James O’Connor

OLIVER WAKE

James O’Connor – often known as Jimmy O’Connor – wrote a number of popular and successful television plays in the 1960s and early ‘70s, regularly collaborating with director Ken Loach. He had an unusual background for a television dramatist. He was formerly a career criminal who had turned to writing while serving a life sentence for murder, having narrowly avoided being hanged.

Early life

O’Connor’s life story encompasses the sensitive subjects of deprivation, domestic abuse and criminality which would not normally be appropriate topics for this website. We do not usually make personal biography a focus of our coverage, but O’Connor himself emphasised how his early experiences informed his television plays, as did contemporary reactions to his work, and it is important for us to understand his background to understand his work. The following account of O’Connor’s life before becoming a television playwright is drawn from O’Connor’s autobiography The Eleventh Commandment.1 Aside from the basic details of his murder conviction, reprieve and release, it is not possible to independently corroborate any of his reported life story. In view of O’Connor’s early life of dishonesty and later career as a storyteller, one may be inclined to wonder how far his account can be trusted to be accurate. We leave this for the reader to determine for themselves.

Charles Wood

OLIVER WAKE

An overview of Charles Wood’s television career

Charles Wood is a dramatist whose work spans the mediums of stage, television and film. The subjects and styles of his television work vary enormously, with comedy rubbing shoulders with harrowing drama, but stories about war, soldiers and militarism in general, all of which hold a particular fascination for him, recur. Although Wood is far from being simply a ‘war’ writer, it is perhaps his stories of soldiers and armed conflict in which his individual voice is most clear.

Women and Work: Leeds United! (1974) Part 3 of 3

DAVID ROLINSON

Play for Today Writer: Colin Welland; Producer: Kenith Trodd; Director: Roy Battersby

This essay continues from Part 2 and Part 1.

The debate

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Producer Kenith Trodd faced criticism and praise from local workers, employers and critics in an edition of the discussion programme series In Vision (1974-75) that was dedicated to Leeds – United!1 The play had a largely female cast who were positioned as participants: its lead actors and its extras were social actors, as mass crowds reconstructed their real-life participation in the 1970 events. The guests on In Vision include women workers who respond to the techniques by which their experiences were depicted by that male-authored text. There is a revealing tension between the play and the discussion programme. Women are addressed variously as subjects, participants and audiences, and this problematic movement is one with which the women workers are partly complicit, as we shall see. Women are the minority – 3 out of 10 guests – and are addressed in part as audience members, albeit in order to comment on the textual representation of their social participation. The programme opens up gendered discourse relating to the workplace and drama, or even contributes to that discourse. Of course, In Vision is a different type of text, with its own codes and conventions as well as its own guidelines on issues such as balance.

Women and Work: Leeds United! (1974) Part 2 of 3

DAVID ROLINSON

Play for Today Writer: Colin Welland; Producer: Kenith Trodd; Director: Roy Battersby

This essay continues from Part 1.

The play

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Early in Leeds United!, Annie (Teresa Anne Keegan, played by Josie Long) walks along early morning streets, picking up a friend and arriving at the bus stop on her journey to work. An ambitious crane shot accompanies her walk, leaves her in order to reverse across a street and rises above outhouses to find her further on. As she walks, we hear a male voice-over set out her new contract, the terms of which have reduced her rights. This sequence “set the tone”, according to Clive James:

ably combining the humanist touch with the analytical glance. […] their company contracts were read out in plummy tones on voice-over. ‘The company has no contractual pension arrangements covering your employment.’ Which meant that you work for half a century and they scrap you.1

This practice was so common that Welland heard about another example just a few weeks before the play was broadcast: “a 61-year-old seamstress who works in the same clothing factory as Colin Welland’s mother-in-law in Leeds was made redundant. She had worked in the same place for 25 years but because she was over retiring age she was not entitled to any redundancy pay.” Welland’s response: “Bastards, they are”.2

Women and Work: Leeds United! (1974) Part 1 of 3

DAVID ROLINSON

Play for Today Writer: Colin Welland; Producer: Kenith Trodd; Director: Roy Battersby

“When a woman looks at her wages and thinks of the hours she works and the conditions, she knows she is a slave…”

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Leeds United! dramatises the 1970 dispute in which over 25,000 clothing workers, the majority of them women, went on strike across Leeds, other parts of Yorkshire and the North East.1 Katrina Honeyman, in her history of the Leeds clothing industry, argued that the strike symbolised “the response of women workers to several decades of oppression by both employers and the male union hierarchy” and showed the “talent of women for political organization, [which is] so often overlooked in labour history”.2 Leeds United! reflects this talent in its methods of retelling, and reconstructing, the strike. According to director Roy Battersby in 2009, the play’s “ambition was to try to understand” how their “courageous” action took them to “the verge of winning” and how “within a few days that was turned into […] a miserable, heartbreaking compromise”.3