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…

Michael Palin, Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988 (2009)

DAVID ROLINSON

For anyone interested in British television drama or cinema, this second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries is just as engrossing as the first. Although some reviewers wonder if this book will be about ‘the less exciting stuff that happened in between’ the peak period of Monty Python covered in the first volume and the travel programmes that Palin embarks upon as this volume closes, it is all the more enjoyable and rewarding for its grounding in the reality of solo writing and the production process.1

For visitors to this site, I recommend Palin’s detailed coverage of East of Ipswich (1987)2, from gestation and writing through castinPalinHalfwayCoverpicg, production, post-production, critical reception and awards nominations (plus Palin’s unusually scathing comment that the London Film Festival were ‘Snobs’ to pass on it).3 I’ve adored East of Ipswich for many years, so I’m delighted to see Palin assert that ‘Nothing I’ve done gives me as much unqualified pleasure’ and that ‘I’ve never felt something done as close to the way I wanted it done as this’.4 Other material relevant to British television drama includes Palin’s script for Number 27 (1988)5 which starred the legendary Joyce Carey, working relationships with Tristram Powell, Charles Sturridge, Innes Lloyd and others, and television’s importance in British filmmaking: with fifteen films made a year and directors like Gavin Millar and Alan Clarke involved, ‘this shabbily-appointed fifth floor at TV Centre is where the British Film Industry exists’.6 Palin details the postponement of Sturridge’s Troubles (1988) after a week of filming with Palin in a major role, after which it was remounted without him.7