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Lena, O My Lena (1960)


Main image of Lena, O My Lena (1960)
For Armchair Theatre, ABC Television for ITV, tx. 25/9/1960
60 min, black & white
DirectorTed Kotcheff
Production CompanyABC Television
ProducerSydney Newman
ScriptAlun Owen

Cast: Billie Whitelaw (Lena); Peter McEnery (Tom); Colin Blakely (Ted); Patrick O'Connell (Derek); Scott Forbes (Glyn)

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A green young student arrives at a Lancashire factory looking for work. But his attempt to return to his working-class 'roots' ends in heartbreak.

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Alun Owen's Lena, O My Lena completed a loose trilogy with his two previous works for Armchair Theatre, No Trams to Lime Street (tx. 18/10/1959) and After the Funeral (tx. 3/4/1960). The three plays, which collectively won Owen the Directors' Merit Award, were all concerned with characters "evading the truth about themselves," as Owen later put it. In Lena, said Owen, "I tried to show that physical attraction is not enough to gain admittance to a world you don't really belong in any more."

The play is set in a Lancashire factory, still an unusual background for television drama in 1960 - at a time when the cinema was just beginning to explore northern working-class lives with films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960). Into this resolutely blue-collar environment comes naïve young student Tom, who longs to mix with 'real' people rather than his fellow students. The Liverpool-born Tom, who insists he is from working-class stock, feels cut off from his roots as a result of his father's insistence that he further his education.

Smitten by a factory girl, the moody, charismatic Lena (an electric performance from rising star Billie Whitelaw), Tom imagines himself in love, and convinces himself that Lena loves him in return. But to her, he is only a 'bit of fun', and a way of winding up her macho, possessive Welsh boyfriend, Glyn. Brushed aside and humiliated by Glyn - to the cruel laughter of the factory workers - and rejected by Lena, the bewildered Tom has no option but to rejoin his 'own sort': the other students pea-picking up the road.

Owen was born in Wales and grew up speaking Welsh, but moved to Liverpool aged eight, and the opposition between tough Glyn and sensitive dreamer Tom no doubt reflects his own conflicts. But the play, despite occasionally wobbly camerawork and the limitations of studio-bound live performance, is most interesting for the way in which it demonstrates the development of a specifically televisual form of drama, rooted in expressive, authentic dialogue and intense but controlled performances.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Stuck up (2:16)
2. Tom and Lena (3:44)
3. Tom's humiliation (3:11)
Production stills
Blakely, Colin (1930-1987)
Owen, Alun (1925-1994)
Whitelaw, Billie (1932-)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)
Live TV Drama
The Television Play