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Hot Summer Night (1959)


Main image of Hot Summer Night (1959)
For Armchair Theatre, ABC Television for ITV, tx. 1/2/1959
55 minutes, black & white
DirectorTed Kotcheff
ScriptTed Willis
DesignerTimothy O'Brien

Cast: John Slater (Jack 'Jacko' Palmer); Ruth Dunning (Nell Palmer); Andrée Melly (Kathie Palmer); Harold Scott (old man); Lloyd Reckord (Sonny Lincoln)

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When the daughter of a trade union organiser announces her relationship with a black man, the revelation exposes deep prejudice and hidden conflicts in her family.

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The post-World War II years saw the beginning of large-scale immigration to Britain, with race relations becoming a major issue for the first time. Ted Willis's 'Hot Summer Night' premiered on stage in November 1958, just a few months after Britain's first race riots erupted on the streets of Notting Hill. The confrontations depicted in Willis's play are a little more restrained, but only just.

The play made a quick transition from stage to television, no doubt aided by the desire of newly-installed producer Sydney Newman to present drama on Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-74) which reflected the real world concerns of its audience. In the theatre, the play had focused as much on the neglect of Nell Palmer by her husband, Jacko, as on their daughter Kathie's relationship with the Jamaican, Sonny. For television, the emphasis was shifted more squarely onto the drama resulting from the proposed mixed marriage.

'Hot Summer Night' was one of the first television dramas to tackle issues of race. Whereas the BBC's A Man from the Sun (tx. 8/11/1956) had dramatised the experience of Caribbean immigrants and touched upon work-place racism, 'Hot Summer Night' took a domestic approach. By concentrating on the beliefs and instincts of one family and one immigrant, Willis is able to explore some of the fundamental issues of racial integration: mixed relationships, instinctive dislike of the 'other', and community double standards. Nell reveals a violent revulsion at the thought of the mixing of black and white skin; Jacko, a good Union man, is exposed as a hypocrite, fighting colour bar at work but opposing mixed relationships at home; Sonny is made ashamed of his skin, wanting only to marry the girl he loves.

'Hot Summer Night' asks difficult questions of its characters and audience, and provides no easy answers. Its ending is at least vaguely optimistic, with Kathie and Sonny maintaining their determination to marry despite the prejudice and social obstacles they know they will face.

The play was later remade as the feature film Flame in the Street (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1961), with the action opened up to encompass more of the workplace and local community. The exclusively domestic setting of 'Hot Summer Night', however, is one of its greatest strengths; it is recognisable to all viewers and can only have aided the audience's identification with the drama's characters and engagement with its underlying issues.

Oliver Wake

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Video Clips
1. Putting family first (4:50)
2. 'We want to help you' (2:06)
3. Something personal (4:40)
Flame In The Streets (1961)
Reckord, Lloyd (1929)
Slater, John (1916-1975)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)