The Wednesday Play: Dead of Night – The Exorcism (1972)

Social conscience that will terrify you

Many plays, particularly those in the theatre, are written to impart a message from the author. TV plays typically have been no different and especially during the 1970s in the UK, social realism and commentary on injustices in society were grist to the playwright’s mill.

Largely, however, this wasn’t the case for genre series, which were much more interested in ideas about science, technology and the future in the case of science-fiction shows – or just scaring people in the case of horror shows. But the first play in BBC2’s 1972 supernatural anthology series Dead of NightThe Exorcism, married both the supernatural and social conscience to deliver a play about the divide between rich and poor that still was able to scare the crap out of the viewer.

Set in a recently purchased cottage in the countryside, The Exorcism sees various middle-class friends (Clive Swift, Edward Petherbridge, Anna Cropper and Sylvia Kay) get together for a dinner party and to revel in how much money they have. Unfortunately, their behaviour excites some particularly unfriendly proletariat ghosts and the party ends up going in a particularly bad direction for them all.

If you can get over the somewhat agitprop nature of Don Taylor’s play, this is a real blood curdler that’ll make you think while it scares you witless. Best watched at night, with the lights turned down, it’s this week’s Wednesday Play on Thursday. Enjoy – and if you like it, you can buy it and the two surviving episodes (Return Flight and A Woman Sobbing) on DVD.

PS Trivia lovers might like to know that the eighth episode of the series was going to be The Stone Tape, but that was eventually aired as a separate play.