Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands

OLIVER WAKE

Every major conflict in living memory has become the subject of drama almost the moment it was over. The Falklands war, which this month reached its thirtieth anniversary and is again in the news due to renewed tensions between Britain and Argentina over the islands, is no exception. Numerous plays about the conflict reached the stage and radio in its aftermath, but none caught the attention of the public at large. However, when television tackled the subject for the mass audience, the results were frequently politically charged and contentious.

First was Don Shaw’s The Falklands Factor, for the BBC’s Play for Today, which was screened in April 1983, less than a year after the war’s end.1 Shaw dramatised a previous cold war for the Falklands from 1770-71 to illuminate the history of the conflict and draw parallels with the recent war. The play strongly hints at the role of political expediency in each response to a Falklands invasion and, by showing how diplomacy – narrowly – averted bloodshed, questioned whether the same could not have been achieved in 1982.

The Singing Detective 25th Anniversary Event (2011)

DAVID ROLINSON

“in keeping with the modernist sensibility and self-reflexivity of Hide and Seek and Only Make Believe, the decision to root a view of the past in the experiences and imagination of a writer protagonist, emphasises the fact that, far from being an objective assessment, any perspective on history can only ever be subjective” – John R. Cook.1


This one-day symposium, staged by Royal Holloway University of London on 10 December 2011, celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Singing Detective (1986).2 It paid tribute to the serial’s “narrative complexity, generic hybridity and formal experimentation” and placed writer Dennis Potter’s contribution alongside the contributions made by his collaborators, several of whom were present: producer Kenith Trodd, choreographer Quinny Sacks and actors Patrick Malahide and Bill Paterson.3 Other guests included Peter Bowker (as a modern television writer inspired by Potter), plus academic speakers and, mixing practitioner and academic perspectives, Professor Jonathan Powell, who was Head of Drama at the BBC when The Singing Detective was made. This mixture of academic and practitioner perspectives has been a welcome and often rewarding feature of British television drama conferences in recent years: see, for instance, the conference proceedings published as part of British Television Drama: Past, Present and Future.4

Tales Out of School (1983)

FRANK COLLINS

Writer: David Leland; Producer: Margaret Matheson; Directors: Mike Newell, Edward Bennett, Jane Howell, Alan Clarke

Because this site’s editor, Dave Rolinson, was involved with the Tales Out of School DVD (writing its 12,000-word booklet), it seemed fairer to ask a guest writer to review it: so here’s a review by Frank Collins, who writes the excellent, highly-recommended film & TV review blog Cathode Ray Tube. Many thanks to Frank for letting us reproduce this review.

David Leland’s quartet of dramas from 1983, under their original umbrella title of Tales Out of School, gets a very welcome release from Network this month. All four films, Birth of a Nation, Flying into the Wind, RHINO and Made in Britain, were commissioned by Central Independent Television, the ITV franchise that emerged from the restructuring of the original ATV, and were produced by Margaret Matheson, who had become Controller of Drama after a successful if controversial time at the BBC where she had produced Alan Clarke’s banned television play, Scum. After a steady career as an actor during the 1960s and 1970s, Leland’s reputation as a writer willing to tackle socially sensitive subject matters grew through his work in 1981 on Play For Today, on Psy Warriors and Beloved Enemy.

The Falklands Factor (1983)

OLIVER WAKE

Play for Today Writer: Don Shaw; Director: Colin Bucksey; Producer: Louis Marks

“I hope no-one ever needs to go to war over the Falklands, or for that matter, any writer write about them.”

The short but bloody Falklands war between Britain and Argentina played out over two and a half months in 1982. Television drama responded with a handful of plays about the conflict, most of which seemed to excite almost as much controversy as the war itself. (See Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands.) The earliest of these was Don Shaw’s The Falklands Factor, which was broadcast in April 1983, just ten months after hostilities in the South Atlantic had concluded.

Specialising in contemporary drama, the BBC’s Play for Today anthology was the natural home for such a recent subject, however The Falklands Factor is actually a historical drama, Shaw having chosen to dramatise a little known incident from the eighteenth century to put the more recent conflict into historic context and draw parallels between the two crises. The reader must excuse the passages which follow detailing brief parts of the Falkland islands’ convoluted history, without which the meaning of the play and this essay will be impossible to convey.

Michael Palin, Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988 (2009)

DAVID ROLINSON

For anyone interested in British television drama or cinema, this second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries is just as engrossing as the first. Although some reviewers wonder if this book will be about ‘the less exciting stuff that happened in between’ the peak period of Monty Python covered in the first volume and the travel programmes that Palin embarks upon as this volume closes, it is all the more enjoyable and rewarding for its grounding in the reality of solo writing and the production process.1

For visitors to this site, I recommend Palin’s detailed coverage of East of Ipswich (1987)2, from gestation and writing through castinPalinHalfwayCoverpicg, production, post-production, critical reception and awards nominations (plus Palin’s unusually scathing comment that the London Film Festival were ‘Snobs’ to pass on it).3 I’ve adored East of Ipswich for many years, so I’m delighted to see Palin assert that ‘Nothing I’ve done gives me as much unqualified pleasure’ and that ‘I’ve never felt something done as close to the way I wanted it done as this’.4 Other material relevant to British television drama includes Palin’s script for Number 27 (1988)5 which starred the legendary Joyce Carey, working relationships with Tristram Powell, Charles Sturridge, Innes Lloyd and others, and television’s importance in British filmmaking: with fifteen films made a year and directors like Gavin Millar and Alan Clarke involved, ‘this shabbily-appointed fifth floor at TV Centre is where the British Film Industry exists’.6 Palin details the postponement of Sturridge’s Troubles (1988) after a week of filming with Palin in a major role, after which it was remounted without him.7