The best British television comedy of 1977 was not exactly written. Abigail’s Party was the BBC’s first full-length play where much of the dialogue was improvised.
The Mike Leigh production, screened as part of Play For Today, starred Leigh’s then-wife Alison Steadman as Beverly, nouveau riche Queen Bee in a ghastly orange dress alternately stinging and sweetening her neighbours while her stressed-out little worker husband, Laurence (Tim Stern), buzzed himself into a heart attack.
Beverly invites her new neighbours, the timid Angela (Janine Duvitski) and her sullen ex-soccer player husband Tony (John Salthouse), over for drinks. She also asks her mild-mannered divorced neighbour, Sue, because Sue’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Abigail, (never seen onscreen) is holding a party in their house for her teenage friends.
She also asks her mild-mannered divorced neighbour, Sue (Harriet Reynolds), because Sue’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Abigail, (never seen onscreen) is holding a party in their house for her teenage friends.
Although Beverly believes herself to be the height of sophistication, her overt bullying of Laurence (“you’re a boring little bugger, Laurence”) and a lack of tact or self-awareness doom the gathering from the start.
As the evening drags by, the drink flows freely, Beverly forces everyone to endure the “fantastic” Demis Roussos on the stereo (“we don’t want to listen to that fat Greek caterwauling all night”), and marital tensions reach fever pitch as she obliviously sails through a series of social blunders.
A savage send-up of lower-middle-class manners, it was shown three times and would probably have won the BAFTA Best Play award for the year had the BBC not also produced Jack Rosenthal’s Spend, Spend, Spend, based on the true story of Viv Nicholson who won £152,000 on the football pools and spent it all with the help of several disastrous husbands.
Abigail’s Party has since gathered a cult following and, in 1997, BBC2 presented an Abigail’s Party night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its first transmission.