Funny Farm (1975)


Play for Today Writer: Roy Minton; Producer: Mark Shivas; Director: Alan Clarke

“This place gets more like a bleeding madhouse every day…”

BTVD_Funny Farm_1 2016Funny Farm depicts a night shift by nurse Alan Welbeck (Tim Preece) on a psychiatric ward. As reviewer James Scott put it, the play comments on “conditions in our mental hospitals – understaffing, overwork, bad pay, old inadequate buildings” and unsatisfactory “patient treatment and cure”, points which are heightened by the play’s “understatement” and rejection of “sensationalism and sentimentality”.1 Dennis Potter praised this “gentle and observant drama” as “Beautifully acted, compassionately written and intelligently directed”.2 The play also dramatises writer Roy Minton’s contention that “Psychiatric therapy is fundamentally an agent for the state”,3 and provides an example of Minton’s productive collaboration with director Alan Clarke. My book Alan Clarke didn’t have a chapter on Funny Farm in its own right – I discussed it only in relation to other collaborations and tendencies across Clarke’s work. This essay aims to correct that omission, and features some new research findings.

84, Charing Cross Road (1975)


Play for Today Writer: Hugh Whitemore; Adapted from: the book by Helene Hanff; Director: Mark Cullingham; Producer: Mark Shivas

‘…people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English Literature…’

When Arthur Dent receives an alien tongue-lashing on arrival at yet another inhospitable planet during The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he observes in exasperation: ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever seem to pleased to see us?’1 One answer to that question might well be: ‘Because drama and comedy rely on conflict to make them work.’ There’s rarely a great deal of mileage to be extracted from people liking one another and generally getting on, but when the trick is pulled off, the results can be delightful and surprising.

This was the case with 84, Charing Cross Road, Hugh Whitemore’s adaptation of Helene Hanff’s book in which the New Yorker recorded her 20-year love affair with Marks & Co, a second-hand bookshop in London. It began in 1949 when Britain was still on the ration and ran through until the end of the 1960s. Hanff’s book reads like a cross-cultural epistolary novella, in which the straight- talking Yank (responding to the first letter from London which begins: ‘Dear Madam’, she comments: ‘I hope Madam doesn’t mean over there what it does over here’), eventually extracts the inner warmth from the more reserved and correct Brits.