Drama out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today (2020) - full transcript

Celebrating 'Play for Today', the acclaimed series of controversial single dramas broadcast on BBC One between 1970 and 1984.

This programme contains some strong
language and some scenes which some
viewers may find upsetting

Right. This is Play For Today.
Slate one, take one, no less.

Interview with some old fart sitting
here. A play for today - just today.

Helps pass the time.

Something easy,

something undemanding.

Lasts just a bit longer
than a bag of crisps

and has the same sort of taste.

Play For Today -

a series of single dramas
broadcast by BBC Television

between 1970 and 1984,

years of crisis
when the consensus politics

of Britain's post-war
world began to unravel.

When industrial relations,
education and the health service

faced fundamental challenges.

When the country was struggling
with the end of empire,

and when the personal was
increasingly political.

Play For Today reflected
and responded to all this and more

in 300 dramas shown in primetime
to audiences numbered in millions.


I never watch plays
on the telly anyway.

Not ever?

It's such a tiny little picture

and tiny little people
all boxed up together.

I can never get involved in it.

And half of them are so gloomy.

Ooh, my ideal audience!

Play For Today was contemporary,

often controversial,
and occasionally censored.

But it was also immensely varied,

colliding social
realism with comedy,

costume drama with fantasy,

personal visions with
state-of-the-nation overviews.

It was mischievous,
critical and challenging,

and unafraid to tackle taboos.

ON TV: Beautiful thing...


That is a straightforward

incitement of perversion
and immorality.

The BBC seems to have lost all sense
of responsibility and decorum.

That was sick. Really sick.

I was watching it, Richard.


If you look at the whole body
of Play For Today as a whole,

the diversity, the integrity,
the range,

the freedom of expression,

the freedom of ideas,

the freedom of dramatic
and cinematic

and thematic exploration,
etc, is exemplary,

and must be an inspiration
for anybody that's thinking about,

you know, the nature of
what film or drama, um,

is or should be.

50 years after the series began,

this film is a celebration
of Play For Today.

As recalled by those
who made the series,

it celebrates many of
our best actors,

writers and directors,
and it celebrates how,

through more than
a decade of crisis,

Play For Today made exciting,
exceptional and enduring drama.

Before and after
the Second World War,

BBC television relied on plays
from the theatre

for most of its drama.

Then in the late 1950s,
the new commercial ITV network

started to commission
original scripts about life

in contemporary Britain.

Under producer Sydney Newman,

armchair theatre attracted
large audiences and critical praise,

and in 1963,
Newman was headhunted by the BBC.

Producer James MacTaggart

and story editor Tony Garnett
were charged by Sydney Newman

with making a series
of single dramas

about life in the mid 1960s.

And the brief was
to do contemporary drama

that rattled the cages
of the establishment.

What a brief.

Ken was one of
a handful of directors.

In fact, I think we worked Ken
harder than anybody else.

And during that
work period together,

we got closer and realised

that both politically
and aesthetically,

we had the same attitudes
and the same agenda.

We shared the same sense
of what good drama was,

and the aesthetics of it as well

to do with absolutely reflecting
the comedy and tragedy

and drama of everyday life,

but based on
a kind of clear political idea.

Here we go. Absolute quiet. Quiet!


Quiet! Quiet, you see?

There's never quiet in that studio,
for God's sake!

By 1965, it was clear that
the electronic studio

was a limitation to revealing
the contemporary fiction.

We wanted to do stories
from the streets.

We weren't interested, in the end,

in theatrical sets
in a studio like this

where you have three
big electronic cameras

poking into a piece of work

that had rehearsed like a play
and was performed like a play.

The form didn't...didn't allow us
to make drama

that had the smack
of contemporary life about it.

# Oh, oh, little girl

# Pretty little girl

# You're such a good little girl

# Why don't you let me

# Make you a bad girl... #

It was the time of
the French New Wave.

It was the time of
hand-held cameras, 16mm film,

which was lightweight.

So, we were in our late 20s,

cheeky, full of brass neck.

Up The Junction was
a series of short stories

and descriptive little events,

beautifully written by Nell Dunn.

And it took place
in South London in Battersea,

where she'd lived for a time.

And they were a group
of working class girls,

and their...their comedy

and their serious situations
they'd get in,

and their boyfriends.

And it was funny and racy
and raucous and full of music.

I knew I couldn't get that
in the studio.

In fact, Up The Junction had to be
made partly in the studio

with electronic cameras,

although much of it was shot
on the streets of South London.

# I want to be loved by you

# Lo-o-ved

# Scoo-boo-bi-do. #


Oh, look at that, Sylvie,
that old man in the gutter.

We better turn him over
in case he's our dad.


Hey, Sylvie, there's your husband.

Where do you think you're going,

all dressed up like
the Queen of Sheba?

What's that to you,
you fifth-rate ponce?

Always was one for the men,
weren't you?

Anything in trousers,
you'll have him.

You dirty sod,
I hope your guts drop out!

And because they did quite well,
that was the first film.

So, that point was then conceded -
we could do films.

We thought we were part of
the public discourse,

and we wanted people
to use their critical faculties

when they watched fiction that...

..that was similar to the way
they viewed the news.

The Wednesday Play ran for six years

and featured
a much wider range of drama

than just the social realism
of Ken Loach and Tony Garnett.

Then, in 1970, the sports department
claimed the midweek schedule,

and The Wednesday Play moved
to Thursdays under a different name.

We were inheriting
what they'd created

with The Wednesday Play,

so it was a very fortunate
position to be in.

That's to say there were
high audience expectations.

On the whole,
people did keep coming back

week after week after week,

not knowing what
they were going to get,

and that was part of the point.

There was a variety and a range

that was as wide as
you could make it.

# Open up your window,
let some air... #

The first Play For Today
was broadcast on BBC One

on Thursday, October 15th, 1970.

Between a dozen and 30 dramas

would be shown each year

under this title for
the next 14 weeks.

The brief was to produce
75 or 80-minute plays

about contemporary Britain

that was challenging,

which was code for controversial.

And you were very aware
of the stars of Wednesday Play.

You were aware of
Tony Garnett and Ken Loach,

the tradition of social realism.

In fact, one of the virtues
of Play For Today, I think,

was that it was far more various
than that.

There were far more different
kinds of play.

More than 200 writers
scripted plays for Today,

or had their work adapted.

The majority of the broadcasts

were commissioned
specially for television,

although there were also versions
of theatre plays,

novels and short stories.

The series was an opportunity
for new writers,

as well as a showcase for
the most prominent playwrights

of the time.

I realised that
it was still imagination

and people's fantasies,
people's wishes, people's pains,

people's anguish that really was
the stuff and substance

for what we could write about,

and television has
that peculiar power

when it is dealing with
what people actually dread,

think, want, are joyful about.

# Can't you take a dare?

# I double-dare you

# To kiss me and then... #

I always feel that it brought out...

..the sincerity in writers.

I think that was true
of Dennis Potter.

When Dennis Potter wrote
for the wide audience,

he was thinking, as I was thinking,
"My mother's going to watch this.

"My dentist is going to watch this.

"My cousin's going to watch this.

"The world is going to watch this."

It's pointless trying to show off
how clever you are.

What...? Where does that get you,
with that audience?

The more prestigious Plays For Today

were often shot on film
away from Television Centre,

but the organisation
and the economics of the BBC

meant that most Plays For Today
were recorded in studios

with multiple electronic cameras.

BBC Television Centre was
built round these vast studios

which serviced series, serials,

plays and entertainment,
and everything else.

So, it was a very tight,

tightly controlled amount
of people and facilities.

We were given total freedom
on the one hand,

and an extremely rigid
requirement on the other.

Studio production was far more
cost-effective than filming,

and budgets often dictated that
studio plays had to be mounted

with limited resources.

I don't know that there was
anybody given the choice

who would say they would
rather work in the studio.

I can't quite think
that that would be so.

But there were a lot of people
who thought - and I thought -

that there were very great things
you could do in a studio.

# Sir Atwood, Sir Atwood
Two by two

# You at the start must turn
and follow through

# The drums shall play
and the whistle shall blow

# Sir Atwood, Sir Atwood said
You must go! #

"They have sharpened their tongues
like a serpent.

"Adders' poison is onto their lips."

David. Psalm 140.


Support us and become VIP member
to remove all ads from www.OpenSubtitles.org

Lord, who's led thy servants to
this desert of the fallen world...

..look upon my family
with thy kindly grace.

May my faith be for them
thy pillar of cloud by day.

Thy pillar of fire by night.

I look at some of the studio
productions that I did,

and I think the directors
have done incredibly well

to create worlds.

I mean, in some cases,
very small worlds.

Someone's nicked the top.

It's there.
It's very dangerous, that is.

If someone should light a
match over here... Gotcha!

What the hell?!

What are you doing,
you bloody fool?! Watch it.

What's your name? My name?
What's his name?

What's your name?

You ask me my name?
I've only been here five years.

Oddly, I don't feel cramped
when I watch them.

There's so much going on
and they're so well designed

and well photographed.

For the studio pieces,
you're looking for sustained...


But it was writers centred in
a way that film-making isn't.

The understanding that
the writer was central

was also a credo held
by senior figures

in the BBC's management.

The creative impulse

in most of British broadcasting

comes from a producer
or a director - or both -

working with a commentator
or a reporter

who may themselves be writers,

or, and very frequently,
with a writer as such.

Many people contribute -

designers, cameramen,
all sorts of people -

but the main creative thrust
is there.

Next week's play is
The After Dinner Joke,

a comedy concerning
a young woman's adventures

in the world of
big business charity,

starring Paula Wilcox.

That's Play For Today,
next Tuesday evening at 9.25.

On occasions,
Play For Today's work with a writer

demanded a radical alternative

to both conventional
studio production

and film-making.

I was desperate to do anything
Caryl would agree to write,

and I do think that
I had read an article

in the Financial Times
about charity.

So, I said to Caryl,
"Well, what about this?"

So, probably I think
what happened is it just came in,

and obviously it was wonderful.

A wonderful satire.

But equally, obviously,

it was set all over the world,
and completely undoable,

you know, as a sort of
naturalistic Play For Today.

But I think we thought, "OK,
let's think about blue screen,"

as it then was.

Green screen nowadays.

What I want to know from you,
Mr Mayor,

is where in your town are
the people with the money

so that I can get it off them.

Won't find it easy.
They're all conservatives.

They don't play golf with me,
you know. Where do they live?

Up here on this hill by the park.

And down here?

Between the high street
and the canal

is what we call "the old town".

Ah, the slums.

Uh, the redevelopment area.

It was certainly...

It was an era when
it was much more fun

to be breaking the rules
and taking chances

than just doing the same old.

None of us were in the business
of doing the same old.

So, we just worked out how to do it,

and it remains an oddity
to this day.

Many of the most distinctive
Plays For Today

came from BBC Pebble Mill
in Birmingham,

where David Rose ran
English Regions Drama.

London drama does tremendous work,

but here was another
outlet and inlet.

Writers could come and talk to us,
as well as us seeking them out.

And, in fact, Huw Wheldon,

who was our managing director
at the time,

said, "Boyo,
there's one thing to do.

"Find new writers and nurture them."

He wasn't politically motivated
in the way that Tony Garnett

always admitted he was.

He had a broader palette.

But nevertheless, he wanted
to challenge the audience.

He wanted to come up
with something new and different.

The basic thing about David
was he trusted the artist,

and that, you know,
it's rare, isn't it?

And actually, the first
Plays For Day that Birmingham did

were comedies written
by Peter Terson.

And the second one,
which was my favourite,

Shakespeare Or Bust,

the three miners were called
Art, Abe and Ern,

and Art turned out to be
a fan of Shakespeare,

and the three miners went
for a week on a barge

to Stratford-upon-Avon.

And when they got
to Stratford-upon-Avon...


..they queued up
with great excitement

for a production
of Antony And Cleopatra,

but they hadn't booked seats.

They couldn't get in.

You what?

Not a seat?

No, house full.

But we've made a pilgrimage
from Leeds.

Yes, well, that gentleman
has made his from Japan,

but that still doesn't make
a seat available.

It was absolutely joyous.

They go across to the barge,
and, of course,

the actors playing Antony
and Cleopatra appear on the bridge.

Oh, this is great.

Have you come far? A pilgrimage.

The birthplace of The Bard.

You'd be better of going to
the birthplace of Karl Marx.

Well, you've come up in regal style.

"The poop was beaten gold.

"Purple the sails,
and so perfumed

"the winds were lovesick with them.

"The oars were silver..."
"The oars were silver,

"and to the tune of flutes
kept stroke and made the water

"that they beat to follow after
as amorous of their strokes."

Oh-ho! That sounded good!

Hey... Wait on a bit.

You're not...
You're not in it, are you?

You're not actors?

"Pastoral, historical,
tragical, comical.

"Historical tragical,
comical, pastoral.

"We are the only men."


Hey, lads! They're actors!

What's your names, then, kiddos?

This is Janet. I'm Richard.

Well, I'm Art, and this is Ern, Abe.

We come from Leeds.

Gentlemen, welcome to Stratford.

So, there's a wonderful celebration,

but it is about Shakespeare
and the working class.

But it embraced life.

It opened to life in a way

that perhaps some of the drama
coming out of...of London

in Play For Today
limited life in some ways.

Not the greatest ones,
but did...did take views.

Now, if the business
of movies is pleasure...

..the business
of literature and drama

in the final analysis...is truth.

It can provide pleasure,
of course,

and delight and insight,

but its main concern is
the exploration of truth.

The truth of a news bulletin
is the degree

to which it accurately describes
an event that has taken place.

The truth of the play
is not so different.

It's the degree to which
it accurately describes

a world conceived inwardly.

It's the degree to which that world,

inwardly conceived,
has been accurately embodied forth.

The degree to which
it is not meretricious.

The degree to which
it hangs together

as a single object,
cutting no corners,

cheating no-one,
including the author.

When Play For Today began in 1970,

after a period of
relative industrial peace,

British politics was again
dominated by disputes

between workers and employers.

The politics of
the workplace was central

to a number of early dramas,

often told from the series
dominant left liberal perspective.

A documentary style
social realist study

of a strike betrayed

by union leaders,

was among the most powerful.

There hadn't been a strike here
for 100 years,

and the union enjoyed
the protection of a closed shop

where contributions were
automatically deducted

from the workers' pay packets

and meetings were as rare
as a sunny day on a wet weekend.

Then it happened.


And the first place was
our lads in the sheet works.

They walked out at half past 11

over some minor discrepancy
in the payslip,

which was something that they'd been
complaining about for weeks.

But it just seemed to snowball,

like suddenly it burst like a
carbuncle that had been a festering.

Confrontational class-based politics

featured elsewhere in
the early Plays For Today.


A reconstruction of events
in Cornwall in 1913

pitched workers in the clay pits

against a special police force
brought in to help break a strike.


The key analysis that society
is based on class conflict

and that the ruling class exploits
and the working class is exploited,

and the struggle between
the oppressor and the oppressed,

the imperialists
and the colonised...

..that holds.

That was the politics that we got,

we were welcomed
and were drawn into,

and pleased to be so.

You probably remember in 1970,

the tremendous clothing strike
when 30,000 clothing workers

in the area of Leeds
and throughout Yorkshire,

and to some extent
in the North East,

came out on an unofficial strike
for a shilling an hour.

The strike lasted for five weeks.

It was something completely new.

Or at least new
in the clothing industry.

The most ambitious and
arguably the most radical

of the workplace Plays For Today

was based on
a recent strike in Leeds,

where the workers had come close
to winning all their demands.


You know, we didn't want to
substitute propaganda for quality,

and we wanted to do drama.

When we did drama, we did drama.

But I think none of us ever did
what we were accused of many times.

You know, propagandist, or
left-wing, you know, tub-thumping.

We really didn't do that.

Our characters lived,
and, you know, and...

..our stories...
were there to be scrutinised.

You know, "Are these just
being manipulated,

"or do they have internal life?"

And I really was, I know,

inspired by the Eisenstein,

you know, Pabst sense of film.

And, uh...

..Eisenstein had been
extremely important to me

when I was first trying

to get my feet on the ground
in film-making,

just cos there was no film school
or course on film-making.


Well, I must say,

I wish it was as easy to deal
with all the employees as that.

So, it seemed to me that
if the film...

..if we were going
to deliver a film,

you've got to sort of...
not explicate it,

but you've got to illuminate
what happened, you know?

What do you think you're doing?

I'm drawing up a statement
for the press.

They stampeded that vote, Joe.
Harry Gridley in his mob.

You know that, and you let him.

I could sense the mood
in the meeting, Maggie.

We didn't stand a chance.

Why didn't you get up
and say something?

Well, why didn't you?

You know as well as I do,

politics is the art
of the attainable.

And I was involved in inner politics

that was absolutely clear that
you have to go further.

You have to organise, you know,

that strength and turn it into
a proper instrument, and so on.

Invision comes tonight from Leeds,
a city that provided the backdrop

to the highly controversial
Play For Today Leeds United,

shown on BBC One last night.

Today, Leeds has been talking
about little else.

The critics on the whole
enjoyed the play.

Even the right-wing national press
was full of praise this morning.

So I got away with Leeds United,
and then I got

just a couple of half-hour
studio plays after that.

And I reached a point by 1975
where I was...

I'd been just out of work,

you know, and there wasn't
anything coming in.

And I heard from other people
that people had wanted me to do

stuff, but they were warned off.

By '76, I was one of
several people -

and Roy Battersby was another,

and Tony, in a different way,
was another -

were being fingered by the unseen,
sinister forces

of people, from whatever
intelligence unit it was,

had to lean on the BBC and say,
"Watch these people.
They're trying to cause trouble."

Routine political vetting by MI5
of applicants to the BBC

started in the mid 1930s.

As late as 1984, the BBC was being
advised by the security

services to refuse employment
to those found to have been a member

of the Communist Party,

the Socialist Workers Party,
or the Workers Revolutionary Party.

I was told by somebody who worked
in personnel that we, you know,

we all had our personnel files

and that, if you were suspicious,

you were a troublemaker
or wherever it was, you had...

There was, in order not to put
anything in writing,

they had a Christmas tree
in the top right-hand corner

of your file.
Apparently, I had five!


So you sort of knew.

And of course, it...it worked.

I mean, I was blacklisted
and I'm not making... I...

I made my own choices
about politics,

and I'm not... The struggle,
you know,

the class society is the
class society and, er...

I'm sorry, because I know I would
have...I would have continued

directing and that would have
been good, I think, you know.

As it was,
I had to kind of fight my way back.

When Play For Today began,
the Second World War had ended

only 25 years before.
The 1945 to '51 Labour government,

committed to renewal
and reform, had been out of power

for less than two decades.

Certainly the writers who I was
working with and my friends

and the world, the universe
that I occupied was a universe

that believed in the promise
of the '45 government.

That's what informed our work
and our work in the theatre.

So that extended into television.

But, of course, the writers
that I commissioned - writers

like Trevor Griffiths,
like Ian McEwan -

were writers who were associated
with policies of the left.

But they're all too good writers
to think that

simply putting left polemic on

was either valuable or

Another great act,
the administration of 1945 to '51.

Now there, surely, if nowhere else.

I make no mention of my own part,

but look at the record
some time objectively.

If I may borrow a very overused
word from you for a moment.

Now, look, we said we must
have full employment

and we had it for the first time
in history outside of wars.

We said we must control
the commanding heights of industry.

So we took coal, the railways,
transport, gas, electricity, iron

and steel into public ownership.

We said we must have a say
in how the country was financed

so we nationalised the
Bank of England.

And underpinning all this,

we created a caring society
where a person was entitled

to a good education, to health
service, national assistance

and pensions as of right.

The extended welfare state, created
by the 1945 Labour government,

was engaged with and examined
in plays for today

about the health service,
about education,

and about the effects
of urban planning.

Important, too, was a sense
of the post-war betrayal

of the true tenets of socialism.

A real social revolution
would have committed itself

to be irreversible destruction
of capitalism and the social order

formed and maintained by it.

A real social revolution

would have affected the major
redistribution of wealth in favour

of the labouring masses. A real
social revolution

would have smashed the bourgeois
state apparatus

and begun the creation of
a people's state.

Writers set out to understand
the defeat

of the potential of 1945

and to delve back into the war
years to examine the myths

that had accrued over three decades.

Licking Hitler was an attempt
to, as it were, diagnose

what had happened in the Second
World War, and why we were telling

ourselves lies about what had
happened in the Second World War.

And when I met Sefton Delmer,
who had run black propaganda

during the Second World War,
I had been absolutely astonished

to find that there was a filthy,
lying, deliberately misleading

operation in which the enemy
was to be tricked

by lies being told by the British.

The game is we're a radio station
broadcasting to Germany. Yes.

My job is to script the broadcasts,
your job is to interpret them.

I see.

Interpret them? Propaganda.


It was about the fact
that this black propaganda unit

belied the myth that the Second
World War had been fought

in this uniquely clean way,
which is what every British film

had said, more or less
from 1945 until Licking Hitler.


At the heart of the film is the
intense, abusive yet intimate

relationship between the upper
class unworldly Anna Seaton

and the brilliant working-class
Scot Archie Maclean.

And in the end, Archie tells
a lie and she has to go.

She has to leave. He tells a lie
about her

and she gets sacked from the group.

And there is this wonderful
speech right at the end.

It's kind of voiceover about
the English and lies.

The narrator dispassionately
recounts what happened to each

of the characters in the years
after the war, including Archie,

who had gone on to make social
realist films that sentimentalised

memories of his harsh childhood.

I thought the British probably,
you know, had a gift for lying

and it seemed to me so clear
that the establishment,

having to justify its continued
existence once the empire had gone,

could only justify its extraordinary
self-importance through lying.

Anna enjoyed a career in advertising
and was a researcher

for the Labour Party before largely
withdrawing from society.

After seeing one of Archie's films,

she wrote to him for the first
time since 1942.

It is only now that I fully
understand the events that passed

between us so many years ago.

You must allow for my ignorance.

I was born into a class
and at a time that protected me

from even a trance acquaintance
with the world.

But since that first day at

I have been trying to learn,

trying to keep faith with the shame
and anger I saw in you.

In retrospect, what you sensed
then has become blindingly clear

to the rest of us.

That whereas we knew exactly
what we were fighting against,

none of us had the whisper
of an idea

as to what we were fighting for.

Over the years, I have been watching
the steady impoverishment

of people's ideals, their loss
of faith.

The line, the daily inveterate line.

The 30-year-old deep, corrosive
national habit of lying.

And I have remembered you.

I have remembered the one lie
you told...to make me go away.

And now, at last, I've come
to understand why you told it.

I loved you then,
and I love you now.

For 30 years, you have been
the beat of my heart.

Please, please,

tell me it is the same for you.

He never replied.

And obviously, you know, it has not
been very pleasant in the last

ten years to see the habit of lying,
with ideas of empire returning

again and British independence
and lies about the Second World War

returning again.
We are back with the myth.

Television drama has always
had close links with both

the film industry and the theatre.

Nearly 30 plays for today
were adaptations of scripts

written for the stage, including
one of the best remembered of all.

Hello, Beverly. Hi!

Oh, what a lovely dress. Thanks!

Were we meant to wear long?

No, no, it's just informal,
you know.

This is my husband, Tony.

How do you do? Pleased to meet you.

How'd you do? He's got a firm
handshake, hasn't he?

Yes. Fantastic.

Like to come through? Thanks.

Abigail's Party is a story
outside the play for today's story,

really, because it was a stage play.

Mike Leigh made a sequence
of brilliant films for

Play For Today, including
the story of Candice-Marie

and Keith camping in Dorset.

A tale of a bashful mortician's
assistant, Trevor, and a chronicle

of class divisions among
the employees at a brokerage firm.

But with his then wife,
Alison Steadman,

he also created a hugely successful
comedy for Hampstead Theatre.

Alison Steadman's pregnancy ruled
out a transfer to the West End,

so Margaret Matheson suggested
taking it into a studio

for Play For Today.

Absolutely out of the question.
It is a play, it's a theatre play.

It does not belong on television.
I'm a film-maker.

I don't want to do anything
in the studio.

And I was talked into it. Everybody
said, "You're mad. Let's do it."

Laurence, would you put
a record on for us, please?

Yes, surely.
What would we like to hear?

Demis Roussos. No, Beverly!

We don't want to listen to that fat
Greek caterwauling all night.

I certainly didn't imagine
it was going to

become an iconic piece of work.

Frankly, successful as it was
and much as everybody loves it,

I can't watch it.
It's a technical, visual mess.

But, of course, nobody's
concerned about that.

What they're concerned with is
the resonance of the performances.

And here were actors who were
so solid in it that they just gave

these amazing performances
in front of five cameras.


You don't mind me mauling
your husband, do you, Ange?

No! You go ahead.

Go on, dance with Laurence.
No, I can't.

Course you can. Get up and dance!

Don't worry, Ange, you'll be
quite safe with Laurence.

He won't rape you.

Do you want to dance?

Abigail's Party's precisely
pitched satirical portrait

of the aspirational materialism
of the middle classes, has attracted

as many brickbats as bouquets.

I'm not very good at...

Writing as a critic, Dennis Potter
described the play

as a prolonged jeer,
twitching with genuine hatred.

Do you want to dance with us?
No, thank you.

I don't think it's relevant for me

or any other dramatist or

to be concerned in a conscious,
manipulative way

about whether you have to make
the audience sympathise

with a character or find the
character abhorrent.

I mean, you know, we put the world,
put life, put people on the screen

without slogans, and the audience
has to decide

what he or she or they
want to make of it, really.

Play For Today also showcased
a radically different approach

to adapting a theatre show
for the small screen.

Shot across the Scottish Highlands,

The Cheviot, The Stag
And The Black, Black Oil

brought together 7:84's
touring show in a village hall

with costume drama reconstructions

and documentary film of
recent events.

# La, la, la, la, la, la, la

# La, la, la, la, la, la, la

# La, la, la, la, la, la, la

# La, la, la, la, la, la, la...

# As the rain on the hillside
comes in from the sea

# La, La, La, La, La, La...

# All the blessings of life
were eight hours from me

# La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la...

# So, if you'd abandon
your own misery

# You'd open the door
to the oil industry

# There's money a barrel of oil
in the sea

# All waiting for drilling
and piping to me...#

For the film,
director, John McKenzie,

reconstructed as a
location-shot drama,

key moments in 200 and more
years of exploitation

of the Highlands
by the English aristocracy.

He wove these together,
with the play being performed

to a Highland audience
to create a compelling tale

of capital, the Clearances
and Cheviot sheep.

And as the play spoke
of continuing exploitation,

now by American oil interests

and the Conservative government
down South,

Mackenzie intercut contemporary
news footage.

# Conoco, Aramco, Shell, Esso,

# Texaco, British

# Conoco, Aramco, Shell, Esso,

# Texaco, British Petroleum

# Conoco, Aramco, Shell, Esso,

# Texaco, British

# Conoco, Aramco, Shell, Esso,

# Texaco, British Petroleum

# There's job and there's prospects

# So, please, have no fears

# There's a building of oil rigs

# And houses and piers

# There's a boom time a-coming

# Let's celebrate! Cheers! #

Well, the Highlands will be my
lands in just four or five years.

The 1970s were years of crisis,
not just for the country,

but for the mainstream
British cinema industry.

With dwindling audiences,

competition from television
and cuts to state funding.

The truth is, was, that
time that you couldn't...

There was no indigenous
serious British cinema.

I mean, there was an industry.
mostly used by the Americans

or to make very, very
commercial product.

But, serious indigenous
cinema was impossible.

And the aphorism
that came out of that moment

was the British film industry
is alive and well

and living in television.

Drama films were being
made elsewhere in television,

but Play for Today was an especially
congenial context

for leading talents,
including Alan Clark,

who consistently pushed the
boundaries of the possible.

For Penda's Fen, he brilliantly
realised a deeply disturbing dream.


The cliche that Play for Today
would be every week

about some depressing aspect
of everything that was worst

about British society
was just completely untrue.

And you'd have a poet
like David Rudkin,

doing a play like Penda's Fen,

which was just wild, crazy
and not in any known genre

and formerly very experimental,

far more experimental than anything

that was going on
in the British cinema.

It was about a sixth-former,

which sounds like, you know,

death for a drama and his problems
with his sexuality,

but also with his love of music and
also his intellectual growth.

And it was set, again, because
we were a regional drama,

it was set against the Malvern Hills
and Elgar's music.

You have to be born in us.

Then you become pure light.

No. No!

I am nothing pure!

Nothing pure.

My race is mixed.

My sex is mixed.

I am woman and man.

Light with darkness.



I am nothing special, nothing,
nothing pure!

I am mud and flame!

If we can't have him,
darkness must not.


Concerned with history and myth,

Christianity and
romantic literature,

politics and gender and landscape...


..Penda's Fen is perhaps
the most extraordinary

and fantastical of all
Plays for Today.

There, you have seen your true
dark enemies of England.

Sick father and mother, who would
have us children forever.

King Penda.

With Play for Today expected to be
contemporary and controversial,

censorship skirmishes
were inevitable

and a number of dramas overstepped
the BBC boundaries of good taste

and the politically permissible.

Two completed dramas
were banned outright,

although both have subsequently
been screened by the BBC.

If you are a nervous type
out there,

switch over or off
for some calmer air.

But you have to be smug
or very frail,

to believe that no man
has a horn or tail.

People would say and people still
say, "Well, why did they ban it?

And I would say, say the same
thing now.

Well, it's about a young man, who,
incidentally, is the Devil,

who cons his way into a rather
sad suburban front room,

where they're looking after
their daughter,

who's been in a motor accident,

and he fucks her back to life.

You still want to know
why it was banned?



Cheque book in bureau,
eh, Pattie?


Jewellery in bedroom.


Shh! Keep still now.

Keep the gold Krugerrands in the
chest of drawers.


Cashpoint card, check card, credit
card, oh, it all mounts up, baby.

Now, why don't people accept evil
when they're offered it?

Still, you do.

No choice, eh?

WHISPERING: No noise, now.

No noise.


Evil, I wish to demonstrate,

often speaks in sentimental
religiose sanctimonious terms.

I think that is the characteristic
religious approach

of shallow-minded people
of our time,

so that religion is a yucky,
unctuous thing,

which you don't actually want
to know about,

and I simply wanted to demonstrate
that that was the way,

quote, the devil, unquote,
the sense of evil

would actually be addressing us.

I mean, it broke taboos in a most,
most extraordinary way,

and in the most defiant and loving

and self-destructive way,

but like so much of what Dennis did,
in the self destruction

was his salvation

and the message was always,
you know,

that the pennies may come
from heaven.

Today, the BBC itself has been
in the news,

as you've probably read
in the papers.

Alasdair Milne, BBC Television's
managing director,

and Bill Cotton, the controller
of BBC One,

have banned a play, already filmed
at a cost of £120,000.

It was originally to have been
transmitted last November.

The play's author, Roy Minton,
disagrees with the ban,

so does Margaret Matheson,
its producer,

who took the unusual step
of defying the BBC

and showing a copy to Fleet Street's
television critics, last Friday.

On my first day,
on the fifth floor of the BBC

as the producer of Play for Today,

I was sitting in the office

"Gosh, OK, here are the slots.
What now?".

Along comes Alan Clarke and
gives me the script of Scum

and asked me to read it.

The play itself, and we obviously
can't show you an extract,

is called Scum.

Set in a borstal, it's
described by its author,

as hard, violent and disturbing.

Carlin, the main
character, is allowed

to dominate the other inmates
by the borstal officers.

It's their way of ruling, and they
reward him with special privileges.

It was a fantastic
piece of writing

and certainly a story
that should be told

in the sense of, if borstal
was really like that,

then the more people that know,
the better.

You know, can we live with ourselves
if we treat children like that?

You know, it was tough to make.

It was made...
It was filmed in Redhill,

in a former old folks' home,

which was a pretty grim building

and I mean, obviously adapted by us
to be more like a prison.

The exact order of events
I don't remember,

but we soon found
ourselves talking to Alistair Milne,

and we were asked to make cuts,


..with a view to ensuring
that the film was transmitted.

We agreed to make certain cuts.

There's a scene,
in which Carlin swings...

billiard balls in a sock

and we were to remove the moment
of impact.

Carry on.

Which you can debate forever,
whether it's...

OK, that was an easy
enough cut to make.

There is a rape in the greenhouse...
What do you want?

..and we shortened its duration.

I'll tell you what we want.


And there were two suicides,

and, in a sense, this was
probably the biggest edit.

We took out one of the suicides.

This was to satisfy...

..their... You know,
Alisdair, and the rest...

Their view that there were
too many incidents,

crammed in too short a space of
time for it to be credible.

You know, in other words, the
nature of dramatic fiction.

Wakey-wakey, Davis.

Right, Davis. Governor's report.

Back in your rooms! Come on, back in
your rooms. Put 'em in there!

Bang them up, Mr Greaves!
Move it, Archer!


Eat or it goes in the bins!

So, we made those cuts,
but the meetings with Alasdair...

..continued, and...

..eventually, the decision was made
that it would not be shown.



Carlin, eat!




Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!

Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!

Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!

But that wasn't made public.

And at that point,
I arranged for

invited press critics to see it,

in the Coronet Theatre
in Wardour Street.

And then, you know, kind of the shit
hit the fan, really.

Alisdair Milne.
Why did you ban the play?

On two counts, really.

First, that it is an extraordinarily
violent piece.

and probably one of the
most violent we've ever made,

and violence can be dealt
with in many ways,

and can be handled in terms
of dramatic expression,

in many ways also.

That troubled me a great
deal when I first saw it,

but more importantly,
I think, is the point

that Peter made in his article
this morning, actually.

The question I asked at the start,
of what truth

is this a dramatic expression?

Alan Clarke, it's been said that
the reason that Scum was banned,

was because it was an inaccurate
picture of a borstal,

a distortion of what a borstal is
like. What would you say to that?

Well, I don't deny that completely,
cos it was...

..just well known now that it was
based on about 80 interviews,

put together, written as a play.
It is a play.

It is not a documentary.

It's been such a lot of, I think,
rubbish talked about,

what's a drama? What's a drama?

Drama, documentaries and things
like that.

The thing is, documentary
is people...

..is one in which people
portray themselves.

And the drama is one
in which actors are paid to portray

other people, Scum was the latter.


By rights, I should have been fired,
but that didn't happen.

In fact, I think my kind of street
cred went up a lot and the BBC...

..didn't, didn't take me on

because there
were other productions still...

..in the works.

MUSIC: A Message To You Rudy
by The Specials

A reckoning with the end
of the British Empire was central

to the politics of the 1970s.

Debates about immigration and race
informed a number of key

Plays For Today,
including David Edgar's Destiny -

a wide ranging study
of the dangers of racism.

It was a very strong piece of work
which went right to the heart

of a debate that was raging
at the time about immigration.

And so to have a play
that so articulately examined

the origins and the state,
if you like, of the nation...

..on that subject...

..seemed that's what
Play For Today was for.

NEHRU: At the stroke
of the midnight hour

when the world sleeps,
India will awake

to life and freedom.

Destiny begins in India on the eve
of independence, before chronicling

the events of a Birmingham
by-election in 1977

in which the candidate
for the Fascist Nation Forward Party

makes a strong showing.

The campaign is shaped in part by
an industrial dispute at a factory

where immigrant workers
are a majority.

One of the union organisers
has a chilling warning

for those who are not prepared
to express their solidarity

with their Asian colleagues.

Cos first it'll be
the blacks and Asians,

then the Jews and Irish.

Now, this isn't in these
speeches - this is true.

And then, it'll be the unions.

Oh, make no mistake.

The Labour Party, that will go.

The others, too.

All in the interests of the nation,
and to save the nation...

..they'll destroyed the nation.

All of it, except themselves.

And if we let them...

..we've got ourselves to blame.

Our fault.

We turned our back.

When they said you've got
to look at life outside London

and you've got to look at
contemporary Britain stuff,

you could not turn a blind eye
to the fact that our cities

had changed, particularly
Birmingham, but lots of them.

And television drama
was not reflecting that.

Despite the vibrancy of black
and Asian theatre in the 1970s,

Play For Today
offered relatively few major roles

for non-white actors,

just as was also the case
in television drama more broadly.

Nor were there many black
or Asian writers or creatives.

Of the 300 dramas in 14 years
of the series,

only three - or just 1% -

were even part-scripted
by non-white writers.

Barry Reckord's In The Beautiful
Caribbean was one of the early

Plays For Today
that was wiped after transmission.

Both of the other two were directed
by Horace Ove, who also co-wrote

The Garland and A Hole In Babylon.

It seems that the only opportunity
a black director has to make

a film
is always to deal with racism.

You know, when the white director
has a wider canvas, he can go make

a film about anything.

And I think black directors
would like that same opportunity.

A Hole In Babylon is based
on the events of what became known

as the Spaghetti House siege
in 1975, when three black men

attempted to rob the managers
of a group of restaurants.

The film links the crime with a
profound racial discrimination

faced by black communities and shows
how the men understood their actions

as, in part,
a form of black protest.

Come on, brah, let's be realistic.

You got a better plan?

Well, it's a lot of money,
all right.

But no guns.

Are you mad?

Why are you so worried about guns?

They kill people.

When the white man took
your great grandfather

from Africa to make him a slave,
what did he use?

The gun.
When he came to our land,

what did he use? The gun!

How do Smith and Vorster keep
control over southern Africa?

With a gun. When the white man use
the gun against us, they call

it law and order.

When we pick up a gun to take
back what he stole from us,

they call it terrorism.

We don't have to behave like them.

Then stay asleep!

When we did these things,
we wanted them to be good drama.

We didn't want them just to be
positive images,

cause drama's
not about positive images.

Most drama's about extremely
complex and difficult people.

And this whole story is really
about the Asian community,

first generation, second generation,
in Birmingham

and why Horace was the
right person to do this script,

because he'd go out on the street

and he'd have the actors,
the other cast,

and if he saw something strange
happening up in...yeah,

he'd involve them in that.

A divorced Muslim man marries
a second wife who has joined

him from India.

And in the end, she gets
deported because of being...

She didn't have all the papers,
which is very moving.

I wish... I wish you'd realise
what the hell you're putting

that poor woman through.

She's... Her marriage in doubt
and pregnant.

She'll be isolated by most
of the people in her village.

It's going to affect her state
of mind, not to mention

her unborn child.

Well, I'm sorry. The decision
doesn't lie in my hands.

Well, why can't we see the person
who make the decisions?

We have done everything possible
in the past one month.

Our MP has written
to the Home Secretary.

We've picketed outside
the Home Office.

We have done everything possible.

We have sent petition
after petition.

Our lawyer has tried to explain
how the whole

misunderstanding took place.

Look, stop wasting your time
and mine.

I'm sorry. Time's up now,
she can't stay any longer.

Come on.


While he was working on Play
For Today, Peter Ansorge also

produced Empire Road, the first
British television series

to be scripted, acted and directed
predominantly by black artists.

I got this call from a decent
producer of, of,

of Plays For Today, quite good.

And he said, "I've read about
this Empire Road thing."

"Yeah." "And you're absolutely going
to regret this for the whole

"of your life. He said,
"We talked about doing this once

"and we realised
it was not possible.

"First of all, you don't
have the actors, any black actor

"in this country's terrible.

"They won't turn up on time
for rehearsals and the audience

"will hate it.
You will regret this."

Now, he phoned me up...


..just to say that.

And it's puzzled me throughout my
life. Why?

That was more symptomatic.

And it's to do with the
fact that they'd never worked

with some like Horace.

MUSIC: Alternative Ulster
by Stiff Little Fingers

The endgame of Empire was also
played out across the Irish Sea

with British troops
deployed in Northern Ireland

after August 1969.

The conflict was important
in some 20 Plays For Today.

I got extremely fascinated with
Northern Ireland

by being involved with,
there was a minor piece that was one

of the early Plays For Today.

But I just happened to go to County
Cork for a couple of weeks

on location

and got a feeling of Ireland.

And there was Colin Welland, whose
relatives lived in County Mayo

three or four miles from the border.

And there was a perfect story,
which was a little bit dependent

on the story of Kes, which Colin had
been a cast member of

about a boy whose parents

are killed in Belfast and
who is relocated to an even more

dangerous part of Southern Ireland.

And that gave me an appetite
for borders, for the imaginative

resources of that, and also
for its sheer political fascination

with the current political turmoil.

So it was something that just,
it just preoccupied me intensely

for several years.

The dominant theme of the
Plays For Today set in Ireland

is the human toll of The Troubles.

And this takes precedence
over attempts to reach

a political understanding.

In Shadows On Our Skin,

Joe, a boy from a Catholic family

befriends an English schoolteacher,

Joe's world is shaped by his
alcoholic father's past

with the IRA and by a city in which
violent conflict

is an everyday occurrence.

Eventually, Joe betrays a secret
entrusted to him by Kathleen,

which leads to her being attacked
by Joe's jealous

Republican brother.

You're going away?

I'm only bringing
my clothes and books.

Don't want anything else.

Thrown out all the clothes
I was wearing last night.

If I had the money, I'd throw out
everything I owned yesterday.

You shouldn't have come!

I wanted to go away from here
hating everybody very much.

Please don't go.

Come here...

I always meant to give you that.


That's my taxi.

Is it all my fault?

Don't suppose it was.

One day...

One day it'll all be different.

The British Army is also a constant
presence in one of the first dramas

to be shot on the streets
of Belfast -

a tale of two young women navigating
the challenges of the city

during one wintry day and night.

One of the strengths of Stuart
Parker and John Bruce's film

is its vivid sense of everyday
living and loving in the midst

of the conflict.

The Troubles in Belfast also framed
the acclaimed Billy trilogy

by Graham Reid, made for BBC
Northern Ireland in the final years

of Play For Today.

The dramas explored tensions
and violence in a Protestant

working class family.

Come on, Dad.

Leave it for the night.

You go on up to bed and
I'll bring you up some tea.

Shove your tea up your arse!

You're always on his side.

He's in the wrong,
but you won't admit it.

No. It's always my fault.

Tell him! Why didn't you
tell him he's in the wrong?

Me in the wrong? What are you
moaning about you drunken eejit?

You haven't been up to
see my ma' for over a week!

Your ma'?!

You and her and your ma'!

I wish the whole bloody
lot of you had cancer.

I wish you were all bloody dying.

I go out to work every day.

Your ma' never knew what it was
like to have a broken pane. No.

But she knew what it's like to have
a broken jaw and a broken nose.

I'm warning you!

I'm bloody warning you.

Why wouldn't you let her
run off with her insurance man?

Oh, for goodness' sake, Billy!

He was a better bloody man than you!
Least he appreciated her.

But you couldn't take that.

Well, she loved him.

She despised you, but she loved him!

Billy's father's attack on him
is intercut with a fight from years

before when he discovered
his wife's infidelity

with a travelling salesman.

I'll kill him!



You ever heard lift your hand to me
again, I'll break your bloody leg!


Get up!

Get out this
house before I bloody kill you!





MUSIC: Tainted Love
by Soft Cell

# Sometimes I feel
I've got to...run away

# I've got to... #

Throughout the 1970s, questions
of sexuality and gender, once seen

as essentially personal matters,
were increasingly understood

as political concerns.

Play For Today responded
with a handful of dramas

about gay lives and a portrait of
a young adult recognising

they are transgender in the language
of the time, transsexual.

I have known transsexuals reach
50 without understanding.

I've seen them die without

Steven is young!

If you care, let him be happy,
let him do it.


After the hormone treatment,
he'll get...

He will be so changed physically

..I'm sure the
operation will be a mere detail.

Mother, it means I can start.

I've got something to
look forward to.

Ha, sure!

And as feminism became increasingly
central to the lives

of British women and of some men

Play For Today presented
more stories about women's lives

that were written and directed by
women and by men, too.

I had read Ian McEwan's First
Love, Last Rites, and I asked him

if he would write a drama.

He said, I want to write a piece
about the position of women

and it's going to be set in the war
and it's going to be about a woman

who wants to fight and is prevented
from playing her part in the fight

against fascism
merely by the fact she's a woman.

You know...

..on anti-aircraft units,
the AGS girls are never allowed

to fire the guns.

Their job is to operate
the rangefinder.


If the girls fired the guns
as well as the boys...

If...if girls fired guns and women
generals planned the battles...

..then the men would find
there was no morality to it all.

There'd be no-one to fight for.

Nowhere to leave their...


The war would appear to them
as savage and as pointless

as it really is.

The men want the women to stay
out of the fighting

so they can give it meaning.

As long as we remain on the outside

and give our support
and don't kill...

..the women
make the war just possible.

Something the men can feel
tough about.

But I'm withdrawing my support.

Well, it hardly matters because
we're going to keep you locked up.

Such was the world of television
four decades ago,

that out of 300 Plays For Today,
only a dozen

were actually directed by a woman.

Five were entrusted
to the experienced Moira Armstrong,

who had also directed productions
for the Wednesday Play.

The series did moderately better
in commissioning women writers,

especially in its later years.

I slipped one day in my house
and gave myself a black eye.

In fact, I think two black eyes

and I happened to be going to a

that same evening, and they came
up very quickly - big.

You know, real shiners.

And I found a very odd thing
happening -

that women looked at me

but then I gradually realised
it was because they thought

I'd been bashed.

The sort of slightly worse thing
was that some, only a few,

I'm not saying everyone...

But that was a sort of the edge
of "Ho-ho, that's what's going on."

Going to tell what colour his eyes
were? Bet you can remember that?

Tell me. I've no idea.

Go on, tell me what colour
his eyes were, tell me!

I didn't notice.
I think he was wearing glasses.

You think he was wearing glasses
do you?

You don't remember
what colour his eyes were.

But you think he
was wearing glasses?

Yes, I think he was.
Michael, you're hurting.

Do you think I feel so good about
seeing you spend the whole evening

with somebody else, obviously
enjoying their company a lot

more than mine,
even looking quite happy.

Which you never live with me
any more!

Do you think that doesn't hurt ME?
It's not the same thing.

You're hurting me physically!

So your body is more important
than my mind, is it?

I didn't say that, I just said
that you were hurting!

I'll look and see if the children
are all right.

So the children are more important
than me?!

I want to talk to my wife!

You think more about those bloody
little children than anything.

I can't think why you bothered
to marry me.

You should have had
artificial insemination.

Would it be just as good
and you'd probably have enjoyed it

a lot more too!
You dried-up old stick!

No interest, nothing!

You don't even exist.


You'll wake the children. I'll wake
my own bloody children if I want to!

Are those children more important
than me? What about my right?


What do you want?

You haven't a clue
about my problems, have you?

You haven't got
a clue about my problems!


I just had this ordinary couple.

And something was going on,
but actually it leads to a huge

tragedy, although it's so tiny,
the steps are small.

And the thing about it,
the worst thing about it for me,

is as the husband starts gradually

escalating his violence
towards his wife,

SHE is the one who feels guilty.

She is one, who at the end,
is blaming herself for it

while he is in denial.

WEAKLY: It's my fault.

OK, can we get a few minutes of

Some oxygen.


I'd like to just remember
my last meeting with my HR...

When I was leaving after through
the night, eight months pregnant

with twins saying,

"Off to have children now."

And the...

I can still remember his little
giggle, as he said...

I then worked consistently
for the BBC for about nine years

and he said, "The legislation
to commit to having your job held

"for you has gone through
Parliament, but hasn't yet received

"the Royal Assent," he said,

"so I hope you understand that?"

And I was very taken aback and I
didn't want to come instantly back,

but I've never forgotten it.

I've thought of it when there
are sort of furrowed brows and

"why aren't there any women in the
top echelons of the BBC?"

I've remembered that moment.

This one's called... Maggie,
Maggie, Maggie! Out, out, out!

On May 3rd 1979, British
politics changed fundamentally

with the election of a conservative
government under Margaret Thatcher.

Deregulation and an enthusiastic
embrace of the market

would be the new order of the day.

Play For Today was also changing.

Many more producers contributed
dramas, diluting the left liberal

consensus that had shaped the series

and the strand's response
to the new political reality

was cautious and tentative.

In 1981, one major film did set out
to diagnose the state of the nation

from the perspective that had been
so important to Play For Today.

United Kingdom came about because
I was friendly with Roland Joffe

and I suppose we were trying
very immodestly to tell a story

about this nation.

And I thought there was one area
of the kingdom that nobody made

a self-conscious political
film about, and that was Tyneside.

United Kingdom is an expansive tale
of a clash between the state

and residents of a housing
association attempting to resist

rent rises and cuts in services.

In one scene, the region's Chief
Constable addresses a conference

about the future of policing.

And recent events,
and I'm sad to say this,

lead me to suppose
that this popular support

we've always taken for granted

is quietly
and insidiously being eroded.

I'm going to surprise you here.

I'm going to illustrate just
what I mean.

We're at the crossroads.

This is the police image
that you and I grew up with.

You know, the lad who saw us
across the road, outside school?

We all knew him, didn't we, as kids.

But this is the police image of some
parts of today's troubled society.

Is this to become the norm
of our era?

And what of the future?

What is the image of the police
that will be most familiar

to our children's children?

Will it be this?


The community must realise
that if we can't police this nation

with their support or consent,
we will, like our colleagues

across the Channel here,
be forced...

..onto the offensive.

Right, thank you, lads.

Eventually, the police move
into the housing estate at night,

breaking down the barricades
erected by the residents.

The next morning... The thing is,
I mean, what do you get?

You get mums and dads and grannies
and grandads, they always did

what they were told.

We'd been
taught to do was our grandparents

and our parents did.

If we did that,
what would our kids do?

They'd just do exactly what we did.

So we've made a stand so that our
kids can ask why, they can ask

questions when they're older
and they're the community.

They can ask questions.

That's what it's all about.

Chief Constable, would you care
to comment on last night?

Well, as you know, we find
ourselves as the men in the middle.

And I think under very trying

we acquitted ourselves well.

There's been some criticism
that your methods were

a little heavy handed
under the circumstances. Yes.

Well, this was
an area where the rule of law

and peace had to be re-established,
and I think it was done.

And I think any fair minded
person would be happy with that.

Do you not see this as being...?

RECORDING: The only way
that we are going to solve

the deterioration of our situation

is through social change,
not by the imposition of a baton

and a riot shield. Not that.

So, what happens next?

Well, we'll take the struggle on.
We've just lit a beacon here.

This is the beginning, not the end.

And what you have in the
United Kingdom is that attempt,

both to play with the form and
defy philistinism in critics

and at the same time
to say something new.

Whether we said anything new,

I don't know, because it was
the very dawn of Thatcherism.

And probably from our point of view,

she hadn't been able to
get under way long enough

for us to be able to identify
what it was that was so appalling.

But it's a film I feel
a great deal of affection for.

When United Kingdom was
first screened, British television

for decades just the BBC and ITV,
was about to fragment,

as first Channel 4 and then
cable and satellite channels

came on air.

Funds for single plays
would be harder to find.

Mainstream ratings would be
ever more important.

I think they did depend on the idea
that you only had three choices

or two choices as to what
you could be watching that night.

But now, of course, we look back
and go, Oh, my God, eight million

watched a one-off play about
subjects about which they knew

absolutely nothing
and to which they were introduced

for the very first time.

And of course, that's revolutionary
and exciting.

And we knew it was,
nobody was in any doubt.

Everybody knew how lucky
we were to have this wonderful

institution called Play For Today.

So what has Play For Today
left behind?

37 of the early dramas no
longer exist.

Their recordings wiped to save
on shelf space and the costs

of tape stock.

A videotape tape.

On it, a recording of a play -
sound and vision.

Costing thousands to produce,
and now...



Gone forever, lost.

But there are 260 or so dramas.

For the most part original, truthful
and idiosyncratic

that form
a collective portrait of the world

and the politics and the ideas
of post-war Britain

and of what it was like to be alive
four decades ago.

Go on, Pauline. Close your eyes.

Close your eyes properly. All right.

Surprise, surprise!




TV: Britain...

No, no, don't!

We are right to rejoice
tonight at this great victory...

..of the people.

And it's right that for a short
time, we should relax.

But I want to remind you all
that when we've had this short

holiday, we have to turn
to work to win the peace...

..and we've won the war.


The qualities of unity,

putting the Commonwealth

before private interests
has to continue into peace...

..after the war.

And I want to tell you all
that we, in this country, have done

a great work in the war.

And we are going to face the

..of the peace with the same courage
we showed in the war.


I went. Yeah.

It's very ingenious.

They've got it in above where they
generally put the luggage.

You want to go.

I don't want to go.

That's your trouble.

No spirit of adventure.

I wonder where it goes.


You know!

I expect it's scattered
on the central reservation.


If anybody is in any doubt
in 2020 as to whether the BBC

should be scrapped or preserved,

they should look back to this
period we're talking about

where there was complete and proper,
respectable, creative and thematic

and therefore, political freedom

for people to express ideas
and explore and reflect society.

It's like leaving a bloody