1 9 7 0 (UK)
6 x 90 minute episodes
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII was first broadcast by the BBC on 1 January 1970 and became one of its most celebrated historical drama serials. The nine-hour series went on to be shown in some 70 countries and received seven major awards for both the quality of the performances and for its historical authenticity.
The gargantuan figure of Henry himself was played by the hitherto unknown Australian actor Keith Michell, who earned an award for “Best Television Actor” as a result of his efforts.
The series was neatly split into six episodes, each one dealing with one of the six wives and tracing their varied experiences and sometimes bloody ends at the hands of one of England’s most infamous rulers.
The wives themselves were played by Annette Crosbie, Dorothy Tutin, Anne Stallybrass, Elvi Hale, Angela Pleasance, and Rosalie Crutchley, all respected stars of stage and screen. Annette Crosbie collected a “Best Actress” award for her performance as Catherine of Aragon.
Michell, though, was always the focus of attention. His challenge was to portray Henry at the different stages of his life, beginning with the athletic 18-year-old monarch and culminating in the oversize 56-year-old tyrant plagued by a variety of physical ailments.
Playing the ageing Henry proved the most demanding challenge. Michell, who boasted only half the girth of the real king, spent over four hours each day having his make-up applied and was unable to eat or drink except through a straw because of the padding tucked into his cheeks.
The impersonation was very convincing and critics hailed the attention to detail in costume and sets. The authentic appearance of the court costumes was achieved by the ingenuity of designer John Bloomfield, who used painted cheap fabrics, glass and household washers to achieve the sumptuous period effect.
Such was the interest in the programme that the costumes went on tour. The period was further evoked by its authentic Tudor music assembled and produced by the early music pioneer David Munrow.
The series also did much to establish the BBC’s cherished reputation for ambitious and historically authentic costume drama, consolidated a year later by the equally-acclaimed series Elizabeth R, starring Glenda Jackson as Henry’s daughter.
Catherine of Aragon
Anne of Cleves
Duke of Norfolk
Sir Thomas Seymour