The Weekly Play: The ITV Play – Gentry (1988)

Nigel Kneale went to Hollywood. He headed off after Kinvig in 1981, after initially being approached by director John Landis to work on the screenplay for a remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon. The movie never went into production, but while in the US, Kneale met director Joe Dante, who invited him to write Halloween III: Season of the Witch for him. Kneale agreed, on the proviso that it would be a totally new concept unrelated to the first two films, which he had not seen and he did not like what he had heard about them.

Kneale’s treatment for the film met with the approval of John Carpenter, the producer of the Halloween series. However, financial backer Dino De Laurentiis insisted upon the inclusion of more graphic violence and a rewrite of the script from director Tommy Wallace. Kneale was displeased with the results and had his name removed from the film. 

He didn’t return to writing for UK TV until 1987. Part of the virtually forgotten ITV Play drama strand, it sees  affluent young couple Duncan Preston (Surgical Spirit, Dinnerladies) and Phoebe Nicholls (The Elephant Man, Brideshead Revisted) inspecting a shabby town house that’s up for sale. Nicholls is less than impressed by it, but Preston has plans to renovate it and sell it for a big profit. However, their plan quickly turns into a nightmare when three criminals led by Roger Daltrey (Tommy, Highlander: The Series) arrive, searching for the money they hid in the building years ago.

Although ‘gentrification’ was a theme of the Thatcherite years, with certain councils famously importing affluent yuppies into impoverished areas in an effort to improve the area (and make it Tory), this is arguably Kneale’s prescience at work again – he’d anticipated Big Brother by several decades with The Year of the Sex Olympics, and Gentry was here predicting the advent of Property Ladder and its ilk.

But following on from Kinvig and as with the later Ladies’ Knight, Kneale writes Gentry as much as a comedy as it is a drama – the name is a mocking of middle-class cluelessness and arrogance at thinking it can just enter a working class area and do what it likes, without caring about that area’s history. The horror here is the discovery for the middle class that the working class might not like that and would fight back through the middle class’s weak spot – their homes.

Gentry also has a point to make about the effects of gentrification on the existing locals. Daltrey’s character may be a criminal and have a gun; he might even take the couple hostage. But he’s sympathetic, he and his gang returning to their childhood homes to find the area ‘gentrified’, their loved ones and community gone.

And it’s this week’s play. 

PS Three of Kneale’s one-off plays, including Gentry and Ladies’ Night are coming out on DVD in September

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