HOME
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
STAFF BIOS
BLOG
LINKS
Winter 2010
POETRY
FICTION
COLUMNS
NON-FICTION
CONTRIBUTORS
EDITORIAL
CONVERSATIONS
ARCHIVES
CONTACT US
Non-Fiction

Trevor Griffiths, Bill Brand
And Political Television Drama

Tony Williams

I can only hope that this insight into the workings of the House of Commons is fictional—if not the future looks bleak.” Evening News, June 24, 1976.

Trevor Griffiths

Due to contemporary institutional attempts in British society and elsewhere to install deliberate cultural and historical amnesia in relation to the radical artistic achievements of past decades, the name and work of Trevor Griffiths (1935 - ) generally evokes blank reactions on the part of most television audiences today. Those familiar with cinema associate him with the screenplay of Warren Beatty’s 1981 epic film Reds, dealing with the lost world of American socialism and the early days of the October Revolution in Russia. Starring Warren Beatty as John Reed and Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, the film never suffered from the adverse critical and popular reaction affecting Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1981). Although both films appeared at the beginning of the Reagan era, the former work never exposed the dirty historical linen of America’s genocidal and racist past but instead placed its own version of the Hollywood romantic couple in the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia far away from mischief-making in the land of freedom. The hero faces eventual disillusionment and its heroine proclaims in America that revolution would never happen there—to the undoubted relief of the Reagans during a White House screening! Reds emerged as a product of compromise between its scenarist and actor-director-star who was interested in making a film about a virtually forgotten American historical figure within recognized conventions of Hollywood cinema. Although Bo Widerberg had directed a Swiss-US co-production, Joe Hill (1971) dealing with another forgotten activist whose name gained posthumous currency via a Joan Baez song during the 1960s, Hollywood cinema was reluctant to display America’s socialist past and certainly hostile to any thought of making a biopic about another radical American, Big Bill Hayward, who also identified himself with the early years of the Soviet Union and was buried in the Kremlin Wall along with Reed. Beatty’s sincerity about breaking this ideological silence about America’s socialist past can not be denied but could this project remain uncontaminated by Hollywood formulas? American socialist writer Jack London was then (and now) regarded as the writer of children’s dog stories and Alfred Santell’s biopic Jack London (1943) delivered a bowdlerized version of the writer’s life without even mentioning his socialist beliefs. After working on several drafts following initial contact with Beatty in 1976, Griffiths withdrew from the project in December 1978 taking with him “a strong sense that it was a movie that I didn’t want to be associated with.”1 Irritated at the lack of control over his own work that presented a major contrast with his television and theatrical achievements, Griffiths objected to what he saw as Beatty’s lack of interest in historical facts in the second half of the film that reproduced familiar melodramatic tropes from film and television: “these are the dangers of ideals and obsessions, here is a monomaniac going crazy, here is a man driven to a point where he cannot observe how badly he is behaving in his primary relationships.”2

Following a later meeting with Beatty in London and viewing a version of the fine edit, Griffiths found it more difficult to compare the film’s positive and negative elements.

“There was much that I did admire – a good attempt had been made to recover particular elements of a historical period that had been deliberately covered over, so that they had not fed subsequent generations as to what had been politically achieved. That’s a big thing for Hollywood to do, and any movie that succeeds in doing that, even partially, has to be appreciated and supported.” 3

Deciding to share screenplay credit with Beatty after the star turned down a collectively inspired request that “everybody who had written anything should receive a credit” 4 Griffiths commented that despite finding much of Reds deeply impressive, he regarded the love relationship as “wrongly perceived” 5 while the second part of the film lacked any positive view of revolutionary politics that would contradict  the average unhistorical and inaccurate type of audience expectations concerning this period.6

Although this article begins with referring to Griffiths’s most well-known work in film and quotes from a very informative interview conducted a year after its release, the intention is not to document another of those unfortunate cases whereby a writer’s vision becomes totally contaminated by Hollywood. The tone of the interview illustrates a very sophisticated type of understanding of a productive process on the part of a writer and what he learned from it. Throughout his career, Griffiths often utilizes recognizable conventions of drama to develop new forms of meaning that usually do not occur in most productions. Two key concerns dominate not only his past and future work but also the eleven part 1976 Thames Television drama Bill Brand that he worked on with more control than he later had with Reds. These are his practice of writing against the grain of whatever cinematic, television, and theatrical convention he employs by attempting to produce critically oppositional texts that will engage the viewer not only in the questions the drama raises but also stimulate an interrogative attitude to past and present historical relationships that may lead to a different type of future.

Griffiths never embraced the formal and radical avant-garde directions of most British alternative theater companies of the 60s and 70s. He engaged with familiar conventions of naturalism and realism to produce contradictory texts that oppose typical generic archetypes such as the hospital drama and the historical mini-series in order to confront audiences with alternatives ideas contained within conventions they easily recognize but which now contain challenging ideas. Two key Griffiths work within this creative practice exemplify such an approach. In 1974, he contributed one of the most innovative episodes to a BBC TV series The Fall of Eagles that dealt with the fall of European royal powers in the turbulent era of the 1910s. His particular contribution, “Absolute Beginners,” documented the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks that would lead to Lenin’s ascendancy and his instrumental role in the October Revolution. It was definitely not the type of popular historical drama then exemplified by London Weekend Television’s long running series Upstairs Downstairs (1971-1975) that showed the classes co-existing in domestic harmony with no thought of those downstairs ever conspiring to overthrow their “betters.” Containing a riveting performance by Patrick Stewart as Lenin, the episode also touched upon a common theme in Griffiths' work, namely the contrast between the humane ideals of any revolutionary process and the necessity for hard leadership essential to final success as well as unforeseen negative consequences that could emerge in the future. He again explored this opposition in his 1994 play Hope in the Year Two that chronicled the reflections of a historical figure who could be Danton on his way to the guillotine. Griffiths had earlier explored this theme in his 1970 play Occupations that contrasted the firmness of a Lenin-type figure, Kabak, (played also by Patrick Stewart in the 1971 Royal Shakespeare Company production directed by Buzz Goodbody) with the different attitudes of Gramsci (Ben Kingsley). The 1975 BBC One Play for Today, Through the Night,chronicled the experiences of a young working-class woman (Alison Steadman) who suffered a mastectomy performed without her knowledge in a National Health hospital. Featuring Jack Shepherd in the role of a sympathetic doctor, the play ended not on a bleak note but with an expression of solidarity among the female patients on the ward. Through the Night was as far removed from the melodramatic conventions of television hospital soap operas such as ATV’s Emergency Ward 10 (1957-67)  and  BBC TV’s Angels  (1975-1983) focusing instead on the negative institutional practices of a National Heath Service that did not really have the best interests of its patients at heart. Despite being deliberately marginalized from film and television as a result of the Thatcher-Blair-Brown Kulturkampf policies dominating contemporary British culture, Griffiths has not been silenced. During autumn 2009, the London Globe Theatre presented a dramatization of his project about British activist Thomas Paine who made a significant contribution to both the American and French revolutions, A New World: A Life of Thomas Paine based on his screenplay These Are The Times: A Life of Thomas Paine (published by Spokesman Books in 2005) originally designed for a film to have been directed by Richard Attenborough that proved difficult to fund. 

1974 also saw the televised production of two other Griffiths plays All Good Men and Occupations both directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg featuring an actor Griffiths would use as the title character of Bill Brand – Jack Shepherd. The first production dealt with the compromises the Labour Party made during its historical period of existence, a theme that Griffiths would further explore in Bill Brand. 7

For Griffiths, collaborating on a Hollywood production represented another of those challenges he set himself in terms of his theatre and television work, namely “how to work against Hollywood in terms of the generation of a text” 8 and seeing how far he could go. His early television work embraced the conventions of naturalism and realism rather than rejecting them according to contemporary Screen Theory of the 1970s which championed the avant-garde. Griffiths aimed at his own definition of critical realism that distinguished between the surface appearance of the world and the hidden forces of power structuring class, gender, and racial relationships.9 Following Griffiths’s experiences on Reds, John Williams detected a “a more cinematic sensibility in subsequent work” 10 but this also served to clarify and sharpen earlier experiments in narrative conventions. Griffiths usually takes over a popular genre such as the heritage play as in Country (1981) and the heroic imperialistic formula of Scott of the Antarctic (1949) as in his television miniseries The Last Place on Earth (1985) to unveil ideological conflicts buried beneath their structures that reveal the sinister nature of powerful forces with political agendas aimed at combating any form of progressive change

In Reds, Griffiths attempted to appropriate Hollywood cinema in the same way that he had used the National Theatre in 1973 to stage one of his most radical dramas, The Party. It contained a devastating analysis of the emotional and intellectual failures of the British Left to transform society in radical directions. Featuring Laurence Oliver in his last National Theatre performance as a veteran Scottish Trotskyite, the play mercilessly explored the contradictions and divisions within British left wing politics and, more significantly, the tension between progressive humanist ideals that should motivate any revolutionary movement and the necessity for ruthless organizational practices that, in themselves, may eventually tarnish the former goal. Griffiths received major criticism from contemporary left-wing playwrights who condemned his attempt to produce a radical play from within such a conservative organization as Britain’s National Theatre. However, Griffiths has always believed in attempting to utilize establishment vehicles such as theatre and television in order to communicate radical ideas to a wider audience in an oppositional manner known as “strategic penetration” rather than retreat to the solipsistic safety of the avant-garde like certain of his contemporaries. Brechtian techniques of “alienation” heralded by advocates of Screen Theory in the 1970s may alienate the audience in a far different manner than its devotees envisage. Such audiences could switch off entirely rather than follow Brecht’s ideal strategy of considering the cultural and political implications of ideas if presented within non-audience friendly forms. Griffiths has always considered television as the best medium for communicating with a wider audience. If Patrick Troughton, the second Dr. Who, once regarded television as embodying a particular form of a “National Theatre” so did Griffiths in an era when British television drama embodied exciting new forms and ideas in contrast to its present incarnation.

Griffiths also noted certain pitfalls affecting any type of oppositional text appearing within conventional structures of television genres. Audiences may find alternative presentation of ideas “very abrasive and alienating. So I try to use socially known forms rather than try to innovate forms beyond the audience’s experience. For example, Bill Brand was a weekly hour-long TV series centered on the life of a male figure. People have expectations of how that will work: there’s a story, there’s a problematic which is either resolved or handed on. So people are not stretched to follow it in terms of its narrative structure or character development. That’s important because what will be stretching them is the detail of the lives of the characters, what they’re talking about…That’s a phenomenal amount of stuff to grapple with; it seems daft to ask people to follow you through some formal innovative stuff as well. Bill Brand was palpably not mad, but everything he stood for is represented as maniacal by the popular media.”11

The interaction of personal and political forces forms an integral concern within many of Griffiths’s works. Reviewing contemporary reviews of Reds, Edward Buscombe noted that despite the film’s flaws, “one of the most daring things about Reds is that it manages at times to suggest that the relationship between the political and the personal is not, finally, a question of either/or but of the interpenetration of the two, and Trevor Griffiths’s interest in this theme is one of the things that makes him such an important dramatist.” 12 Such relationships are never easy and are often complicated with no smooth resolutions. Griffiths attempted another variant of this issue in Reds. But it is also true to say that he realized it more significantly in the Thames Television production of Bill Brand in which he played a very active role. 13

The Genesis of Bill Brand.

The political mini-series is by no means foreign to television as examples such as Washington Behind Closed Doors (1977), Blind Ambition (1979), The West Wing (1999-2006),  and the 1975 Granada TV British television series The Nearly Man (featuring Tony Britton as a right-wing Labour MP) all show. But rather than interrogating political elements influencing individual lives they often focus upon personal melodramatic issues. In this way they fall within familiar conventions of the type of television drama that Griffiths sought both to utilize and subvert. Personal relationships do occupy key levels of Bill Brand but they are never divorced from the historical and political context of a society that attempts to control individual lives and from which some form of different alternative direction is needed. Since Griffiths has spoken of the significant “detail of the lives of the characters” in this series, it is important to analyze how each episode functions according to this particular type of dramatic process. Transmitted during the summer of 1976 within the 9.0 pm slot following the news program World in Action and preceding News at Ten, the series developed a contrast first sketched in Griffiths' early 1974 BBC One Play for Today “All Good Men” between the reformist tendencies of the Labour Party’s version of Parliamentary democracy and another alternative radical tradition constantly betrayed by this party whenever it gained power. 14 Could any form of significant change occur within Westminster on the part of a progressive individual who has left the International Socialists to attempt change from within the system? Alternatively, should other forms of personal and political struggle become preeminent? Such issues dominated every episode and are still relevant today perhaps explaining why this series has never been repeated since its original broadcast or available on DVD in England. 15

According to Michael Poole and John Wyver, Trevor Griffiths first met independent television drama producer Stella Richman on the General Election night of February 28th, 1974 whose outcome led to no political party gaining an overall majority and the formation of the first minority government since 1931 by Labour leader Harold Wilson. Having previously seen The National Theatre production of The Party, Richman accepted Griffiths’ idea of the idea of a series about a novice Labour M.P. leading to Griffiths researching and writing over the next two years. They then approached Thames Television and successfully promoted the project to Verity Lambert. Recently appointed Thames Television Controller of Drama by Jeremy Isaacs (who would later move on to run an initially more socially conscious Channel Four in its early years featuring programs such as Asian Eye, Black on Black, and encouraging independent film workshops to produce films for that channel), Lambert (1935-2007) was one of the most innovative talents in British television. Beginning with producing Somerset Maugham Stories for ITV (1960), seventeen seasons of the classic Detective series for BBC during 1968-69, the 1965 season of the BBC series The Newcomers dealing with the problems of a London family adjusting to a new life on a rural housing estate, the early more serious seasons of Dr. Who featuring William Hartnell in the title role, the bizarre “Edwardian hero meets Swinging London” BBC series Adam Adamant Lives! (1965-66), and the 1971-72 London Weekend series Budgie starring Adam Faith, she had made her mark in a competitive, male-dominated industry, and had moved again to ITV where she would continue to executive produce The Naked Civil Servant (1975) and other notable series such as Minder (1979-1984) during its first four seasons. 16 She began her early tenure at Thames Television by insisting that the company produce no costume drama during her first eight months in office (a complete contrast to contemporary British television!) and commit itself to drama with a London base. Since a major proportion of Bill Brand would focus upon Parliament Griffiths felt this policy would complement his own writing.

Poole and Wyver mention that Griffiths felt that “the production experience was one of the most fruitful that he has encountered within television” resulting in “a very collective shape to the whole enterprise.” 17 The series also gained from the collaboration of others such as directors Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Roland Joffe who would both later move on to directing feature films), producer Stuart Burge (who also directed some episodes), as well as very talented people acting for television at that particular time. Despite the appearance of Arthur Hopcraft’s Granada TV’s The Nearly Man in late autumn 1975 representing a threat to the prime-time appearance of Bill Brand, a meeting of seventy people insisted that Jeremy Isaacs argue against the ITV Controllers’s Committee idea of a 10.30 p.m. slot in favor of 9.0 pm. As a result episode one appeared on the night of Monday June 7th 1976, with its plot often uncannily foretelling what would occur on News at Ten. 18 Griffiths also adamantly fought for the 9.0 p.m. slot because “my class, the people I want to talk to, don’t watch from 10.30 p.m.” 19 Although not reaching a Top Twenty viewing figure, the series did attract an audience of ten million, including several M.Ps who watched it in the House of Commons engaging great interest from all shades of the political spectrum. Despite popular reviewers making irrelevant remarks emphasizing the dour, scowling visage of Jack Shepherd while ignoring any intelligent comment on the serious nature of this distinctive television drama, The Sunday Times described it in its August 15th, 1976 review as “The most remarkable serial ever seen on the box.” Although Bill Brand is a 1976 British television series, its message is universal and applicable to anyone in America who mistakenly believes that they can make a difference in the Democratic Party and change things for the better. Since most American and British readers will be unfamiliar with the series due to its lack of availability on DVD, some detailed examination of the plot is necessary here.

The Series

Bill Brand

The opening episode of Bill Brand, “In”, charts the beginning of its main character’s winning a Labour by-election at a time when the Party controlled Parliament by a small majority. Its opening scenes depict Bill as somewhat alienated from his family, going through the motions of husband and father in a passionless relationship with his wife Miriam (Lynne Fairleigh) who is a hospital social worker. As played by Jack Shepherd, Bill is conscientious and serious but struggles in the realm of personal relationships co-existing uneasily in a dying marital relationship with his wife and an extra-marital affair with feminist activist Alex (Cherie Lunghi). Like the characters in David Mercer’s Where the Difference Begins, Bill has benefited from the gains of the post-war 1945 Labour Government enabling him to attend university via grants (and not student loans like today!), become a Liberal Studies lecturer in a Further Education College where he has worked for the past fourteen years, and move from the Trotskyite International Socialists to become a member of the Labour Party in the hope that he can change things from within. 20 In his only appearance in the series Bill’s ailing father (Harry Markham), who has returned prematurely to work in a chemical process plant to qualify for his pension, notes the different nature of his son that others such as David Mercer and Richard Hoggart also recognized in the new post-war generation who benefited from advantages their parents never had. “You were never like us, even as a little lad. Allus had your head stuck in a book somewhere. I never told you…I worried about you sometimes, how you’d end up, with all that learning…Do someat… good, won’t you?” 21 His mother also comments on his lack of emotion. “You always hid what you were feeling.” Bill’s lack of emotional connection to others is an important element within the construction of the series that the time schedule did not allow Griffiths to develop to its necessary extent. However, it still exists within the text and relates to the writer’s constant concern with the problematic relationship between the political and personal that forms a key element within his work.

Bill’s working-class parents as well as his constituency agent Alf Jowett (Allan Surtees) and North West regional Executive Albert Stead (John Barron) belong to what would now be called the “Old Labour” 1945 Generation of activists who have either died out or became purged by the New Labour regime of Tony Blair in 1997. Jowett belongs to the traditional working-class Labour Party old constituency. Critical of Bill’s lack of punctuality, long hair, blue suit, (a color associated with the Conservatives) and Winterman cigar, Alf attempts to guide his young protégé into the world of Labour politics as he sees it. Griffiths never condemns Alf but sees him as part of a different historical context that he respects as well as noting its redundancy in the Brave New World deceitful politics of a different era. Alf, Albert, and Labour Councilor Frank Hilton (Clifford Kershaw) are dedicated and sincere salt-of the-earth Party members. Although activists in their time and conscious of the betrayal of the Labour Party in the past, they are within a world that is now changing. Party loyalty rules supreme and belief in socialism is no longer relevant in Westminster. While Bill criticizes the electoral process as “ruthlessly reducing what we do to its most fundamentally trivial elements”, Hilton replies “You’ll be all right. Once you settle down.” (21)

As Bill’s comments to a Radio Manchester interviewer on the night of the by-election show, he is unlikely to do this. “I’m a socialist…I actually believe in public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I actually believe in workers’ control over work, community control over the environment. I actually believe that the real wealth of any society is its people. All of them, not just the well-off, the educated and the crafty. Which I suppose make me a democrat too.” (28) Although these comments would have resulted in Bill being immediately purged from the Party, (to say nothing of not even making a short-list) in the New Labour era of Tony Blair and his thuggish Press Secretary and “power behind the throne” Alistair Campbell, they evoke the genuine feelings of those who felt they could do some good in the Labour Party at that particular time. The rest of the series will question the effectiveness of such feelings. Bill wins the seat by a reduced majority representing a 5% anti-government swing. When Miriam discovers him phoning Alex on the night of his victory, she condemns him as a “selfish, egotistical, uncaring swine of a man” (37), criticizes his penchant for “rational solutions” for personal situations according to Party Political lines, and announces her intention of seeking a divorce. The episode ends with Bill on his way to London as he listens to his wife’s Radio Manchester interview where she describes him as someone “trying to be a good man.”(39), a comment having ironic implications both in terms of this episode and what will occur in future ones.

Episode 2, “You wanna be a hero, get yourself a white horse”, reveals Bill’s education into the workings of Parliamentary democracy. After taking his oath of office, Bill meets Tory M.P. Waverly (Richard Leech) who remembers when the House of Commons “was like a club” but now resembles a “damned assembly line”, the latter remark made when upper middle class assistant Labour Whip Sandiford (William Hoyland) enters the room. Bill also meets fellow Labour M.P. Tom Mapson (Richard Butler) who further informs him that Parliament is now “stacked high with lobby fodder” (44), a position that he also is supposed to follow. As another Labour Whip Paxton, (Frank Mills), an ex-docker, later tells him. “The Government has a right to your loyalty. Total; unquestioning, if necessary.”(47) Bill’s convictions will not allow him to do this. When invited to share a house occupied by M.P.s who are members of the Journal (a reference to the left-wing Labour Tribune publication), Bill asserts his socialist beliefs to fellow M.P. Winnie Scoular (Rosemary Martin) condemning the complicity of this group in a government causing unemployment in a “pathetic attempt to shore up the crumbing edifice of British capitalism, which is, of course, the historic function of this great Party of ours.”(51-62). Bill believes he can make a difference. But when he votes against a Government Bill designed to deplete social and welfare services after seeing his fellow Journal members compromised into supporting the Party line, he is disciplined by working-class Chief Whip Maddocks (Peter Copley). The episode concludes with Bill returning to Manchester for the funeral of his father and facing censure by the Executive Committee of his Party for refusing to vote for the Government.

Episode 3, “Yarn” opens with Bill in his mother’s house after his father’s funeral. His shirt-cutter brother Eddie (Dave Hill) tells him of cheap imports threatening both his job and that of others in the North-West. Although Bill finds himself facing a censure motion initiated by Imperial Chemical Industries accountant Bernard Shaw (Colin Jeavons) who represents the threatening middle class influx into the Labour Party that would lead to Blair’s New Labour, the working-class members of the local executive movement prevent this by operating their own version of Tammany Hall politics. Shaw and his wife had earlier appeared in episode one on election night amongst a group the teleplay originally envisaged as representing “several new clusters of professional middle class party members – university lecturers, schoolteachers, a doctor, progressive ICI middle managers” (27) who dilute the working-class nature of the Old Labour Party as much as the right wing Parliamentary spiritual heirs of 1950s  right-wing former Leader Hugh Gaitskell attempted to do in the past and future New Labour supporters did two decades later. It is to Griffiths’s credit that he not only sees flaws in the Labour Party in power at this point of time but also anticipates another corrupt movement that will emerge in the future.

After meeting a delegation of a Textile Workers Mass Action Committee in the House of Commons who wish a cap on the quotas threatening their jobs with cheap imports, Bill encounters Minister of Employment David Last (Alan Badel) who is interested in him as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. Loosely based on radical Labour politician and future 1980s Labour leader Michael Foot, Last has joined the Cabinet in the hope of changing things from within. 22 Finding his efforts to directly contact a Minister to change the quota system frustrated, Bill goes to the occupied Bryant’s Factory to express solidarity with the workers and makes the front page of the right-wing Sunday Express Newspaper for his rebellious stance rather than cooling down the situation as right wing Minister for Industry Malcolm Frear (Geoffrey Palmer) wished him to.

Episode 4, “Now and in England” opens in a solicitor’s office with Bill and Miriam about to begin divorce proceedings. The series focuses on Bill’s personal life less in terms of melodramatic concerns of the typical television formula but more as a relevant complement to the political odyssey of its hero. Their marriage has now definitely ended and it is not accidental that Bill’s wife has the first name of Paul Morel’s possessive first love in D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers which Griffiths would later adapt for television in 1981. While Bill tells her, “You’ve stewed me in guilt for long enough” (97), Miriam presents him with an ultimatum which he cannot accept, “You. Or not you. I don’t want anything in between.” (98) Although Bill appears to have a satisfying relationship with Alex who refuses to marry him, she also discerns a retrogressive puritanical streak in his personality that parallels the rigid aspect of his personality where he seeks to control his personal life within convenient formulas akin to a Party political resolution that Miriam criticizes in the final part of the first episode. Here Bill displays elements of that hard political man earlier seen in Patrick Stewart’s performance as Lenin in “Absolute Beginners” who prefers press ups and politics to the comfort offered him by Krupskaya. Sexual politics does play an important role in this series and this is neither accidental nor sensationalist since it parallels the impotence of many characters trapped in the realms of Parliamentary procedure and Labour Party loyalty. As a working-class male, Bill has repressed many deep personal feelings. He admits to Alex that he once had a homosexual experience as a young man of nineteen after Alex ponders sleeping with a woman. This scene follows Bill listening to a talk given by Alex to a group of gays in which she insists that their aims can not be separated from other forms of political oppression affecting others. She also tells him that even two miners at a Stockport Trades Council Club Dance exhibited more tolerance than he would expect from a traditional working class who would be expected to display homophobic aggression popularly associated with this social group. Oppression takes different forms ranging from personal repression to uglier manifestations as seen in the sequencer where Bill encounters a Catholic doctor (Robert Hardy) who has refused one of his constituents her right to an abortion. The episode ends with Bill receiving a telegram from his wife’s solicitor agreeing to his terms for a divorce. Although Bill has won this round of the game where Miriam drops her adultery clause in the divorce proceedings, it is really a pyrrhic victory. Bill also receives another communication about the failure of the factory occupation that he and David Last spoke at. Following this meeting, Last revealed to Bill his desire to attempt change from within and combat right wing tendencies within the Labour Party represented by the influence of past figures such as Hugh Gaitskell and Richard Crossman. Whether (the significantly surnamed) Minister of Employment Last can succeed is a question later episodes examine. However, major struggles occur outside Parliament and the failure of the factory occupation to preserve jobs from unfair outside competition will be one of the factors haunting Bill throughout the series.

An addition not in the published version questions whether Last will actually succeed in his goal. We learn later that several members of the Journal group regard him as politically compromised by occupying the post of Cabinet Minister and moving away from his former comrades and socialist principles. Bill looks at the color television in Last’s Midland Hotel room in Manchester. It shows the image of a flea perched on a human limb symbolically repeating the lines Alex said to Bill towards the close of episode one when she refers to his previous attitude towards Parliament. “Two years ago, when I first met you, you called the House of Commons a club for fleas, a place where the fleas on the body politic could swap leaps and pirouettes before returning to their pelts for the serious business of sucking our democratic life blood…mmm? So what happened?” (38). Then Bill replied that he wished to do something to prove that he can fight against an illusion “that says we’re all impotent in the face of the juggernaut, the system.” (39). Following episodes reveal Bill becoming impotent in more than one sense especially when he turns away from a very supportive comrade personally and politically. Here Bill Brand succeeds where the final version of Reds fails in explicitly acknowledging the essential and necessary unity of the personal and political in any progressive struggle in a highly intelligent and non-formulaic manner. Alex is not going to be the compliant whiny “good wife” that Diane Keaton becomes in Warren Beatty’s revised screenplay of Reds but is an independent woman in her own right and one of the few characters in the series who represent a progressive alternative to the status quo.

Episode 5, “August for the Party”, develops these themes further by subtly interweaving them within the naturalist confines of a television text so that they appear integral to its nature rather than intrusive. Following a scene where viewers see right-wing Home Secretary Venables (Peter Howell), based on future breakaway co-founder of the Social Democrats Roy Jenkins, and learn about the revisionist tendencies he embodies, Bill discovers that Winnie Scoular has undergone an abortion. Here Griffiths implicitly connects the dilemmas of two women from different classes existing in a patriarchal society. Unlike the abandoned working-class mother Mrs. Pilling (Anne Rait) with four children in the previous episode, Winnie had no difficulty procuring an abortion but she is still also a victim of patriarchy as well as someone also echoing Bill’s own dilemmas concerning politics and sexual relationships. Winnie returns two items Bill loaned her: a pamphlet written by Alex and a book by British feminist writer Sheila Rowbotham both documenting issues of female inequality in contemporary society that this episode also explores. Miriam Brand suffers from being trapped in a loveless marriage while Angie Shaw (Carol Hayman), the wife of Bernard Shaw seen in episode one, attempts to entice Bill into an adulterous relationship. Obviously frustrated in her marriage, she is trapped into becoming little better than a suburban swinger. By contrast, the character of Bill’s daughter Jane (Karen Silver) embodies qualities that suggest her future independent qualities as a woman. The screenplay describes her “as pleased yet faintly embarrassed to be so much at the centre” (125) of her own birthday party. It is clear that she relates more to her father than her younger brother Michael, “self-reliant rather than dismissive” (127), as Bill reaches out to touch her hair. When Bill takes his children to a Ruskin College Summer School, she is more adept at chess than her brother and runs away with the ball during a cricket match with her father and other children. By contrast, Bill’s relationship with Alex begins to show signs of deterioration.  Pressured to attend various social events such as judging a beauty contest by Jowett due to a possible early election, Bill discovers Alex gate-crashing a cheese and wine fundraiser organized at Shaw’s suburban home with a group of his former International Socialist colleagues.  The screenplay describes Shaw in terms anticipating the future membership of New Labour.

He is, as a matter of fact, at the professional-meritocratic centre of the party, an ultra-empiricist with a distaste for both history and ideology. Tonight he is in one of his social elements, democratically mixing, without a trace of condescension, with people mainly his inferiors in terms of brain, earning power and occupational status.” (131)

When Alex returns the next morning, an irritated Bill ignores her efforts to get him to publicize the treatment Mrs. Pilling received from her Catholic gynecologist and announces his intention to live elsewhere to preserve his respectable public image in the light of a possible forthcoming election. As he says, “Principles have therefore to be suspended for the duration.” (137). However, the issue of the “woman question” does not end in this particular episode. Speaking to a predominantly female audience at Ruskin College, an educational institution originally set up for the working-class but now dominated by the upper middle class, Bill criticizes Lenin’s patriarchal attitudes to sexuality while oblivious to flaws existing in his own personality. The episode concludes with the appearance of former Oxford don Venables at the final seminar. While he affirms his idea of the Labour Party basically meaning all things to all people, Bill criticizes the Party’s refusal to deal with female inequality unless pressured to do so and reads from the late Anthony Crossland’s revisionist text The Future of Socialism. Influenced by the right-wing philosophy of Hugh Gaitskell and anticipating what would become central platforms of the future New Labour manifesto, Bill’s selected quotes from this early post-war revisionist politician reveals a Party that denies, and will deny, the need for any fundamental changes in society. A division now emerges at the central point of this series between a supposedly “socialist” Party in power that is one of compromise and other radical alternatives it refuses to follow; no matter how progressive the Government in power thinks it is.

Episode 6, “Resolution”, opens and concludes at the Annual Conference of the Labour Party at Blackpool. An outside broadcast unit introduces the event while an off-screen narration winds up the event commending Prime Minster Watson (Arthur Lowe), loosely based on Harold Wilson’s pragmatic manipulative character, for saving the country once more. For the media, this event is little better than an average television weekly drama containing elements of suspense (such as whether Bill will get his radical agenda of nationalizing the textile industry accepted on the Conference Floor) to the final resolution where matters are conveniently solved for the moment until the next episode (or Conference) begins again. Bill again finds another supposedly valid avenue for agency tarnished by Machiavellian party politics. This episode is also significant for giving us some information about Bill’s dedicated agent Alf Jowett. He reveals his own alienation from wife and children that Party service has caused him and how little he has achieved. “Twenty years of struggling and arguing and wheedling and bullying and hustling and chiseling and promising and welching and offering and not delivering…” This episode illustrates Alf’s discontent with Party Political Conference “business as usual” as well as suggesting the personal links between the different personalities of Agent and M.P.. Both men are estranged from their families. Bill will also discover another example of “not delivering” when a radical motion he supports is finally shelved at the Party conference by its supposedly radical Trade Union proposer. The climax shows that those wishing to achieve genuine change in the Labour Party end up impotent, both personally and politically. Whereas the average television political drama generally emphasizes personal elements to the detriment of the political, as does also the Ralph Thomas film No Love for Johnnie (1961), Bill Brand subtly reveals interconnecting tissues of political and personal in a subtly constructed non-dogmatic, non-melodramatic manner. They form part of a carefully constructed narrative presenting individual dilemmas and political issues for audiences to consider carefully. The episode concludes with Bill refusing David Last’s offer to become his Parliamentary Private Secretary after witnessing the result of Watson’s political maneuvers leading to supposedly radical trade unionist Moores (Ray Smith) dropping his Conference resolution for nationalization of the textile industry and withdrawal from N.A.T.O.

The ironically titled episode 7, “Tranquility of the Realm”, further documents Bill’s frustration with Party politics and his feelings of personal and political impotence. It begins with one of his happy family visits when he and Miriam appear most at ease with each other. When he leaves, the screenplay mentions that Bill “wants to touch her, as friend, as colleague” but “Can’t risk the ambiguity of the gesture.” The expression on Miriam’s face registers sadness as he departs. It is very unlikely that Griffiths intended that this alienated couple could reunite in the manner of any average television soap opera. An accomplished writer such as Griffiths will not fall into this clichéd trap. Rather, the scene suggests the possibility of a new relationship between Bill and Miriam as friends, rather than married couple, that neither can entertain. Bill does not want his gesture to be misunderstood while Miriam mourns for something that has now been lost and refuses to consider any other type of relationship with her estranged husband at this particular time.

Bill places himself on a Commons Standing Committee of an Anti-Terrorist Bill where he is again supposed to support the Party line. But he becomes irritated both by the infantile behavior he witnesses on the part of Labour and Conservatives as well as noticing the unholy alliance between the two Parties to pass a highly oppressive Bill engineered by Home Secretary Venables. Bill leaves the room in disgust.  Experiencing sexual impotency with Alex a few hours later, he speaks of the illusory nature of Parliamentary struggle and his own feelings of political inadequacy in a government “fulfilling – yet again – its historical role as the supreme agent of international capitalism in Britain.” (187) Witnessing again futile committee procedures as well as reactionary comments from Labour and Tory M.Ps, he engages in a diatribe against a Bill clearly aimed at non-IRA, politically active working Irish people, and condemns the real “men of blood,” namely international financiers, and the necessity for the Irish to settle their own problems without British intervention. This very passionate speech superbly delivered by Jack Shepherd represents Bill’s “finest hour”. But it provokes uproar; an attempted assault by a Tory M.P. that Bill defends himself from by flooring the perpetrator, bad publicity, and a fascist attack on his family in their Northenden home. The episode ends with Bill looking out of a window at his charred fence again contemplating the result of his actions.

Episode 8, “Rabbles” opens with Alex waiting for Bill outside the Leighley Labour Party headquarters listening to noisy constituency anger against Bill’s principled stand that has been vilified by right-wing newspapers and compromised by a recent IRA bomb attack in Manchester. Alf’s secretary Irene (Eileen Kennally) types to the sound of Vera Lynn’s popular wartime melody, “The White Cliffs” of Dover” aptly paralleling the battle in the other room as the use of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in two earlier episodes symbolized Bill’s idealism. When Bill expresses anger at the reaction of his constituents, Alf cautiously quotes a past historical reaction to Gorki’s comment on a peasant audience – “Is this the rabble on which we are to build a revolution?” – “Well, the answer’s yes, Mr. Gorki, yes, Mr. Brand. Because without them there is no revolution. We’ve all you’ve got, comrade.” Although it is tempting to evaluate exclusively this series in the light of New Labour’s ideological victory and Trotsky’s writings about the deficiency of the old Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s, it is also important to see it within its original historical context. Griffiths never patronizes certain old Party veterans who still sincerely believe that Labour can change things treating them with a high degree of respect. Twenty years later there can be no illusions about the deceitful nature of this Party.

Bill now suffers another loss, this time in the realm of his personal life. During their cottage retreat, Alex announces the end of their relationship and her desire for a new independent life. “You make me feel married. I’m not a partner, or a comrade. I’m a surrogate wife. (pause) I don’t want the dependence.” (216) Ironically this foreshadows what the Louise Bryant character becomes in Warren Beatty’s revision of Griffiths’s original screenplay for Reds, formerly titled Comrades. Bill learns from Alex that she has had other sexual relationships. However, he does not fall into macho jealousy but accepts the situation and her new status as a “friend.” Although this is the last time Alex is in the series, her face does later appear on a feminist press poster displayed in the room of Bill’s terraced working-class home during episode ten revealing her presence as a still important “comrade” in his life. Bill then considers taking up David Last’s repeated offer of being his Parliamentary Private Secretary in a future leadership contest. He also suggests that his unemployed brother Eddie, tempted to vote Tory in the next election along with other disillusioned working-class voters, struggle “like the rest of us” and join the Right to work Campaign.”

Episode 9, “Anybody’s”, documents the internal Party struggle for the leadership following the resignation of Prime Minister Watson. Rereading Last’s book on Tom Mann on the train to London, Bill decides to take up the offer to become PPS since “A man who hates capitalism as much as you do can’t all be bad.” (229) He also joins what appears to be the only opposition to the revisionist wing of the Party led by Venables and Kearsley (loosely based on Dennis Healey). Last’s motivations are sincere. “All my political life I’ve worked to shift this party to the left. In two days we have a chance to move it further than it’s moved in fifty years or more. Is that a chance we have the right to pass up?” (232) Bill joins the campaign. But, apart from a speech espousing his socialist principles, he operates more as an onlooker during this campaign skeptically viewing political deals that Last makes with opponents such as Deputy Leader Wilks (James McKelvey), based on then Deputy Leader James Callahan, and Wilks supporters such as Maddocks. Last eventually loses to Venables who gains the support of Kearsley’s votes. Griffiths envisages a scenario in which a right-wing Roy Jenkins figure gains the leadership whereas actually it was James Callahan who won before Thatcher’s devastating electoral victory in 1979. Michael Foot did become Labour leader in the 1980s but at the wrong time when Labour was out of power leaving him powerless to change anything and the subject of scorn by the right-wing press. Griffiths’s critical analysis of the political chess playing utilized by the Foot/Last tendency in this episode and others casts grave doubt as to whether David Last is the “Best Man” for the Party. The next episode reveals the ruthless nature of Venables’s type of revisionism. If Griffiths was wrong about the timing of these events he was correct about its eventual success that would lead to the extinction of any socialist beliefs in the Labour Party and the elimination of its old timers such as Alf Jowett, Albert Stead, Cedric Maddocks, and TUC leader Moores (Ray Smith). Virtually every political character in this series suffers from ideological confusion and contamination that will eventually lead to the victory of right-wingers such as Venables and Bernard Shaw.

Episode 10, “Revisions”, depicts the beginning of the end for any hopes of the Labour Party actively pursuing socialist policies. Deviously maintaining Watson’s original Cabinet such as left wingers Last and Brent (John Woodnutt) whom he plans to remove by coerced resignation or offers of a peerage (as will be the case for Minister Edna Copple (Jean Boht), Venables outlines his plans for a “Brave New World” at Cabinet meetings – one that will fully embrace right-wing revisionism. Participating on a Right to Work demonstration, Bill also attends a meeting with TUC leaders and finds them reluctant to defend the interests of their members. Left alone with Moores, he receives a heated response from this veteran trade unionist who tells him of his participation in the Spanish Civil War while a youngster with his father. “Now I didn’t fight and he didn’t fight – so that I could come back and betray my own class. OK?”  However, the sequence ends with Bill looking at a portrait of Lord Citrine in House of Lords robes. Walter Citrine was one of the trade unionists who betrayed the 1926 General Strike against Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government, an episode dealt with by Ken Loach and Tony Garnett in the final part of their 1974 BBC mini-series Days of Hope. The scene then dissolves into a portrait of early eighteenth century Prime Minister Robert Walpole in the Downing Street Cabinet Meeting presided over by Venables. This is an interesting transition. Although Griffiths allows Moores some degree of sincerity in his outburst, he also reveals that this character is blind in not realizing what his refusal to support his members results in. It is as guilty as Citrine’s earlier capitulation to the Conservative Government of his day. Moores complies with a political establishment that has never changed from the days of Walpole in maintaining class rule. During this meeting, Venables announces his plan to use unemployment as a deliberate strategy to combat inflation and meet the demands of international bankers. The sequence ends with David Last commenting to Brent, “What are we doing here?” Their presence is futile at this meeting. It again reflects the theme of personal and political impotence running throughout the series whenever anybody thinks that they can change the system from within. However, the episode does conclude on a positive note in terms of personal change and recognition of past sincere sacrifices representatives of an earlier generation once made. Bill accepts Miriam’s announcement of remarrying and hears her admission that self-hatred motivated her earlier behavior towards him. Eddie informs Bill not only about his newly inspired active participation on the Right to Work campaign but also his meeting Albert Stead and learning about this veteran Labour activist’s own participation in the Spanish Civil War. “He’s still got two machine gun bullets floating around inside him somewhere. He was all right. (pause) And he still bloody fighting, inne.”(276) This revealed personal history represents a strong contrast to that of Moores and Citrine. At this point of time, Griffiths still retains some degree of hope for the rejuvenation of socialism in the Labour Party in terms of its historical links with past struggles that can provide inspiration and an antidote against those other veterans who have sold out.

Episode 11, “It is the people who create”, attempts to provide some hope for the future as well as revealing that its central character has learned many things personally and politically. Going to a fund raising football match for the “Right to Work” campaign with his daughter, Bill meets old university friend Jaimie Finn (Jonathan Pryce) who is now involved in consciousness-raising fringe theatre activities. Portrayed by an actor then well-known for his performance as Gethin Price in Griffiths’s Comedians and who would play the leading role in Richard Eyre’s cinematic dramatization of 80s political compromise The Ploughman’s Lunch (1984), Pryce’s appearance in this episode represents one of the many possibilities towards the search for cultural and political alternatives the whole series explores. 23 Which is the way forward?  Unlike a typical jealous father, Bill parts from his daughter positively after learning that she will be accompanying her stepfather and mother on a trip to Leningrad. In Parliament, Deputy Chief Whip Sandiford is now Venables’s man and the division between Bill’s socialism and the new revisionism is explicitly apparent. Venables has removed Maddocks from his controlling position as Chief Whip and he is to move upstairs to the House of Lords following the precedent of Citrine and other betrayers of the Labour movement such as Alf Robens. However, as in the scene with Moores, Griffiths allows this veteran some dignity when he tells Bill of his pride in being the son of a docker who had helped organize the 1889 strike in which Tom Mann (the subject of a television play Griffiths had attempted in vain to get produced at the BBC) had participated. Maddocks speaks about positive changes in England since 1945. But, as with the presence of the portrait of Lord Citrine in the previous episode, Griffiths questions this veteran’s sincerity when we see him removing a picture of sheep from his office and looking at it after Bill leaves. No matter how much Maddocks believes he is a principled man in terms of Labour Party politics, he has treated MPs like sheep throughout the time of his role as Chief Whip and, like Edna Copple, is being rewarded for his services to the establishment with a peerage.

By the time of this final episode, it is obvious that things need to change and that the old Labour Party way of “business as usual” cannot work. Before Bill appears on television in a debate arranged with two conservative Labour M.Ps obviously selected to make him the solitary voice on the program, he overhears two exiled African politicians vehemently debating problems of western capitalism. Their intensity matches Bill’s impassioned commitment to the 1974 socialist manifesto during the television debate. Although he has left the International Socialists group, it is by now obvious that national politics can not be isolated from international issues. This same is true for art and sexuality as well as politics. An audience has to be reached to move forward. Bill attends Jaimie’s fringe theatre rehearsal and watches a sketch dealing with sexual politics and female oppression. The actors debate the validity of their tactics and how it can reach a working-class audience foreign to fringe theatre. Among the group is a refugee from Chile who Bill talks to in the final sequence. The penultimate scene of this episode occurs in Alf Jowett’s office introduced by a radio reports about mass arrests and demonstrations in Chile. Jowett also reveals his knowledge of history to Bill, but like what Eddie learned from Albert Stead on the Right to Work demonstration, it is untarnished by any sense of the high level compromises Maddocks and Moore made in their political careers. Alf has seen figures such as Venables attempt to take over the Labour Party before and envisages others doing so in the future.

“They can’t win because reality’s not on their side. They think capitalism’s like …a coat of paint, like a veneer, and underneath is the structure. But capitalism is the structure. The reality. And it splits us up, sets us against each other and against ourselves, in classes, in thought, in life-styles, in aspirations and all the rest of it…And it breeds resistance, in every worker who goes down the road, in every tenant evicted, in every man and woman denied the chance to be human.” (299)

Bill then suggests Alf book Jaimie’s theater group. He returns to his house where he has accommodated them and contradicts Dink’s shallow comment about the dwelling, “it’s terrific”, with the response, “It’s a miserable little hutch. And there are about ten million people still live in them. And living here is a good way of not forgetting it.” (301). Dink (Susan Glanville) previously commented on the necessity of learning from the experiences of a bad performance. “If you’re gonna make connections, raise consciousness, you’ve gotta start where people are actually at, not from some notional spot in the middle of your own middle-class, guilt-ridden hang ups…” (300)  Both Bill and Miriam had rid themselves of these hang-ups by the end of the series. Despite divorce, the implication remains that they will remain friends in a similar manner to the relationship now existing between Bill and Alex, having no post-marital antagonisms that will threaten the future emotional health of their children. When Bill learns that Winnie Scoular has not accepted Venables’s bribe of a Ministerial post and may face disciplinary action by her local committee for opposing the Government, he leaves her with a renewed feeling of respect as she says, “Cheers, comrade.” He now has a new ally for as long as they remain in Parliament. In the final scene Bill speaks to Aya (Adelaida Arias), the Chilean member of the group, and learns that she intends to return “When we have won.” (301) Struggle is going to continue on all levels.

Poole and Wyver question the efficacy of this final episode that they believe “displays elements which do run counter to the naturalism of the rest of the series” as if they are there “expressly to comment on what has gone before.” 24 One possible conclusion is that the alternative theatre element may intuitively reveal the inadequacy of Griffiths' choice of naturalism as a means to deliver the political message of the series. However, they conclude with a more plausible reading by suggesting that Griffiths employed the Pryce character and his theatre group to reveal problems inherent in using unfamiliar avant-garde strategies that may alienate working-class audiences rather than stimulating them to think politically. This occurs in Dink’s line “If you’re going to make connections, raise consciousness, you’ve got to start where people are actually at.” These words both evoke the cultural strategy envisaged by Trotsky in Literature and Revolution where he strongly criticized the Proletkult movement of his day that argued for a break with previous forms of cultural representation and also the tone of the ending that concludes on an international note as opposed to the particular level of local national politics that the series has examined. A sympathetic neighbor, Mrs. Wainwright (Constance Chapman), bids Bill “Good night,” after delivering a sheaf of letters and a package. He reads one letter written on the Fight for Work Campaign letterhead that mentions inundation of applications for membership into the Leighley Labour Party branch due to Bill’s activities during his short time as an MP. In the next room Dink accompanies Aya who sings Victor Jara’s Venceremos.  The screenplay ends with the words Brand stands and watches from the doorway; half moved by, half critically separate from the experience.

This conclusion is open ended placing hero (and audience) at an intellectual crossroads. Political struggle can not be fought only on the national level. It involves an international approach culturally, historically, and politically. At this point, Bill is at the half-way point of his development. He can either commit himself to a broader type of struggle or remain skeptically removed from it. Three years later, he would probably lose his seat in the 1979 Thatcherite victory. That is, unless he finally recognizes the futility of any progressive struggle within either the Labour Party or Parliamentary democracy and decides to commit himself to alternative movements outside the system with full knowledge of the difficult and isolated road involved. But, evoking the original title of Griffiths’s Reds screenplay he would still have “Comrades” to work with.

I wish to thank Trevor and Gill Griffiths for supplying me with copies of the series and screenplay as well as answering several of my questions by email.

 

Notes

  1. “History to Hollywood: Mick Eaton talks to Trevor Griffiths,” Screen 23.2) 1982): 65.
    Return to Article
  2. Op. cit. 64.
    Return to Article
  3. Op. cit, 65.
    Return to Article
  4. Op. cit.
    Return to Article
  5. Op. cit. 67.
    Return to Article
  6. Op. cit. 70.
    Return to Article
  7. The elderly compromised senior Labour politician was played by Bill Fraser. Popularly known for his performance as Sergeant-Major Snudge when he replaced future Dr. Who William Hartnell during the 1958-1960 seasons of the comedy series The Army Game, he appeared with Unity Theatre veteran Alfie Bass in the spin-offs Bootsie and Snudge (1960-1963) and Foreign Affairs (1964) where both characters entered the diplomatic service in an Eastern European country. Fraser later performed the Jimmy Jewell role in the 1979 BBC production of Griffiths’s The Comedians with Jonathan Pryce repeating his 1975 Nottingham Playhouse role of Gethin Price for which he won an Emmy Award in the 1976 Broadway production directed by Mike Nichols that Beatty also saw. Bass and Fraser appeared frequently in British theatre with Bass performing the Topol role in the London production of Fiddler on the Roof. The Unity Theatre was a radical, working-class- orientated group during the 1930s and Bass had actually appeared with Paul Robeson in one of its productions. At the time of writing, the BBC Play for Today production of Comedians directed by Richard Eyre is available on youtube as is The Last Place on Earth.
    Return to Article
  8. Op. cit. 67.
    Return to Article
  9. John Tulloch, “Trevor Griffiths.” http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/G/htmlG/griffithstr/html.
    Return to Article
  10. John Williams, Trevor Griffith (1935-   ), http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id539442/index.html.
    Return to Article
  11. Eaton, 68-69. Although recognizing Griffiths’s work as being “predominantly naturalistic” and appearing to have few affinities with Brechtian tradition, some critics have discerned “a certain limited use of alienation techniques” akin to Brecht’s conception of an open-ended theatre involving “the attempt to unsettle the audience and refuse a satisfactory solution within the terms of the play.” See Janet Wolff, Steve Ryan, Jim McGuigan, and Derek McKiernan, “Problems of Radical Drama: The Plays and Productions of Trevor Griffiths,” Literature, Society and the Sociology of Literature: Proceedings of the Conference held at the University of Essex July 1976. Eds. Francis Barker et. al. University of Essex, 1977, 140. The writers also note that “Griffiths’s work stays within the conventions of naturalism and if anything there is a progressive entrenchment in this direction.”(141). Although the question of naturalism in British television drama is a contested issue, it should also be noted that cultural critics such as Raymond Williams see progressive overtones within this tradition. See Raymond Williams, “Cinema and Socialism.” The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists.  London: Verso, 1989, 113-116. Wolff and others also note that Griffiths mentioned in conversation that Brecht “never used an original content but reworked old stories in a new form and in this way sought to comment indirectly on the contemporary political situation. Griffiths wants to deal more directly with the substance of current issues in a serious intellectual way and because of this he is concerned that the form should not obscure the content, a point fraught with difficulties…” (141). These difficulties involve “whether naturalism is capable of sustaining a socialist oppositional viewpoint” (143), an issue that Raymond Williams has also addressed.
    Return to Article
  12. Edward Buscombe, “Making Love and Revolution.” Screen 23.2 (1982): 75.
    Return to Article
  13. See Wolff et al. 135, 148 who note both Griffiths’s reputation as a prestigious writer interested in television and his friendship with executive producer Stella Richman whose company had connections and influence with Thames Television.
    Return to Article
  14.  See John Williams, “Bill Brand (1976)”. http://www.screenline.org.uk/tv/id/557903/index.html.
    Return to Article
  15. The Bill Brand scripts have finally appeared as Trevor Griffiths, Bill Brand: The Screenplays, Russell House, Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2010. This publishing company is associated with the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a peace activist and campaigner against the Vietnam War towards the end of his life.  Presently, the chances of Bill Brand obtaining a DVD release are as slim as those of the Loach-Garnett production of Days of Hope (1974) appearing in a BBC release along with the latest Jane Austen adaptation since both series are critical of the failings of the Labour Party. Bill Brand intuitively anticipates the rise of New Labour and the death of any hopes for change within this political party.
    Return to Article
  16. For further information on her distinguished television career see “Verity Lambert,” http://.www:/en.wikipediia.org/wiki/Verity_Lambert/html and Lambert, Verity (1935-2007) http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/55-923/index.html.
    Return to Article
  17. Mike Poole and John Wyver, Powerplays: Trevor Griffiths in Television. London: BFI Publishing, 1984, 74.
    Return to Article
  18. See “Introduction,” Bill Brand: The Screenplays, 7-9.
    Return to Article
  19. Quoted from The Times Educational Supplement July 16th, 1976 by John Tulloch, Trevor Griffiths, Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2006, 96.
    Return to Article
  20. Bill’s experience is not unique. Several people left radical political parties during the 1970s and early 80s either in the sincere hope that they could change things in a Labour Party that did retain a faint aura of left wing ideals embodied in the nationalization clause that Tony Blair removed from the Party manifesto when he became leader in the 1990s or from motives of opportunism like the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (and former International Marxist Group member!) Alistair Darling. During the 1980s when right wing Laborites such as Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, and David Owen left to form the Social Democrats other misguided people (such as myself) joined the Labour Party briefly in the delusion that things were going to change. As Poole and Wyver note, “Brand himself represents a current rather than any individual: the new wave of younger, broadly Marxist, Labour leftists who began to win seats in the 1970s. Something about him, though, intermittently suggests one of the great backbench mavericks of the 1974-9 Labour government: Jeff Rooker, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr.” (76)
    Return to Article
  21. Further quotations are from the Spokesman edition of the text of this series mentioned above.
    Return to Article
  22. David Last is one of several characters based on then recognizable Labour politicians throughout the series. The screenplay describes him as “over 60, tall, angular, with a fine shock of white wavy hair, glasses.” (80) Although the origins of this character were clearly recognizable for contemporary viewers, Poole and Wyver comment on Alan Badel’s type of acting as being “too svelte and cynically astute by half” (77) in contrast to the original model. However, like all the politicians in this series, David Last also “represents a current rather than any individual.” According to Trevor Griffiths, Alan Badel (1923-1982) was not his first choice for the role but Patrick Allen (1927-2006), an actor well known to British television audiences for his appearances in the ITV series Crane (1963-65) and the BBC drama series Brett (1971). Like Badel, he had worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and later played Gradgrind in the 1977 Granada TV production of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times as well as Theseus in the 1964 ITV production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (At this point of time it seems amazing that ITV actually transmitted a Shakespeare production over forty-five years ago!) However, Griffiths never sought to identify his characters with any one politician. As he pointed out in one interview, the series represents a `fictional meta-world, where you can identify no so much people, as stances. Which are much more important than people. For example, there might be what is now called a Wilsonian stance, or a Michael Foot stance, or a Roy Jenkins stance. But the people who occupy those stances in the series are not those people.” (Poole and Wyver, 26). According to a November 17, 2009 email, Trevor Griffiths stated that he had never been happy by the way the series was seen “as depending on a none-to-one correspondence between character and real life figure…This made it deeply irritating for the press hounds, but did eventually make them concentrate on the plays in order to grind out their meanings.”
    Return to Article
  23. For an analysis of The Ploughman’s Lunch, see Tony Williams, “The Ploughman’s Lunch: Remembering or Forgetting History,” Jump Cut 36 (1991): 11-18. Jaimie’s fringe theatre group activities recalls the many progressive artistic movements funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain during the 1970s, groups that would all but vanish in the reactionary Thatcher and Blair eras. If Bill Brand reveals the very different nature of a Labour Party that still had progressive ideals (in some sections) in the 1970s, it also documents that lost world of alternative theatre that once provided a viable alternative to the commercial sector.
    Return to Article
  24. Poole and Wyver, 99
    Return to Article

RETURN TO NON-FICTION INDEX >