Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Say Something Happened (1982)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Say Something Happened (1982)
For Objects of Affection, BBC, tx. 17/12/1982, 44 mins
Directed byGiles Foster
Production CompanyBBC
Produced byInnes Lloyd
Written byAlan Bennett

Cast: Thora Hird (Elizabeth Mary Rhodes); Hugh Lloyd (Arthur Rhodes); Julie Walters (June Potter)

Show full cast and credits

An inexperienced social worker is sent to interview an elderly couple deemed to be "at risk", but ends up learning just as much about herself.

Show full synopsis

Say Something Happened (tx. 17/12/1982) was the final broadcast in the BBC's 1982 series of plays by Alan Bennett, later published in the collection Objects of Affection. A 45-minute three-hander, it marked the first time that Thora Hird had been given a leading role in a Bennett play: in contrast to her earlier cameos, she's rarely off the screen here.

Perhaps appropriately for a man who never cultivated a youthful image despite first achieving fame in his twenties, Bennett's work had already included many portraits of the lives and preoccupations of the elderly, though Say Something Happened dramatises a direct confrontation between old age and youth. The latter is represented by naïve and inexperienced social worker June (Julie Walters), frantically consulting her notes whenever she's worried that she might have drifted off track in her attempt to process the responses given by the retired couple Elizabeth and Arthur Rhodes (Thora Hird and Hugh Lloyd) when she subjects them to her local authority questionnaire.

As their conversation progresses, it initially seems that it's the couple which is far more in control, the council's patronising directives about relieving isolation, avoiding mishaps and "refusal to recognise the approach of old age" notwithstanding. Typically, when Mrs Rhodes chooses to betray a genuinely dark secret, about her retarded son, June's training hasn't prepared her for this revelation and she ends up floundering and flustered.

But it's clear after her departure that for all her awkwardness she's managed to strike a chord, demonstrated by Mrs Rhodes' decision to keep the card she leaves behind (despite obvious irritation at it being marked 'HELP!' in large red letters) and her husband's suggestion that it be withheld from their daughter. They're determined to continue presenting a united front to the world, but by the end, their underlying anxieties are starting to show. In her gauche and clumsy way, June has persuaded them to start thinking about certain fundamental questions that they clearly hadn't addressed before, and for all his gentle mockery of social workers, Bennett clearly shows their underlying value.

He would rework these themes six years later in A Cream Cracker Under The Settee (BBC, tx. 24/5/1988), a Talking Heads monologue specifically written for Hird, where she again played a similarly indomitable elderly woman nursing traumatic memories of her first child while realising that she's not as independent as she thought.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A ring at the door (3:18)
2. A possible scenario (4:03)
3. Confrontation (1:21)
4. Mam's confession (3:14)
Bennett, Alan (1934-)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Walters, Julie (1950-)
Thora Hird and Alan Bennett