Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Diary Entry

A week after the NFT’s An Evening with Troy Kennedy Martin, last night Our Pal and I were back at the South Bank to watch an evening of TKM-written television that comprised episode one of Diary of a Young Man, The Chase from the BBC series Six, and The Wednesday Play’s Man Without Papers.

In the Spring 1964, two years after creating Z-Cars, Troy Kennedy Martin attacked the theatrical naturalism that had dominated television drama since its beginnings in an article in Encore, the theatre magazine, entitled ‘Nats Go Home: First Statement of a New Drama for Television’.

Beginning this manifesto with the opening salvo:

Television drama at the moment is going nowhere fast. Informed management believe it is so bad it can’t get worse. They are wrong. It can and will destroy itself unless a breakthrough in form I made, substantiated and phased into the general run of drama programmes

TKM announced that television drama should stop being “a makeshift bastard born of the theatre” and instead take on a visual narrative that allowed for a new dynamic realism. His ideas inflamed contemporary writers who saw the style TKM advocated, with an emphasis on visual storytelling influenced by film theory, handed the creative reins to the programme directors.

Four months after the article was published, his six-part Diary of a Young Man was broadcast. Freed from the artistic constraints of studio-shot drama, the series juxtaposed filmed location sequences, video-taped studio scenes, still images montages, music and voiceover.

Directed by “Kenneth” Loach, two years before his groundbreaking Cathy Come Home, the adventures of Roger and his friend Ginger, working class lads from the north looking for “A bird, a pad, and some money”, had an incredible impact when first broadcast. But how would it stand up over 42 years later?

Frankly... it was utterly fucking brilliant! Alternately serious, comic and controversial, the episode had a vibrancy and vitality that made it so much more than a simple snapshot of the Swinging Sixties.

Only episodes one, five and six remain. The final two episodes are being shown at NFT2 this Friday at 6:20. I’m away for the weekend and can’t make it – which seriously pisses me off. But if you can, get yourself down there.

The Chase and Man Without Papers were just as extraordinary. Six gave both writers and film-makers a free hand to experiment and The Chase, written by TKM and John McGrath, and directed by Michael Elster, was a surreal drama set in motion when a motorist unwittingly reverses over a stationary motorbike and is then chased by the motorcycle gang.

The Chase had an almost Pinteresque quality to it, as did Man Without Papers. Originally running for one and a quarter hours, only the first 46 minutes survive. Even without the denouement the socio-political thriller, which revolves in part around a series of telephone calls, was a remarkable piece of writing.

The star of the show was the late Benito Carruthers, as the mysterious Roscoe Mortimer who burnt his passport during the McCarthy days and now wants his identity back. An actor involved in the New York avant-garde scene in the 1960s, Carruthers played his character, in turn cajoling, seductive and threatening. Without a surviving credit sequence, it was only reading the programme notes after the screening that I discovered the songs he sings were written specially for the production by Bob Dylan.

Before the screening started, TKM’s daughter arrived with a friend. She saw us. We waved hello. They sat down and she introduced us as her father’s fan club.

After Man Without Paper’s abrupt ending, as the lights came up TKM’s daughter wanted to know what happened in the end. I shrugged, telling her I didn’t know. At least she could phone her dad and find out.


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