1 9 7 3 – 1 9 7 8 (UK)
54 x 30 minute episodes
This superb BBC2 drama anthology series of short plays was written largely by first-time writers (the “firsts” of the series title) and produced at the BBC’s £7 million television complex at Pebble Mill in Birmingham – which is often referred to as England’s “second city” (hence the other part of the title).
Second City Firsts enabled a number of now very well-known writers to have their first television scripts produced: “King of the Castle” (shot on location in an industrial setting using an Outside Broadcast unit and broadcast on 12 November 1973) was the first play by Willy Russell, while another Liverpudlian, Alan Bleasdale, made his television debut in 1975 with “Early to Bed” (20 March 1975) – the story of Vinny (David Warwick), an 18-year old student who was having a sexual relationship with Helen (Alison Steadman), the young married woman living next door.
Many fine British actors appeared in the series, including Alun Armstrong, Julie Walters, Richard Griffiths, Michael Gambon, Dinsdale Landen, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Elphick, David Threlfall, Bob Peck, Brian Glover, Arthur English, Liz Smith, Max Wall, Phil Daniels and Ivor Roberts.
The first play to be shown in the Second City Firsts series was “The Medium” (15 October 1973), written by the Sunderland-based writer Denise Robertson. Its subject was spiritualism: a group of women gathered in the house of Beattie (Norah Fulton), whose husband had recently died, to have their fortunes told by a drunken clairvoyant (Winifrede Shelley). Beattie’s daughter (Valerie Georgeson) saw that the clairvoyant was a fraud but pretended otherwise to her mother to not destroy her faith in the afterlife.
The 1974 episode “Girl” featured the first lesbian kiss on British television. The kiss was shared between Alison Steadman and Myra Frances in a tale of Jackie and Chrissie – two female army officers at the end of their affair (pictured below).
Future punk diva Toyah Willcox made her television debut in the episode “Glitter” (1976).
1973: The Medium | Mrs Pool’s Preserves | If a Man Answers | The Movers | King of the Castle | Patrons | That Time of Life
1974: Humbug, Finger or Thumb? | Girl | Bold Face: Condensed | The Actual Woman | Match of the Day | Lunch Duty || Pig Bin | Sunday Tea | Silence | Fight for Shelton Bar | Squire | Too Hot to Handle | The Festive Poacher
1975: Early to Bed | Swallows | Waiting at the Field Gate | The Permissive Society | The Frank Crank Story | Released || Club Havana | The Writing on the Wall | How It Is | On the Good Ship Yacki-Hicki-Doola | Thwum | The Healing
1976: Trotsky Is Dead | The Visitor | Do You Dig It? | Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration | Black Bird Shout | Travelling Free || Summer Season | Knock for Knock | Glitter | Dreamboat | Percy and Kenneth
1977: Twelve Off the Belt | Postcards from Southsea | Daft Mam Blues | In the Dead Spell | Waifs and Strays | Fattening Frogs for Snakes
1978: The Back Page | Shall I See You Now? | The Lady Irene | Mucking Out | Rotten