Hail, Jack Pulman!Posted: April 27, 2007
Today’s masterpiece-level television series (The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Rome) are created by a phalanx of writers, with one general at the helm. While it’s understood that nothing gets on The Sopranos without David Chase’s imprimatur, and that he is the creative force, the names of other writers frequently show up on the “written by” opening credit instead of or in addition to his. But when you watch the opening credits of I, Claudius, the 1976 BBC series based on Robert Graves based on Suetonius, you see that every word of all 13 episodes was written by Jack Pulman. Considering that I, Claudius may have the smartest dialogue ever written for television (Deadwood notwithstanding), I think that’s amazing.
You can say that Pulman’s feat was less awesome since he was adapting good source material, rather than baking from scratch, but the sensibility of the show seems more of our own time than 1934 (the year of Graves’ novel), so I give Pulman full credit. And I, Claudius may be the best television ever done. Certainly it’s hard to have any other opinion after watching the complete DVD set. When you compare it to Rome (which I adored), you notice there’s not a single genuine exterior—it’s all done on a soundstage. Yet the quality of Pulman’s writing and of the actors delivering that writing is of such a standard that one doesn’t miss spectacle in the least. Here’s a web page that gives a good account by Tise Vahimagi of Pulman’s career. Vahimagi writes, “As…told in flashback by Derek Jacobi’s wily old Claudius, Pulman’s scripts were noteworthy for their irreverent wit and sophistication (as well as a clever combination of modern idiom and period expression).”
Almost all Jack Pulman’s credits were in British television. Sadly, he died in 1979 at the age of fifty or not much older (different internet sources give his birth date as 1929 and 1925).
To help bring back a memory of the show, here’s the opening title music, by Wilfrid Josephs.