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1960s, Granada Television, John Finch, Regional Drama

‘Forgotten Dramas 2’ at BFI Southbank: ‘It’s Dearer After Midnight’ + ‘The House That Jigger Built’

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Our Forgotten Dramas season continues on Friday 10 February at 8.40 pm in NFT2 with a double bill of two Granada dramas from 1968.

It’s Dearer After Midnight and The House That Jigger Built were both written by John Finch, a writer probably best-known for A Family at War (Granada, 1970-72) and Sam (Granada, 1973-75), the semi-autobiographical series for which Finch wrote all 39 episodes. While both series have been released on DVD, A Family at War is probably better-known than Sam, even though the latter was hugely popular in the 1970s, getting audiences of up to 20 million.

After writing a single play, Dark Pastures (Associated Rediffussion, 1958), John Finch became one of the main writers on Coronation Street in the 1960s, writing 135 episodes from 1961-70 and producing 111 episodes in 1968-69. By the late 1960s he was looking to ‘do his own thing’ rather than continue writing for the established format of the Street and he devised an anthology series called City’68 which was intended to explore the social problems of a fictional Northern city. 13 episodes were produced, of which Finch wrote two, the remainder being written by other Granada writers.

It’s Dearer After Midnight (23 February 1968) was rather different to many of the other plays in the series and could easily have been a standalone play. Shot on video by Michael Apted it is essentially a two-hander involving a woman (Sian Phillips) who is picked up by a taxi driver (Keith Barron) late at night on the outskirts of the city. She asks to be taken to an address in the city, which turns out to be a strip club. All of the action takes place during the course of one night, with a lot of exterior night-time filming, including the opening scene up on the snow-covered moors outside the city. Rather than focusing on social problems or city politics, as most of the other plays in the series did, It’s Dearer After Midnight reveals a different side to the city, with most of the second half of the play set in a seedy nightclub. At the end, after a high-angle shot looking down on a city street as the woman leaves in a taxi, the camera tilts up to present a panorama of the city at night.

The System (Granada, 1968) was devised by John Finch as a follow-up series to City’68. It comprises six plays, of which John Finch wrote three. The House That Jigger Built (17 September 1968) is again different in tone to the others, being more of a comedy than an attempt to explore ‘the constant clash between individuals and society’, which was the loose theme of the series. This was largely due to the casting of Harry H. Corbett, at the time riding high on the success of Steptoe and Son, as a property tycoon whose values are at odds with those of his working-class ex-miner father (Wilfred Pickles). The play is really a satire of the modern-day property developer and it may be no coincidence that Jigger’s surname is Barrett (Barratt Developments was one of the largest residential property developers in Britain at the time).

City’68 and The System are now both forgotten series, yet they are just two of the many series which made Granada Television the leading regional television company in Britain in the 1960s-80s and John Finch was one of the Northern writers who helped to put Granada on the regional map.

Lez Cooke

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