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Glittering Prizes, The (1976)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Episode 1 - 'An Early Life', BBC2, tx. 21/1/1976

1952. Adam Morris visits his Jewish girlfriend, to tell her of his scholarship to Cambridge. He recalls an unhappy incident in the sixth form, when he was offended by what he perceived as a slur on Jews during a sermon by a visiting provost; his subsequent written attack on the man earns him the headmaster's wrath. His attempts to sleep with his girlfriend are rebuffed.

When Adam arrives at his college rooms, he finds that his roommate Donald Davidson is already ensconced and taking tea with his parents. The family is both upper-class and Catholic; Donald admits to a 'vice' - he prays. He also puts up a crucifix. Adam is witty and sharp at Donald's expense.

Adam makes several new friends, and they meet to play cards in his rooms. Although Donald joins in, he is clearly uncomfortable with their talk of sexual conquests, real or imaginary. He confounds the group by saying that his uncle once met Nazi leader Goering socially and liked him.

Adam's girlfriend comes to visit. Eating out that evening, they encounter students from the university dramatic society, including the flamboyantly gay Denis Porson. The girlfriend still won't sleep with him.

Adam has no interest in practising his Jewish faith; he constantly questions and criticises it, and yet it dominates his life. His girlfriend marries someone else.

Every Sunday, Donald has gone to Mass, but one day he declares he feels too tired to attend. He also announces he is thinking of changing his degree and studying classics and philosophy with Adam.

Adam goes home for the Christmas holidays. He angers his father by arranging to go out on Sabbath evening and disappoints his mother by saying he is meeting a Gentile girl, Barbara. He finds this new relationship much more satisfying, especially as she will sleep with him.

At the beginning of the new term Adam is alarmed when Donald passes out in their room. When it happens again, Adam writes to Donald's parents and he goes home for the weekend. Lady Frances, Donald's mother, subsequently informs Adam that Donald is undergoing hospital tests and will not be returning to college for the rest of the term. She invites Adam to stay with the family during the Easter vacation. The house is very grand. During supper Lady Frances makes a remark about 'Hebrews' to which Adam takes exception, and he prepares to leave. Donald's father tells him that Donald has leukaemia. Adam stays.

Donald's sister tells Adam that she hates him for seducing her brother away from his family and his faith. For her, 'Jew' is a term of abuse. Adam feels the family only tolerate his presence because Donald likes him. One day Donald insists they race an old cart down the hill, against the clock, a game from his childhood. Adam takes his leave of Lady Frances; she tells him that Donald wants to return to Cambridge next term. He is infatuated with a fellow student, Helga, who does not return his feelings. But Lady Frances wants Adam to persuade her to be kind to her son, and bribes him with the offer of a flat in town where both men can meet their girlfriends. She only gives vent to her sorrow when Adam has left the room.

Back at Cambridge, the quartet go punting on the river and Adam tries to persuade Helga to sleep with Donald, but she makes it clear she is not interested. Donald passes out again.

Donald wants to take Helga on a trip to Italy in the summer, with Adam and Barbara. Adam meets Lady Frances for tea at a hotel. She explains that Donald will not be well enough to go to Italy; he has also left the Catholic church. Adam expects her to be angry and is surprised by her understanding.

Donald's health deteriorates. Adam and Barbara go to Italy. In Rome they buy an English newspaper and see a notice of Donald's death. He was 23.