The Wednesday Play: Play For Tomorrow (1982)

Past future is actually the present

It’s often said that science-fiction never truly predicts the future, only comments on the present – that trying to imagine what the future will bring only ever shows you what the writer thinks about the now. Perhaps never on TV has this been more highlighted than in the 1982 BBC1 series Play For Tomorrow

When The Flipside of Dominick Hide proved a hit for Play For Today, the BBC commissioned a series of six plays all set in what was then the distant future: the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st. However, with the obvious benefits of hindsight, we can see just how wrong they were – and how much what they predicted was predicated on the future being not too different from the present, even when it seemed to be.

After the jump is your chance to visit a 2002 when nuclear war was perilously close, a 1999 when the EU is at war, a 1997 when cricketers practised guerilla warfare, another 1999 when married women couldn’t work, yet another 1999 when everyone had virtual reality shades and finally a 2016 where Kenneth Branagh will still have a Northern Irish accent.

Crimes by Caryl Churchill
2002: In a paranoid UK, with the threat of nuclear war ever closer and prisons full to bursting, four convicts tell of the ‘crimes’ they have committed, some seemingly innocuous by today’s standards… at least, at first. Includes a parody of the then-prevalent Protect and Survive leaflets and broadcasts.

Bright Eyes by Peter Prince
1999: Examination of family life and political ideals in a war-ravaged future Europe, compared and contrasted with ’60s equivalents. 

Cricket by Michael Wilcox
1997: A village cricket team (complete with computerised Wisden Almanac with the voice of Brian Johnson) is suspected of moonlighting as a private guerilla arm, fighting the Forestry Commission.

The Nuclear Family by Tom McGrath
1999: Perma-redundant dad Jimmy Logan takes his family on a strange ‘working holiday’, scrubbing floors in an undersea missile base.

Shades by Stephen Lowe
1999 again: A tower block contains youths ‘bought off’ by the government, in a climate of microchip-created endless leisure, who experience (often pornographic) virtual reality-style fantasies by donning the titular ‘shades’, until a 1980s theme party (they predicted that right, at least) leads to ideology and political thought seeping in under the dazed lifestyle. 

Easter 2016 by Graham Reid
2016: Ideological stand off in a Northern Ireland teacher training college on the centenary of the Easter Rising. With Bill Nighy, Colm Meaney and a young Kenneth Branagh.

(Thanks to TV Cream for the summaries)


  • Rob Buckley

    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.