Armchair Theatre: Red Riding Hood
The Weekly Play

The Weekly Play: Red Riding Hood (1973)

You can spend ages trying to work out the hidden meanings of fairy tales. Which Jungian archetypes do they reflect? Were they metaphors told by mothers to their children to explain the nature of patriarchy? Were they mere cautionary tales or did they have historical origins? And did Red Riding Hood really believe that wolf was her grandmother, just because it was wearing her clothes?

You can probably spend ages trying to work out what John Peacock’s Red Riding Hood means, too. A 1973 segment of ITV’s Armchair Theatre strand of plays, it sees Rita Tushingham playing a lonely librarian, struggling to deal with debt and her two bed-ridden relatives – her father and her grandmother. The red-clad Tushingham has little to live for, but one day the rather wolfish Keith Barron, who’s seen her down the library, decides he wants to get to know her. So he visits her grandmother, kills her with her own walking stick then waits for Tushingham to turn up.

After which, things get a little less easy to fathom when Tushingham agrees to spend a fortnight with him for a bit of spaghetti and sex, leaving her poor old dad by himself at home – despite her having more than an inkling of what Barron got up to before she turned up at grandma’s house in her red coat…

Does Red Riding Hood tame the wolf? I won’t spoil the ending for you, but metaphor mixes with reality, sub-text becomes text, and what’s real and what’s imaginary become hard to separate as the play progresses. Peacock, who also wrote the Hammer film Straight On ‘til Morning (which also starred Tushingham), enters similar territory to Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle here, but takes the plot in a completely different direction that’s all about Tushingham rather than Barron.

Red Riding Hood is this week’s play. I hope you enjoy it – if you like it, buy it on DVD to support the lovely people who made it.

Playwright Joe Orton
BFI events

What TV’s on at the BFI in August 2017? Including What the Butler Saw and Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Every month, TMINE lets you know what TV the BFI will be presenting at the South Bank in London

August is normally a quiet time for the BFI, as it gambles that everyone’s probably on holiday. Maybe this year it’s gambling that Brexit means we’ll not be able to afford to go on holiday, because there’s actually a surprisingly full schedule. Most of this comes from a season of works by playwright Joe Orton, but there’s also a preview of BBC One’s adaptation of Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)’s first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and a showing of ITV’s seminal The Naked Civil Servant.

Purely by coincidence, The Weekly Play this week is an adaptation of Orton’s final play, What the Butler Saw, which was broadcast as part of BBC Two’s Theatre Night in 1987. The play is a farce in two acts and revolves around Dr Prentice (Dinsdale Landen), a psychiatrist attempting to seduce his attractive prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay (Tessa Peake-Jones). Also along for the ride are Mrs Prentice (Prunella Scales), her lover/blackmailer Tyler Butterworth, government inspector Timothy West and cross-dressing police officer Bryan Pringle.

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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

The Weekly Play

The Weekly Play: Unnatural Causes – Ladies’ Night (1986)

Blog god Nigel Kneale might not immediately strike you as a feminist writer. Or even one with especially feminist leanings. It’s not like 1984, Year of the Sex Olympics or any of the Quatermass stories are jam-packed with strong female characters and there’s barely a female lead to be found.

Not until the 70s, that is. Just as the UK was rediscovering feminism at the time, so Nigel was awaking to the potential of female characters. Squint a bit at The Stone Tape or Murrain and you can see that the female characters have been elevated to co-leads, and some of his plays for Beasts had actual female leads and were concerned with female issues, with Baby and During Barty’s Party dealing with wives’ feelings of isolation when their husbands are unable to help them.

By the 80s, Kneale is becoming more overt about his new concerns. 1981’s Kinvig doesn’t seem at first like a feminist work, but Kinvig’s ridiculous fantasies about frequent shopper Prunella Gee are a reasonable satire of the male gaze in science-fiction. 

By 1986, he’s actually quite explicit about it. Ladies’ Night, which aired in 1986 as part of ITV’s Unnatural Causes anthology series (you can probably guess what each episode had in common), hints at its themes in the title. It features a tradition-bound gentlemen’s club that’s thrown into chaos when women are allowed in during ‘ladies’ night’ in order to raise money and attract new members. However, one member resents the intrusion of women so much that when she starts mocking the club’s antediluvian nature, he resorts to murder.

Directed by Herbert Wise and starring Alfred Burke, Bryan Pringle, Ronald Pickup, Fiona Walker and Nigel Stock, it’s only half an hour long and it’s this week’s Weekly Play. Unfortunately, it’s not available for embedding, but it’s over here on YouTube.

What TV’s on at the BFI in June 2017? Including Penda’s Fen and Architecture on TV

The BFI has something of a rum concoction for its June 2017 programme. The main season is dedicated to architecture on TV, with a whole host of documentaries from the archives, as well as a Q&A with the rather marvellous Jonathan Meades.

But the other entry in the calendar is an entire Saturday dedicated to former TMINE Wednesday Play, Penda’s Fen. There’s a showing of the play in the evening, but the rest of the day is dedicated to a Penda’s Fen symposium, ‘Child Be Strange’, that will include a Q&A with the writer David Rudkin. Slightly odd order that, so you might want to watch the DVD a couple of times first.

Continue reading “What TV’s on at the BFI in June 2017? Including Penda’s Fen and Architecture on TV”