It’s quite easy to dismiss a lot of the late 60s/early 70s Play For Today strands as agitprop. I’ve done it myself, plenty of times. But it’s worth remembering that even when it was agitprop, that didn’t mean that everyone in the left wing was happy with the results.
Leeds United is one play that garnered considerable backlash… from trade unions. It was written in 1974 by actor Colin Welland (Kes, Z Cars, Straw Dogs, Sweeney!) who’s now best known as the writer of Chariots of Fire, for which he won the Best Screenplay Oscar and notoriety for his "The British are coming!" acceptance speech:
Directed by Roy Battersby and starring Lynne Perrie, Elizabeth Spriggs, Lori Wells, Josie Lane and Bert Gaunt, the play was based on the true story of a 1970 strike in Leeds by female textile-factory workers. What did they want? To be paid the same as their male colleagues. When did they want it? Now. Their biggest obstacle? Their own trade union.
While Welland, of course, survived the furore from the trade unions, Battersby didn’t fare as well. Despite being a Trotskyist and full-time organiser for the Workers Revolutionary Party, his career was considerably damaged. His third Play For Today,Leeds United would be the last of his contributions and he never worked on the series again. He worked very little on TV for the rest of the 1970s, but his career revived in the 80s. He eventually won the Alan Clarke BAFTA for ‘outstanding creative contribution to television’ in 1996.
Leeds United is this week’s Wednesday Play. Try not to blacklist anyone after you’ve watched it.
Given the sad passing of Sir Christopher Lee this week, it seems appropriate that this week's The Wednesday Play should be Vampires, a 1979 BBC Play For Today, about the power of horror movies to affect the imagination. One of the slot's best remembered plays, it nevertheless features mainly untrained, child actors and was written by an unknown, Liverpool writer Dixie Williams.
One of only two film productions BBC Pebble Mill could afford to make that year, Vampires tells the story of three boys who stay up late to watch Lee's career-launching role - Hammer classic Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Suitably entranced, they soon end up playing at being vampires, but down the local cemetery, they become convinced that a lone man dressed in black is a real-life vampire. As the play progresses, increasingly spookier and macabre events transpire and the play continues to suggest that maybe they're not wrong and that vampires are the least of their worries…
Directed by John Goldschmidt, who was best known for his documentaries at the time and who gives the play a distinctly matter-of-fact approach to its supernatural subject, Vampiresalso includes moments of great fun, including a schoolboy discussion of the difference between horror and science-fiction that invokes The Quatermass Experiment, as well as more traditional Play For Today themes, including the difficulty of bringing up kids when you're a poor, working class mother living in Liverpool in the late 70s.
It's time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in June 2015. This month’s output is devoted purely to the fourth part of the ongoing Dennis Potter season, this time focusing on the themes of sex and death. If that doesn’t sound much, you should probably see how many showings that amounts to, given it includes showings of all of Casanova, Blackeyes, Karaoke, Cold Lazarus, and The Singing Detective, as well as Blue Remembered Hills and Double Dare.
There’s also Where Adam Stood, Potter’s 1976 free adaptation of the autobiography of naturalist and fundamental Christian Edmond Gosse, whose father had trouble reconciling the Bible with the latest works of Charles Darwin, causing Gosse all manner of difficulties. Don’t want to wait to see it? Well, you don’t have to as it’s this week’s Wednesday Play (on Thursday):
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A UK media blog focusing on the best scripted TV from around the world, with daily news, views, exclusive reviews and good conversation. There's a bit of a bias towards the latest and greatest US TV, but we also cover Scandinavian, Canadian, European and Antipodean TV, as well as UK TV ranging from new Doctor Who to old Z Cars, and BBC4 to S4C.
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I'm Rob Buckley, a freelance journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of, although you might have heard me on Radio 5 Live's Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I've edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for trade magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider and the equally short-lived Death Ray and Filmstar magazines; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it "web site for urban hedonists" The Tribe. I'm freelance now and have contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network and TV Scoop.