It would be true to say that the BBC PLAY FOR TODAY was a virtual institution during its running time from 1970 to 1984. Many of these plays provided the springboard for some later TV series too numerous to mention. As a ‘Play for Today' they would all be addressing contemporary issues though of course some seem a little dated today.

We kick off with The Lie adapted from a piece by renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and directed by Alan Bridges. Many will be acquainted with the kind of work Bergman gave us: marriage break-ups, dysfunctional families and so forth, which for many viewers is an area of little interest (unless we’re talking darkly humorous). Here we have a cast of top-notch actors suffering in what is a truly drawn-out affair. Frank Finlay plays architect Andrew Firth who is in a very unhappy and unfulfilled marriage with his schoolteacher wife Anna (Gemma Jones), who in turn has been having an 8-year affair with Ellis (John Carson) unbeknownst to him. Eight years and still no clue? Finlay is further frustrated that his major plan has been rejected at his workplace. Nothing much is going right for him including a brief fling with his doctor’s assistant. The pot is about to boil over when, during a moment of weakness, he confesses the fling to his wife and is gutted upon realizing she couldn’t care less – culminating in a bout of domestic violence…
Next up is Peter Terson's Shakespeare or Bust – the third in a trilogy of plays based on trip by the same three Northern lads all working as miners. Now this is a lot of fun despite its near fairy story ending. Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) decide to hire a canal boat from Leeds to go down to Stratford upon Avon. Art has two consuming passions in life: the works of the immortal bard and re-reading his favorite novel, which is Robert Tressell's socialist treatise 'The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists'. The trials and tribulations of our beer-swilling lads on the rather squeezed-for-space boat are near hilarious and you’ll never look at eggs & bacon the same way again! Finally reaching the bard's birthplace it turns out that Brian hadn’t realized the tickets for the RSC production of ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ needed to be pre-ordered. Now the poor sod can't even get a returned ticket. Never mind, in Peter Terson's world dreams can come true and here they do when the two Shakespeare actors in question…

Back of Beyond by Julia Jones makes, despite its powerful theme of loneliness and isolation, for depressing viewing though the story’s Welsh countryside setting does somewhat compensate. Welsh ‘Tafia’ actress Rachel Roberts plays retired and widowed oddball Olwen, who lives alone in an isolated farmhouse, going about her daily drudgery and pondering over the past. Eventually she is befriended by local newspaper girl Rachel (Lynne Jones), though this is more out of sympathy than anything else. When the girl is sent away to stay with a relative during the summer holidays (her narrow-minded parents don’t approve of their daughter's friendship with the 'old witch') it spells catastrophe for the melancholy woman who obviously saw in Rachel the daughter she always wanted but never had.
A Passage to England is undoubtedly the most entertaining of the bunch while at the same time the story manages to be thought-provoking. It was written by Leon Griffiths who was responsible for the ever popular TV-series MINDER… so you know you are going to be in for a real treat. A charming young Asian man named Anand (Tariq Yunus) approaches Captain Onslow (Colin Welland) in Amsterdam’s dockyard just as he attempts to fix his fishing boat ‘Morris Dancer’. Anand enquires about getting him, his sister Pramila (June Bolton) and his very sick uncle Dharam (Rhenu Setna) to England. They will of course be illegal immigrants and he can only pay them with a gold bar that they can cash. In order to prove that the gold isn’t fake, Anand drills some gold dust from the center and he and Onslow have it valued. Meanwhile, seaman Graham developes a bit of a thing for the seemingly demure Pramila. Eventually Onslow agrees to ‘smuggle’ Anand and the others to England but then grass them up to the authorities, of course keeping the money he’ll get for the gold bar. Outraged, Graham makes it clear he will have nothing to do anymore with his old mate Onslow. But things are set for an unfortunate (and ultimately deserving) mishap at the expense of the greedy Captain… when it turns out that Anand and his family aren’t as innocent and helpless as they claim to be…. If you know your 'Minder' you won’t be surprised by the twist ending. This is not just an entertaining play but deals with topics such as trust, racial prejudice and British colonialism – for one, Anand might be Asian but grew up in Uganda and here he clearly takes his revenge for British post-colonial patronization.

Your Man from Six Counties is written by the same Colin Welland who had played Captain Onslow in the previous play (Welland was also a successful playwright and not just an actor) and addresses the ongoing Irish question. Little Jimmy (Joseph Reynolds), whose father has been killed in a Belfast bomb blast, is ‘adopted’ by his uncle Danny (Donal McCann) and his wife Mollie (Brenda Fricker) with the couple and their numerous children (this is Catholic Ireland, remember) living on a rural farm down south. Unlike his dead brother, Danny is a democrat representing the voice of reason and is appalled by the Catholic Church and it's hypocrisy – much to the chagrin of his religious wife. Jimmy is deeply troubled and traumatized following the killing of his dad and keeps a pet crow which causes no end of difficulty. Furthermore he finds himself in the crossfire with his uncle Danny’s persuasive liberal ideas on one side and Danny’s 'former' best friend Pat (Paul Antrim) - who was also Jimmy’s father's best friend – sticking to his fierce patriot image: “The boy is IRISH for god's sake!” This is a telling piece of drama, flawlessly acted and one to set some of us thinking.
As for Mike Stott's play Our Flesh and Blood (although well acted by Bernard Hill and Alison Steadman), well, let’s just say it is acquired taste… concerning a not overly bright couple having a baby. You'd think it was the first baby ever born! When Jan Blincoe (Steadman) makes it clear to hubby Bernard (Bernard Hill) that she wants nothing more than a baby he initially fails to share her enthusiasm until ‘labour day’ arrives… We also have Richard Briars on hand in the role of patronizing senior gynecologist Mr. Smythe (dopey Bernard and Mr. Smythe deserve each other!) and real life 'Jack the Ripper' expert Martin Howells as the equally dopey but ecstatic junior doctor who delivers the baby (it's his first too!), followed by ten cringe-worthy minutes of Jan attempting to urge the little bundle of joy out. If you’re into expectant mothers and the natural childbirth movement then this is for you. If not, hit the ‘Forward’ button on your remote control.

A Photograph was written by John Bowen (responsible for the excellent folk horror ‘Play for Today’ Robin Redbreast) and it starts in mysterious and rather disturbing fashion though the actual story begins some days prior: Michael Otway (John Stride) is a popular yet pompous and controversial BBC3 radio broadcaster who usually has a fair bit to say for himself. But when he receives a strange photograph in the post depicting two young girls in front of a caravan (or Gypsy trailer - this is important regarding the folk element) no letter or explanation is enclosed with it. Michael is in a not overly happy marriage to the highly unstable Gillian (Stephanie Turner) who is far from pleased about this anonymous photo and promptly suspects her husband of having an affair. She even goes to the extreme of having the photo blown up and notices that one of the girls sports a distinctive tattoo on her arm. In an earlier scene we see an elderly woman named Mrs. Vigo (Freda Bamford) and a young man (Eric Deacon) in conversation in a caravan (of course, it's THAT one) – are they mother and son? We then see Michael in bed with another 'woman' but we don't actually see the other person in full… merely a tattooed arm round Michael's neck. Looking at the blown up photograph again, Gillian (who is a pretty irritating character anyway) decides the woman with the tattoo isn't a woman at all but a man in drag and the other woman is also a man (actually the same man in drag - it is a double exposure). There is a postmark on the card (somewhere near Leamington Spa) and Michael decides to go looking for the caravan, if only to humor his wife. But there’s a mega twist towards the end and we already know that Michael won’t make it out of the caravan alive because in the opening shot a camera points at his dead body – but why is he dead and who killed him?

Special Features on this 4-disc Blu-ray set include the Original Scripts for all seven plays in PDF form, Image Gallery plus a specially commissioned 80-page book to celebrate ‘Play for Today - 50 Years after the First Transmission!
For more info about all of the PLAY FOR TODAY 50 please click on the link below:

https://www.bfi.org.uk/play-today-50

LATEST REVIEWS