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Night Out, A (1960)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Night Out, A (1960)
For Armchair Theatre, ABC Television for ITV, tx. 24/4/1960
60 minutes, black & white
DirectorPhilip Saville
Production CompanyABC Television
ProducerSydney Newman
ScriptHarold Pinter
DesignerAssheton Gorton

Cast: Tom Bell (Albert Stokes); Madge Ryan (Mrs Stokes); David Baron (Seeley); Philip Locke (Kedge); Vivien Merchant (Girl); Arthur Lowe (Mr King); Stanley Meadows (Gidney)

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Against the wishes of his domineering mother, Albert Stokes attends a work party. But the evening is not the escape he was hoping for.

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Harold Pinter's first stage plays, The Room and The Birthday Party, bemused and infuriated critics. Conventional wisdom has it that it was 1960's The Caretaker that turned the tide, but Pinter's first work for television, broadcast a few days before The Caretaker opened at the Arts Theatre in London, is at least as significant. 'A Night Out' (ITV, tx. 24/4/1960) was viewed by an audience of 6.4 million, a record for a single television drama and, as the author admitted, considerably more than ever saw a Pinter play in a theatre.

Originally produced for BBC radio's Third Programme in March 1960, 'A Night Out' was nevertheless well-suited to producer Sydney Newman's positioning of ABC Television's Armchair Theatre as a home for challenging new drama, particularly dealing with working-class subjects.

Albert Stokes is an emotionally inarticulate loner, socially awkward and fearful of women. As his tormentor Gidney observes, he is "a mother's boy": at 28, he still lives with his needy and controlling mother, who maintains him in a childlike state of dependency and worries that he might be shaming his long-dead father and grandmother by leading an 'unclean life'.

The night out of the title is a work party, a hard-won escape for Albert from his prison home which turns to humiliation when he is unfairly accused of improperly touching a female colleague. Returning home, the drunken Albert rebels against his mother's hectoring and comes close to striking her down. When, later that night, he is picked up by a lonely and desperate girl (played by Pinter's then wife and regular collaborator Vivien Merchant), he cruelly uses her to re-enact his relationship with his mother, casting himself in a dominant role.

As well as demonstrating its author's remarkable ear for the rhythms of everyday speech, 'A Night Out' bears the thematic hallmarks that established Pinter as the most celebrated playwright of his generation - the difficulty of true communication, the thick layers of meaning buried in language and the mutually destructive patterns of behaviour that can come to dominate relationships.

As company director King, Arthur Lowe offers an early example of the pompous authority figure archetype that was to become his speciality. Pinter himself, under his regular pseudonym David Baron, plays a minor role as Albert's colleague and almost friend Seeley. The play was revived in the BBC's Theatre 625 slot (tx. 9/2/1967)

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Albert and his mother (3:13)
2. 'Mummy's boy' (1:51)
3. Breaking point (2:04)
Lover, The (1963)
Bell, Tom (1932-2006)
Lowe, Arthur (1915-1982)
Newman, Sydney (1917-1997)
Pinter, Harold (1930-2008)
Saville, Philip (1930-)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)
Live TV Drama
The Television Play