The Foxtrot (1971)

DAVID ROLINSON

Play for Today Writer: Rhys Adrian; Director: Philip Saville; Producer: Irene Shubik

“I have a great fondness for the past, the way things were.”

PFT_1971_08_RTphoto

The Foxtrot offers further proof of the wide variety of approaches and subject matter in Play for Today: a self-aware sex comedy about a ménage-a-trois between Michael Bates, Donald Pleasence and Thora Hird is far removed from the intensity and political commitment of plays from the same period such as When the Bough Breaks and The Rank and File. However, newspaper reviews were mixed – stressing its strengths and weaknesses, praising some elements and criticising what some saw as its self-awareness and obscurity. Given that some reviewers used The Foxtrot to question the very purpose of Play for Today as a strand, the following essay uses newspaper reviews of The Foxtrot – depending more heavily on reviews than the site’s essays usually do – in order to trace some of the ways in which Play for Today was a contested space.1

Tony Parker: Play for Today Biography

DAVID ROLINSON

Tony Parker’s (25 June 1923-3 October 1996) work for Play for Today fulfils two of its central aims: to reflect contemporary society (as its title implied) and to give a hearing to otherwise neglected voices. Working in a similar manner to Jeremy Sandford, but developing his techniques even further, Parker’s dramas employed journalistic research and meticulous observation to give a voice to society’s most marginalised figures. Although the writer of a handful of superb plays, Parker was primarily a hugely respected oral historian (his ears were once described as a ‘national treasure’). His published studies and television drama were underpinned by a selfless desire to act as a witness, and to resist imposing editorial devices or contrived narratives, as he sought to ‘record without comment or judgement’ the stories he was told1. Though his work was wide-ranging – he moved between unmarried mothers in No Man’s Land (1972) and lighthouse keepers in Lighthouse (1975) – he was most associated with studies of convicted criminals, both in and out of prison. Anthony Storr described him in 1970 as ‘Britain’s most expert interviewer, mouthpiece of the inarticulate and counsel for the defence of those whom society has shunned and abandoned’2.

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.

Out of this World (1962)

OLIVER WAKE

Writers: Clive Exton, Leon Griffiths, Leo Lehman, Terry Nation, Julian Bond, Bruce Stewart, Richard Waring, Denis Butler; Adapted from: John Wyndham, Rog Philips, Isaac Asimov, Tom Godwin, Philip K Dick, Robert Moore Williams, Katherine Maclean, Raymond F. Jones, Frank Crisp, Clifford D Simak, Arthur Sellings; Directors: Charles Jarrott, Jonathan Alwyn, Douglas James, Paul Bernard, Peter Hammond, Guy Verney, Richmond Harding, John Knight, Don Leaver, John Knight, Alan Cooke

BTVD_Robot_2

There are many reasons why a television series may languish in obscurity, perhaps primarily because it simply does not merit any interest. However, this is not the case with ABC’s 1962 series Out of This World – British television’s first science fiction anthology – which suffers obscurity due to two factors independent of the programme itself. Only one episode exists in full, leaving little scope for re-evaluation, and the series has long been overshadowed by its celebrated longer-running BBC cousin Out of the Unknown. However, Out of This World is not just worthy of attention as a curiosity, but as an original and successful series in its own right.