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All Good Men (1974)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of All Good Men (1974)
For Play for Today, BBC, tx. 31/1/1974
65 minutes, colour
DirectorMichael Lindsay-Hogg
ProducerGraeme McDonald
Script EditorAnn Scott
ScriptTrevor Griffiths

Cast: Bill Fraser (Edward Waite); Ronald Pickup (Richard Massingham); Jack Shepherd (William); Frances De La Tour (Maria)

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On the eve of an in-depth television interview, Edward Waite, former Labour cabinet minister, calls his family together for a birthday celebration that results in dramatic revelations.

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The unusual circumstances surrounding the transmission of 'All Good Men' (Play for Today, BBC, tx. 31/01/1974) uncannily reflected the political themes of the play. It was originally commissioned at short notice after another play fell through, and was restricted to a maximum of five characters and a studio-only shoot. Griffiths overcame his usual reluctance to write to such a restrictive brief because of the opportunity to reach such a large audience.

But political events served to impose further restrictions. The then Conservative government, led by Edward Heath, was engulfed in a political crisis chiefly caused by an overtime ban imposed by the mineworkers. In an attempt to conserve energy stocks, the government enforced a three day week; this included a limitation on broadcasting which forced television channels to close down by 10.30pm. As Play for Today started at 9.25pm, this required 'All Good Men' to be edited down from the standard 75 minutes to a mere 63 minutes.

These cuts were significant, as they drastically shorten the opening scenes where the former Labour politician Edward Waite (Bill Fraser) has a rehearsal interview with Massingham (Ronald Pickup), lessening our understanding of the man in terms of his personality and rhetoric. Also lost were most of the audio flashbacks to Waite's submissive and somewhat masochistic relationship with his ex-wife, an important theme which is taken up by his son William (Jack Shepherd) in the context of the relationship between the Labour party leadership and the establishment.

Despite these cuts, however, the play works brilliantly as a dramatised analysis of the parliamentary Labour movement that William defines as "itself a critique: both of extra-parliamentary revolutionism on the one hand, and of parliamentary Toryism on the other." The dialectic expressed in the speeches that bounce between father and son is both brilliantly written (Dennis Potter described them as "some of the sharpest, most telling and intelligent speeches ever heard on television"), and also convincing because of Waite's experience as a political orator and his son's years of rehearsing for this moment of truth. This is combined with a sharp analysis of the methods employed by the media to create its 'neutral' coverage of recent political history. 'All Good Men' has enough material in its short 63 minutes to fuel many other plays, and indeed can be seen as a precursor, even a miniature, of Griffiths' later masterwork, the 11-part epic Bill Brand (ITV, 1976).

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. History lesson (4:20)
2. Labour leaders (7:03)
3. Not my day (2:38)
Project, The (2002)
Griffiths, Trevor (1935- )