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The Wednesday Play

Alex Young is a small, quiet man. He looks delicate and tentative. But on a football field, when things are going well for him, he’s a giant. The tough men of Goodison Park catch their breath and their faces relax and open up when he touches the ball. Alex is not a bit flash. He is precise and elegant and subtle. Only sophisticates like Joe Horrigan really appreciate him. To them he is the golden vision. Joe and the men like him are married to Alex and the Everton team. It is a volatile marriage, but divorce is never even thought of. Life is football-to be talked about, dreamt of all the week and embraced on Saturday …

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Ken Loach,
  • Writers: Neville Smith, Gordon Honeycombe

Ken Tynan Article 1968

Ken Tynan ArticleFrom THE OBSERVER Dated Sunday 9th June 1968

SHOUTS AND MURMURS

Kenneth Tynan

An ancient doctrinal dispute has lately been revived at the BBC Television Centre. It has to do with Artistic Categories, and is being conducted with all the hair-splitting passion that pamphleteers and polemicists wasted on the same subject four centuries ago. It arose out of ‘Five Women,’ written by Tony Parker, produced by Tony Garnett and directed by Roy Battersby for the Wednesday Plays.

The author had spent hundreds of hours tape-recording conversations with five female ex-convicts classified by the law as habitual criminals. He appears in the film as a self-effacing interviewer, gently nudging the women into delivering what emerge as five sustained autobiographical monologues. – The quizzed quintet are played by professional actresses, who soaked themselves in Parker’s material and then improvised their answers to his questions. There are no flashbacks, and the interviews take place out of prison, mostly in shabby bedsitters. The style is naturalism pushed to its logical extreme—the total suspension of disbelief.

And this is what caused the fuss. Huw Wheldon, Controller of Programmes, refused to show the film because he felt that it blurred the dividing line between fact and fiction: viewers might be in danger of mistaking it for reality. In other words, it was too well acted to be tolerable as art. (I should add that there’s no parallel with ‘The War Game’ or Orson Welles’s Martian broadcast: nobody has suggested that ‘Five Women’ might plunge the nation into chaos.)

Tony Garnett, who ran into similar trouble with his productions of ‘Cathy Come Home’ and ‘In Two Minds,’ replied that the credits clearly stated the author’s name and identified the women involved as actresses. But Wheldon was adamant. He clung (and still clings) to a simplistic argument that hasn’t been seriously invoked since certain puritans and neo-classicists used it to attack the Elizabethan theatre. It runs as follows: playwrights are essentially liars, and the cleverer they arc. the more we should beware of them, because they present their perversion of reality as if it were the truth.

This is just what Roy Battersby’s actresses do in ‘Five Women.’ I saw it last week at a private screening: what chances it offers the girls, and how thrillingly they seize them! Bella Emberg as the burly lesbian who occasionally slashes her wrists ‘to let the badness out of me’; Edith Macarthur as the prim Scottish confidence trickster who always gives her real name to her victims because ‘I’m not a liar’; Cleo Sylvestre. bubbling with pure, unresentful laughter as she describes her progress from one approved school to another; Natalie Kent, stolidly knitting in middle age, incestuously seduced in puberty; Fionnuala Flanagan, as the Irish girl whose man got himself married and murdered while she was still in jail.

They blame only themselves: none of them feels inhumanly treated, either by society or the law. Its very lack of explicit indignation is what makes the film such a memorable indictment. To ban it because it violates a discredited sixteenth-century dogma would be a ludicrous impertinence.

ANOTHER admirable British film that has yet to find an outlet is ‘The Committee,’ an independen production directed by Peter Syke and based on a chilling fable by Max Steuer. Its length (58 minutes) is inexplicably offensive to commercial distributors; and its style (polished professional realism) abhorrent to such addicts of underground cinema as Michael Kustow. Although discernibly influenced by Harold Pinter, R. D. Laing, Kafka and recent Czech movie like ‘Joseph Kilian,’ the film has a savage narrative life of its own In a summery glade, a cool hitch hiker (Paul Jones) casually be-heads a man who has given hin a lift. Soon afterwards, Jones is summoned to join a mysterious ‘committee,’ convened in a country house by the people who exercise power. It seems that he has ‘a contrary imagination.’ The smiling young director of the committee cross-questions him:–
Director: Some people think that the criminals and the mad are the real heroes.

Jones: Why not, in a corrupt world ? . . .

Director: But in a reasonable society ?

Jones: There arc no criminals.

Director: So one criminal act, could turn a reasonable society into an unreasonable one ?

Oblique, open-ended, the film is about the implications of that one criminal act. There is music by the Pink Floyd, and a macabre cabaret intrusion by Arthur Brown. ‘The Committee’ should thrive on the major circuits: let the art-houses wait their turn.
IS THEATRE an art form worthy of public subsidy ? Not according to Terence Hawkes, an Eng. Lit. lecturer at Cardiff, whose radio talks on the subject I have lately been reading. Hawkes maintains that theatre today is an archaic, literary medium, kept alive by vested cultural interests. Elizabethan drama, by contrast, genuinely mirrored the vitality of its age. The modem equivalent is television. which he calls ‘the only really “national” theatre our society is ever likely to have.’

But, even at its best, television is one-way communication with a fragmented audience: theatre is two-way communication with an undivided audience. It is a public experience, where television is private. The presence in one room of a thousand human beings, simultaneously engrossed, is what confers on theatre its peculiar intensity. Of course it is a minority art: it always was. The redeeming point is that it can speak for majorities. As Peter Brook says In his forthcoming book. ‘The Empty Space’ (out in September).

In almost all regimes, even when the written word is free, the image free, it is still the stage that is liberated last. Instinctively, Governments know that the living event can create a dangerous electricity.

I’m not proposing that the theatre should compete on all fronts with the mechanical media. Rather, it should withdraw to the positions that history has prepared for it. It must focus its energies on the strongholds it is uniquely fitted to defend-—the citadels of subsidised drama.

Off-Cut: The Price of Coal

In 1976 Ken and I were reunited with Barry Hines. I’d been asking him for some time what he wanted to write about, and he said “the miners”. He had been underground briefly as a teenager. His relatives and friends in and around Hoyland Common were miners and he felt a deep solidarity with that community. It became a two parter, called The Price of Coal. The first film was set around the preparations at a South Yorkshire pit for the visit of Prince Charles.

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The Wednesday Play

The family set off for a picnic in the country with all the paraphernalia – the cine camera the frozen barbecued chicken – all of which is looked on, with sixth-form cynicism and disgust, by the family’s son. Nor does he think he’s going to enjoy the trip round the Cheddar Gorge …

“A breakthrough in TV drama ” – ROBERT OTTAWAY, DAILY SKETCH
“Pure and hilarious farce” – MARTIN JACKSON , DAILY EXPRESS
“The funniest ever Wednesday Play… every laugh a wound – MAURICE WIGGIN , SUNDAY TIMES

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Christopher Morahan,
  • Writer: Peter Nichols
BBC Whitepaper

Response to the BBC White Paper

Sighs of relief. Think BBC White Paper could have been worse? Read behind the PR and be very afraid.

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Afternoon

Five Minute Films BBC Series: Episode 2/5

Producer
Director
Writer
Tony Garnett
Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh
The Spongers

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The Wednesday Play

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Jack Gold,
  • Writer: Jim Allen

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The Wednesday Play

The lives and loves of three young working class women, set in the pubs, terraced houses and factories of Battersea, South London.

  • Producer: James MacTaggart,
  • Director: Ken Loach,
  • Writer: Neil Dunn,
  • Story Editor: Tony Garnett

Tony Garnett’s 1965 introduction in the Radio Times…

Up The Junction Introduction

A Light Snack

Five Minute Films BBC Series: Episode 1/5

Producer
Director
Writer
Tony Garnett
Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh
Kilmainham Gaol Prison Source: Wikimedia | Antonio Camelo

Off-Cut: Law and Order – 1916

The 1916 uprising in Dublin and the mini series about judicial corruption, Law and Order, are welded as one in my mind. Connection?

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The Wednesday Play

Best Script Award at the Fourth International Television Festival, Prague 1967
Main Prize International Jury of Critics 1967

Who is Kate Winter? That is the question. She is, on the outside, an unexceptional girl from an ordinary semi-detached background. Her mother says ‘ We are respectable people in this house.’ But tonight the lace curtains are opened and you are invited to probe inside-if you can bear it.

“Compellingly written, brilliantly acted and directed with cunning efficiency” – DENNIS POTTER, NEW STATESMAN
“All the intensity and suggestiveness of  ‘Cathy’. It was powerful stuff – R. W. COOPER, THE TIMES

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Ken Loach,
  • Writer: David Mercer

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The Wednesday Play

Winner:  Italia Prize for Television 1968

Cathy and Reg fall on hard times when Reg is injured at work. They begin a slide into poverty, debt and homelessness, until the authorities forcibly take Cathy’s children away…

“A programme to remember” – OBSERVER
“Few can have watched … without being deeply moved” – TIMES
“Dynamite … a magnificent piece of observant, sparse writing, direction, and production” – DAILY MIRROR

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Ken Loach,
  • Writer: Jeremy Sandford

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Play for Today

An everyday account of the unceasing work undertaken by a harassed wife and mother.

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Mike Leigh,
  • Devised By: Mike Leigh

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The Wednesday Play

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: John MacKenzie,
  • Writer: Leon Griffiths

“We need drama people believe in”

STEWART LANE talks to Tony Garnett, the producer of tonight’s B.B.C.- 1 play. (1966)

TONY GARNETT, producer of “Cathy Come Home”, tonight’s play on BBC 1 began his career as an actor, appearing in several television plays.

In 1964 he joined the B.B.C. as a script editor, assisting in the work on the Wednesday play series.

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BBC TV Mini-Series

The judicial system examined from four points of view: detective, criminal, lawyer, and prisoner.

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Les Blair,
  • Writer: G.F. Newman

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Play of the Month

Werner Reger , a young German officer in the Second World War. prepares to test a new parachute with his regiment for the ultimate benefit of his Führer. As he moves through the early-morning routine in the barracks and out to the tower for a jump, his mind travels in a series of flashbacks over the curious conflicts of his childhood and youth.

  • Producer: Tony Garnett,
  • Director: Anthony Page,
  • Writer: David Mercer

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The Wednesday Play

  • Producer:: Tony Garnett,
  • Director:: James MacTaggart,
  • Writer:: Nemone Lethbridge

Cathy Come Home – 50 years on

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home. Cathy Come Home let everybody off the hook. It didn’t put the boot in where it should have done. Earlier this year I wrote a piece for the PCS Union explaining why I believe this.

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