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Roadrunner (1977)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Roadrunner (1977)
For Playhouse, ITV tx. 5/7/1977, colour, 52 mins
DirectorBarry Hanson
Production CompanyThames Television
ProducerBarry Hanson
ScriptMichael Abbensetts

Cast: Trevor Thomas (Jason Archer); Nadia Cattouse (Portia Archer); Barry Reckord (Alvin Archer); Janet Bartley (Irene); Ram John Holder (Trevor Ford); Rudolph Walker (Albert Charles)

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A young West Indian has to interrupt his rich international life to sort out some passport trouble at home. His lifestyle is very different from the simple one of his family in North London and creates tension.

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Written for the ITV Playhouse strand, Michael Abbensetts' Roadrunner is a meditation on black self-worth and inter-generational expectations. Much of it is set in the home of Alvin and Portia Archer (Barry Reckord and Nadia Cattouse), who emigrated from their native West Indies over two decades earlier in search of a better life. Although they both work in relatively low-skilled jobs, they believe that they are reasonably content with their lot.

This perception is turned upside down by the arrival of their son Jason, completely without warning, over a year after he last wrote to them from his home in Sweden. He initially refuses to answer questions about what he does, preferring the conveniently vague "a salesman", but when Alvin discovers (long after the audience) that he's an arms dealer, Jason uses this revelation as a springboard for a polemical speech. Jason is disgusted both by Alvin's acceptance of what he thinks is an unacceptably menial job (after 24 years in Britain, he's still only a railway porter) and his attitude that the younger generation is lazy and takes everything for granted.

But Alvin is not convinced that Jason's trade is any more acceptable. A deeply religious man, he believes that selling arms to Africans will help accelerate Armageddon, while Jason thinks that giving them guns will improve their self-image and let them stand up for themselves. It's an unbridgeable ideological gap, so it's no surprise that Abbensetts has to resort to an external shock (Portia's sudden illness and death) to bring about a tentative but inconclusive reconciliation.

The play also explores Jason's relationship with old flame Irene (Janet Bartley), now married with a child and no longer interested in anything more adventurous than a quick fumble under the sheets - though when Jason tries to arrange a venue, it turns out to be too squalid even for their illicit liaison. Jason also has dealings with the genial but faintly sinister Albert (Rudolph Walker), who agrees to sort out his passport difficulties (the reason Jason had to return home in the first place) in exchange for a dangerous mission in Chad - Jason's last one landed him with a prison sentence in Angola (the real reason he was so uncommunicative). There's also a deftly-sketched cameo from Ram John Holder as Trevor, a musician whose lack of success derives at least partly from his refusal to kowtow to the white establishment.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. An unexpected visitor (2:51)
2. A mission in Chad (2:07)
3. The generation gap (4:10)
4. Jason and Irene (2:35)
Abbensetts, Michael (1938-)
Holder, Ram John (1934-)
Reckord, Barry (1926-2011)
Walker, Rudolph (1939-)