Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Trinity Tales (1975)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Trinity Tales (1975)
BBC2, 21/11-26/12/1975
6 x 50 min, colour
DirectorsTristan De Vere Cole
 Roger Tucker
ProducerDavid Rose
Written byAlan Plater
Author of the Original WorkGeoffrey Chaucer
MusicAlex Glasgow

Cast: Bill Maynard (Stan the fryer); Francis Matthews (Eric the prologue); Colin Farrell (Nick the driver); Gaye Brown (the wife of Batley Alice); John Stratton (the man of Law Smith); Susan Littler (Judy the Judy); Paul Copley (Dave the joiner); Peter Benson (Reuben)

Show full cast and credits

Six modern pilgrims - on their way to a Rugby Cup Final at Wembley - amuse themselves by swapping tales.

Show full synopsis

The recent TV updating of Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' (Canterbury Tales, BBC, 2003) was not the first: Alan Plater's six-part version, Trinity Tales, preceded it by nearly 20 years.

Plater retained Chaucer's framework, of tales told to pass the time on a long journey; this time the travellers are northern rugby league supporters on their way to the Cup Final at Wembley, in a minibus, via several public houses. Plater even retains a narrator, Eric the Prologue, to stand in for Chaucer - a device that is not wholly successful - and allows him to star in one of the tales. Plater's selection of tales includes two of the best-known - the Miller's and the Wife of Bath's - others are based on The Reeve's Tale, the Knight's Tale and the Franklin's Tale. The prize for the best tale is a free fish and chip supper from Stan the Fryer. These 'pilgrims' are strictly plebeian; only Eric the Prologue, as the 'writer', has any pretensions, and they are intellectual rather than class-driven and quickly quashed by his companions. One of Plater's running jokes has Eric constantly thwarted in telling his own tale.

The travellers meet surprisingly few people on their way, with the notable exception of the lugubrious Brummie Reuben, publican at The Copper's Nark, who they save from attempted suicide because the pub is doing such poor business. Reuben's only companion is his stuffed goldfish, Peggy, and he is a bizarre and wonderful creation by Plater.

Plater employs different styles for his adaptation; the final episode, 'The Man of Law's Tale', is a pastiche of The Sting (US, 1973). He also makes sly fun of the TV drama conventions of the time, for example, cutting to scenes of crashing waves whenever the characters engage in sex. Each of the 'pilgrims' - and Eric - appears in the tales, which all happen to demonstrate their 'own' characteristics - lechery, greed, cunning, innocence, etc. There are a lot of comic songs, with lyrics by Plater, a few rhyming couplets for Eric and some pretty terrible bar-room jokes.

While most of the writing is very inventive, occasionally it becomes twee. Some critics at the time felt that the tales could have stood on their own, as half-hour comedy plays, without the supporting narrative. It remains an impressive achievement, however, with Plater retaining the essential spirit of the original, with all of its bawdiness, rambunctiousness and common humanity.

Janet Moat

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The agreement (4:34)
2. Taking the time (4:07)
3. 'All the doors look alike' (4:23)
Complete episode: 'The Joiner's Tale' (50:06)
Plater, Alan (1935-2010)
TV Literary Adaptation