Home Television Drama Wednesday Play, The

Wednesday Play, The

Stand Up, Nigel Barton.

1 9 6 4 – 1 9 7 0 (UK)
60 x 60 minute episodes

First broadcast on 28 October 1964, this long-running series of dramatic productions from the BBC contained new versions of older productions and also developed a reputation for controversial and ground-breaking new original stories. The first programme shown was A Crack In The Ice written by Nikolai Leskov and directed by Ronald Eyre.


Other titles broadcast included Sartre’s In Camera and a 1965 Ken Loach version of the Sixties classic Up The Junction, which starred Carol White and was written by Nell Dunn, daughter of wealthy industrialist Sir Phillip Dunn, and based on her own observations of life in the Clapham Junction area of South London.

Up The Junction prompted numerous irate phone calls from viewers, particularly about the scene in which a girl has a backstreet abortion.

The co-founder of the newly formed Clean Up TV Campaign, Mrs Mary Whitehouse, wrote to the then Minister of Health, Kenneth Robinson, accusing the BBC of “presenting promiscuity as being normal”.

Another notable play broadcast in 1965 was John Hopkins’ Fable, a stark, explosive and contemporary story of reverse apartheid in which white people in Britain found themselves the oppressed second-class citizens living in trembling fear of their black masters (pictured at left).

The white population is herded together by order of the government and shuttled off to Scotland to provide a labour force and alleviate the population swell in the south.  It was an uncompromising play, directed by Christopher Morahan, narrated by Keith Barron and starring Thomas Baptiste, Ronald Lacey, Rudolph Walker and Andre Dakar.

Two other Wednesday Plays worthy of mention were Dennis Potter’s Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton, both of which are thought to be autobiographical. Keith Barron played Barton (pictured below).

Vote, Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton.

For whatever reasons – the generous use of filmstock, a fairly free editorial hand – The Wednesday Play became the key means by which the Angry Young Men of British theatre reached a mass audience. So pervasive was the influence of this relatively small band of revolutionary political writers (and their behind-the-camera co-thinkers like Tony Garnett and Waris Hussein) that the fact the The Wednesday Play also staged European classics and domestic tragedies is all but forgotten.

The list of actors in starring roles in Wednesday Play productions reads like a veritable who’s who of the British theatre industry.

When the day of transmission was changed to Thursday, The Wednesday Play became Play For Today, the same show of single plays in all but name.