Posts Tagged With 'Unemployment and its uses'

Play Not-Quite-For Today: Series Two

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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.

Terra Nova

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.

Bird Fancier

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.

The Exercise

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.

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Play for Tomorrow

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Following the success of “Flipside…”, Play for Today went a bit sci-fi mad, and gave rise to a mini-season of six plays set in various extrapolated futures, formulated by holding a futurology seminar for the series authors, with scientists, economists, sociologists and the like. The result was a mixed bunch, to say the least…


If you're caught up a step-latter when the bomb drops, put on your yellow waders...By Caryl Churchill
2002: In a paranoid UK, with the threat of nuclear war ever closer and prisons full to bursting, four convicts tell of the ‘crimes’ they have committed, some seemingly innocuous by today’s standards… at least, at first. Includes a parody of the then-prevalent Protect and Survive leaflets and broadcasts. With Sylvestra Le Touzel and TP McKenna as the prison psychiatrist.

Bright Eyes

By Peter Prince
1999: Examination of family life and political ideals in a war-ravaged future Europe, compared and contrasted with ’60s equivalents. Gavin Campbell features.


By Michael Wilcox
1997: A village cricket team (complete with computerised Wisden Almanac with the voice of Brian Johnson) is suspected of moonlighting as a private guerilla arm, fighting the Forestry Commission.

The Nuclear Family

By Tom McGrath
1999: Perma-redundant dad Jimmy Logan takes his family on a strange ‘working holiday’, scrubbing floors in an undersea missile base. With Gavin Campbell again.


By Stephen Lowe
1999 again: A tower block contains youths ‘bought off’ by the government, in a climate of microchip-created endless leisure, who experience (often pornographic) virtual reality-style fantasies by donning the titular ‘shades’, until a 1980s theme party (they predicted that right, at least) leads to ideology and political thought seeping in under the dazed lifestyle. With Neil Pearson.

Easter 2016

By Graham Reid
2016: Ideological stand off in a Northern Ireland teacher training college on the centenary of the Easter Rising. With Bill Nighy, Colm Meaney and a young Kenneth Branagh.

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Black Stuff, The

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Tar, La!In the late-’70s Liverpool of fast-rising unemployment, a gang of tar layers strike out in an old transit for a job laying the road in front of a new housing development in Middlesborough. Along the way, one of their number, Yosser Hughes, comes into contact with a pair of gypsies offering a little non-union work laying the road to a nearby farm. In a seedy hotel that night, while young Kev tries unsuccessfully to take advantage of the ‘masseur’ operating in the next room (and getting set up by the other lads in the process) Yosser drunkenly conceives his own tarmacadam company, ‘Tar La’, and despite their best judgement, all the others, save Kev and foreman Dixie, go along with it.

An increasingly farcical game of cat-and-mouse ensues, with the gang trying desperately to sneak off from under Dixie’s nose in order to complete the two jobs at once. Unfortunately, their boss, the devoutly unprincipled McKenna (David Calder) swoops in on them in his helicopter, and summarily fires the lot of them on the spot with disdainful relish. Finally, it dawns on them their new gypsy compadres have stitched them up something rotten, and after Yosser goes after them in a desperate but doomed car chase (in Transit vans!) they return, forlornly, to the ‘Pool, and the dole office – thus setting the scene for the later Boys from the Blackstuff series.

Like that series, this play has a reputation for being dour and depressing, and while the ultimate message of both is hardly ‘feel good‘, this is far from being a protracted wallow in the despair of those at the bottom of the pile. The characters are all marvellously drawn. Foreman Dixie (Tom Georgeson), overprotective of his desperate-to-come-of-age son (writer Alan Bleasdale‘s nephew Gary); the ailing but still proudly principled George (Peter Kerrigan); Loggo (Alan Igbon), applying his own set of scruples to fit the main chance; the honest-yet-naïve Chrissy (Michael Angelis); and of course the borderline psychotic Yosser (Bernard Hill), determined to make a name for himself yet quite clearly completely incapable of sufficiently relating to other people in order to do something about it. He can lead a gang of lads, though, in a social sense – the scene on the way to Middlesbrough where they give a lift to plain student Janine Duvitski, whom Yosser starts mercilessly laying into, shows his quick tongue (‘wit’ might be stretching things a bit) and his short fuse in equal measure – Duvitski’s parting shot ‘Your wife must give you hell!’ results in the surreal shot of the trademark Hughes repeated headbutt on the van doors as it drives away.

There’s humour aplenty in the film, all of it firmly employed to feed the characters – the magnificently believable double act of Sean Lynch and Alan Lake as the two gypsies; the on-site ribbing of foreman Dixie, the malevolent clerk of works, and ‘the lad’ (especially Loggo convincing the boy that Hermasetas are a powerful aphrodisiac); as well as revealing little touches cribbed from urban folklore, like the ferrets, pigeons and geese being taken along with the lads in the van, and McKenna opportunistically pulling up his Merc alongside an unguarded generator with a view to sneakily towing it away.

Presented as a Play for Today special, the response to this play was so great that the BBC commissioned Bleasdale to expand each character into a separate drama. The first of these, The Muscle Market, featured Pete Postlethwaite replacing Calder as the owner of the building contractors, and Alison Steadman. It went out under the Play for Today banner in 1981 as a stop-gap measure while Bleasdale finished the other five, which were made by Philip Saville on (for the most part) the new, lightweight video OB cameras, and shown as the drama series The Boys From The Blackstuff. The rest is history.

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Adventures of Frank, The

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Highly experimental two-parter from The Cheviot… writer-director and head of the 7:84 theatre company John McGrath, partially adapted from his stage play The Life and Times of Joe of England. Mick Ford leaves Sheffield for the bright lights of the capital in first part Everybody’s Fiddling Something, with his far from successful picaresque travails culminating in a tender scene with a Glaswegian girl at the end of second part Seeds of Ice.

In between, comedic inserts, Jim Broadbent, songs by ex-members of Lindisfarne among others and, most striking of all, the liberal use of Quantel video effects and transitions leaven this highly politicised take on the emerging Thatcherite state. Though rather dated in appearance now, the presentation was staunchly defended by McGrath as the antithesis to what he saw as the de-politicised naturalistic style prevalent at the time.

It’s a debate that had been raging since the early ’60s, when MacTaggart’s Studio 4 series of pre-Wednesday plays employed rudimentary “distancing” devices such as showing the cameras and various behind-the-scenes studio paraphernalia, though such techniques were out of favour by the ’80s, and the more “filmic”, naturalistic style was prevalent, making McGrath’s work more of a stand-out than ever.

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Cries from a Watchtower

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By Stephen Lowe. Watchmaker Paul Copley is made redundant by the dreaded silicon chip.

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Plougman’s Share

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By Douglas Dunn. Joseph Brady is a Scottish ploughman of the old school, coping with redundancy. Featuring Iain ‘Fingermouse‘ Lauchlan.

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Elephants’ Graveyard

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Jon Morrison, supposedly gainfully employed as far as his family are concerned, instead takes off to the Scottish hillsides every day, and eventually meets Billy Connolly, who has been pulling the exact same trick. They hang around together for a day, talking their way through their mutual alienation from the world of employment. A long time friend of writer Peter McDougall, Connolly got his first lead role on recommendation of the author.

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