Sunset Across the Bay (1975)

DAVID ROLINSON

Play for Today Writer: Alan Bennett; Director: Stephen Frears; Producer: Innes Lloyd

‘Knocking-off time…’

Sunset Across the Bay follows a retired couple who move from Leeds to the seaside resort of Morecambe. Their struggle to adapt to retirement produces humour through the observation of Northern dialogue and idiosyncrasies, but moves towards tragedy.1 One of many impressive collaborations between writer Alan Bennett and director Stephen Frears, the play combines understated emotional power and a sense of the social impact of urban planning with a skilful deployment of technique that builds mood, character and theme.

The play (if not the published script) opens with Mrs Liversidge’s spiritedly inept performance of Ivor Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again.2 Its heightened, ‘florid’ delivery is so different from Mam and Dad’s prosaic understatement that it has been called an ‘ironic prologue’.3 However, the song’s lyrics anticipate key moments (‘never leave me’… ‘when you come home once more’), create a relevant sense of moving on by looking backwards (gathering lilacs ‘again’) and foreshadow Mam’s moment of articulacy in the Lake District later, when she performs a poem featuring daffodils.

Interview with Alan Plater about Land of Green Ginger (1973)

BY DAVID ROLINSON

Interview recorded in London on 3 July 2006

Play for Today Writer: Alan Plater; Director: Brian Parker; Producer: David Rose

This piece assumes background knowledge of the play.1 For a short essay and synopsis, see my piece for Screenonline. For detailed analysis and mention of other Plater sources, see my article ‘The Surprise of a Large Town: Regional Landscape in Alan Plater’s Land of Green Ginger’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 4:2, November 2007, pp. 285-306, available in print or online. Plater also wrote the lovely memoir Doggin’ Around. If you want to research Plater’s work, I can provide a full interview transcript; I strongly recommend the University of Hull’s Alan Plater archive at the Hull History Centre. I am eternally grateful to Alan Plater (who sadly passed away in 2010) and Shirley Rubenstein for their time, warmth and generosity.

A Very British Coup (1988)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Writer: Alan Plater; Adapted from Chris Mullin; Director: Mick Jackson


Political drama which carries a left-wing punch can usually expect to find a few dissenters among the majority of journalists – or at least their employers – for whom such views are anathema; it’s easy to review the politics rather than the art. It’s a huge testimony to Alan Plater’s skill as a dramatist that A Very British Coup was received with equal acclaim by commentators from every shade of the political spectrum. Plater believes that the right-wing press can sometimes be more generous than the left, so long as they understand that no attempt is being made to convert them.1


The three-part Channel 4 dramatisation2 of Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel of the same name, A Very British Coup is about the election of a genuinely socialist government, headed by former steel worker Harry Perkins (Ray McAnally). The drama is hardly a call to arms to vote Labour, because, as Plater points out, no government has ever pursued such an agenda.3 However, Perkins proves to be a different kettle of fish, as even his opponents such as Secret Service head Sir Percy Browne (Alan MacNaughton) have to admit, and he will not be deflected. Perkins continues on his socialist path with something as close to total integrity as politics allows. This makes A Very British Coup quite different from many left-leaning dramas, as Mark Lawson remarked: ‘Political drama on television tends to pursue the view that Labour leaders willingly surrender their beliefs in power. A Very British Coup is about something darker, the theft of good intentions.’4

The War Game (1965)

DAVID ROLINSON

Writer and Director: Peter Watkins

The probability of total destruction increases with time and, in the course of the months and years throughout which we are told to expect the Cold War to continue, it becomes almost a certainty’1.

WatkinsGameBlastgrab

The War Game is one of television’s most notorious banned programmes. A harrowing dramatised documentary portraying the after-effects of nuclear holocaust and calling for public education in nuclear deterrent policy, it was made by the BBC for 1965 broadcast but was not transmitted for twenty years. Among the reasons given for the ban were its brutally graphic scenes, its apparent left-wing bias and its controversial fusion of journalistic fact and hugely alarmist fiction, although there is now evidence that it fell victim to the political suppression of nuclear discussion that was happening at the time across all media. Its director, Peter Watkins, quit the BBC and fought to get it a cinema release abroad, resulting in critical acclaim and a Best Documentary Oscar. After its eventual transmission in 1985, critics agreed that the BBC had suppressed one of the greatest dramas ever made.