Drama Out of a Crisis: A Celebration of Play for Today

Our documentary on the iconic BBC series Play for Today. Broadcast on BBC 4.

Play for Today was a series of single dramas broadcast by BBC Television between 1970 and 1984. These were 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 on BBC1 to audiences numbered in millions. Many of the best actors, writers and directors of the time contributed to the series, with some of the best-remembered broadcasts being Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills and the strange fantasy Penda’s Fen, written by Alan Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke.

Play for Today was contemporary, often controversial and occasionally censored. But it was immensely varied, showcasing 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.

Marking the fiftieth anniversary of the first Play for Today in October 1970, the film is a celebration of the series, told by a number of its producers, directors and writers. It explores the origins of the series, its achievements and its controversies. Presenting a rich range of often surprising archive extracts, the film features interviews with, among others, producers Kenith Trodd, Margaret Matheson and Richard Eyre, filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, and writer and director David Hare.

Consultants: Simon Farquhar, Ian Greaves

Graphic design: Ian Cross

Edited by Todd MacDonald

Written and directed by John Wyver

An Illuminations production for BBC

Blog posts:
Making ‘Drama…’ 1. Starting out
Making ‘Drama…’ 2. The Interviews
‘Play for Today’: 50 years on
Making ‘Drama…’ 3. The Archive
Making ‘Drama… 4’. The Graphics
Watching ‘Drama…’: The Press
Making ‘Drama…’ 5: The Style