1 9 7 9 (UK)
1 x 75 minute episode
The BAFTA award-winning television play for 1979 was Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills (BBC1), which was a stunningly effective portrayal of children, not as innocents, but as small versions of the adults they are to become.
The group of seven-year-olds experiencing adventures in the Forest of Dean – that strange and magical enclave in the heart of Gloucestershire – on an idyllic summer’s afternoon in 1943 in this episode of Play For Today were played by actors and actresses well past the age of consent and, in the case of porky Colin Welland – as the cowardly fat boy, Willie – far from small. The effect was comically horrific.
Potter had a very true ear and the characters spoke (in dialect) with the authentic voice of childhood. The boys all wanted to be parachutists or commandos. They behaved like all children: they rushed about, they squabbled, and the girls played “nurses” or “house”.
Peter (Michael Elphick) was the blustering extroverted bully, John (Robin Ellis) the nice serious-minded and handsome one, Donald (Colin Jeavons) was the sad and tortured “Donald Duck”, and Raymond (John Bird) the sickly-looking boy with a stutter and a cowboy outfit.
Angela (Helen Mirren) was the pretty girl with ribbons at whose side was always the bespectacled and twisted Audrey (Janine Duvitski).
Their games, spontaneous actions (continuous and in real-time) and casual cruelty reflected their awareness of WWII, but no adults were present to intrude.
Potter’s remembrance of his boyhood was vivid. There was, for example, the saga of the squirrel, the unfortunate creature bludgeoned and prodded to death by the hysterical boys whose bloodlust almost immediately turned to remorse and floods of tears.
There was, too, the fight between the two big boys each hoping that the other would back down, and in which a straight blow was rarely struck but which – like all boyhood scraps – consisted mainly of endless rolling over and the inevitable entangling and stretching of jumpers.
There was laughter, there was fear (however self-induced) as the children’s imaginations raced away from them. They believed an escaped Italian prisoner of war was hunting them. “He’s after blood. English blood,” said the frightened Willie, succeeding only in frightening himself still further.
And at the end, there was a horrible death as the children, taunting the hapless Donald, unwittingly shut him in the barn while it began to blaze.
It was a final black smear on the face of childhood innocence.
The play was made entirely on film with Brian Gibson directing and Kenith Trodd producing.