Play for Today: Armchair Theatre – The Hothouse (1964)

Diana Rigg, a year before The Avengers

In an exciting mirror of the real world and to cover up the fact that I was too busy yesterday to do The Wednesday Play (sorry), for this week at least, The Wednesday Play has become Play For Today. 

This week’s play comes from ITV’s flagship play strand, Armchair Theatre. Most people interested in UK TV plays tend to focus on the BBC’s Play for Today, The Wednesday Play, et al, but ITV did produce a really superb range of plays itself. Making its first appearance in 1956, Armchair Theatre was the most notable of ITV’s play strands, attracting writers such as Fay Weldon, Jack Rosenthal, John Hopkins, John Mortimer and Allan Prior, and giving us A Night Out from Harold Pinter, Robert Muller’s Hitler ‘what if’ The Night Conspirators and Alun Owen’s Lena, O My Lena.

Various plays were even popular enough to launch spin-off series, including Callan (A Magnum for Schneider), Out of This World (Dumb Martian), Armchair Mystery Theatre, Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width and The Sweeney (Regan).

However, today’s play is the 1964 production The Hothouse, starring Harry H Corbett from Steptoe and Son, and Diana Rigg, a year before she became Emma Peel in The Avengers. Written by and co-starring Donald Churchill, this light-hearted play pulled in an all-time audience record of 8.3m homes. In it, Churchill plays Gordon Parsley, the assistant manager of a supermarket, part of a chain owned by self-made millionaire Harry Fender (Corbett). Hoping to be promoted, Gordon’s prospects look bright when, at the annual staff dance, Harry takes a shine to the ambitious employee’s vivacious wife, Charlotte (Miranda Connell).

On the other hand, the boss’s interest in Charlotte could spell trouble – especially when Harry’s wife Anita (Rigg) decides to meddle and invites the young couple to spend a weekend at the Fenders’ country cottage, where Harry tends his precious mangoes and melons in a hothouse.

Here it is, remastered in all its glory. If you like it, get buy it on DVD (it’s a special feature on The Avengers series 4 DVDs). Enjoy!

Author

  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; 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. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.