Peter Luke


Peter Luke was a writer, story editor and producer on several of British television’s most influential drama anthology series, working at both ITV and the BBC, during a period of particular creative development for the medium. His television work was, however, only one part of a varied life.

Peter Ambrose Cyprian Luke was born on 12 August 1919, the son of British diplomatic Sir Harry Luke. The Luke family was originally of Hungarian descent (the name Lukach being Anglicised to Luke) and Luke’s upbringing was cosmopolitan. In his younger years he accompanied his parents on his father’s postings around the world, during which he learned about language, culture, art and literature, before returning to England to be enrolled at Eton. On completing his schooling with the minimum of academic rigour, Luke decided he wanted to become a painter and went to art school in London and then studied at the atelier of André Lhote in Paris. He enlisted in the British army shortly after the Second World War began, leading him to Egypt and combat on the first day of the second battle of El Alamein, in which he was wounded. After recovering he was deployed in the European theatre of war, serving in Italy, France and Germany. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in Normandy following D-Day. He ended the war a Major, acting Lieutenant-Colonel.

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Scene vs. Scene #1: Assassins vs. Gangsters


Doctor Who: ‘The Deadly Assassin’ Part 3 vs. Play for Today: ‘Gangsters’

‘Scene v. Scene’ is a series of articles aiming to shed new light on key scenes from television dramas by comparing them with scenes from other programmes or films. This isn’t just about pointing out ‘influences’ or comparing styles or tagging intertextuality (although those things might happen sometimes), and also is a more bloggy, less academic approach than usual on this site – however, the case studies will be chosen to also raise wider issues about television drama. This is true of the case studies in this first article, two-aquatic punch-ups: the Doctor’s fight with Goth in part 3 of Doctor Who’s ‘The Deadly Assassin’ (BBC1, 13 November 1976) and Kline’s showdown with Rawlinson in the Play for Today (in effect series pilot) Gangsters (BBC1, 9 January 1975). They have a lot in common, both on- and off-screen.

Before we start, we should place the scenes in context: Kline is fighting a crime boss in the river Tame in Birmingham, near the end of a hard-hitting single play about multiculturalism, drugs, illegal immigration and, well, hard-hitting. The Doctor’s fight takes place in a wilderness contained within the virtual reality of ‘The Matrix’, a dreamscape accessed by linking brains to computers (yes, it would be too easy to compare it with The Matrix (1999)!) on Gallifrey. Both scenes are shot on film: Gangsters was all-film, Assassin typically for 1970s Doctor Who mixes studio video (here depicting Gallifrey) with filmed exteriors (here restricted to the scenes set in the Matrix), though part 3 has an unusually high number of filmed scenes. We’re not here to compare the styles of mid-1970s TV dramas, though that can be a rewarding and surprising process, especially given that directors and film cameramen (directors of photography) on contracts could be asked to move between very different types of drama. There are all sorts of reasons for similarities in the approaches of these two dramas, including the fact that the writers of both pieces – Robert Holmes (Assassin) and Philip Martin (Gangsters) – often riffed on Westerns and other genres: therefore, Doctor Who assimilated The Manchurian Candidate (1962) into teatime SF-horror while Gangsters took The French Connection (1971) into Birmingham clubland. We could compare these punch-ups with equivalents in various Westerns for instance – but the amount that these two scenes have in common says a lot about Doctor Who in 1976 and some of the pressures facing BBC drama.

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The Long Distance Piano Player (1970)


Play for Today Writer: Alan Sharp; Director: Philip Saville; Producer: Irene Shubik

‘Everybody’s in showbiz, everybody’s a star…’1

This lyric, from the Kinks song ‘Celluloid Heroes’ written by Ray Davies, conjures up a world far removed from the gloomy hall inhabited by Pete, the long distance piano player he portrays in Alan Sharp’s Play for Today. However, the play and the song (written two years later) are closer in theme than you might think. While ‘Celluloid Heroes’ celebrates the enduring screen image of Hollywood stars, it’s also about the way the film industry exploits and sometimes destroys these icons.

Pianist Pete is a man ripe for exploitation and destruction by his predatory manager, Jack (Norman Rossington). He plays a young man trying to create a world record for non-stop piano playing, of four days and four nights. Success, Jack constantly reassures Pete in his bogus American accent, will bring fame and fortune on an epic, Hollywood scale. However, one image of the film industry which is likely to spring to the viewer’s mind is They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Sidney Pollack’s recent film about a six-day dance marathon in Depression-era America. Alan Sharp acknowledged his debt: ‘I read the book years ago, and was fascinated,’ he admitted in the week the play was aired on BBC12.

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  1. The Kinks, ‘Celluloid Heroes’, from Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972 album). 

  2. Alan Sharp, ‘TV is better than films from a professional point of view’, Radio Times, 8 October 1970. 

The Foxtrot (1971)


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

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


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

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  1. The essay’s focus is on reviewers’ contestation but subsequent studies should develop the idea, at the very least into archival holdings on audience and institutional responses. 

Philip Saville: Play for Today Biography


Philip Saville is a director whose work on Play for Today cannot be easily categorised. The variety of his eight contributions is testament to the scope of both strand and director. Saville was an iconoclastic, innovative director, whose credits include many pioneering productions and notable television firsts.

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