John Wyver writes: with the 50th anniversary of the first Play for Today broadcast in 1970 fast approaching, and with our BBC Four documentary about the strand, Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today, scheduled at 21.00 on Monday 12 October, this is a page drawing together the various related activities. I aim to keep this updated (and welcome further suggestions), and once we’re past 15 October it may remain useful as a list of resources.
The events that I know about are listed in what I believe to be chronological order. Note also that, in addition to @Illuminations, the dedicated Twitter feed @PlayforToday_20 carries news as well as lively discussions about the series and individual productions, and I expect this to become even busier in the coming days.
The image above is of Bill Paterson in The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, featured in Drama Out of a Crisis and showing at BFI Southbank.
BFI at Home discussion
The BFI has posted a useful page detailing Play for Today events, and the BFI at Home online discussion which I chaired is now available on Youtube, and below. The distinguished guests are producer Ken Trodd, writers David Edgar and Jack Thorne, and BFI curator Lisa Kerrigan.
Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today, 21.00, Monday 12 October, BBC Four
Illuminations’ 90-minute documentary for BBC Four, which I have written and presented and which was edited by Todd MacDonald, will be broadcast, at 21.00 on Monday 12 October, and will then be available on BBC iPlayer for a year. I’ll be on Twitter that evening working #PlayforToday. I have also started to chronicle the production process in a series of posts on the Illuminations blog, ‘Starting Out’ here, ‘The Interviews’ here and ‘The Archive’ here.
Our first public response by someone who’s not a friend (although on the basis of this I’d like to claim him as such) was very heartening:
I am also about to open a separate page listing press articles and reviews, and once that is active I will link to it from here.
BBC Four screenings
Alongside Drama Out of a Crisis, around the time of the anniversary, BBC Four will screen a number of original Plays for Today, the details of which are still being confirmed. The first three broadcasts, however, are in the BBC Four schedules:
- 22.30, Monday 12 October , Trevor Griffiths’s Country, directed by Richard Eyre and produced by Ann Scott
- 21.00, Wednesday 14, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party
- 22.00, Tuesday 20, A Hole in Babylon, written by Jim Hawkins and Horace Ové, and directed by Horace Ové.
The BFI and BBC History have collaborated with BBC Canvas to prepare an online exhibition about Play for Today; more details on that, and a link, as soon as that is live..
‘Play for Today at 50′ symposium
On 14 October (in the early evening) and 15 October (through the day) an online symposium will consider the history of Play for Today, its cultural legacy and a number of the individual plays that were produced. The event is organised by John Hill, Professor of Media and Co-Director of the Centre for the History of Television Culture and Production at Royal Holloway, University of London and by me in my role as Professor of the Arts on Screen, University of Westminster.
The symposium will bring together a mix of television professionals and scholars, and participants will include the producers and directors Peter Ansorge, Richard Eyre, Piers Haggard, Margaret Matheson, Tara Prem and Ken Trodd as well as the writers and researchers Vicky Ball, John Cook, Katie Crosson, Simon Farquhar, John Hill, Eleni Liarou, Tom May and Jonny Murray.
Registration is free and all are welcome; further details and sign-up via Eventbrite here.
Archive on 4 documentary, Radio 4
Play for Today Blu-ray box-set, BFI
On 19 October BFI releases a Blu-ray box set of seven Plays for Today, listed below. The inclusion of ‘Volume 1’ in the title indicates that there will be more, which is a very welcome promise. Pre-order from the BFI here.
- The Lie (wr. Ingmar Bergman; dir. Alan Bridges, 1970)
- Shakespeare or Bust (wr. Peter Terson; dir. Brian Parker, 1973)
- Back of Beyond (wr. Julia Jones; dir. Desmond Davis, 1974)
- Passage to England (wr. Leon Griffiths; dir. John Mackenzie, 1975)
- Our Flesh and Blood (wr. Mike Stott; dir. Pedr James, 1977)
- A Photograph (wr. John Bowen; dir. John Glenister, 1977)
- Your Man from Six Counties (wr. Colin Welland; dir. Barry Davis, 1976)
In the November 2020 issue of Sight & Sound [£] Robert Hanks has written a detailed review of the box set, which also mentions Drama Out of a Crisis:
It’s a stimulating, thoughtful selection [of plays] and very welcome but also, in some respects, disappointing… What’s missing from this set is much sense of how confrontational, how hard Play for Today could be. Often it was the politics that were in your face; as Wyver’s documentary brings home – arguably hammers home – PfT was famous for its eagerness to tackle big, contentious issues… this Volume 1 has a lot to enjoy, put into context by an intelligently written booklet that has essays on each of the plays and overviews by Wyver and Marcus Prince. But I’m hoping for more toughness and intellectual excitement in Volume 2.
BFI Southbank season
In late October and through November BFI Southbank is presenting 8 programmes of big-screen showings from the strand; details and booking here. The screenings are:
- 22 October: Even Solomon (wr. Andrew Taylor; dir. Roger Bamford, 1979).
- 28 October: The Lie (wr. Ingmar Bergman; dir. Alan Bridges, 1970).
- 1 November: The Right Prospectus (wr. John Osborne; dir. Alan Bridges, 1970) + Brassneck (wr. Howard Brenton, David Hare, 1975).
- 7 November: Ladies (wr. Carol Bunyan; dir. Diarmuid Lawrence, 1980) + No Visible Scar (wr. Rosemary Davies; dir. Moira Armstrong, 1981).
- 14 November: Just Another Saturday (wr. Peter McDougall; dir. John Mackenzie, 1975) + Iris in the Traffic, Ruby in the Rain (wr. Stewart Parker; dir. John Bruce, 1981).
- 21 November: A Hole in Babylon (wr. Jim Hawkins, Horace Ové; dir. Horace Ové, 1979) + King (wr. Barrie Keeffe; dir. Tony Smith, 1984).
- 26 November: Destiny (wr. David Edgar; dir. Mike Newell, 1978).
- 30 November: The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (wr. John McGrath; dir. John Mackenzie, 1974).
Play for Today releases on Britbox US
Intriguing news, via Comingsoon.net, that the commercial online streaming service Britbox in the States is planning a Play for Today season from 13 October. Apparently the following 30 titles will be available to view: Abigail’s Party, A Cotswold Death, All Good Men, A Passage to England, A Photograph, Back of Beyond, Bar Mitzvah Boy, The Bevellers, The Black Stuff, Coming Out, Country, The Elephants’ Graveyard, The Executioner, The Fishing Party, Funny Farm, The Hallelujah Handshake, Hard Labour, Home Sweet Home, Jessie, Just Another Saturday, Just A Boy’s Game, King, Kisses at 50, Leeds United!, Nuts in May, The Other Woman, Penda’s Fen, Rainy Day Women, The Slab Boys, Soft Targets, Still Waters and Who’s Who.
While some of these titles have been available before, either on DVD like the Mike Leigh films and David Rudkin and Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen, or via the no-longer-with-us BBC Store like Coming Out and The Other Woman, a fair number, including the brilliant films Leeds United!, written by Colin Welland and directed by Roy Battersby, and Country, written by Trevor Griffiths and directed by Richard Eyre, will (I believe) be publicly available for the first time. Here’s the online trail for the season, the style of which makes a fascinating contrast with that of Drama Out of a Crisis:
Which of course prompts the question of whether – if the rights can be cleared for US streaming – will Britbox UK be offering a similar selection on subscription in the land where the TV licence fee paid for them to be produced?
And finally… here’s an intensely evocative series trail for Play for Today, BBC1, 11 October 1977, courtesy of the invaluable Kaleidoscope:
All of which is a rich range of events, but what have I missed?