Saturday, 12 May 2012

Play for Today



One of the most famous and influential of all play strands, Play for Today (BBC, 1970-87) demonstrated single drama's potential to engage mass audiences with social comment and artistic experimentation. In effect The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) renamed after being rescheduled from Wednesday nights, Play for Today reflected in its name its defining concern with contemporary British life.

The series has been associated with social realism, controversies and attacks on its perceived leftwing bias, but its sheer diversity belies such a reductive analysis. Its different styles and genres included comedy and science-fiction; its protagonists encompassed alienated youths and institutionalised pensioners, and its subject matter ranged from regional identity to multinational corporations, from racial politics to time travel...



Brimstone and Treacle (1987)


BBC, 25/8/1987 (filmed 1976). 75 minutes, colour. Director: Barry Davis. Producer: Kenith Trodd. Script: Dennis Potter. Cast: Denholm Elliott (Mr Bates); Michael Kitchen (Martin); Patricia Lawrence (Mrs Bates); Michelle Newell (Pattie).

Martin picks out at random a man in the street and tries to strike up a conversation, pretending that they have met before. The man walks away and Martin decides to try again with Tom Bates. Unwilling to appear rude or forgetful, Bates pretends that he remembers him. Martin says he is a university friend of Bates' daughter Pattie. Bates tells him that she is now incapacitated at home following a hit and run accident two years earlier. Martin tells Bates that he had asked Pattie to be his wife but that he had gone to America when she turned him down. Martin appears to be overcome by the news of Pattie and Bates promises to give him a lift in his car. Bates leaves and doesn't return, but Martin has his wallet and follows him home.

Bates and his wife Amy argue when she says that Pattie can sense their emotions. She tells him how hard she finds spending all her time looking after their daughter. Martin arrives and gives Bates his wallet back. When he sees Pattie in her stretcher in the living room he says a prayer for her. Martin tells Amy that he still loves their daughter and would like nothing better than the opportunity to look after Pattie in her hour of need. Despite Bates' objections, Amy insists that Martin stay the night in Pattie's old bedroom. Martin goes through her belongings and has diabolic fantasies.

The next morning Martin convinces Amy that he can look after Pattie while she goes to get her hair done. After she leaves, Martin rapes Pattie. When Amy returns she claims to notice something different in Pattie, who is now much quieter than normal. Martin cooks a meal for the family and gets into a conversation with Bates about the need to send foreigners away from England. Bates initially agrees with him until Martin talks of putting them all into concentration camps. Martin offers to become a full-time carer and servant for the family.

That night Martin attacks Pattie again, but stops when she starts to scream. Martin flees from the house. Pattie asks her father what has happened, remembering that she saw him and her best friend in bed together shortly before running out into the road and being hit by the car. Martin walks up to a stranger and pretends to know him.



The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980)


BBC, 9/12/1980. 91 mins, colour. Director: Alan Gibson. Producer: Chris Cherry Written by: Jeremy Paul & Alan Gibson. Cast: Peter Firth (Dominick Hide); Caroline Langrishe (Jane Winters); Pippa Guard (Ava); Patrick Magee (Caleb Line); Trevor Ray (Alaric); Sylvia Coleridge (Great Aunt Mavis).

In the year 2130, Dominick Hide is a 'Corro': a correlator of information. It is his job to travel to the 'flipside' - the time era before the 1999 holocaust - and report on 20th century London traffic to his superior, Caleb. Although Dominick is happy with his partner, Ava, he begins to feel an urge to experience what life used to be like.

Dominick's great aunt Mavis informs him that his great grandfather, also named Dominick Hide, lived in the time period Dominick is studying, in a region called 'Port Beal', and he becomes determined to find his ancestor. With the help of technician Alaric he secretly lands in 1980 and, though initially confused by the habits of 20th century Londoners, he establishes that the area he wants is Portobello Road. He meets clothes-shop owner Jane who, intrigued and attracted by the stranger's other-worldliness, agrees to help him locate his 'cousin', Dominick Hide. Quizzed by Jane's friends in the pub on his origins, Dominick improvises the name 'Gilbey' from a brand of gin.

During Dominick's third visit he and Jane make love, spending the weekend together in Herne Bay. Upon his return to the future Dominick persuades an initially reluctant Ava that there is a more passionate alternative to their sanitised love-making. Meanwhile, Alaric refuses to assist Dominick with any further landings.

Three months later, Dominick again steals away to the past to explain his actions - only to discover that a resentful and disbelieving Jane is pregnant with their child. Realising he cannot conceal this interference in the timeline, Dominick confesses all to Caleb, who reveals that he has been aware of Dominick's actions all along. Dominick is a rare example of a 'genetic time-slip'; it was necessary to engineer his relationship with Jane in order for Dominick to become his own great-great-grandfather. Dominick asks permission to see Jane one last time, but Caleb refuses - officially. He does, however, make the observation that Dominick hasn't seemed too worried about seeking permission until now...

Dominick and Jane - who now believes his story - spend one last day together, Dominick providing for her and their son by revealing the following week's pools results.

In 1988, Jane plays with the seven-year-old Dominick Hide at Herne Bay in 1988, while in 2130 Dominick and Ava visit the same spot with their own baby.



Penda's Fen (1974)


BBC, 21/3/1974. 90 mins, colour. Director: Alan Clarke. Producer: David Rose. Screenplay: David Rudkin. Cast: Jennie Hesselwood (Mrs Arne); John Scott (Sir Nicholas Pole); Spencer Banks (Stephen); Georgine Anderson (Mrs Franklin); John Atkinson (Reverend J. Franklin).

Rural Worcestershire. 17-year-old pastor's son Stephen Franklin sits in his room writing about Elgar's 'The Dream of Gerontius' in an exercise book. The following morning, Stephen plays the organ at his school assembly and takes part in a debate in which he condemns a TV program that questioned the gospels' account of Jesus' life. He goes on to champion the role of family in Christian England.

That evening, he attends a debate at the church hall, chaired by his father. One of the panellists, a writer named Mr Arne, defends striking workers and questions the top-secret government development in the nearby countryside. Back home, Stephen tells his parents how unpleasant he found Arne's views. Later, a group of young revellers stop their car near the village. One of the group gets out, returning moments later hideously burned. The following morning, police and soldiers surround the man's hospital bed.

At school, Stephen tells his class of a dream he had about a demon sitting in the roof of his father's church. One of his classmates says Stephen does nothing for their house and should be boiled in oil. Later, at Arne's house, Reverend Franklin shows Arne the local paper's account of the burned youth. It claims that he was burned by a weather balloon. Arne doesn't believe it. On the way home, Stephen and his father discuss the Manichean belief that Jesus was just one of the sons of light in the eternal battle between good and evil. That night, Stephen dreams about an angel, the naked body of a classmate and of a demon sitting on his bed. The next morning, Stephen doesn't attend his school's military marching class and, on the way home, sees the reflection of an angel in the stream.

The following day, Stephen is ticked-off by his teacher for not attending marching class. Cycling home, Stephen has a vision of the demon from his dream and falls off his bicycle. While unconscious, he dreams of a bizarre ritual in which people have their hands chopped off. Later at home, Stephen finds a manuscript that casts doubt on the orthodox teaching of Christianity, written by his father. Sheltering from the rain in a derelict bunker, Stephen meets Edward Elgar who tells him the secret of his 'Enigma Variations', then disappears.

On his 18th birthday, Stephen's parents tell him that he is adopted. Stephen visits Mrs Arne and tells her he is sorry that she cannot conceive children. He also tells her that he is adopted. He asks Mrs Arne if homosexuals can have children. She says they can make good parents. At school, Stephen's classmates pin him down and tie a pink ribbon in his hair. Later, Stephen and his father discuss pre-Christian religion. Mr Franklin claims that Jesus was a revolutionary, who has been reduced to the property of organised religion. They go on to discuss King Penda, the ancient Pagan king, and Stephen asks if this is the spot where he died. His father says he might not be dead. Later, Stephen plays the church organ and sees deep cracks appearing in the church floor. He hears a voice asking Stephen to free him. After the voice stops, the cracks disappear.

Sitting on top of a hill, Stephen is approached by a couple. They tell him he is the chosen one with the power of the gods. Stephen says he can't be as he is mixed racially, religiously and sexually. He runs away. The man takes an instant photo of Stephen and burns it. As the photo burns, so do Stephen's legs. He calls to Penda for help. Penda appears and the couple flees. Penda tells Stephen that his kind have been banished, but Stephen has been chosen to cherish the flame of the fen until he is able to return. Penda disappears and Stephen walks down the hill.


Further information here, here & here.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Champions (1968-69)


“Craig Sterling, Sharon McReady and Richard Barrett - The Champions. Endowed with the qualities and skills of Superhumans. Qualities and skills, both physical and mental, to the peak of human performance. Gifts given to them by an unknown race of people from a lost city in Tibet. Gifts that are a secret to be guarded, a secret know only to them. Able, as operators of the international agency, Nemesis, to use their powers to the best advantage. The Champions of law, order and justice"

ITC for ITV, 25/9/1968 - 30/4/1969. 30 x 49 minute episodes, colour. Producer: Monty Berman. Directors include: Cyril Frankel, Freddie Francis & Samuel Wanamaker. Creators: Monty Berman & Dennis Spooner.

Regular cast: Stuart Damon (Craig Sterling); William Gaunt (Richard Barrett); Alexandra Bastedo (Sharron Macready); Anthony Nicholls (Tremayne).


From Wikipedia:

The series features Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett as agents for a United Nations law enforcement organization called "Nemesis", based in Geneva. The three have different backgrounds: Barrett is a code breaker, Stirling a pilot, and Macready a recently widowed scientist and doctor. During their first mission as a team, their plane crashes in the Himalayas. They are rescued by an advanced civilization living secretly in the mountains, who save their lives, granting them perfected human abilities, including powers to communicate with one another over distances by ESP (telepathy), and to foresee events (precognition), enhanced five senses and intellect, and physical abilities to the fullest extent of human capabilities.


Many stories feature unusual villains, such as fascist regimes from unspecified South American countries, Nazis (a common theme of ITC 1960s & 70s TV, in part due to both the domestic audience and writers having been the "War generation") or the Chinese. The villains' schemes often threaten world peace — Nemesis' brief is international, so the agents deal with threats transcending national interests.

The main characters have to learn the use of their new powers as they go along, keeping what they discover secret from friends and foe alike. Each episode begins with a post title sequence vignette in which one of The Champions demonstrates exceptional mental or physical abilities, often astonishing or humiliating others.

In one example Stirling participates in a sharpshooting contest. In another, laughing hoodlums block in Macready's car, which she physically pulls out of the parking space one-handed. Ironically, the narration during these often public demonstrations usually mentions the need to keep the powers a secret.

The only other series regular is the Champions' boss, Tremayne. Tremayne does not know that his agents have special abilities, though he does ask innocent questions about just how on their missions they managed to carry out certain tasks about which their reports were vague.


Sergio Angelini, BFI Screenonline:

The superhero series The Champions significantly changed the formula of ITC dramas, not just by introducing a fantasy element but also by having three main protagonists instead of one, and making one of them a woman.

Although Sharron is sometimes told by her partners Richard and Craig to stay behind, she frequently proves that she has the same special powers as they do (augmented strength and senses as well as empathic and telepathic abilities), featuring prominently in such episodes as 'Shadow of the Panther', a black magic story co-starring Donald Sutherland, and 'Twelve Hours', in which her medical skills prove crucial.

To offset the fantastical nature of the series' premise - the powers are clearly magical, not scientific in origin, unlike ITC's earlier The Invisible Man - the relationship between the three heroes is marked by much humorous banter, while the plots are straightforward, comprising either cold war espionage scenarios or more mundane villainy, like the neo-Nazis rings featured in 'The Survivors' and 'The Search'.

Probably the best episode is 'The Interrogation', not because it is the most characteristic but because it is the most distinctive. Creator Dennis Spooner, forced by budget overruns to make a flashback story which recycled footage from previous episodes, took inspiration from 'Brainwash', an episode of his series Man in a Suitcase. Turning adversity into triumph, Spooner crafted a powerful two-hander between the usually wise-cracking Sterling, now drugged, imprisoned and disorientated, and a mysterious interrogator played by Colin Blakeley, who fulfilled the same role in 'Brainwash'. Conversely, 'The Gilded Cage' is mostly played for laughs, with Barrett allowing himself to be kidnapped and spending practically the whole episode in bed in his pyjamas.

Spooner's previous excursions into television fantasy were children's shows like Doctor Who and Thunderbirds, which may account for the occasionally adolescent quality of the heroes' characterisations, especially in scenes when they telepathically feel each other's pain. However, the series can be interpreted as an allegory of the growth process, its three youthful heroes, guided by their paternal superior Tremayne, making the transition from innocent agents simply following orders to more mature and complex operatives taking the burden and responsibility for their actions, a precursor to the otherwise inferior children's series The Tomorrow People.

Video content here, here & here.

Further information here, here & here.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

George Herbert Mead (1863–1931)


"The traces of past experience are continually playing in upon our perceived world. Now, to get hold of that in the organism which answers to this stage of our conduct, to our remembering, to our intelligently responding to the present in terms of the past, we set up a parallelism between what is going on in the central nervous system and immediate experience. Our memory is dependent upon the condition of certain tracts in our head, and these conditions have to be picked out to get control of processes of that sort"

Behaviorism and Psychological Parallelism, Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Edited by Charles W. Morris). University of Chicago (1934).

"The present is not the past and the future. The distinction which we make between them is evidently fundamental. If we spread a specious present so that it covers more events, as Whitehead suggests, taking in some of the past and conceivably some of the future, the events so included would belong, not to the past and the future, but to the present. It is true that in this present there is something going on. There is passage within the duration, but that is a present passage. The past arises with memory. We attach to the backward limit of the present the memory images of what has just taken place. In the same fashion we have images of the words which we are going to speak. We build out at both limits. But the images are in the present. Whitehead's suggestion that rendering these images sufficiently vivid would spread the specious present is quite beside the mark. No memory image, however vivid, would be anything but a memory image, which is a surrogate merely for what was or will be spoken"

The Nature of the Past. Essays in Honor of John Dewey, New York, Henry Holt & Co. (1929).


George Herbert Mead is a major figure in the history of American philosophy, one of the founders of Pragmatism along with Peirce, James, Tufts, and Dewey. He published numerous papers during his lifetime and, following his death, several of his students produced four books in his name from Mead’s unpublished (and even unfinished) notes and manuscripts, from students’ notes, and from stenographic records of some of his courses at the University of Chicago.

Through his teaching, writing, and posthumous publications, Mead has exercised a significant influence in 20th century social theory, among both philosophers and social scientists. In particular, Mead’s theory of the emergence of mind and self out of the social process of significant communication has become the foundation of the symbolic interactionist school of sociology and social psychology. In addition to his well- known and widely appreciated social philosophy, Mead’s thought includes significant contributions to the philosophy of nature, the philosophy of science, philosophical anthropology, the philosophy of history, and process philosophy. Both John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead considered Mead a thinker of the highest order.

During his more-than-40-year career, Mead thought deeply, wrote almost constantly, and published numerous articles and book reviews in philosophy and psychology. However, he never published a book. After his death, several of his students edited four volumes from stenographic records of his social psychology course at the University of Chicago, from Mead’s lecture notes, and from Mead’s numerous unpublished papers. The four books are The Philosophy of the Present (1932), edited by Arthur E. Murphy; Mind, Self, and Society (1934), edited by Charles W. Morris; Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1936), edited by Merritt H. Moore; and The Philosophy of the Act (1938), Mead’s Carus Lectures of 1930, edited by Charles W. Morris.

Notable among Mead’s published papers are the following: “Suggestions Towards a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines” (1900); “Social Consciousness and the Consciousness of Meaning” (1910); “What Social Objects Must Psychology Presuppose” (1910); “The Mechanism of Social Consciousness” (1912); “The Social Self” (1913); “Scientific Method and the Individual Thinker” (1917); “A Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol” (1922); “The Genesis of Self and Social Control” (1925); “The Objective Reality of Perspectives” (1926);”The Nature of the Past” (1929); and “The Philosophies of Royce, James, and Dewey in Their American Setting” (1929). Twenty-five of Mead’s most notable published articles have been collected in Selected Writings: George Herbert Mead, edited by Andrew J. Reck (Bobbs-Merrill, The Liberal Arts Press, 1964).

Read more about George Herbert Mead, from George Cronk, Bergen Community College at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.