It’s quite easy to dismiss a lot of the late 60s/early 70s Play For Today strands as agitprop. I’ve done it myself, plenty of times. But it’s worth remembering that even when it was agitprop, that didn’t mean that everyone in the left wing was happy with the results.
Leeds United is one play that garnered considerable backlash… from trade unions. It was written in 1974 by actor Colin Welland (Kes, Z Cars, Straw Dogs, Sweeney!) who’s now best known as the writer of Chariots of Fire, for which he won the Best Screenplay Oscar and notoriety for his “The British are coming!” acceptance speech:
Directed by Roy Battersby and starring Lynne Perrie, Elizabeth Spriggs, Lori Wells, Josie Lane and Bert Gaunt, the play was based on the true story of a 1970 strike in Leeds by female textile-factory workers. What did they want? To be paid the same as their male colleagues. When did they want it? Now. Their biggest obstacle? Their own trade union.
While Welland, of course, survived the furore from the trade unions, Battersby didn’t fare as well. Despite being a Trotskyist and full-time organiser for the Workers Revolutionary Party, his career was considerably damaged. His third Play For Today, Leeds United would be the last of his contributions and he never worked on the series again. He worked very little on TV for the rest of the 1970s, but his career revived in the 80s. He eventually won the Alan Clarke BAFTA for ‘outstanding creative contribution to television’ in 1996.
Leeds United is this week’s Wednesday Play. Try not to blacklist anyone after you’ve watched it.