Play for Today officially ended with The Amazing Miss Stella Estelle. The single play continued to get an airing on BBC1 however, and the winter 1984/5 season took up the same evening slot and could be considered another ‘unofficial’ part of the canon. As it includes some well-remembered plays, we’ve listed it below.
By Ted Tally/John Bruce
Sparse, unreal dramatisation of Scott’s doomed South Pole expedition, presenting a less than completely heroic portrait of the man (played by Michael N Harbour), and featuring weird interludes in which his rival Amundsen turns up and starts winding him up.
The Long March
By Anne Devlin
After ten years in England, Doreen Hepburn returns to her native Belfast at the height of the Maze prison ‘dirty protests’ to find her local councillor father (James Ellis) being hounded by the locals for not being seen to give the prisoners enough support in their demands for special status. Filming on location in the Falls Road area caused a great deal of tension with residents, especially the staging of a ‘bin banger’ (noisy protest march) outside councillor’s home.
By Stephen Wakeham
Mick Ward and Tim Davidson are two young men working a seemingly ‘fail safe’ gambling scheme at the races.
Stars of the Roller State Disco
By Michael Hastings
Odd, well-remembered but perhaps not brilliant near-future dystopian satire, positing a grim future where permanently unemployed youths are forcibly inducted into the graffiti-covered titular disco to learn basic skills from endless instructional videos in the increasingly forlorn hope of gaining employment, skating gormlessly round and round in the meantime. Perry Benson plays Carly, a Chippendale-obsessed apprentice carpenter proudly rejecting offers of work he considers beneath him (‘I’m a craftsman!’) to the consternation of girlfriend Cathy Murphy. Shot on good old videotape in three days by Alan Clarke, on a cavernous set part-designed by writer Hastings, the on-the-nose nature of the play’s overarching conceit is offset to an extent by its many quirks, notably the casting of the gawky, speccy Benson as something approaching a romantic hero.
Talk to Me
By William Humble
Depressed young couple Patrick Barlow and Philomena McDonagh find sessions with psychoanalyst Alan Howard to little to improve their relationship.
More Lives Than One
By John Peacock
Michael N Harbour is caught between marriage and his old life with his mates. With music by Tom Robinson.
The Last Evensong
By Trevor Baxter
Taking the series into 1985, Freddie Jones is a stalwart brigadier resisting modernisation at the local church. With Tony Robinson.
By Mal Middleton
Semi-comic intrigue amongst pigeon fanciers in Sheffield, as Michael Elphick’s unstoppable winning streak is plotted against by fellow fanciers George Baker and Bryan Pringle.
By Tim Rose Price
A routine escape and evasion exercise in the Welsh hills for four army cadets turns into something more sinister. With Ian Hart and Leslie Schofield.
Four Days in July
By Mike Leigh
Leigh (overseeing mainly improvised acting as ever) turns his attentions to Northern Ireland with a view of the Troubles as seen through the eyes of two young couples (one Protestant, one Catholic) meeting in a maternity ward, both expecting babies in the run-up to the traditionally fraught Battle of the Boyne anniversary on July 12th. A far more warm, human portrayal of people and life than is found in some of Leigh’s previous, more celebrated, work in the Play for Today strand.
By Terence Hodgkinson
Paul Rogers is a successful author plugging his Spanish Civil War memoirs in Glasgow, and bumping into two old comrades from the conflict, James Copeland and Phil McCall, who remember the events he depicts rather differently.