Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989): The Hallelujah Handshake/To Encourage the Others
This is one of a series of reviews of the BFI's box set. For the other reviews go to:
Half Hour Story
George's Room/The Last Train Through Harecastle Tunnel/Sovereign's Company
Under the Age/Horace
The Love-Girl and the Innocent/Penda's Fen
Penda's Fen (standalone release)
A Follower for Emily/Diane
Danton's Death/Beloved Enemy
Stars of the Roller State Disco/Contact
The Hallelujah Handshake (75:18)
Henry Tobias Jones (Tony Calvin) is a young man seeking to belong. He joins the local church and is keen to help out, but something isn't quite right...
Sovereign's Company, broadcast in April 1970, was Alan Clarke's second and last Wednesday Play. This BBC1 strand had been broadcasting since September 1964, with much distinguished television drama made and shown. The last production was in May 1970. It was replaced in October by Play for Today, a name which had the advantage of being unspecific as to which day of the week it was broadcast on – initially, Thursdays. Seven months after Sovereign's Company, there appeared the first of the eleven Plays for Today directed by Clarke: I Can't See My Little Willie, written by Douglas Livingstone and broadcast on 19 November with a repeat showing on 18 May 1972. It is now lost, so here's how Radio Times described it: “When it's time to wet the baby's head, it's surprising the secrets that emerge ...”
Clarke clearly didn't let the dust settle under his feet, because just four weeks later (17 December 1970) came his second Play for Today, The Hallelujah Handshake, written by Colin Welland. It had a repeat showing on 23 December 1971. Welland (1934-2015) had a long career as both an actor and a writer. In the former capacity he was a familiar face as a character actor on both big screen and small, including a stint in the early years of Z Cars and a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor in Kes. As a writer, he won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire and memorably shouted “The British are coming!” during his acceptance speech. His writing career had begun on the small screen in 1969, with Bangelstein's Boys, for ITV's Sunday Night Theatre. It's far to say that his career got off to a fast start: The Hallelujah Handshake was one of three television plays he had produced in 1970, and they collectively won him that year's BAFTA Award. It was the first of his five Plays for Today. The next one, Kisses at Fifty (1973) was filmed in 1985 as Twice in a Lifetime with its location shifted from Yorkshire to Seattle.
The Hallelujah Handshake seems at first a comedy, but it's rather darker than it first appears. Its central figure is a fantasist, going under more than one false name before we learn his real one. He's desperate to fit in but hasn't learned the lesson that if you are too eager to please and to be helpful you aren't necessarily thanked or valued for it. And, due to his working with children (and possibly because he is an adult male doing this traditionally female job) suspicion is raised as to his motives. Many of his activities involve the local church, which the play doesn't take the easy way out by mocking: the parishioners (whose thoughts we sometimes hear in voiceover) are sincere in their churchgoing. That may be the issue: they fit in, Henry (to give him the name he's first known to us by, and which is the one he appears under in the end credits) never will, and thereby lies the source of their antagonism to him. Yet he's not a bad man, and as with Benjamin in The Last Train from Harecastle Tunnel he's someone who could easily be mocked but is seen sympathetically.
Shooting on film, Clarke's direction is showing a shift from the back-and-forth between tight closeups of some of his earlier work. While the Steadicam had yet to be invented and become part of his directing armoury, there are some lengthy walk-and-talk scenes shot with the camera either on a dolly going backwards or a very steady handheld camera.
To Encourage the Others (103:45)
On the night of 2 November 1952, following a burglary attempt in Croydon, nineteen-year-old Derek Bentley (Charles Bolton), a man with learning difficulties and a tested IQ of 66, and sixteen-year-old Chris Craig (Billy Hamon) were in a standoff with the police. According to police witnesses, they called on Craig to hand over his gun and Bentley, then under arrest, shouted “Let him have it, Chris!”. Police Constable Sidney Miles was fatally shot in the head. Craig, being underage, was too young to receive the death sentence for murder, but Bentley, although he did not fire the shot, was tried and sentenced to death. Despite appeals from his family, he was hanged on 28 January 1953.
To Encourage the Others, the second-longest play in the box set, was first broadcast on 28 March 1972 with a repeat showing on 30 January 1973. It had a later showing on 6 July 1991, the start of BBC2's six-play Clarke retrospective following his death the previous year. In this boxset, it follows The Hallelujah Handshake, broadcast a year and four months earlier. That's a big gap in Alan Clarke terms, but it was filled by another Play for Today, Everybody Say Cheese, written by Douglas Livingstone (only broadcast 3 June 1971 and now lost, so as per Radio Times: “Every year beach photographer Henry Hunter goes back to Margate to stay with his old friend Frank and his efficient landlady wife Hylda. But now people are taking their own pictures and Frank is getting older ...”). To Encourage the Others was also preceded, by eight days, by the half-hour Under the Age, and by seven days by the feature-length Horace, both of which are on Disc Three of this boxset and will be discussed in that review.
David Yallop (credited here as David A. Yallop) was working as a floor manager at London Weekend Television when he began to write. He started with thirteen scripts for the Assocation-Rediffusion half-hour children's show Orlando and also had an episode of Doctor at Large on his CV. Being a born-and-bred Londoner, fifteen years old when the Bentley case had made headlines, he saw in Bentley an example of society's need for a scapegoat, at a time of mass fears of violent youth. He began to work on a script, initially as a serial, then a full-length play, before Bentley's father suggested he write a book on the case. So he did, and the book was published in 1971. The end credits say that the play is based on the book, but both developed concurrently. The BBC were nervous about the subject matter, still controversial twenty years after the events (with Bentley's family campaigning for a posthumous pardon). But then a slot became free, so it went ahead with Alan Clarke already in place as director.
The play sticks to what was conclusively proven, so in the opening scene we don't hear Bentley shout “Let him have it, Chris!”. Much of the case depended on whether Bentley, under arrest at the time, meant Craig to give up his gun or whether “let him have it” meant to kill PC Miles. (In the 1991 film Let Him Have It we do hear Bentley say the line.) After this opening, shot on 35mm film, we are on multicamera video in the studio for about half the play's running time, with much of the dialogue on the historical record. Much of the action outside the courtroom deals with Bentley's family. Making his first dramatised documentary, Clarke hired the real hangman Albert Pierrepoint to advise on the execution scene and punctuates the action with animated black and white stills as reconstructions at particular points. Other drama-doc devices are a voiceover narration, contemporary newspaper headlines on screen and some actual newsreel footage of Chris Craig. Yallop had the idea of shooting the whole production in black and white, which Clarke was in favour of, but that was vetoed. (Ironically, one of the plays which was, like this one, shortlisted for the BAFTA Best Single Drama award, The Resistable Rise of Alberto Ui, directed by Jack Gold, was made in black and white. Other post-colour black and whites include Alan Bennett's debut play, A Day Out, directed by Stephen Frears in 1972 and Jack Fletcher, one of a series called Turning Year Tales from 1979.)
To Encourage the Others isn't remotely balanced: it sets out to demonstrate a historical miscarriage of justice and isn't afraid of stirring up controversy in doing so. It was more so than Let Him Have It (a cinema film, not something beamed into your home on one of then only three channels), possibly because nineteen further years had passed and the injustice was clearer. Clarke spares us very little: as Krzysztof Kieślowski did in A Short Film About Killing, he shows us the illegal killing but also shows us the state-endorsed killing as well. Given Pierrepoint's involvement, you can't doubt the accuracy of it.
The then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, spoke in Parliament about the Bentley case in May 1972, after the first broadcast of To Encourage the Others. His words were included in a caption at the end of the 1991 broadcast of the play, and are included in the version on this disc. After the deaths of Bentley's parents in the 1970s, his sister Iris led the campaign to give him a posthumous pardon and to quash his conviction for murder. The former was achieved in 1993. Iris did not live to see her brother's conviction quashed in 1998, as she had died of cancer the year before.
This is Disc Two of the six-disc DVD boxset Dissent: Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 1 (1969-1977) and the limited-edition thirteen-disc (eleven Blu-rays and two DVDs) set Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989). A Blu-ray checkdisc was provided for review. The Blu-ray and DVD are encoded for Regions B and 2 respectively. As mentioned above, the version of To Encourage the Others is the one broadcast in 1991, with the added caption containing Reginald Maudling's comments.
Dissent & Disruption has an 18 certificate as a whole, and the six-DVD set a 15. Of the two films on this disc, references to child abuse gain The Hallelujah Handshake a 15 while To Encourage the Others is a 12. One of the reasons for the latter is “infrequent strong language”, namely one use of the word “fucking” during one of the trial scenes. That's certainly not something you hear every day in 70s television drama. In fact, other than the unscripted utterances of Kenneth Tynan and Peregrine Worsthorne (and Joe Moran's excellent book Armchair Nation identifies two examples preceding Tynan's notorious use of the word) the usually-cited first example of a F-word on the BBC was in 1980, with another dramatisation of a real court case, The Trial of Lady Chatterley. Other than that, the 70s was a decade where, to use Scum as an example, you could hear pervasive racial epithets, but no one, not even hardened Borstal boys, ever said “fuck”. Feature films, no matter how distinguished and at whatever time of night they were shown, were always de-fucked. Yet here it is on the soundtrack of To Encourage the Others. No doubt the justification was, as it was with the Chatterley play, that the word was on the historical record. I've no doubt that the 1991 repeat was unexpurgated (they'd have had to censor The Firm as well) but was the word blanked out in 1972 and 1973 or did it go over the airwaves so that your wives and servants would hear it? Does anyone know?
Both plays are in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Hallelujah Handshake was shot on 16mm film throughout and is transferred in HD from the transmission print. To Encourage the Others was mostly shot on video, with film material (including the 35mm-shot opening scene) telecined in during the studio recording; the transfer is from a Digibeta copy of the original two-inch PAL transmission tape. The difference between film and video was obvious even then (even on the black and white sets most of the population were watching on), let alone now when viewed on larger high-def televisions. The Hallelujah Handshake is inevitably soft in places – especially in longer shots – and with noticeable grain. Even though we're a generation removed from the original, you can see the smoother grain of the 35mm-originated material in To Encourage the Others and the video footage (the majority of the play) is sharp and colourful. As both productions were shot at twenty-five frames per second (as opposed to the cinema standard of twenty-four), the Blu-ray transfers are 1080i50.
Both soundtracks are the original mono, and are clear and well-balanced. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are provided.
You have the option of playing To Encourage the Others with David Leland's introduction to the 1991 broadcast (2:53). Leland made short introductions to each of the repeated plays. They included his own Made in Britain, which is a little surprising given that it was an ITV production (made for Central Television) and this season was on BBC2. That said, BBC Genome doesn't record a showing of Made in Britain so maybe it didn't go ahead.
Also on the disc is Part Two of Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light (13:33). Much of this is discussion by family members, friends and colleagues about Clarke's personality and (as Mike Leigh especially points out) the range and eclecticism of his work. The Hallelujah Handshake gets passed by somewhat, but David Yallop and producer Mark Shivas are on hand to talk about To Encourage the Others.
The BFI's book accompanying the boxsets (200 pages in the limited edition, 100 in the six-disc DVD set) has essays on both plays. Nick Wrigley writes about The Hallelujah Handshake begins by discussing the meteoric start to Colin Welland's writing career and proceeds to a detailed unpicking of the themes of the play. You should read this after watching the play, as there are extensive spoilers here.
Kaleem Aftab discussesTo Encourage the Others, giving full weight to Clarke and Yallop's exposure of a miscarriage of justice – in which light, it's irrelevant whether Derek Bentley said the words attributed to him but which we don't hear him say, as the conclusion is inevitable whichever way you interpreted them. Also in the book are stills, full credits and transfer notes.