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All Day on the Sands (1979)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of All Day on the Sands (1979)
For Six Plays by Alan Bennett, ITV, tx. 24/2/1979, 66 mins
DirectorGiles Foster
Production CompanyLondon Weekend Television
ProducerStephen Frears
ScriptAlan Bennett
PhotographyBarry Noakes
 Paul Bond
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Alun Armstrong (Dad); Marjorie Yates (Mum); Gary Carp (Colin); Jonathan Coy (Keith); Rosalind Wilson (Jo); Ken Jones (Mr Cattley)

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The Coopers eschew Minorca for Morecambe, and go the the Miramar hotel, with all the atmosphere of the Costa Brava - and a more select clientele. But Mr Cooper has a guilty secret...

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The final play to be shown in LWT's series of Six Plays by Alan Bennett, All Day on the Sands (tx. 24/2/1979) returns to familiar territory in the form of the Lancashire seaside resort of Morecambe and a variety of people trying to enjoy themselves on holiday. The temporary inhabitants of the dingy Miramar boarding-house include the four-strong Cooper family, retired couple Mr and Mrs Thornton and newlyweds Keith and Jo, all of whom contrive at some point to annoy the owners Mr and Mrs Cattley and their surly waitress Fay.

On the sands themselves, things aren't much better. Young Jennifer Cooper (Susan Hopkins) constantly draws disparaging comparisons between Morecambe and 'abroad' (it's cold, the sea isn't blue), her parents (Alun Armstrong and Marjorie Yates) bicker and complain about everything from food to marriage to his recent redundancy, while twelve-year-old Colin (Gary Carp) falls in with teenager Graham (Stephen Greenwood) and takes up theft, vandalism and the casting of unwarranted sexual aspersions out of sheer boredom.

What the play lacks in plot (it's bookended by the loss and recovery of Jennifer's sandal, another victim of Colin's loose-endedness) it more than makes up in telling detail. Few who have suffered an unappetising English seaside holiday will fail to identify with some of these ingredients: the pretension and fake bonhomie of Mr Cattley (Ken Jones) and his DJ-style tannoy announcements, his fearsome wife (Jane Freeman) and her strict insistence on rationing butter and sauce, Fay (Helene Palmer) refusing to serve meals until the entire family is seated, and the honeymooners (Jonathan Coy and Rosalind Wilson) caught sneaking into their room at inappropriate times and emerging two minutes before the breakfast deadline.

The notion that anyone might be there for pleasure is considered fundamentally absurd: even Keith and Jo have their ardour dampened by Dad's bitter rant about how quickly married life falls apart. For all the mordantly funny one-liners (and Bennett is on fine form in this respect) there's a bleakness at the heart of All Day at the Sands that places it firmly in line with its predecessors in the LWT cycle. Although set in the (then) present, it was based on Bennett's memories of family holidays at Morecambe three decades earlier, where he and his brother played on sand that "while superficially golden and attractive, at six inches down turns (a metaphor here) into mud".

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Radio Miramar (3:06)
2. Morecambe vs Abroad (1:52)
3. Little curly hairs (4:01)
4. Boats and bangles (2:44)
Production stills
Bank Holiday (1938)
Bennett, Alan (1934-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)