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Isabel Taube

MA work

Tyger Tyger and Television in the Making

I have chosen this as a subject because lines from it have passed into the everyday, because it is so generally known, awkward, misunderstood and memorable ~ Christopher Burstall.

The filming of Tyger Tyger took place in May 1967. The first programme on British television devoted to one single poem, it was directed by 35-year-old Christopher Burstall. Burstall interviewed school children, sixth formers, a taxidermist, a housewife, a civil servant, a zookeeper, an art student, the cultural critics Stuart Hall and Richard Hoggart, as well as the poets Kathleen Raine, Robert Graves and Adrian Mitchell.

He interspersed these interviews with footage of primary and secondary school pupils discussing and formulating their own impressions of William Blake’s poem. Burstall did not see the programme as academic; in January 1967 he wrote to an acquaintance: ‘...recently I thought of the Blake poem and it struck me again how stuffed it is with all sorts of different meanings, how many entirely un-Blake meanings are undoubtedly given to it by all the children and students who read it’.

Through interviews with original participants in the programme, former colleagues and members of Burstall’s family (some of whom appear in the film), this project retraces the making of Tyger Tyger and the environment of the BBC arts features department at the time. It is influenced by the novels of Margaret Drabble and the writings of Stuart Hood. It takes inspiration from Ted Hughes’s 1967 book Poetry in the Making, a collection of transcribed radio broadcasts for ten to fourteen year-olds, whose purpose was ‘to direct readers (listeners) towards certain faculties – inner concentration, inner listening, dependence on the spontaneous mind rather than the calculating and remembering mind’.

Burstall saw the poem as resonant, passed into the everyday, and one that reverberated with amateurs and experts alike. Attentive to the spontaneous reactions of each participant, those in the BBC felt the programme demonstrated something distinctive, and noted ‘how impossible it would have been to achieve the impact of the contrasts except by the medium of television'. Through recollection, anecdote, storytelling, and archival material, it follows the route left by Burstall, and reassembles the making of the film in the same way that Burstall attempted to remake and reassemble ‘The Tyger’ in 1967.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA Critical Writing in Art & Design, 2015

  • Degrees

  • BA English & American Studies, University of Nottingham, 2013
  • Conferences

  • Akerman's art: a symposium on Chantal Akerman at the JW3 Centre, London, 2014
  • Publications

  • 'Fragments of a Place', Albertopolis Companion, Royal College of Art, 2015 ; 'Upkeep', Of and For Turner Contemporary, Royal College of Art, 2015