Our Day Out

Delighted to see that Our Day Out, Willy Russell’s BBC Play For Today from 1976, has been posted in its entirety on YouTube (Go here to see it all).

Amazing to think that in the 70s, Russell, Mike Leigh, Dennis Potter, Alan Bleasdale, Lyndsay Anderson and many other notables had work commissioned for this one-off drama slot, resulting in intelligent, brave and entertaining pieces that spoke to a mass audience and yet challenged them at the same time. Now virtually the only serious writers the BBC appears to act as patron to are Jimmy McGovern (whose work has descended into emotionally bullying Catholic guilt-fests) and Steven Poliakoff (who for the most part only seems interested in writing about posh people).

The role of programmes such as Play For Today, in which the audience often had aspects of their own lives projected back to them as drama, has been taken over by soaps. These are incapable of consistently good storytelling because a) they’re in a ratings war with each other, so have to regularly go for extreme plots just to get the punters in, regardless of their appropriateness to the overall situation they depict and b) the cast is never stable, so perfectly good marriages improbably break down, and singletons decide to move, pack and go forever in an afternoon in order to get an actor out in time for the panto season.

Our Day Out is beautifully written. I don’t know if Willy Russell came up with anything quite as good again (I’d take it over Educating Rita any day). There was a musical stage version in the Eighties, but for me the TV version is in no need of elaboration. In it, a group of remedial class Liverpudlian kids are taken on a day-trip to Wales by Diane from Emmerdale and one of the ex-coppers from New Tricks. Along the way, both teachers and pupils discover that there is more to life than they realised. The details are wonderful – the boys smoke at the back of the bus, the girls flirt with a male teacher, and when they go through the Mersey Tunnel, everyone cheers. Politically it’s of it’s time, and maybe it’s a big ragged around the edges, but all in all it’s a fantastic thing, and i guarantee it will touch and stay with you in a way that the latest japeries of Minty and Gary and the conflicts of various shouty East End bald men never will. As a nation, we’ve forgotten how to tell little stories about ourselves like this one, that seem to do so little but say so much. A shame. I think we might have lost something important.

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One Response to “Our Day Out”

  1. For me Willie Russell’s peak was One Summer, the tv series of Billy and Icky’s time away from Liverpool. Happily, it’s available on dvd.

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