Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
After a Lifetime (1971)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment ltd

Main image of After a Lifetime (1971)
Kestrel Films/LWT for ITV, tx. 18/7/1971
80 minutes, colour
DirectorKenneth Loach
ProducerTony Garnett
ScriptNeville Smith
PhotographyChris Menges

Cast: Bill Dean (Uncle Sid); Neville Smith (young Billy); Edie Brooks (May); Jimmy Coleman (Aloysius); Peter Kerrigan (Uncle John); Johnny Gee (Frank)

Show full cast and credits

The death of 64-year-old engineer Billy Scully leads his two adult sons to reflect on another side of their father, his lifelong political commitment as an activist and trade unionist.

Show full synopsis

'After a Lifetime' was Ken Loach's first drama for ITV, and his second written by the Liverpool-born Neville Smith. Like their first collaboration, 'The Golden Vision' (The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx.17/4/1968), about football-obsessed Merseysiders, it has a loose, semi-structured narrative that, alongside the uncannily real performances from its largely non-professional cast, enhances its quasi-documentary feel.

The drama explores the history of working-class struggle through the death of lifelong activist Billy Scully and its impact on his two sons. Smith was inspired by the death of his own father (photographs of whose life adorn the opening credits) and played the eldest son himself. His grief accounts for some of the raw emotion in his performance.

Through the testimony of their uncle John (former docker, communist and trade unionist Peter Kerrigan) - who preserves the history of the workers' struggle for power in his memories, pamphlets and press cuttings - the grieving brothers have their eyes opened to their father's campaigning past. With quiet rage, John relates the story of the 1926 General Strike, the violent suppression of working-class protesters in 1911 by then home secretary Winston Churchill, and the abandonment of the workers by the very institutions (the Labour 'Mafia', the trade unions) that had been built to pursue their cause.

These points are underlined by fragments of radio reportage of the General Strike - including Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Bourne's comments that the strike was a sin against God, which plays over Billy's funeral service - in a drama that otherwise pulls back from the documentary experiments of Loach's Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) period.

'After a Lifetime' was completed in 1969, but held back by LWT and the Independent Television Authority, which demanded cuts for sexual language. Though it insisted it was untroubled by the politics (citing instead concerns at print quality and complaints from actors' union Equity), LWT finally relented to a transmission only after a samizdat press screening, organised by producer Tony Garnett, attracted favourable responses from critics: notably The Guardian's Nancy Banks-Smith, who judged it "brilliantly funny, and moving with a sort of subterranean rage".

'After a Lifetime' clearly left its mark on writer Alan Bleasdale, whose classic Boys from the Blackstuff (BBC, 1982) ends with the death and funeral of another working-class Liverpool activist, played by Peter Kerrigan. The sense of homage is compounded by the appearance in both dramas of actor Mike Hayden as a politically obtuse priest conducting the funeral.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. 'The Labour Mafia' (3:04)
2. Three men and a carpet (2:25)
3. The funeral (3:04)
4. Young Billy and Aloysius (3:24)
Boys from the Blackstuff (1982)
Golden Vision, The (1968)
Garnett, Tony (1936-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Smith, Neville (1940-)
London Weekend Television (LWT)
Ken Loach: Television Drama