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Nuts in May (1976)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Nuts in May (1976)
For Play for Today, BBC1, tx.13/1/1976
90 minutes, colour
DirectorMike Leigh
Devised byMike Leigh
Production CompanyBBC Birmingham
ProducerDavid Rose

Cast: Roger Sloman (Keith); Alison Steadman (Candice Marie); Anthony O'Donnell (Ray); Sheila Kelley (Honky); Eric Allan (quarryman)

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Trying to get back to nature, Keith Pratt and his wife Candice Marie go camping in Dorset. Everything is fine until other campers arrive at the site and start to disregard the country code and shatter the peace and quiet.

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Nuts in May, Mike Leigh's second Play for Today, was broadcast on 13 January 1976. Less dark than much of his earlier work, it prefigures the precise social satire of Abigail's Party the following year.

Like Beverley in Abigail's Party, Keith is an easy figure to ridicule. Leigh, however, is not attempting merely to mock, but instead invites us to draw parallels with our own lives, showing how easily we buy into ideals without question when it suits us. Keith has swallowed the rules and values force fed him by society, digesting them just as he does the information in the guidebooks - without question.

Keith leads a highly structured life, carefully planning everything, from how many times he must chew his food, to what his menu for the next day will be. When his plans descend into chaos due to events beyond his control, he is angry and bewildered, and is eventually forced to question some of his preconceptions.

Keith's inability to see beyond his own horizons is evident in his attitude towards Ray. Keith has nothing but contempt for Ray's pollution of the environment with the noise of his radio. Yet these standards don't seem to apply to Keith and Candice Marie's own music - painfully improvised folk songs which they sing while playing banjo and guitar.

Keith insists on treating Candice Marie like a child, a role she seems content to play (she works in a toy shop). She sees everything through a child's eyes, amazed by the simplest of things and questioning everything.

At one point, he reprimands her for collecting pebbles from the beach. When questioned, he tells her firmly that if everyone visiting the beach took one pebble there would be none left - the sort of answer an adult might give to a small child.

It is the characters which at first glance appear the strangest that are the most grounded in normality. Honky and Finger seem brash and rude. Yet they are simply on holiday to have a good time - a young couple free together alone, unlike Keith who structures his holiday time as though he were still at work.

Whether we like to admit it or not, perhaps we're all a little like Keith; we all adopt ideals that suit our needs, changing them as our needs change. How many of us go to bed reading The Guinness Book of Records is another matter.

Darren Rea

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Video Clips
1. Protecting pebbles (3:39)
2. Singsong and photo (3:30)
3. Campfire confrontation (4:26)
Production stills
Mike Leigh: The Guardian Interview (1983)
Leigh, Mike (1943-)
Mike Leigh on TV
Play for Today (1970-84)
The Television Play