The Wednesday Play: John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil (1974)

The economic history of Scotland since the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries may seem like a less than promising subject for a drama, but in the 1970s, anything went.

In 1973, John McGrath wrote the play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil, a touring production that went around Scotland explaining to the Scottish how they’d been oppressed and exploited from the 18th century all the way through to the discovery of and drilling for oil in the 1960s. Through a series of sketches, overlaid with a presentation of facts and statistics, and even interviews with workers and owners of oil rigs, the play presents the case that the current exploitation of Scottish natural resources is perhaps even worse than the brutal clearances of Patrick Sellar and that the Scottish people should resist it. 

Obviously, that didn’t happen and Scottish ownership of oil became a vital factor for both sides of the Scottish independence referendum this year. But in terms of interesting and innovative approach to storytelling, this piece of 70s agitprop, which went on to become a 1974 BBC Play For Today, is hard to beat.