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Golden Vision, The (1968)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Golden Vision, The (1968)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC1, tx. 17/4/1968
75 minutes, black & white
DirectorKenneth Loach
ProducerTony Garnett
ScriptNeville Smith
 Gordon Honeycombe

Cast: Ken Jones (Joe Harrigan); Bill Dean (John Coyne); Neville Smith (Vince Coyne); Joey Kaye (Brian Croft); Johnny Gee (Syd Paisley); Flora Manger (Annie Coyne); Angela Small (Celia Horrigan)

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The obsessive supporters of Everton FC forsake wives, families and God to follow their beloved team. Meanwhile, the club and its players try to live up to their expectations.

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Ken Loach's ninth Wednesday Play (1964-70) combines behind-the-scenes documentary coverage of Everton FC with comedy-drama in which fictional supporters negotiate such inconveniences as births, marriages and deaths to follow their team. Like Loach's later Looking for Eric (2009), 'The Golden Vision' is family-centred, warm and humorous with moments of fantasy, and partly explores fans' affection for a real-life icon: centre-forward Alex Young, whose nickname provides the title.

The play is partly drawn from the experiences of Liverpool-born Neville Smith, who had acted in several Loach dramas. This was Smith's television writing debut, so producer Tony Garnett recommended an experienced collaborator. Loach chose Gordon Honeycombe - a former fellow student actor at Oxford, now known as a newscaster - after reading in Private Eye about the BBC rejecting Honeycombe's football play only to then launch the identically-titled football serial United! (1965-67). According to Loach biographer Anthony Hayward, Honeycombe's contribution was to bring structure, but he had minimal input after the writers fell out.

As in 'Cathy Come Home' (The Wednesday Play, tx. 16/11/1966), Loach treats fictional characters in the same ways as real people: Young, manager Harry Catterick and others are interviewed to-camera and in audio over footage of Everton training and playing, but then supporters' testimony accompanies footage of their fictional workplaces. Characters appear among real spectators, until the play's dream-like wish-fulfilment ending further erodes the boundaries. These techniques parallel supporters and footballers as workers, though a later biographer, John Hill, notes that this approach was undermined by cuts demanded by Everton, including excising players' criticisms of working conditions. For Hill, the play hints that football plays a depoliticising role (its politically-active character remembers his, dying, generation).

The play's comic set pieces (including a best man whose rush to attend a match renders him a blur in wedding photos) and the banter of its sparkling cast demonstrate a key Loach technique: for the first time, he cast club entertainers in leading roles. He found soon-to-be regulars such as Liverpool stand-up Bill Dean, and his continuing pursuit of spontaneous and 'truthful' performances would build on these methods.

'The Golden Vision' was uncontroversial, even though it employed the same blurring of 'fact' and 'fiction' techniques that had outraged some critics of earlier Wednesday Plays. That its humorous, football-based subject seemed to immunise it from a similar backlash suggests that the real objection to drama documentary was less the form itself than the political content.

Dave Rolinson

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