The Wednesday Play: Destiny (1978)

David Edgar is one of the most prolific playwrights of modern British history. So far, more than 60 of his plays have been published and performed on stage, radio and television around the world, but his best known work is probably the prize-winning Destiny, which was also the first play he wrote for the Royal Shakespeare Company and which Colin Chambers, literary manager of the RSC, calls “the best modern example of the English dramatic tradition”.

The play was inspired by Edgar’s work as a journalist in Bradford, where he came across a group led by an ex-Conservative councillor that called itself the ‘Yorkshire Campaign to Stop Immigration’. This group, which later merged with the National Front, apparently “addressed many real needs and some real fears” by holding meetings… at which they showed films upside down with no sound. 

Destiny tries to address the question of how such a group could gain purchase, given that Britian had fought against fascism during the Second World War. It starts in India, on the day of independence, introducing four main characters whose lives intercept 30 years later in a small town in the English West Midlands: a colonel who later becomes a Conservative MP; a major who is hoping to succeed him; a sergeant who is a candidate for a far-right party; and an Indian who works in a local foundry. During the election campaign, a strike breaks out at the foundry and a local by-election is transformed into a multi-cultural battleground, which results in the fascists turning for protection and support to the forces they oppose.

The play went on to win the John Whiting Award, presented by the Arts Council for new dramatic writing and was televised by the BBC as part of the Play for Today series in January 1978, with Frederick Treves as the colonel, Nigel Hawthorne as the major, Saeed Jaffrey as Gurjeet Singh Khera and Colin Jeavons as the sergeant. And it’s this week’s Wednesday Play.