The Good Companions (1980-81)

DAVID ROLINSON

Nine parts. Writer: Alan Plater; Adapted from (novel): J.B. Priestley; Music by: David Fanshawe; Producer: Leonard Lewis; Directors: Bill Hays, Leonard Lewis


A “tuneful tonic of merriment and mirth”, The Good Companions is a nine-part Yorkshire Television serial about a touring concert party adapted from J. B. Priestley’s famous 1929 novel.1 It was adapted by Alan Plater, who described the serial as one of his happiest working experiences, but added that it was “interesting but flawed, and didn’t really catch on”.2 That’s a fair assessment, but the serial is certainly more interesting than flawed. Like the two previous film adaptations, the serial risked being written off as undemanding, suffering in part because of the reputation of the source novel. Writing about the 1933 film version, Charles Barr observed that the novel “never had much currency in academic circles”, with supportive opinions outweighed by the impact of “the vinegary attacks on the book and the novelists by the two Leavises”.3 Priestley himself argued that “[s]ome severe critics dislike” stories in the picaresque tradition of “huge wandering tales” as these are “too rambling and easy for them”.4 However, the serial’s ability to parallel the book’s feel-good, episodic qualities is also one of its main strengths. With composer David Fanshawe setting Plater’s lyrics to a variety of song styles, and a lively ensemble cast relishing on-stage music hall scenes and off-stage full production numbers, this is a witty and unashamedly fun serial. The Network DVD release also comes with the 1980 tie-in documentary On the Road, in which Plater interviews Priestley, compares the serial with previous film versions and provides behind-the-scenes footage.5

From The Blue Lamp to The Black and Blue Lamp: The Police in TV Drama

DAVID ROLINSON

Screenplay Writer: Arthur Ellis, Producer: Brenda Reid, Director: Guy Slater


Transporting a character from one era of policing to another, and asking us to consider how both policing and its television representation had changed: these are some of the reasons why Life on Mars (2006-7) and Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010) were rightly acclaimed, but these tactics had previously been attempted in a more ideological way in 1988 by The Black and Blue Lamp. This Screenplay production transported characters from the world of Ealing film The Blue Lamp (1949) to the corrupt, violent world of 1980s policing, here fictionalised as a drama-within-a-drama, The Filth. Whilst Gene Hunt became a popular cultural figure referenced by politicians and media, this play’s view of the police, and of police drama, was so controversial that it has never been repeated or commercially released. Recapped at the start of the play, The Blue Lamp introduces P. C. George Dixon (Jack Warner), the archetypal British policeman, the kind of “bobby on the beat” idealised by successive Home Secretaries. Dixon outlived the film by 26 years (some feat given that the character is killed in the film), appearing in his own series, Dixon of Dock Green (1955-1976), during which time there were marked changes in television drama’s attitudes to the police. The Black and Blue Lamp juxtaposes the world of Dixon with more cynical modern depictions of the police, producing an Ortonesque darkly comic farce in which there isn’t simply a comedy of culture-clash but a deconstruction of the Dixon icon and a witty, political questioning of the relationship between fictional treatments of the police and their role in society.

Iain MacCormick

OLIVER WAKE

This piece was substantially revised and updated in 2013.

When people talk about the pioneers of television writing in Britain, they invariably mention those who made their reputations in the 1960s, such as Dennis Potter and John Hopkins. However, in the 1950s, Iain MacCormick was recognised as the first writer to make a name specifically from original television writing in Britain. This essay is an attempt to explain who he was, why his work was notable and why he is now so little-known.

MacCormick was born in Australia 1918 to Scottish émigré parents. He considered himself a Scot also and held a British passport. MacCormick was studying medicine when the Second World War began and he volunteered for service with the Australian army, rising to the rank of Captain. He fought in North Africa, Crete and Greece, where, in 1941, he was captured when Allied forces withdrew. He spent the next four years as a prisoner of war, during which time he took to writing, between escape attempts, and completed a number of plays. Upon his release in 1945 he was sent to Britain en route to Australia for official demobilisation, but he didn’t complete this journey, choosing to settle in London.