‘An ideology red, white and blue in tooth and claw’: David Edgar’s Destiny (1978) – Part 3 of 3

TOM MAY

Play for Today Writer: David Edgar; Producer: Margaret Matheson; Director: Mike Newell

This essay continues from Part 2.

Part 3: Analysis of Destiny and its afterlife
Please note that, in order to explore this programme and its political context, this essay quotes racially offensive language.

Visual motifs, setting, culture and class

In its adaptation to television, the play’s text was sometimes faithfully translated, but Edgar made significant alterations and changes of emphasis. The medium is used to historicise the play with exact dates – ‘15th August 1947’, ‘20th April 1968’, ‘19th June 1970’ and ‘1977’ – being presented. The stage version’s text does not as clearly indicate the year of the contemporary scenes.

As on stage, the painting showing the putting down of the Indian Mutiny is a key visual motif.1 This is shown three times throughout the play: in the opening India scene, in the Northern Ireland army HQ, and in the hospitality room of the City of London merchant bank in the final scene. A gramophone is added to the India set, alongside the stuffed tiger referred to in the text. There’s much connotative period detail, but less specificity: the play text states its setting as Jullundur in the Punjab. On television, it is merely ‘India’.

‘An ideology red, white and blue in tooth and claw’: David Edgar’s Destiny (1978) – Part 2 of 3

TOM MAY

Play for Today Writer: David Edgar; Producer: Margaret Matheson; Director: Mike Newell

This essay continues from Part 1.

Part 2: Production and reception

Production of the Play for Today version

David Edgar has observed that, although the theatre version has been placed in the lineage of the ‘rather inaccurately dubbed “state-of-England”’ plays by Brenton, Hare, Barker, Griffiths and himself, the television version reflected the influence of the school of social realist drama that was associated with Ken Loach, Roy Battersby and Tony Garnett, which was more ‘grittily proletarian’ and which echoed the British New Wave cinema of the early 1960s.1 Neither Edgar nor Matheson can recall who first suggested that Destiny be adapted as a television play,2 but Edgar recalls that, in a script meeting with himself and Newell, Matheson asked, ‘So, what are we telling the nation here?’ For Edgar this demonstrates what ‘we thought we were about in the 70s […] not asking “how will the viewer respond to this?”’3 This reflects its era, with producers and creative personnel having control of decision making, in stark contrast with the later Birt-era move towards pleasing the consumer. Such engaged, high-minded ambition was made possible by settled scheduling which, as Matheson argues, allowed Play for Today to build a regular audience who, for half of the year, ‘knew they would get something distinct and surprising once a week.’4

‘An ideology red, white and blue in tooth and claw’: David Edgar’s Destiny (1978) – Part 1 of 3

TOM MAY

Play for Today Writer: David Edgar; Producer: Margaret Matheson; Director: Mike Newell

Part 1: Background and context
Please note that, in order to explore this programme and its political context, this essay quotes racially offensive language.

‘For the first time since the war, extreme right-wing, racialist organisations have become significant in British politics. Movements that, ten years ago were regarded as the most lunatic of lunatic fringes, are now gaining influence in the streets and even in elections.’1

The forces of right-wing politics are resurgent; immigration is regularly discussed on the airwaves and the phrase ‘foreign workers, coming over here, taking our jobs’ circulates obstinately. Those on the political left seem implacably divided. It could be 2017. It is, however, 1977 as depicted by David Edgar in Destiny. This Play for Today, which he adapted for television from his acclaimed theatre production, analyses how and why the far-right National Front was becoming a genuine political force in 1976-77. Edgar portrays the intersection of politics with human lives; his Brecht-influenced dramaturgy is accompanied by a close attention to British places and voices. Part one of this three-part essay will consider Edgar’s background and Destiny’s history as a stage play and will place the television play in its historical and televisual contexts. Part two will consider the television play’s casting and production and its reception by critics, BBC management and audiences. Part three will analyse this neglected entry in the eighth series of Play for Today in relation to debates over docudrama forms and naturalism. The essays will analyse its status as an adaptation, with close readings of how emphases were changed in making the play for television. The television Destiny will also be analysed as a contribution to debates on national and class identity and for its representations of a range of British political ideologies in the 1970s.

The ‘Appening: Parkin’s Patch (1969-70)

DAVID ROLINSON

Parkin'sPatch_Parkin
As a festive, er, ‘treat’, here’s a much more facetious piece than this site usually runs, a DVD review (of Parkin’s Patch: The Complete Series), which apart from some revisions is reproduced from the excellent (but at this moment on hiatus) Tachyon TV website… There’s a moment in the episode ‘Lock, Stock and…’ when a character starts an alibi with “I took the whippet out”. This made me think two things: “until it has a Yorkshire edition, the CSI franchise is merely treading water” and “Parkin’s Patch is pretty much what I expected.” So, should you expect 26 half-hours of charming yet undemanding early evening telly with a local bobby investigating quirky and/or spiky Yorkshire folk? ‘Appen. And ‘appen not. There are some predictable, even ramshackle, moments, but there are also some lovely surprises that make Parkin’s Patch a bit of a treat.

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.