Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Hole in Babylon, A (1979)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Hole in Babylon, A (1979)
For Play for Today, BBC, tx. 29/11/1979
70 minutes, colour
DirectorHorace Ové
ProducerGraham Benson
ScriptHorace Ové
 Jim Hawkins

Cast: T-Bone Wilson (Frank Davies); Trevor Thomas (Bonsu Monroe); Archie Pool (Wes Dick); Victor Baring; Franco Derosa, Carlos Douglas, Leonard Fenton, Peter Laird, Louis Mansi, Ray Marioni, Alfred Maron, Colin Starkey (hostages), Carmen Munro (Mrs Munroe)

Show full cast and credits

Three Black men rob a Knightsbridge Italian restaurant. But when the police are called and the robbery becomes a siege, the men find themselves in a situation out of their control.

Show full synopsis

The controversial Play for Today, A Hole in Babylon built powerfully on director Horace Ové's earlier Pressure (1975), in both subject matter and style. Ové continued his exploration of racism and the fight-back of the second generation of black youth, and further developed his highly experimental style of story-telling. Here, he employed a pioneering form of drama-documentary, involving multiple dramatic flashbacks interspersed with archive footage.

A Hole in Babylon dramatises the botched 1975 Spaghetti House Siege in Knightsbridge. Middle-aged petty criminal Frank Davies, accompanied by two young men, Wesley Dick and Anthony Monroe, prepare to rob the restaurant. The younger men want out but Frank keeps them focused. As the three cross the point of no return, things immediately go wrong. The police are called and the siege is on. What began as a means to an end is now repackaged as a political and revolutionary act. Frank Davis assumes command of the quickly improvised Black Liberation Army.

As police negotiations begin, Ové winds back in a series of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks, to explain how we got here. He intersperses the back stories of the three characters with developments at the siege, without once losing the immediacy of the moment. First, Frank, recently released from Prison, is haunted by mental problems; Wesley, a poet, stuck in a dead-end job, is wishing for paid community work; Anthony, a middle-class medical student drop-out, is dreaming of going to Nigeria's Ibadan University to escape 'Babylon's education'.

Ové sensitively captures the way the unfolding siege provides the opportunity for a different kind of glory as black liberators. This grandiose scheming is intercut with real news archive from the time, which shows the reverse - the siege descending into farce and defeat. Ové's dignified treatment of the pressures facing the men led to widespread outrage. The BBC refused to sell on rights to US broadcasters, stating, "we are not going to sell a film... about a group of black hooligans."

But Ové's film is more subtle than this. Despite the racist provocations which provide motivation, 'Black Revolution' is shown to be ultimately just another hustle for Frank, the supreme opportunist. For the younger men, having reluctantly come this far, the glory of martyrdom appears a good way of advancing the cause. Frank's views nevertheless prevail, despite the disgust of the youngsters and his own personal humiliation.

Onyekachi Wambu

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The robbery (3:19)
2. Anthony's cause (3:09)
3. The planning (1:59)
4. Giving in (2:32)
Benjamin, Floella (1953- )
Ové, Horace (1939-)
Black TV Writers
Drama Documentary
Play for Today (1970-84)