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Stand Up, Nigel Barton (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Stand Up, Nigel Barton (1965)
For The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 8/12/1965, 75 mins, black and white.
Production CompanyBBC
DirectorGareth Davies
ProducersJames MacTaggart, Graeme MacDonald
ScriptDennis Potter

Cast: Keith Barron (Nigel Barton), Jack Woolgar (Mr. Barton), Katherine Parr (Mrs. Barton), Vickery Turner (Jill Blakeney), Robert Mill (Adrian), Janet Henfrey (Miss Tillings)

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The working-class son of a coal miner faces class prejudice from both sides of the social divide when he gains a scholarship to Oxford University.

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Stand Up, Nigel Barton (The Wednesday Play, BBC, tx. 8/12/1965), in some ways the most nakedly autobiographical of Dennis Potter's works, is also, of his four plays televised in 1965, the one that gives the strongest indication of the way his talent would develop. This is particularly evident in its complex narrative structure and in Potter's apparent willingness to be identified within his own works and to use this to generate controversy, mystification and confusion, something still evident late in his career in Blackeyes (BBC, 1989) and Karaoke (BBC, 1996).

Keith Barron brings an angry and manic quality to his playing of the title role, a young man who is, like Potter, a coalminer's son who gains a scholarship to Oxford University and who comes to prominence by appearing on a television documentary espousing his opinions on class in British society. In 1958 Potter was interviewed at Oxford for a programme entitled Does Class Matter? (BBC, tx. 25/8/1958), which when previewed by the Reynolds News bore the headline 'Miner's Son at Oxford Felt Ashamed of Home', an event which Potter re-creates at the climax of the play.

Stand Up, Nigel Barton, however, can hardly be classed as a naturalistic work, containing Brechtian alienation effects such as asides to the camera, while the cross-cutting between Barton's home town, his adopted student city and highly subjective childhood recollections of playground frustrations and humiliations imaginatively present his sense of dislocation. The school scenes are presented in an impressionistic manner, with adult actors playing the schoolchildren, an idea Potter would later return to in Blue Remembered Hills (Play for Today, BBC, tx. 30/1/1979).

It also introduces Potter's fascination with popular music, creatively using songs beyond their mere power to evoke a mood or period: 'The Old Rugged Cross', which we hear sung in the Working Men's Club, is the same song that Nigel is singing when fined £10 by the University proctors for warbling while drunk.

Director Gareth Davies concludes with some bravura filmmaking, the end credits appearing over a nearly two-minute unbroken tracking shot following Nigel and his father walking "in the middle of the road", so bracketing the play with its opening sequence, which also showed the two men walking. Then, however, Nigel stayed on the pavement, while now, with The Animals' 'We've Gotta Get Out of This Place' playing on the soundtrack, he stands next to his father.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Middle of the road (3:02)
2. School playground (2:53)
3. School discipline (3:22)
4. Family ties (3:39)
Production stills
Vote, Vote, Vote, for Nigel Barton (1965)
Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)
Wednesday Play, The (1964-70)