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One Fine Day (1979)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of One Fine Day (1979)
For Six Plays by Alan Bennett, ITV, tx. 17/2/1979, 95 mins
Directed byStephen Frears
Production CompanyLondon Weekend Television
Produced byStephen Frears
Written byAlan Bennett
PhotographyCharles Stewart, Diane Tammes

Cast: Dave Allen (Phillips); Robert Stephens (Welby); Dominic Guard (Rycroft); Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Mrs Phillips); Leslie Sands (Commissionaire)

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Estate agent Phillips suffers a mid-life crisis, and expresses it through taking up residence in an office block that he's supposed to be renting to his firm's clients.

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The fifth in LWT's series of Six Plays by Alan Bennett, One Fine Day (tx. 17/2/1979) is somewhat disconcerting on first viewing. A glance at the credits (one of Britain's wittiest writers teaming up with hugely popular Irish comedian Dave Allen) and a brief plot synopsis suggests that this piece about an estate agent's mid-life crisis and his resulting bizarre behaviour is closely related to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (BBC, 1976-79). In reality, it's quiet, contemplative and, until the very end, almost entirely joke-free.

But once thwarted expectations are overcome, One Fine Day reveals itself as possibly the most powerful piece in the entire LWT cycle, a beautifully poised study of a man under extreme stress that's made all the more poignant for being so unnervingly calm. Despite clear evidence of mental turmoil, Phillips (Allen) never raises his voice or creates a scene, preferring to internalise his emotions to the point when he's only truly happy in the private space that he's created on the upper floors of Sunley House, the empty London office building that he's supposed to be filling with thriving businesses.

There, relaxing in a deckchair with opera on his headphones, he can shut himself off from his loathsome colleagues and his family, though the real world has a nasty habit of intruding at inconvenient moments, especially when he's trapped on the roof by an overzealous security guard and has to resort to smashing one of the upper windows to escape.

The effectiveness of this set-piece, together with wordless sequences of Phillips wandering round the faintly surreal landscape of Sunley House, its featureless floors populated only by regularly-spaced telephones, is as much a tribute to director Stephen Frears as it is to Bennett's script: both Frears and Allen fully rise to the challenge of making an almost entirely passive protagonist hold our interest throughout.

When One Fine Day finally bursts into rich comedy, as the repellently ambitious junior Rycroft (Dominic Guard) receives his richly-deserved comeuppance in front of both his overbearing boss Welby (Robert Stephens) and a group of Japanese businessmen, the shift in tone neatly matches Phillips' own discovery of a new lease of life, something underlined by his subsequent decision to lay down the law concerning his teenage son's hitherto practically live-in girlfriend. Bennett's plays rarely end on a genuinely upbeat note, but this is a happy exception.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Treading on toes (1:18)
2. Hedgehogs and fleas (3:40)
3. Trapped (4:32)
4. The squatter (2:35)
Production stills
Alan Bennett: The Guardian Interview (1984)
Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The (1976-79)
Allen, Dave (1936-2005)
Bennett, Alan (1934-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
Stephens, Robert (1931-1995)