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End Of Arthur's Marriage, The (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of End Of Arthur's Marriage, The (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC1, tx. 17/11/1965
70 min, black & white
DirectorKen Loach
ProducerJames MacTaggart
ScriptChristopher Logue
 Stanley Myers
Title MusicPaul Jones
Songs sung byChristine Holmes
 Long John Baldry
 Samantha Jones

Cast: Ken Jones (Arthur); Maureen Ampleford (Emmy); Charles Lamb (Dad); Winifred Dennis (Mum); Janie Booth (Mavis)

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Mavis dreams of owning her own home, and the dream seems finally within reach. But her husband Arthur has dreams of his own...

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'The End of Arthur's Marriage' seems an unlikely Ken Loach piece: a satirical musical with moments of fantasy, surrealism and formal experimentation. However, the influences here are quite typical of Loach's early television work: Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre, the French new wave and the non-naturalism of Troy Kennedy Martin, with whom Loach worked on Diary of a Young Man (BBC, 1964).

Arthur uses his in-laws' life savings not to buy a house but to give daughter Emmy a lavish day out, resulting in random events, until he liberates himself by shedding his possessions. As often in Loach's work, individuals are placed in a social context, but here that's achieved by songs. As well as conventional songs (by Long John Baldry and others), there are in-character songs, including a sales pitch by shop assistant John Fortune, and narrators attacking middle-class conformity (over images of Arthur's in-laws) and ownership fetishised as security (over an Adam and Eve parable). As Jacob Leigh has noted, the stylised cadences and declamatory singing recall Brecht and Weill, while Brecht's influence runs from Arthur's purchase of an elephant (echoing Mann ist Mann) to the episodic narrative structure.

Satirical and Brechtian influences are unsurprising given that the play was written by poet Christopher Logue, collaborating with regular Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70) composer Stanley Myers. Logue wrote songs for Harry Cookson's 1960 stage play The Lily White Boys, directed by Lindsay Anderson; contributed to Private Eye (compiling for 'True Stories' the kind of unlikely anecdotes that inspired Arthur's story); and appeared at the Establishment Club. But then, Loach himself appeared in That Was the Week that Was (BBC, 1962-63).

Some elements are more recognisably Loachian: casting untrained Maureen Ampleford as Emmy, and using documentary techniques in location filming, his first use of 16mm film. But as John Hill argues, documentary is "subordinated to the strangeness of what is observed" and works alongside "modernist self-consciousness". For example, the play cuts between young people's pop gyrations and disgruntled viewers, and Loach appears as himself, arguing with a documentary crew filming at his planned location.

Loach later judged himself "the wrong person for the job," and saw his failure to film the elephant on a barge as a 'cock-up'. Shot after this play but broadcast before it, 'Up the Junction' (BBC, tx. 3/11/1965) showed Loach finding a different emphasis in his early negotiations between pop music and documentary technique.

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. 'Politicians love us' (2:01)
2. 'Do you like working?' (2:10)
3. Special kind of zoo (3:44)
4. 'Why save when you can spend?' (4:02)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
MacTaggart, James (1928-74)
Smith, Neville (1940-)
Ken Loach: Television Drama
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)