The Fishing Party (1972)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Play for Today Writer: Peter Terson; Producer: David Rose; Director: Michael Simpson

“Contact with the lavatory on all floors”

Peter Terson’s best known plays, Zigger Zagger and The Apprentices, present a tough and unsentimental view of the world and of the occasional cruelties that people, more often than not working-class men, can heap on one another. His 1972 television comedy The Fishing Party is a gentler affair, although not without its acerbic moments.1

Three miners, Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) head for Whitby where they have arranged a trip out to sea for some cod fishing. First they need accommodation and they find a truly grotty bed and breakfast. A snooty landlady, Audrey (Jane Freeman) and her hen-pecked husband Brian (Frank Moorey) agree after some shenanigans to give them a room for the night, at an exorbitant price. These early scenes run dangerously close to pure silliness in their depiction of unsophisticated working-class behaviour on the one hand and petty-bourgeois pretentiousness on the other. The Fishing Party is not a piece of work that has worn well. However, some gems of comic dialogue do a little to rescue the situation.

Funny Farm (1975)

DAVID ROLINSON

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.

Ingmar Bergman’s The Lie (1970)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Play for Today / The Largest Theatre in the World Writer: Ingmar Bergman; Translated by Paul Britten Austin; Producer: Graeme McDonald; Director: Alan Bridges

‘The truth will tear us apart’

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There has been much talk recently about contemporary television producing drama superior to anything that the cinema currently has to offer. Any vestiges of snobbery about the supposed inferiority of the small screen have been snuffed out with directors such as Martin Scorsese and David Fincher choosing to work in television. Jane Campion, the New Zealander who directed An Angel at my Table and The Piano, said in an interview for The Times that TV is now producing the more pioneering work. Campion, who has directed a six-part crime thriller for television which was launched at Sundance and received its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, said after seeing HBO’s Deadwood: ‘Who is commissioning this stuff? This is a revolution, something is really happening in television.’1 It does not follow of course that revolutionary film directors will have a big impact (Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire had mixed reviews) when they transfer their attentions to TV.

Making Contact with Contact: From AFN Clarke to Alan Clarke

DAVID ROLINSON

Screen Two; Writer: AFN Clarke; Director: Alan Clarke; Producer: Terry Coles

The first production to be shown in the Screen Two strand, Contact was broadcast on BBC2 at 10.10pm on Sunday 6 January 1985.1 An account of British Army patrols around the border in South Armagh, Contact was an appropriate start for Screen Two given its contemporary concerns, politically sensitive subject matter and distinctive style. Filmed between 6 and 29 August 1984, Contact was directed by Alan Clarke.2 It is one of the highlights of Clarke’s astonishing body of work. Jim Naughton’s review of Contact is largely characteristic of the critical acclaim that it received: “a crisp, tight, elegant piece of work, wonderfully shot […] by Philip Bonham Carter and making brilliant use of sound”, the film “found a new angle on Northern Ireland, which is more than can be said for most programmes about that […] province”.3 Typically for a Clarke piece it achieved more acclaim abroad, winning the Golden Leopard’s Eye at the Locarno International Film Festival, where the jury praised the “intelligence and precision with which the camera describes the story of a British patrol in Northern Ireland while leaving the spectator free to judge”.4 Clarke described the win as a “high spot” of his career, “absolutely great”.5 However, there was another Clarke at work on Contact whose own contribution has been underexplored: its writer, AFN Clarke…

Dixon of Dock Green in the 1970s

DAVID ROLINSON

The opinion that Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-76) was a cosy anachronism throughout its existence, and in particular in the 1970s, remains pervasive. Lez Cooke’s excellent study of British television drama fairly summarises the common view that Dixon “gained a reputation as a ‘cosy’ representation of the police and their relationship with the public in the mid-late 1950s”, a representation which was “superseded” in the 1960s and 1970s “by more hard-hitting and up-to-date representations of both the police and the criminal underworld”.1 Dylan Cave goes further in Ealing Revisited, arguing that Dixon‘s long run “wasn’t due to innovation, but to its dogged refusal to acknowledge the pace of a changing Britain, as depicted in the far tougher police series Z Cars and The Sweeney. It was cherished as a reassuring reminder of apparently simpler, gentler times”.2 There is room to question the pervasive generalisation that 1970s Dixon was a cosy anachronism that was smashed up by the arrival of The Sweeney (ITV, 1974-78). As I’ve argued in my previous writing on police drama,3 this generalisation needs to be put under more scrutiny, either by putting The Sweeney in the context of the detailed study of other police and action series of the period (Cooke wisely uses the plural “representations”), or looking into the apparent anomaly that Dixon survived – indeed, was still hugely successful – well into the 1970s. Dixon makes its own use of the changing language of police drama – with its “shooters”, “birds” and “blags” and the prioritisation of the CID while former beat copper Dixon takes a back seat – and reflects the changing practices of, and attitudes towards, the police. Acorn Media’s welcome DVD release of six colour episodes gives me a chance to look more closely at 1970s Dixon to add this article as a supplement to this much longer and more detailed piece on Dixon’s place in the history of police drama.