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.