1 9 8 8 – 1 9 9 1 (UK)
30 x 90/60 minute episodes
Premiering on 19 January 1988, this series of contemporary dramas from the BBC marked a comeback for the anthology of single plays so popular in Britain in the 60s and 70s.
The first series featured eight television plays produced by BBC Scotland at a cost of nearly £3 million, beginning with Peter McDougall’s ‘Down Where the Buffalo Go’ – the story of an American marine (played by American actor Harvey Keitel) based at the Polaris submarine base at Holy Loch.
Other plays in the first series included ‘The Dark Room’ (which dealt with the emotional trauma of cot death); ‘Normal Service’, set on Election Day 1964 in a little office shared by the graphic and design staff of Forth and Clyde Television (starring Kenneth Cranham and Richard Wilson); ‘The Dunroamin’ Rising’ with Russell Hunter playing an 88-year-old veteran of Red Clydeside (pictured) consigned to a church-run old people’s home; ‘A Wholly Healthy Glasgow’ by Iain Heggie; ‘Unreported Incident’, an extraordinary drama about an ex-soldier (Maurice Roeves) who dedicates his life to caring for the wheelchair-bound Irishman he shot in the back during an incident in Ulster (Tim Brierley); ‘Airbase’ by Malcolm McKay, featuring four days in the life of a young female USAF officer who is posted to the all-male world of a US airbase in Britain; and ‘The Party’, set in the fashionable London home of a television drama producer where a group of Socialists gather against a background of the 1968 student riots in Paris.
The 1989 series began with Anthony Hopkins in fine form playing a fierce Welsh farmer told to cut his milk production by EEC bureaucrats in ‘Heartland’.
Other episodes in the second series included ‘These Foolish Things’ with James Fox and Lindsay Duncan; ‘Govan Ghost Story’, an atmospheric and disturbing drama with a former leader of the famous Upper Clyde Shipbuilder’s Work-In (Tom Watson) – which opposed the Heath Government’s plans to close the yards – living alone in a high-rise block of flats with strange noises coming from the empty flat next door; ‘The Shawl’ starring Nigel Hawthorne and Brenda Blethyn; Griff Rhys Jones playing a disturbed social worker in ‘A View of Harry Clark’; ‘The Gift’ with two young footballers from Wick invited to Glasgow for a trial with a big club (managed by Tommy Docherty); ‘Clowns’ with Harry Andrews in his final TV role (he died in March 1989) playing a retired school master who chooses to stay away from the 80th birthday party thrown by his family; the comedy ‘Biting the Hands’ about two Scottish women performing a feminist cabaret act in a seedy pub, who have to choose between principle and profit when success beckons; ‘A Master of the Marionettes’ with Kenneth Cranham as Teddy Rose, a successful security alarms salesman whose life is changed forever by violent street encounter; and ‘Unexplained Laughter’ starring Diana Rigg and Elaine Page as two London girls who head off to Wales to get away from it all and find themselves involved with a troubled girl and the various love affairs of the locals.
The Play on One returned in 1990 with the powerful drama ‘Changing Step’ penned by and starring RSC actor and novelist Antony Sher. Set in Scotland in the spring of 1917, it followed the experiences of two newcomers to Sorn Castle, a large country house and estate which had been made available to convalescing soldiers home from the Great War. Many of the wounded soldiers were played by real amputees.
This was followed by ‘The Wreck on the Highway’, a moving tale about a washed-up country & western singer; the thriller ‘Killing Time’ by Kevin Elyot, addressing the problem of the thousands of people who disappear without a trace in Britain each year; ‘Obituaries’ starring Ian Carmichael and Ronald Fraser as a pair of irascible residents in an old folks’ nursing home who amuse themselves by playing a game in which the winner is decided by how many times the words “peacefully” and “suddenly” appear in the obituary columns of the Times and the Daily Telegraph; ‘Don’t Hang Up’ starring Rosanna Arquette and David Suchet as an actress and a playwright who conduct a special relationship by trans-Atlantic phone calls; and ‘Yellowbacks’ – the name given to the trucks that drive the victims of an unspecified virus away to concentration camps in this futuristic drama about the AIDS panic (starring Tim Roth and Imelda Staunton).
The final series of The Play on One debuted on 25 July 1991 with ‘Misterioso’, named after the classic jazz piece by Thelonious Monk, and featuring Suzan Sylvester as a young woman on a search to find her real father after her mother dies.
Subsequent episodes included the black comedy ‘Gas & Candles’ in which pensioners Bill (Bert Parnaby) and Betty (Edna Dore) are living on their meagre pension in a high-rise flat until a tin of salmon triggers a chain of events which changes their lives; ‘Escape from Kampala’, recreating the real-life story of Wycliffe Kato (John Matshikiza), Uganda’s Director of Civil Aviation in the early 70s, who was arrested (but not charged) in September 1977 and tortured while other prisoners around him were killed; ‘And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon’, a bittersweet comedy about four women in a Glasgow hospital who must come to terms with having breast cancer; ‘Out of the Blue’ starring Colin Firth and Catherine Zeta-Jones; and ‘Effie’s Burning’, with young Dr Ruth Kovacs (Phyllis Logan) turning detective to probe into the strange case of an elderly patient called Effie (Paula Tilbrook) who claims her injuries are the result of spontaneous combustion. This play marked the final television appearance of Gordon Jackson, who died before the play was aired.
Down Where the Buffalo Go | The Dark Room | Normal Service | The Dunroamin’ Rising | A Wholly Healthy Glasgow | Unreported Incident | Airbase | The Party || Heartland | These Foolish Things | Govan Ghost Story | The Shawl | A View of Harry Clark | The Gift | Clowns | Biting the Hands | A Master of the Marionettes | Unexplained Laughter || Changing Step | The Wreck on the Highway | Killing Time | Obituaries | Don’t Hang Up | Yellowbacks || Misterioso | Gas & Candles | Escape from Kampala | And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon | Out of the Blue | Effie’s Burning