THE LAST WITNESS
TX. 2nd June 1971
A single thirty-three second clip
survives from this production.
Story Context: A dying man called Harris
(Anthony Bate) is washed up on the shores of an island in the Channel
Isles. To assuage his guilt at killing his wife Anne (Denise Buckley) , his fevered
mind attempts to construct a different turn of events, in which he
pictures himself as an observer to the brutal act rather than its
perpetrator. The story unfolds through a series of cleverly constructed
‘flashback’ sequences, which allows Harris to re-construct himself as
the survivor of a shipwreck who has lost his memory. Within this
imagined reality, he suffers a series of hallucinations which feature a
man called David (Michael McStay) strangling Anne on a remote cliff top. It is only
in the last stages of the play that the viewer becomes aware that in
reality Anne had fled with David to escape an unhappy marriage to the
abusive Harris, who had pursued them both to this remote location and
eventually killed her (falling to her death from a hotel window).
Summary of surviving clip
The surviving clip derives from one
of the play’s film sequences, in which Harris is seen to be observing
the murder taking place on a cliff top pathway. The sequence exemplifies
how Harris’ need to reconstruct his past actions frequently suffers
‘intrusions’ from those real events that he is desperately attempting to
As the clip begins, we intercut between
shots of David clutching at Anne’s throat and Harris watching the event
from the cliff edge.
As we zoom in closer to Harris, we cut to the
struggle again, which goes on to feature Anne’s right hand reaching out
to grasp some vegetation on the cliff-edge. This cross-fades to her hand
clutching at some drapes which fall out of frame (an echo of the ‘real
‘murder, in which Anne had clutched at some curtains as she fell).
As the struggle continues, the shot cuts
between the strangulation and a close-up shot of David in a completely
different context (at night and with the sound of a strong wind
As the viewer will realise later, the latter is another
intrusion into Harris’ reconstruction of events, as this shot is
actually that of David seen from Harris’ point of view as he himself is
pushed overboard in a later act of revenge (the real event that
precipitated Harris being washed up on the shore at the beginning of the
This shot of the ‘real’ David goes into
an extreme close-up, before cutting away again to his imagined
counterpart finally releasing his grip on Anne’s throat, whose lifeless
body falls from view.
The sequence is accompanied by a section
of Dudley Simpson’s incidental music for the play.
The clip has been retained alongside a
number of other ‘cuts’ from television material excised by the
Australian Censorship Board. The cut was made in 1972, the year that
Australia purchased and originally broadcast the fourth season of Out
of the Unknown. A copy is retained on 16mm film at the Sydney office
of the Australian National Archives.