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Room in Town, A (1970)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Room in Town, A (1970)
For Armchair Theatre, ITV, tx. 15/9/1970, colour, 53 mins
DirectorGuy Verney
Production CompanyThames Television
ProducerJohn Kershaw
ScriptDonald Churchill

Cast: George Cole (Edwin), Dawn Addams (Margo), Pauline Yates (Betty), Joanne Harrington (Joanna), Mary Burleigh (Clare), Anthony Dawes (Tony)

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Ted rents a flat in London so he can entertain his mistress without running into his wife Betty. She finds out about it, and sets a trap - but will he take the bait?

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Donald Churchill (1930-91) made his Armchair Theatre debut in 1960 as an actor, wrote his first play for the slot two years later, and continued to contribute regularly in both capacities. He stayed behind the typewriter for A Room in Town (tx. 15/9/1970), though his wife Pauline Yates played a leading role in what now looks like a dry run for her best known performance as the long-suffering Elizabeth Perrin in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976) and its successors.

Here, she's a different Elizabeth, though her husband Ted Nugent (George Cole) is also suffering a mid-life crisis, renting a small London flat in order to entertain his mistress Margo (Dawn Addams), the Nugents' next-door neighbour. Although Ted has meticulously worked out his deception, Betty discovers a receipt for building work in the flat, and ends up confiding to Margo her entirely accurate suspicion of what Ted is really up to. Margo frantically rings Ted at work, and the two prepare to deceive Elizabeth further - but in the process they give her a golden opportunity for a far more appropriate revenge.

By this stage in his career, George Cole had metamorphosed from the shy young man of his acting youth to the shifty middle-aged businessman persona that would eventually blossom into Arthur Daley in Minder (ITV, 1979-94). Yates is less well served, her switch from respectable housewife to mallet-wielding avenger to coquettish sex kitten probably seemed more convincing to her husband than to anyone else. These transitions also emphasise that the script's main priority is to ensure the smooth intersection of its various plot strands: its conclusion at least makes logical sense, even if any emotional content has long since been jettisoned.

Essentially, A Room in Town is a broad sex farce of a kind increasingly familiar to British cinemagoers: The Wife Swappers (d. Derek Ford, 1970) being one of the main big-screen attractions in the month of transmission. Although Churchill makes the consequences of Ted and Margo's behaviour clear (it ends with their respective homes being put up for sale), there's no doubt from the occasional flashes of female nudity, the premise of Ted's love-nest, and Betty's method of apologising for her misdemeanour, that the play also tapped into some of the era's commonest male fantasies. Although only a minor work in the Armchair Theatre canon, it has plenty to offer to social historians.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Ted's love nest (3:25)
2. Betty's revenge (3:45)
3. Consolation prize (4:48)
Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The (1976-79)
Minder (1979-94)
Cole, George (1925-)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)