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Day Out, A (1972)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Day Out, A (1972)
BBC2, tx. 24/12/1972
50 minutes, black & white
DirectorStephen Frears
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerInnes Lloyd
ScriptAlan Bennett
PhotographyRay Henman
MusicDavid Fanshawe

Cast: David Waller (Shuttleworth); James Cossins (Shorter); John Normington (Ackroyd); Philip Locke (Wilkins); David Hill (Gibson)

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In 1911, a Halifax cycling club has a day trip to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, on the way discussing their lives and concerns, blithely unaware of what will happen to them and their country over the next few years.

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Alan Bennett's first television play, A Day Out, was written in 1969 in the wake of the success of his play Forty Years On (1967), and eventually filmed by Stephen Frears for the BBC in 1972.

It shows a day in the life of the members of a Halifax cycling club in 1911, following them from the town to the ruins of Fountains Abbey and eavesdropping on their conversations, which range from the inconsequential to the reflective (the design of medieval bridges, the inevitable "Course, all this were fields when I were a lad") to the ruefully ironic.

The most telling example of the latter comes when Boothroyd explains why there will never be another war, as the play is set three years before World War I cut swathes through a generation - and, as the 1919 coda implies, many of the club's members as well.

We also learn about their relationships with women: Gregory's palpable fear of his mother, Cross' shy hesitancy with Florence, Edgar's confident sexuality, Ackroyd's happy domesticity and, finally, Shorter's bitter misogyny ("There's no nobility about them, women. It's all mundane - one day to the next. No large view, no theory, all practice.").

For them, the day out provides a temporary freedom from dull routine, offering them at the very least a chance to air feelings to sympathetic ears, if not rather more potent opportunities - though both Edgar and Cross ultimately turn down what's offered them in favour of loyalty to the club.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that the BBC had been broadcasting colour for some time, A Day Out is in black and white. This was because it would make it easier to achieve a convincing period feel on a small budget - and the hazy, lyrical cinematography recalls the work of Jean Renoir, particularly the similarly brief Partie de Campagne (France, 1936), which also had a dark, pessimistic undertone.

The cast was a mixture of professionals and locals - Paul Shane, who would later achieve fame in Hi-De-Hi! (BBC, 1980-88), was a Rotherham club comedian while Brian Glover, discovered by Ken Loach in Kes (1969) was still alternating acting and wrestling. And if Florence bears a striking resemblance to Virginia Woolf, that's because the actress Virginia Bell is her great-niece. Bennett would pay oblique homage to the novelist six years later in Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (LWT, 1978).

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. A false Nirvana (1:43)
2. Food and religion (3:33)
3. A dark age (1:57)
4. Florence and Connie (4:43)
Production stills
Andrews, Anthony (1948-)
Bennett, Alan (1934-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
The Television Play