The third screening in our season of Forgotten Black TV Drama at BFI Southbank, on Monday 11 February at 6.00pm, is a double bill of plays written by Barry Reckord who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1950 to study at Cambridge University and wrote plays for the theatre and television from the early 50s to the late-80s.
Reckord drew on his experience at Cambridge for his play You in Your Small Corner which was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in 1961 and produced for television by Granada as a Play of the Week on 5 June 1962. The play is about an interracial relationship between Dave (Lloyd Reckord), a gifted student just arrived in England from Jamaica to study at Cambridge University. Dave meets a young white working-class girl, Terry (Elizabeth MacLennan), and they begin seeing each other, to the disapproval of Dave’s mother (Ida Shepley) who wants Dave to rise through the ranks of class society and feels that Terry is not a suitable match.
The play explores both the politics of English class society, from a black viewpoint, and the taboo subject (for its time) of a mixed-race relationship, depicting an interracial kiss for only the second time on British television (after Hot Summer Night in 1959, which also featured Barry’s brother, Lloyd Reckord). You in Your Small Corner however was more explicit and included a post-coital bedroom scene.
In 1975 Reckord reworked You in Your Small Corner for Second City Firsts, the half-hour play series produced by BBC English Regions Drama at Pebble Mill in Birmingham. Club Havana (BBC2, 25 October 1975) features Don Warrington as Dave, recently arrived in the UK from Jamaica, and Julie Walters as Terry, who works as a barmaid in a club owned by Dave’s mother, Mrs Jordan (Mona Hammond). Once again Mrs Jordan disapproves of Dave talking to Terry who she sees as ‘low-class white trash’. But for Dave ‘Terry’s a victim, like most of the black kids round here’. As he did in You in Your Small Corner, Reckord analyses the politics of class and race through the relationship between Terry and Dave. The conversation they have at the bar when Dave is chatting Terry up covers topics including capitalism, socialism, education and culture and the issues explored in the play are still relevant 44 years later.
Club Havana, like many half-hour plays produced at the time, was wiped after it was broadcast but fortunately the unedited studio takes survive in the BBC Archive and Simon Coward, of Kaleidoscope, has produced an edit as a ‘best guess’ version of how the play originally looked when broadcast. Having compared Simon’s edit to the script which survives in the BBC Written Archive I can say that Simon’s edit is very accurate. So we are pleased to be able to screen Club Havana for the first time since it was transmitted in 1975.
We are also delighted that producer Tara Prem, script editor Peter Ansorge and the leading actor Don Warrington will be present at BFI Southbank to introduce the screening.
Lez Cooke (Season Co-Curator)