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Oi For England (1982)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Oi For England (1982)
Central Independent Television for ITV, tx. 17/4/1982
60 minutes, colour
DirectorTony Smith
ProducerSue Birtwistle
ScreenplayTrevor Griffiths
PhotographyChris Werry

Cast: Adam Kotz (Finn); Neil Pearson (Napper); Richard Platt (Landry); Ian Mercer (Swells); Gavin Richards (The Man); Lisa Lewis (Gloria)

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Ammunition, a band of four working-class skinheads, rehearses in a basement in Moss Side, Manchester. As a race riot begins outisde, they are offered the chance to perform at a fascist rally. The four lads find their loyalties tested.

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Written in response to the riots of the early 1980s, and to a worrying rise in neo-Nazism in the same period, Trevor Griffiths' Oi For England (ITV, tx. 17/4/1982) is arguably as relevant today as it was in 1982.

The 1980s riots, in Bristol, Liverpool, Brixton and elsewhere, had disparate triggers, but all were fuelled by seething anger at mass youth unemployment, poverty, hopelessness, oppressive policing and racism, all of which were blamed on Thatcherite economics.

Set in Moss Side, Manchester - scene of its own riots in July 1981 - Griffiths' play gives voice to this tinderbox of disenfranchised youth in the form of four skinhead would-be musicians, who gather in a dusty basement to vent their frustration in violent, angry songs played on ripped-off instruments: wired, hot-headed Napper (Neil Pearson), gormless Swells (Ian Mercer), Landry (Richard Platt), the eldest and group peacemaker, and quiet, thoughtful Finn (Adam Kotz), the group's singer and songwriter. Calling themselves Ammunition, the band play Oi! music, a raucous skinhead variant of punk frequently associated with neo-Nazism.

The lads' undirected fury makes them easy prey for arch-manipulator The Man (Gavin Richards), who brings news of the race war raging above and offers them the chance to play at a 'skinfest'. But the offer is vetoed by Finn, who alone sees the ugly fascist behind The Man's smooth mask of respectability. Finn, proud of his Irish roots and mindful of his grandfather's stories of the Nazis, is no fascist. The others, however, are far less politically aware.

Napper, justifying his beating and robbing of an Asian worker, complains, "I'm eighteen and I've never 'ad a job in me f***in' life!", and it is his kind The Man is thinking of when he identifies a constituency "sick of being kicked around, ignored, shat on, pushed to the bottom of the midden, up to their necks in brown scum, the diarrhoea their leaders have seen fit to flood this England with." It is a frighteningly potent speech, which Finn's expression of opposition, based on his grandfather's memories of liberating concentration camps, cannot match. In the end, Finn's reaction is articulated without words, as he smashes the band's instruments and, in a cautious alliance with black landlord's daughter Gloria (Lisa Lewis), prepares to take to the streets.

A reworked Oi For England had an afterlife touring youth clubs and community theatres in an attempt to unite working-class audiences against fascism.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. The offer (4:43)
2. A vision of England (5:29)
3. Finn and Gloria (2:21)
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Griffiths, Trevor (1935- )
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