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Bill Brand (1976)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Bill Brand (1976)
Thames Television for ITV, 7/6-16/8/1976
11 x 60 min episodes, colour
DirectorsRoland Joffé
 Michael Lindsay-Hogg
 Stuart Burge
ProducerStuart Burge
ScriptTrevor Griffiths

Cast: Jack Shepherd (Bill Brand); Lynn Farleigh (Miriam Brand); Rosemary Martin (Winnie Scoular); Cherie Lunghi (Alex Feguson); Allan Surtees (Alf Jowett); Clifford Kershaw (Frank Hilton); Alan Badel (David Last)

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Bill Brand, newly elected Labour MP for Leighley, attempts to make a difference during his first year at Westminster.

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Bill Brand (ITV, 1976) was an epic attempt to lay bare the nature of political power in the UK, and more specifically to analyse if, and how, the socialist struggle could be furthered by the parliamentary Labour movement. Its origins can be seen in Trevor Griffiths' early Play for Today, 'All Good Men' (BBC, tx. 31/01/1974), where the tension between the social democratic and revolutionary positions were embodied in an argument between father and son.

In Bill Brand, the scope is much broader, and focuses on newly elected left-wing MP Brand (Jack Shepherd), a former Trotskyist, and his attempts to negotiate a path between the demands of his family, the local party, the whips and his conscience, while still trying to make a difference politically. During the course of the series he is vilified by the press for his controversial views, and through his acquaintance with the eventual leadership candidate David Last (Alan Badel), he is witness to the power struggles that occur at the highest level of government.

Griffiths had the idea for the series on the day of the February 1974 General Election, while watching a number of Conservative supporters reacting to their party losing an election they were expected to win. The series features a Labour government with a bare working majority, and this closely mirrored the political situation at the time. The major figures in the fictional cabinet are not exact representations of those politicians in the then Labour government, but there are some close parallels, and in fact some of the events in the series are eerily prophetic of future political developments. The PM (Arthur Lowe) has to retire because of ill-health, and after the series was written (although before transmission) the same thing happened to Harold Wilson. More importantly, Griffiths examines the political rifts within the Labour party, and, with uncanny foresight, dramatises the ideological conflicts that would eventually lead to the formation of the SDP.

Bill Brand is a breathtaking series. Transmitted during the boiling summer of 1976, at peak-time between World in Action and News at Ten, it engaged with contemporary politics in a dramatic way, but remained consistently intelligent, and far from talking down to its viewers, assumed that they were a vital part of the political processes described, and as committed to understanding how things might therefore improve. There has been nothing like it since, and that's more the pity.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. Timetable of events (2:47)
2. Splitting the centre (1:58)
3. Good to be home (2:12)
4. Let's talk politics (3:10)
5. Power indeed (1:13)
G.B.H. (1991)
Project, The (2002)
Griffiths, Trevor (1935- )
Hawthorne, Sir Nigel (1929-2001)
Jeffrey, Peter (1929-1999)
Joffé, Roland (1945-)
Lowe, Arthur (1915-1982)
Palmer, Geoffrey (1927-)
Richman, Stella (1922-2002)