Last Updated on June 8, 2023

In 2020 PBS celebrates its 50th anniversary; in 2021 Masterpiece joins the party. We thought it a perfect time to look back on the period dramas that have aired on Masterpiece, season by season, one post at a time. 

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Below, we list the period drama line-up for the twelfth season of Masterpiece Theatre, which aired in 1982 – 1983. 

Some of the earliest PBS Masterpiece programming is still available to stream or own, and in the following descriptions, we will let you know when it is (and we’ll also link to the books that inspired the adaptations).

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, and see how the choice of British costume dramas and historical series on Masterpiece has evolved over the years. Titles are listed in order of their air date.

For some history of PBS Masterpiece, and the programming in other seasons, see this page.

Period Dramas on PBS Masterpiece Season 12 

To Serve Them All My Days, by R.F. Delderfield

To Serve Them All My Days (1980)

A 13-part BBC adaptation of R.F. Delderfield’s novel, penned by Andrew Davies.

David Powlett-Jones was a Welsh coal-miner’s son invalided out of the Army by shell shock. Now, between the two World Wars, he’s a history teacher at a remote British boy’s school.

Scholastic life transforms him from cynic to an idealist loved by his students, even as a long-running conflict with the headmaster and unimaginable tragedy threaten to destroy his personal life. Despite unpromising beginnings, he develops into an educator with uncommon perception and understanding, and finds romance.

Episode 1: David applies for employment at the Bamfylde School after completing his service with the Army. The shell-shocked veteran starts his teaching job at the boarding school. While he is not sure he can do the job, the headmaster has faith in him.

Episode 2: Back in Wales, David is mocked by his brother for turning into an upper-class snob. At the seaside, David meets nurse Elizabeth, and they agree to write.

Episode 3: A proposal to build a War Memorial becomes a controversial issue at the school. David’s decision to fight it causes bitter hostility.

Episode 4: David deputises as Housemaster and finds the job more demanding than expected. Beth gives birth to twin girls.

Episode 5: David is offered a promotion – but is he ready to take on the responsibility? When the son of a famous actress goes missing, David supervises the hunt.

Episode 6: With Young Winterbourne still missing, the arrival of a policeman at the school is no surprise – but the reason for his visit is.

Episode 7: Headmaster Herries announces his retirement, and David feels forced to apply for the job to prevent Carter from turning the school into a military environment.

Episode 8: Bamfylde’s new Headmaster takes up his position, and brings his own ideas on how the school should be run. He seems more concerned with discipline than the boys’ welfare.

Episode 9: While being very unsettled at the school, Carter makes an important decision. While attending a political meeting, David is introduced to Christine Forster.

Episode 10: Alcock is determined to have David fired and compiles a file on him. He presents his findings to the Board of Governors to make a formal complaint.

Episode 11: The conflict between David and Alcock comes to an unexpected end. David feels guilty, and Herries steps in to groom him for a new job.

Episode 12: The arrival of a German-born Jewish boy causes friction among the pupils – but David is far too preoccupied trying to sort out his personal life.

Episode 13: Christine is unhappy at Bamfylde, and doesn’t know who to turn to. David tries to help her find purpose. Julia’s son comes to study at Bamfylde.

Starring John Duttine, Frank Middlemass, Belinda Lang, Alan MacNaughtan, Charles Kay, Kim Braden, Cyril Luckham.

Available on DVD

First aired on Masterpiece in 1982

The Good Soldier (1981)

Faithfully adapted from Ford Madox Ford’s impressionistic masterpiece, this powerful period drama explores a tangle of religion, sex, and Edwardian-era social mores in a highly original style.

The Good Soldier (1981), courtesy Granada Television

Set in the years before the Great War, this is the romantic tragedy of two wealthy couples, one British, the other American, who meet yearly in the fashionable German spa town of Bad Nauheim.

Through nine seasons at the spa, the splendid foursome share the same tastes, the same desires, and the same elegantly perfect lives. But in a series of startling time and perspective shifts, we learn, little by little, just how far short of perfection their lives really were.

On the surface they’re honorable and civilized but it’s soon revealed that the British husband, the “good soldier,” is really a womanizer whose frequent philandering rips apart the couples’ lives.

According to Robin Ellis, who stars in the film as narrator John Dowell, “Bad Nauheim is still a spa town, but the beautiful Sprudelhof bath buildings (built between 1905 and 1911 in what the Germans call the Jugendstil style) are open for special guided tours.”

Ellis continues “The adaptation–loyal to the novel–was written by the English screenwriter and playwright, Julian Mitchell. Filming took three months, on location in England and Germany (extended by a labour dispute at Granada TV involving the shooting of Jewel In The Crown–which delayed our schedule too). I had recently played another diffident American, Robert Acton, in Merchant Ivory’s production of the Henry James novel, The Europeans. Perhaps Kevin saw it. Though there are comic possibilities in playing innocence–three months is a long time to spend with John Dowell— someone so blindly and determinedly, out of touch with the truth.”

Starring Robin Ellis, Vickery Turner, Jeremy Brett, Susan Fleetwood, Elizabeth Garvie, Pauline Moran, John Ratzenberger.

Available on DVD

Add to your WATCHLIST

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981)

This television mini-series is a historically accurate dramatization of Winston Churchill’s life between 1929, when he lost his cabinet position, and 1939, when he joined Great Britain’s War Cabinet. Churchill almost sank into public and political oblivion during this period he described as the most difficult in his life.

During that time Churchill attempted to make his colleagues and countrymen aware of Nazi Germany’s threat to Britain. He comes up against much resistance from fellow politicians Stanley Baldwin, Samuel Hoare and the appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain. He faces problems not only in politics but at home as well.

Churchill is played by Robert Hardy, who earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor and went on to play him in several other productions.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981), courtesy Southern Television

Episode 1: Down and Out: When the Tories lose their majority in Parliament, Winston loses his spot in the cabinet. Deciding to take the opportunity to feather his nest he goes to America on a speaking tour and invests the proceeds in a a pre-crash stock market.

Episode 2 : Politics Are Foul: Baldwin sends for Churchill asking for his support in giving India dominion status, something Churchill is against. Churchill attacks Ramsay MacDonald in parliament and resigns from the shadow cabinet. The division in the conservative party leads Baldwin to make a political deal with MacDonald. A general election is called for a national government and Churchill is not offered office. While in New York, he suffers an accident.

Episode 3: In High Places: Churchill takes a European trip to visit famous battlefields and hopes to meet with Hitler but the meeting fails to materialize. The India question still rages in the U.K. Eager to win a victory on the India question Sir Samuel Hoare enlists the aid of Lord Derby to suppress certain unfavorable testimony, but one of the witnesses comes forth to Churchill.

Episode 4: A Menace in the House: Churchill asks the House to institute a committee to investigate the interference with evidence on the India question. But committee members Ramsay McDonald, Sir Louis Kershaw and Clement Attlee are unable to conclude that there’s been any wrongdoing. The findings of the committee further damage Churchill’s standing in the house.

Episode 5: The Flying Peril: Churchill sounds the alarm in the House of Commons that Germany is re-arming and that Britain is falling behind in the race for air superiority. Meanhwile Randolph Churchill backs several ill-advised candidates and Clementine goes traveling and meets another man. When Germany’s air superiority becomes public the MacDonald government falls and Churchill works in the general election to return the conservatives to power. Although they are successful, Churchill is once again passed over for a cabinet position.

Episode 6: His Own Funeral: George V dies. Churchill continues to rail against the government’s failure to adequately prepare for war. Wigram grows increasingly despondent at the prospect of war when Hitler occupies the Rhineland. Sarah elopes to America with a Jewish musical hall comedian. When the new king gets embroiled in a dispute over his relationship with an American divorcée, Churchill champions his cause losing yet more popularity with house members.

Episode 7: The Long Tide of Surrender: Churchill is completely marginalized following the election of Nevill Chamberlain as P.M. Chamberlain pursues a policy of appeasement and orders ministers to cut defense spending. He also brings a civil servant, Sir Horace Wilson on as an aide. Lord Halifax broaches the subject of disarmament with Goehrin which causes Anthony Eden to resign as foreign minister. After promising Churchill that there will be no more accommodations, Chamberlain flies to Munich to meet with Hitler on Czechoslovakia.

Episode 8: What Price Churchill?: Churchill’s warnings come true as Hitler seizes Czechoslovakia and attacks Poland. Still Chamberlain resists admitting that it’s to be war and that he must offer Churchill a position in the government.

Starring Robert Hardy, Siân Phillips, Nigel Havers, Tim Pigott-Smith, Peter Barkworth, Eric Porter, Edward Woodward.

Available on DVD

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

On Approval (1982)

David Giles directed this comedic episode for the BBC anthology series Play of the Month, adapted from the 1926 play by Frederick Lonsdale. In 1927, four high-class singles spend a month living together, trying to decide whether or not married life might be worth all the fuss.

On Approval (1982), courtesy BBC

Maria, a wealthy widow, invites her long-time dinner companion Richard to spend a month at her house in Scotland. If she still likes him after a month together, they will marry. Their mutual friends, George, Duke of Bristol, and his companion, Helen decide to make it a foursome. The humor in this drawing room comedy contrasts the vain, self-centered Maria and George with their gentle and sophisticated partners. 

There’s also a 1944 film starring Clive Brook and Beatrice Lillie based on the play which shifted the setting to the Victorian era.

Starring Jeremy Brett, Penelope Keith, Helen Hayle, Lindsay Duncan, Benjamin Whitrow.

Add to your WATCHLIST

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

Drake’s Venture (1980)

In 1557, Sir Francis Drake sets out on a secret mission for Queen Elizabeth, to raid South American ports for treasure. When the crew find out their destiny, the captain faces a mutiny.

Drake's Venture (1980), courtesy Westward Television

A mostly historical accurate depiction of the events, the story is mostly told in flashback as Drake recounts the circumstances of the voyage to Queen Elizabeth I, and focuses on the voyage’s most controversial aspect, the execution of Darrow’s character Doughty for mutiny.

Apparently the made-for-tv movie has aired only once in the UK, and once in the US. 

Starring John Thaw, Charlotte Cornwell, Paul Darrow, Peter Cellier, Michael Turner, David Ryall.

Currently unavailable

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

Private Schulz (1981)

This BBC mini-series follows the comic misadventures of Private Schulz, an easy-going conman who, after being drafted into the SS, instigates a plan to forge five pound notes, ostensibly to destabilize the British economy, but really to make himself rich. Set over ten years in both the UK and Germany, beginning just a few weeks before the beginning of the war.

When convict Schulz is released from his work in an underpants factory into the caring arms of the SS, he hopes he can simply sit out the war and maybe accumulate some illicit funds along the way. Soon though, he’s helping to capture British agents and bugging the rooms of the German soldiers’ favorite brothel.

When he witnesses the British dropping propaganda leaflets on the German population, he has an inspiration, coming up with the idea of flooding the British Isles with fake fivers. Always at odds with his incompetent SS boss Major Neuheim, Schulz eagerly sets out to get his plan off the ground, and hopefully line his pockets at the same time.

Private Schulz (1981), courtesy BBC

Episode 1: Released from prison in August 1939, Schulz is called up and posted to SS Counter-Espionage, under Major Neuheim. He is sent to the Salon Kitty brothel to listen for any indiscreet conversations in the rooms, which have been bugged. There he meets Bertha, but she is unimpressed by a mere Private. British leaflet raids have started dropping forged clothing coupons; Neuheim suggests retaliating in kind with forged documents dropped on Britain, including – at Schulz’s prompting – currency. Set the task of forging five pound notes, Schulz assembles a group of forgers and counterfeiters, starting with Solly from his old prison.

Episode 2: Production of the forged currency gets under way in Barracks 19 of Saxenhausen concentration camp. The manufacturing and printing difficulties have been overcome and Schulz is blackmailing Professor Bodelschwingh – who works for the rival organisation of Military Intelligence – to solve the final problem, the serial numbering sequence. After being caught at the Salon Kitty trying to spend some of the money, which he had stolen, Schulz is given a choice – face a firing squad, or parachute into Britain with two million pounds.

Episode 3: Schulz lands in Britain and buries most of the money next to a road, using a milestone as a landmark. After arousing suspicion by trying to order first whiskey, and then coffee, in a pub, he telephones the contact he has been given, Melfort, to arrange a rendezvous. Schulz is rightly cautious as Melfort is controlled by the British and leaves instead of keeping the rendezvous. Already suspected of being a spy, he runs to the coast and steals a small boat, crossing the Channel to arrive at the Dunkirk evacuation. Fleeing further inland, he arrives at a seemingly deserted Chateau, where he is found by the advancing German army.

Episode 4: Returned in disgrace to Berlin, Schulz suggests keeping the operation going and using the money to pay agents and buy valuables; while Neuheim runs the operation from a Castle, he is kept working at Barracks 19. A plan of his to steal a consignment of money misfires and instead Schulz has to deliver it to the castle; once there he is sent on another mission with £1 million. With Neuheim’s secretary, Gertrude Steiner, he plans to steal the money by dumping their driver, Gruber, but is instead himself dumped by Gertrude and Gruber. When they are caught Schulz’s plan is also exposed, and he is sent to a labour camp for 3 years.

Episode 5: In late 1944 the workers and equipment are evacuated from Saxenhausen to the labour camp Schulz is in, and he is able to get himself posted to act as Neuheim’s clerk again. Ordered, as the war draws to an end, to move into the Alpine Last Redoubt, he forges orders allowing him to take the prisoners as well, rather than shoot them; after releasing the prisoners he dumps the equipment and money in a lake, but is promptly caught by an American patrol. Released later in 1945, he is found by Neuheim and forced to retrieve the money from the lake. He has no sooner succeeded in raising some when the Austrian police arrive and arrest Schulz.

Episode 6: Released from prison and penniless, Schulz discovers he still has the map showing the location of the buried money in Britain. Once back there, he has to recruit Stan, a local criminal, to help him dig for it beneath the public lavatory built over the spot. Recovering the canister of money, Stan and his gang try to double-cross Schulz but he is able to seize the canister and escape. Closely pursued by Stan, he throws it into a rowing dinghy, only for its booby-trap to explode and destroy all the money. Returning to Britain by ferry, he meets Bertha and they agree to settle down together – she gives him £5 to buy himself a drink.

Starring Michael Elphick, Ian Richardson, Cyril Shaps, Billie Whitelaw, Walter Sparrow, David Swift, Ernest Clark, Vernon Dobtcheff.

Available on DVD

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

Sons and Lovers (1981)

In this BBC mini-series based on the D.H. Lawrence novel, young Paul Morel, a coalminer’s son, struggles to find himself amidst the claustrophobic surroundings of the coal-fields at the turn of the century.

Paul Morel is a young artist, and the second son of Gertrude Morel. When Paul falls in love with a local girl, Miriam, his mother disapproves, and Paul is forced to choose between them.

“Sons and Lovers” is an intense examination of family, class, and love, set in a small mining town in the early 1900s. Adapted by Trevor Griffiths and directed by Stuart Burge.

Sons and Lovers (1981), courtesy BBC

Episode 1: When Gertrude Morel married her miner husband Walter she was, for three months, perfectly happy: for six months she was very happy. Now she is disillusioned in her marriage, and expecting her third child.

Episode 2: Paul had only been in an eating house once or twice in his life, and then only to have a cup of tea and a bun. Most of the people in Bestwood considered that tea and bread-and-butter, and perhaps potted beef, was all they could afford to eat in Nottingham. Real cooked dinner was considered a great extravagance. Paul felt rather guilty.

Episode 3: “I want to do something. I want a chance like anybody else. A girl is not allowed to be anything. What chance have I?”

Episode 4: “I know there is between us now always a ground for strife. You cannot be satisfied: you can give me no peace. But I believe there are in you desires for higher things as well as desire for lower , « and I know the desire for higher things will conquer … and you will be mine again.’”

Episode 5: “Don’t you think we have been too fierce in our, what they call, purity? Don’t you think that to be so much afraid and averse is a sort of dirtiness?”

Episode 6: “You talk about the cruelty of women, I wish you could know the cruelty of men in their brute force … they simply don’t know that the woman exists.”

Episode 7: “There are different ways of dying. My father’s people are frightened, and have to be hauled out of life like cattle into a slaughter-house, pulled by the neck. But my mother’s people are pushed from behind, inch by inch. They are stubborn people, and won’t die …”

Starring Eileen Atkins, Tom Bell, Karl Johnson, David Neilson, Lynn Dearth, Jack Shepherd.

A 2003 adaptation of the story, starring Sarah Lancashire, also exists, as does a 1960 version starring Dean Stockwell.

Currently unavailable

First aired on Masterpiece in 1983

If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. You’ll also want to check out our list of Masterpiece Classics Streaming on Prime Video.