and gentlemanly behaviour. Before long, he married Sally, his impish secretary.
Sally originally rejected Ian’s advances and left. Later she returned and married him and the pair departed to America – Perhaps part of the reason she returned was because actress Monica Evans who played Sally said that after earning £50 a week on Compact it was hard living on £2.50 unemployment pay!
But the ratings lagged behind ITV’s Emergency – Ward 10 and with the understanding that journalists aren’t as interesting as doctors, Compact was dropped in July 1965.
After the series was cancelled, Hazel Adair commented “People got us wrong. We did not set out to make a documentary about life on a woman’s magazine. What we put over was the stuff the woman’s magazines are selling themselves”.
The name of Compact‘s sister magazine was Impact.
Sir Charles Harmon