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Auto Stop (1965)

Main image of Auto Stop (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC1, tx. 21/4/1965
75 minutes, black & white
DirectorBrian Parker
ProducerJames MacTaggart
Story EditorRoger Smith
ScriptAlan Seymour
DesignerEileen Diss

Cast: Delphi Lawrence (Federika); David Hemmings (Henry); Kevin Stoney (Marcello); Janice Dinnen (Moya)

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A brash young man goes on an oddyssey of Europe in an attempt to impress an older woman.

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A grand tour of Europe is realised in the studio in this ambitious Wednesday Play from Australian playwright Alan Seymour. Seymour had a long career in British television, but is best known in Australia for his controversial play The One Day of the Year (1960), which used Anzac Day to explore generational differences and national identity. Similar themes are employed in 'Auto Stop' as the central character finds all of his preconceptions undermined by the people he meets on his continental travels.

David Hemmings' Henry is a naïve, pretentious young man anxious to impress an exotic older woman. Assigned a quest across Europe to win her respect and gain some life experience, he reluctantly accepts on the promise that she will sleep with him when he returns. He travels first to a Fellini-esque Rome before sailing to Corfu, meeting a variety of sinister men and cynical women before his journey takes a more serious turn in Germany. Each of the characters he meets on the road offers a piece of state-of-the-nation advice about their country and some English stereotypes they expect Henry to live up to. Between the ruins of Greece and a visit to Auschwitz, 'Auto Stop' attempts to extol the virtues of meeting people from other cultures while also exposing the hypocrisies and absurdities of national pride.

Henry's travels are achieved through montages of stills showing Hemmings thumbing a lift or walking, intertwined with images of monuments - an effective way of moving the action on that also highlights the theme of countries as ideas and constructs. Eileen Diss's design features a large number of sets, including an impressive moonlit beach, but some implausible accents undermine the overall illusion of Europe. Expressive camera work is used for Henry's descent into a drunken brawl. Although his characterisation is a neat portrayal of callow youth, the use of voiceover and Hemmings' performance make Henry a sympathetic character. The frequent use of slang may have added to the contemporary feel of the play at the time, and the sexual frankness of the script is often surprising, most notably when Henry attends a party hosted by a gay film producer in Rome.

Rediscovered in 2010 among a collection of British drama at the Library of Congress, 'Auto Stop' was broadcast in the US in January 1968, by which time Hemmings' star had risen in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966).

Lisa Kerrigan

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Video Clips
Production stills
Bond, The (1965)
Hemmings, David (1941-2003)
Rediscovered TV Drama
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)