1970s 1980s BBC drama Play For Today

My Ten Plays for Today: Jon Dear

This is the latest in a series of posts in which we publish the ‘top ten’ or ‘top five’ Plays for Today identified by  a range of writers, researchers and media professionals. The brief was that such lists should not necessarily consist of what were considered to be the ‘best’ Plays for Today but could also include personal favourites, or work which it was believed should be better-known (though, in many cases, these categories overlap). 

My Ten Plays for Today: Jon Dear

Robin Redbreast (10 December 1970)

John Bowen’s treatise on the role of a women in society wrapped in the tale of a Warwickshire village’s pagan practices that begs the question, where is our civilisation?

Edna, the Inebriate Woman (21 October 1971)

Biting, unflinching and blackly humorous. Jeremy Sandford’s script about the hopelessness and humanity of destitution combined with Ted Kotcheff’s chaotically immersive direction makes this an unforgettable drama.

Penda’s Fen (21 March 1974)

A unique combination of Alan Clarke and David Rudkin. As multi-layered as the British landscape, at once deeply personal and all encompassing. One boy’s search for self becomes the struggle for national identity.

Back of Beyond (14 November 1974)

Julia Jones’s modern day take on Thomas Hardy is tale of loss, loneliness and the things we hold dear as we progress through life. The central performance from Rachael Roberts lends even greater tragedy to the conclusion.

Gangsters (9 January 1975)

Before it became an increasingly idiosyncratic TV series, Philip Martin’s Birmingham-based crime story was unflinchingly and uncomfortably memorable. Helmed by arguably British television’s most accomplished director, Philip Saville, and featuring a large BAME cast and lots of wry humour, Gangsters would also become an unlikely blueprint for mid-80s Doctor Who.

Nuts in May (13 January 1976)

More thoughtful and less problematic than Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh channels awkward comedy into the stress experienced with taking holidays and highlights the importance of empathy and compassion by their absence. Subtly laced with a class struggle subtext, the play lurches between farce and pathos.

A Photograph (22 March 1977)

John Bowen lets rip into the hypocrisy and arrogance of his own profession as a complex trap is set for a man who believes his privilege shields him from the consequences of his actions.

Red Shift (17 January 1978)

John Mackenzie’s skilful adaptation of Alan Garner’s novel is a time-hopping drama that connects people with the land they inhabit and shows how psychological and emotional trauma can leave deep scars that are felt throughout history.

Vampires (9 January 1979)

Escaping the horrors of the present and the failures of the future, Vampires is a play that shows a child’s attempt to find simplistic solutions to problems he cannot yet comprehend.

Blue Remembered Hills (30 January 1979)

The shocking everyday cruelty of children brough home by having them all played by adults, Denis Potter’s critique of A.E. Housman’s most famous poem features a remarkable performance by Colin Jeavons and gives voice to those who know that the land of lost content didn’t always feature happy highways.

Brimstone and Treacle

If you let the Devil into your home, what’s the worst that could happen? And what if the worst does happen and brings about positive change. Potter’s most controversial work was banned at the time and still feared by those who daren’t hold a mirror to their own beliefs.

Jon Dear is a freelance writer on television and film. You can find more of his writing at He also hosts BERGCAST, a podcast on Nigel Kneale which can be found at

3 replies on “My Ten Plays for Today: Jon Dear”

Gangsters is the current leader, on five votes.

Four plays currently on four votes: Robin Redbreast, The Cheviot the Stag & the Black Black Oil, Through the Night, The Spongers.

Eleven plays currently on three votes: Orkney, Edna the Inebriate Woman, Land of Green Ginger, Leeds United, Penda’s Fen, Just Another Saturday, Nuts in May, Blue Remembered Hills, The Imitation Game, Country, King.

Six plays currently on two votes: Kisses at Fifty, Back of Beyond, The Lonely Man’s Lover, The Other Woman, Bar Mitzvah Boy, Destiny.

Yes, this “league table” is fascinating. All the more so because until this year I can’t remember anyone writing about any titles like King, Back of Beyond, or The Lonely Man’s Lover, let alone seeing actual clips of them on television.

So many people’s conception of what PFT was like seem to come from a small handful of plays or, even worse, from comedy spoofs or lazy newspaper criticism that this blog, along with the BBC4 repeat season and the Blu-Ray release really do my heart good. I didn’t even know that Bavarian Night and Leeds – United! were available to buy on Amazon until last week.

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