1 9 8 2 (UK)
6 x 60 minute episodes
The success of the Play for Today production The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980) persuaded the producers there was mileage in a spin-off series of science fiction plays.
Play for Tomorrow only ran for one series between 13 April and 18 May 1982 and although these slices of “future” life seem quaint when viewed today, this BBC anthology offered audiences of the day a speculative glimpse into the near future.
Over the course of six episodes – ‘Crimes’, ‘Bright Eyes’, ‘Cricket’, ‘The Nuclear Family’, ‘Shades’ and ‘Easter 2016’ – various writers explored a range of contemporary issues in futuristic settings.
Caryl Churchill’s opening play, ‘Crimes’, is set in the year 2002. A time of heavily controlled and restricted activity, over-populated prisons, and the ever-increasing threat of nuclear war.
Melvyn (TP McKenna) is trying to cope with marital issues with his wife, Ronnie (Julia Foster) while watching recorded video interviews with criminals – and so we are presented with a series of monologues.
The first is from a pretty arsonist and mass murderer called Jane (Sylvestra Le Touzel) who is obviously as nutty as a fruitcake.
“Little rich girls get mugged and raped and where would I end up at 14 but mugged, raped, living in the disused tube tunnels of the old Northern Line with all the people I was meant to be frightened of” she recalls.
“I didn’t want to be frightened; I wanted to be frightening”. She goes on, “I’d like to be in a nursery rhyme like ‘Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks'”.
But Jane is not in a prison. She is walking the streets and has learned to control herself with a wristful of controlling microchips. “Any time I want something I shouldn’t have . . . I have this little button on my wrist and I can give myself a little electric shock”. She goes along with the system as it grants her a kind of freedom.
The other two monologues feature a tortured David Bellamy figure called Ron (Peter Whitbread) who is in constant rebellion against the ruination and colonisation of rural life and has been turned into a criminal because of his beliefs in conservation, and a Rastafarian called Elliot (Rufus Collins) who considers himself a political prisoner.
The final act of the episode reveals that Melvyn and his wife are, in fact, living in their deluxe fallout shelter in expectation of an imminent nuclear attack.
Sylvestra Le Touzel
It is New Year’s Eve 1999 and Britain is part of a true European Community in the midst of a Euro-war.
In a gleaming white Euro-prison ante-room, Sam Howard (Robin Ellis) waits anxiously for his daughter, Cathy (Sarah Berger) – who is apparently being grilled for some terrorist connection to the assassination of a pro-war politician during the Euro-war – and has time on his hands for flashbacks.
We go first back to New Year’s Eve in 1979 when Cathy – then a golden-haired sleepy tot – was dumped on Sam by his errant wife, Rachel (Kate Harper) as she hit the town.
Then we go to New Year’s Eve 1989, and his arrival at a ‘Sixties party’ that Cathy is throwing with some student friends as Sam (a one-time campus radical) becomes affronted by his daughter’s gentle mocking of 60s counter-culture.
The upshot, in 1999, is that the girl has turned radical – and father is now the compromiser, helping authority to get her to recant rather than suffer the death penalty.
All the while, a security guard in the room watches The Anxious Heart on the telly (along with 700 million viewers worldwide) in breaks between surveillance.
The play was scripted by Peter Prince.
Cathy As A Child
Constantine de Goguel
Girl At The Party
Boy At The Party
This black comedy written by Michael Wilcox begins with what looks like a routine selection meeting in the 1997 season of the Coanwood Cricket Club for an upcoming match against the Blenkinsop Cricket Club.
But there seems to be a stronger game afoot – more to do with the mounting resistance of farming people to the predations of the Forestry Commission in an age when the national need for timber is urgent.
The sinister Forestry Commission has a plan to re-plant the nation and force out traditional farmers, backed with egalitarian laws to break up estates, end tenants’ inheritance and let any bidder have a small slice.
With landed gent, sturdy tenant and labourer all represented on the cricket committee, the scene is set for conflicts of interest.
The Nuclear Family
It is 1999 and the British government is instilling a fear of nuclear holocaust in its population in order to further technological development. As a result, education is geared to the computer era, with a terminal in every home.
It’s a world where the middle-aged are long out of work (physical work is a thing of the past) and their computer-literate micro-kid teenagers are the breadwinners.
Joe Brown (Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan in his first straight television role) is tired of being made to feel like a second class citizen by his son Gary (Gerard Kelly) and volunteers his (highly dysfunctional) family into the Citizen National Defence program for a “working holiday” – under the sea at the “Sea Bed 6” Underwater Defence Station.
Russell Hunter is the weird Sergeant Smellie, huskily breathing “The fear of the holocaust possesses us”.
The play was written by Tom McGrath.
It is 1999 (again) and the government is paying unemployed youths to live in city tower blocks which have been converted into government-run “Youth Units” where the young are paid to amuse themselves with the aid of virtual reality glasses (the ‘Shades’ of the title).
At a time when the kids might historically have been studying, training, working or protesting, they have been bought off by the government with paid leisure, funded by the “New Wealth” generated by the microchip.
This contribution by Stephen Lowe was – seen in retrospect – perhaps the most realistic of the future-scape plays, with young people utilising virtual reality to live their dreams rather than aspiring to achieve them in reality.
It is March 2016, and the centennial of the Dublin Easter Rising is approaching.
A struggle develops at Northern Ireland’s only “integrated” teacher training college – over a proposed commemorative march by nationalist students – between the college principal Cyril Brown (Denys Hawthorne) and Security Director Lennie North (Derrick O’Connor), who values security more than education.
Caught in the middle of a political storm, the principal resorts to an act of desperation that has tragic consequences.
This play by the Northern Irish writer Graham Reid – with a superb cast including Bill Nighy, Colm Meaney and Kenneth Branagh – explored the “troubles” in Northern Ireland through a 21st-century lens, raising questions about the individual vs the state and matters of security.