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Coming Out Party, The (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Coming Out Party, The (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC1, tx. 22/12/1965
65 minutes, black & white
DirectorKen Loach
ProducerJames MacTaggart
ScriptJames O'Connor

Cast: Toni Palmer (Rosie); George Sewell (Ricketts); Dennis Golding (Scimpy); Wally Patch (Grandad); Carol White (the princess); Hilda Barry (Grandma)

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When 12-year old Scimpy learns that both his mum and dad are both in prison, he runs away from his grandparents to track them down.

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Writer James O'Connor uses the release of young mother Rosie from prison, and the 'coming out' celebration which follows, as the focus for a drama about the effects on a young child of his parents' imprisonment. The plight of 12-year-old 'Scimpy', who embarks on an odyssey across London to be reunited with his mother after learning that she and his father are both in jail (and not on holiday or at sea as he has been led to believe) is by turns comic and troubling.

O'Connor includes sympathetic policemen and social workers who, despite trying to look out for Scimpy, merely condemn him to the cycle of institutionalisation and, ultimately, return him to the social scene of petty criminals which sent him astray in the first place. O'Connor seems to be saying that in the unlikely event that Scimpy manages to avoid a life of criminality, it will be no thanks to those trying to help him. The drama turns full circle, ending with Rosie back in prison and Scimpy again running away in an attempt to visit her.

Despite its pessimism, this story is told with the humour that characterises O'Connor's work, making this a far cry from the more sombre 'social problem' dramas associated with director Ken Loach. This lightness, and the apparent harmlessness of the criminal characters, attracted some criticism on broadcast for creating a feeling of unreality and sentimentality at odds with the subject matter. But O'Connor's sympathetic characters and entertaining scenarios work to encourage the viewer to engage with the intractable problems he presents, rather than simply to condemn the criminality on display.

Loach makes good use of documentary-style location filming among streets of derelict buildings and neglected bomb damage to establish the deprived neighbourhoods against which the drama is set. His fluid use of the electronic studio to capture the energetic and eventually riotous pub party scenes is also worth noting. Many of the actors he cast had appeared in similar roles in his two previous Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) collaborations with O'Connor, and this, together with a few minor characters crossing over between the plays, lends a sense of continuity to these otherwise unconnected stories.

Oliver Wake

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Video Clips
1. 'I nicked it from over there' (2:23)
2. Day release (2:44)
3. A night at Harrods (3:06)
4. A future for Scimpy (3:41)
Tap on the Shoulder (1965)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
MacTaggart, James (1928-74)
O'Connor, James (1918-2001)
Ken Loach: Television Drama
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)