Archive | The Wednesday Play

A weekly classic TV play


February 25, 2015

The Wednesday Play: Les Blair's Blooming Youth (1973)

Posted on February 25, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's strange how history - even TV history - remembers some names and not others. Take Mike Leigh. You'll almost certainly have heard of Mike Leigh, in part because of his film work, but largely because of his work on the BBC's Play For Today, with the likes of Abigail's Party and Nuts In May still famous to this day. In particular, Leigh is known for the improvisational nature of his plays, working with the actors to create the scripts from which the final product is created.

Mike Leigh went to Salford Grammar School where he studied acting. He later moved to Birmingham and worked at the Midlands Art Centre, where he started to develop that famous style of his. He then enrolled on a course at the London Film School. In 1971, he worked on a feature film, Bleak Moments, and was recruited in 1973 by the famed Tony Garnett to make dramas for Play for Today.

The strange thing is that if you replace "Mike Leigh" with "Les Blair" in that previous paragraph, it's still a completely true statement. Blair acted with Leigh in Salford, they shared a flat together in Birmingham, went to the Film School together, and Blair edited and produced Bleak Moments, which Leigh directed.

The big difference between Leigh and Blair, however, is that while Leigh began to edge more into comedy, albeit with a satirical edge, and film, Blair stayed firmly in the realm of TV drama, eventually going on to direct the socio-realistic likes of Law and Order and The Nation's Health with his future long-time collaborator GF Newman. As a result, while Leigh is practically a household name, Les Blair is almost unknown except to TV historians.

Blair's first effort for Play For Today came just three months after Leigh's Hard Labour. Blooming Youth was an improvised drama about a group of polytechnic students sharing a house together, including a world weary cynic, a nervous studious virgin, and a couple in a relationship. Not a lot happens in it, but what marks it out is its realistic depiction of student life at the time, with dingy rooms, epic boredom and other aspects of study that would have been familiar to anyone who'd been to either university or polytechnic.

And it's your Wednesday Play. Enjoy!

February 18, 2015

The Wednesday Play: Peter McDougall's Just Your Luck (1972)

Posted on February 18, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Peter McDougall is widely regarded as one of Scotland's best modern playwrights. The BAFTA award-winning writer was born in Greenock and began work when he was 14 in the shipyards with one 'Billy Connolly'. However, he moved to London to escape the harsh conditions and while working as a house painter, met Colin Welland, who encouraged him to write a play about his experiences. Just Another Saturday was the result, but although it impressed the BBC's Play For Today team, the story about the annual Orange order march in Glasgow was deemed too sensitive for the time and had to wait another three years before it would made (with Billy Connolly).

However, the team encouraged him to write another, more intimate play, which he duly did, basing Just Your Luck on his sister's wedding. It stars Lesley Mackie as Alison, a young protestant woman living in a Scottish tenement who gets the chance to escape her lot thanks to her relationship with footballer Joe (Joseph Greig). However, frustrated with the time he spends training, she takes up with the impoverished catholic Alec (David Hayman) and ends up getting pregnant.

Directed by Mike Newell, the play was widely proclaimed as the most promising debut by a playwright since John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and is today's Wednesday Play. If you like it, remember to support the makers by buying it on DVD, and to try out a previous Wednesday Play of McDougall's, Just a Boy's Game.

February 11, 2015

The Wednesday Play: Play For Today – William Trevor's O Fat White Woman (1971)

Posted on February 11, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

O Fat White Woman

Well, I’ve mentioned it already, but now it’s actually time for O Fat White Woman, William Trevor’s 1971 Play For Today starring Maureen Pryor. Taking it’s name from the Frances Cornford poem ‘To a Fat Lady Seen From The Train’, it sees Pryor playing the wife of an outwardly charming headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) who gradually becomes aware that he is physically abusing his pupils. Simultaneously, we learn about her sexual frustration, caused by both the world and even her husband finding her unattractive.

In and of itself a great and typically bittersweet play, O Fat White Woman is also notable for including music written by Radiophonics Workshop legend Delia Derbyshire.

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