At the time, he saw television in particular as a medium that could help him politically mobilise large popular audiences. Bill Brand can therefore be seen as the aims and fulfillment of a journey in television drama that Griffiths undertook from the 1960s onwards where, as Tony Williams noted in his review of the publication of the Bill Brand scripts Trevor Griffiths, Bill Brand and Political Television Drama, "Griffiths aimed at his own definition of critical realism that distinguished between the surface appearance of the world and the hidden forces of power structuring class, gender, and racial relationships."
"... opening of socialism to the unfettered debate of ideas"Griffiths was born in Ancoats, Manchester in 1935, a city and an upbringing that would feature heavily in his writing. An intelligent and precocious child, he passed his eleven plus and was enroled at a Catholic grammar school in Manchester, St. Bede's College. Although a good scholar, he also attracted the interest of scouts from a number of football teams after he represented England in schoolboy competitions. A scholarship eventually took him to Manchester University and at twenty he graduated with an English degree and then enlisted in the army. For a period, after demob, he taught at a private school in Oldham. The school became a focal point for the development of his political sensibilities, especially through the connections forged by his wife-to-be Jan Stansfield whom he met there. He became a member of the emerging New Left movement and it greatly influenced Griffiths' political thinking. As Stanton B. Garner outlines in Trevor Griffiths: Politics, Drama, History, it "registered its mark on Griffiths' life and work in a number of ways: through its opening of socialism to the unfettered debate of ideas, its historical and sociological emphases, its emphasis on education, its focus on culture as lived experience and its expanded articulation of the political roles of intellectual and cultural worker."
He briefly joined the Labour Party in 1964 and then, from 1965, worked at the BBC's office in Leeds as a further education officer where he gradually turned his attention away from journalism and considered writing plays. As Edward Braun suggests in British Television Drama, during this period Griffiths was able to acquire an understanding of the way the BBC operated, "of the structures of control in broadcasting" and gained practical experience of directing studio based discussions about education for the series Something to Say. In 1967 Tony Garnett initially considered one of his first commissions 'The Love Maniac', a play that explored the impact of a radical teacher on a comprehensive school and conflicting concepts of education, for The Wednesday Play but it never went into production. Although Garnett then purchased it for future production at London Weekend Television under the Kestrel Films banner he and Ken Loach had established after leaving the BBC, it didn't materialise again until 1971, abridged and renamed 'Jake's Brigade' and broadcast on BBC Radio Four.
To begin with, the BBC contracted him to provide a script for one of their historical, period pieces The Edwardians (1972-73). The series focused on the careers of nine historical Edwardian figures, including Baden Powell, E. Nesbitt and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His installment, 'Such Impossibilities' would have focused on Tom Mann, a Labour union leader involved in the Liverpool transport strikes that brought together dockers, railway workers and sailors, as well people from other trades. It paralysed Liverpool commerce for most of the summer of 1911. Mann is a figure who would also receive several references in Bill Brand. "Griffiths envisaged this as a corrective to the view of history conveyed by the rest of the series," notes Edward Braun in British Television Drama and he saw these historical and political events directly connected to the industrial action that was crippling the Heath governement of the time. Producer Mark Shivas requested changes to the script and Griffiths refused. Shivas rejected the play, citing high production costs as the actual reason it was shelved.
Then in 1973 came The Party, a play commissioned by Kenneth Tynan after he had seen Occupations in Manchester. Tynan was then the literary manager of the National Theatre and Griffiths's play at the National starred Laurence Olivier in his last stage role as Glaswegian Trotskyite John Tagg. Its setting is the home of middle class TV producer Joe Shawcross during the student demonstrations of May 1968. The play becomes an extended debate between opposing views of Shawcross, Tagg and two others, Andrew Ford and Malcolm Sloman. D. Keith Peacock, in Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties sees the play as "an acknowledgement of the significance of political theatre" that "combined the personal and the political" to discuss "the potential for imminent socialist revolution in Britain." The play explores, through Tagg, how such a revolution could be conducted and also highlights Griffiths's methodology in presenting Marxist linguistic discourse to a mainstream theatre audience who were then left to choose, rather like in the ending of Bill Brand, between the various political view points raised by the play.
... to "reach far deeper into the Labour Party's collective psyche"Three other key television plays intersect with the developments in his writing in 1974. All Good Men (Play for Today, BBC, 31/01/74) initiated the long term relationship with actor Jack Shepherd and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and was written at the request of Play for Today script editor Ann Scott as a hurried replacement for a production that had fallen through. A seventy five minute drama using limited sets, no location filming and a very low budget was commissioned and Griffiths wrote it in six weeks. Ironically, with the miner's strike forcing Heath's government into a state of emergency and the three day week, television broadcasts were curtailed at 10.30pm and the play had to be reduced to sixty-three minutes to fit into its slot.
This was followed by 'Absolute Beginners' (BBC, 19/04/74) a segment of the series Fall of Eagles. Again, for Griffiths this was the first time that he worked for producer/director Stuart Burge and with whom he would later collaborate on Bill Brand and on his later adaptation of Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1981). Burge was appointed producer on Fall of Eagles after a number of the plays in the series had already been commissioned and planned, tracing the fall of the Romanov, Hohenzollern and Hapsburg empires between the nineteenth century to the start of World War I and Lenin's rise to power. Burge approached Griffiths to write 'Absolute Beginners' because, as Garner quotes him in Trevor Griffiths: Politics, Drama, History, he wanted "a demonstration in the series of what was happening in the undergrowth, in the revolutionary world."
Indeed, the completed episode is a vital antidote to the series romantic and sentimental nostalgia for the dwindling of European privilege and one which Griffiths welcomed in a popular period piece, allowing him to "put a bitter pill inside that sugar-coating." His script does not compromise and he diligently traced the complex web of "factions, strategies and counter-strategies" as Lenin manoeuvred his way to power during the Second Congress of the Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party in 1903. As Tony Williams notes in his review Trevor Griffiths, Bill Brand and Political Television Drama "the episode also touched upon a common theme in Griffiths' work, namely the contrast between the humane ideals of any revolutionary process and the necessity for hard leadership essential to final success as well as unforeseen negative consequences that could emerge in the future." These processes, encapsulated in an equally unsentimental performance from Patrick Stewart as Lenin, are also circumscribed by the paradoxes of the political and personal absolutes within the public and private realms that are a hallmark of Griffiths' writing. Bill Brand would use essentially the same template to explore Labour Party politics in 1976.
In the same year, Granada also adapted his play Occupations (01/09/74), which had previously been restaged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1971 where, serendipitously, Patrick Stewart had played Gramsci's opposition Kabak, a Lenin-like figure sent to keep an eye on the subversive Fiat workers. The television version, reducing its two hour plus running time down to seventy-five minutes, also reunited Griffiths with actor Jack Shepherd, playing Gramsci, and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
... "seething with discontent over the betrayal of socialism since 1964"Enter Stella Richman. Richman, a former actor whose career in television production started back in 1960 when ATV gave her the chance to create a script development department devoted to single plays, was one of the highest paid women in the industry by the time she had become Programme Controller of London Weekend Television in 1970. There she oversaw the commissioning of Upstairs Downstairs (1971-75) and produced work by Dennis Potter, Alun Owen and Roy Minton. After a falling out with LWT in 1972 it was, however, her eventual role as an independent producer, in association with David Frost, on Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill (1974) for Thames and Clayhanger (1976) for ATV, that led to her involvement in Bill Brand. Richman and Griffiths apparently met on the night of the 1974 General Election. She had seen The Party and wanted to work with him and as the results came in they discussed a potential drama about a young Labour MP elected to Parliament under a minority government. John Wyver, in his essay on the Bill Brand screenplays, quotes Richman speaking to the Daily Express: "Suddenly the idea came and I asked him if he would like to do a series about the beginnings of the life of a Labour MP. We sat up until three in the morning trying to get the bones of something. Within a week he had the notes on paper. The man has the mind of a filing cabinet. It is the equivalent of a novel."
Griffiths clearly wanted to reflect a Labour Party that was in decline and struggling with the demands of the unions and its own left and right factions. At the time, Heath's Conservative government had been dealt a terminal blow by the miners' strike ballot, adding further to the woes of the three day week and the declared state of emergency of December 1973. By February 1974 it had forced an election on the proviso of 'Who Governs Britain?' Wilson's declining popularity (he also fought the Election under enormous strain within a very divided party) and Labour's loss of votes during the campaign underlined that both parties were having to shift their ideological positions. The Election seemed to mark the end of post-war consensus and a polarisation of politics with Heath and Wilson simply reduced to running something akin to a popularity contest. The result was a hung parliament and because Heath failed to secure sufficient Parliamentary support from the Liberal and Ulster Unionist MPs, Wilson returned to power for his third term.
Working against the background of the 1974 elections, Griffiths wrote and researched for a full two years and then, with Richman and Stuart Burge on board as producers, offered the project to Verity Lambert at Thames. Both she and Controller of Programmes Jeremy Isaacs gave Bill Brand the green light and Griffiths was allowed a great deal of control over the production of the series and according to John Wyver and Michael Poole, he described it as one of the “one of the most fruitful that he has encountered within television” where there was “a very collective shape to the whole enterprise.” However, it was not without its problems. Originally scheduled for a post-News at Ten 10.30pm slot, because Thames' schedulers were ambivalent to another drama series about a Labour MP after the recent showing of Granada's The Nearly Man in the summer of 1975, the production crew and writers objected en masse to Isaacs about this poor scheduling. He then managed to persuade Thames to run the series in a 9.00pm slot in the summer of 1976. Budgetary problems caused by an overspend on the sixth episode and a requirement to then record the remainder entirely in studio also meant that Griffiths had to condense his story to eleven episodes rather than the planned thirteen.
Bill Brand commenced transmission with its opening episode 'In' on the evening of 7th June 1976. It introduced Bill Brand (Jack Shepherd), the Labour candidate for a by-election in the fictional Leighley area of Greater Manchester and placed him within the oppositional axes of Griffiths' themes. At constituency level, he is a Trotskyite Liberal Studies lecturer negotiating his way through local politics dominated by old guard Labourites, who cling to party rules and regulations, such as his agent Alf Jowett (with Allan Surtees providing a wonderful performance) and the regional executive headed by Frank Hilton (Clifford Kershaw). They clearly frown upon his appearance ("Oh, Christ he's got a blue suit on") and radical ideas but believe he'll eventually settle down. The relationship between Alf and Bill is one in which Alf has to remind Bill how to conduct himself now he's an MP and how to reconcile himself to the neutralising effects of his role. Later, Griffiths adds flesh to the Alf Jowett and Bill Brand relationship during 'Resolution', the sixth episode set at the Party Conference and reveals that, as Braun suggests, Alf symbolises "the continuity of belief and struggle within the Labour movement." We learn that Alf is in effect a more mature version of Bill, disaffected with the Party's failure to enact the socialist agenda and emotionally divorced from wife and children. He has already worn the badge of compromise that Brand will eventually struggle to accept.
Brand, rejecting the idea of 'settling down' makes his stance clear, as a radical seeking to effect change from within, during a radio interview: "I’m a socialist…I actually believe in public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I actually believe in workers’ control over work, community control over the environment. I actually believe that the real wealth of any society is its people. All of them, not just the well-off, the educated and the crafty. Which I suppose makes me a democrat too." This dichotomy illustrates well the ideals of younger party members who believed, during the 1970s, they had an opportunity to reshape or alter the traditions of the Labour movement and here Griffiths indicates that the series will explore the main character's attempt to retain his principles as he is confronted and frustrated by entrenched Party politics both at constituency and Parliamentary level. It's interesting to note that as Brand visits his constituency workers and headquarters his disillusionment with Party process has already become evident. He's uncomfortable glad-handing, supping tea and eating sandwiches with the Party faithful and offers to his chairman Frank Hilton: "I'm glassy eyed with boredom. We've perfected the process of ruthlessly reducing what we do to its fundamentally trivial elements. You'd think an Election could be about something more significant than the price of sugar or the availability of George Hudson's van."
"You made the bed, comrade..."Contrasted with this are the personal relationships that Brand has with his parents, his wife Miriam (Lynn Farleigh) and his lover Alex (Cherie Lunghi). Bill's invalid father is an analogue of Griffiths' father, an injection into the script of personal and generational verisimilitude, where in episode two 'You Wanna Be a Hero, Get Yourself a White Horse' Brand recalls that his father slaved away as a chemical process worker cleaning out acid vats, just as Griffiths' own father had, and was, "A very honest man. Tool-made for exploitation. A fair day's work for a fair day's... Proud of his lad who was given the chance to go to the University. He never talked politics." Bill's parents see their son as someone different from them and somewhat emotionally distanced. This is expanded upon in the crumbling marriage with Miriam, a disaffected wife used during the campaign to maintain the image of the candidate's traditionalist values in the face of a cynical media ("I didn't marry you to put in appearances," she snaps), and his love-life with Alex which seems to be an open relationship conducted around a series of negotiations and reconciliations between their own personal politics and Brand's career as an MP. Both women are the focus of a debate about the shifting nature of male and female roles in domestic and working lives as well as offering something of a feminist critique of Brand's slippage and reversion to patriarchal stereotype, especially as he is inculcated within the Party machine. As Alex so succinctly puts it in the first episode, "You made the bed, comrade..."
Episode two also sees Brand's transfer from constituency politics to his new role as MP in the House. Much of the episode latches onto Griffiths' theme of an individual's unswerving principles pitted against those that will settle for compromise and tow the party line. We see the mechanics of the House in action with Brand expected to support the Party and the government despite his own opposition to a Bill that would see many more become unemployed. When he meets Tory MP Waverley (Richard Leech), he's told "your lot don't understand business. Wrong people at the helm." Quite a prescient nod to the market driven politics that Thatcher would usher in after her election success of 1979. Waverley regards the House as a "damned assembly line" and this is what ultimately Brand discovers when he votes against his own Party and is hauled in front of the Chief Whip Maddocks (Peter Copley) and the Regional Whip Paxton (Frank Mills).
Paxton warns Brand that "we expect your cooperation. These are perilous times" and demands total loyalty to the government of the day. Brand also moves into a house with other Labour Left politicians Tom Mapson (Richard Butler) and Winnie Scoular (Rosemary Martin) and who all implore him to join the Journal group. This is, according to Tony Williams, a nod to the Labour Tribune newspaper which in the 1960s and 1970s had an influential role in the politics of the day. It attacked the Wilson government over a number of issues, particularly when it didn't directly condemn the Vietnam War and when it agreed to join the EEC. When Heath was in power it opposed his successful entrance into the EEC and his industrial relations policies. It also took part in the 'no' campaign on the European referendum of 1974.
Brand opposes joining the Journal group on the grounds that several of them operate in high levels of a government that continues to prop up "the crumbling edifice of British capitalism." One of those politicians is Minister for Employment David Last (Alan Badel) whom he later encounters in 'Yarn' after bringing the plight of the textile workers in his constituency to his attention. Last, according to Tony Williams, is based on Labour leader Michael Foot. One of the best scenes in the early episodes is between Last and Brand in a hotel room as they relax after a day of negotiating with those at the occupied mill. Brand attempts to reconcile himself with "sell out" Last, a man who is likely to offer him a job as his parliamentary secretary, who was "part of an earlier great refusal." Brand concludes that "now there's nobody where you were and nobody where you are."
Another aspect that's worth noting is how media - television and radio particularly - appears as a metatexual commentary or spectator to the events of the series. Brand is interviewed by a radio journalist in the opening episode, we see TV cameras outside the Town Hall and overhear the results of the election in his mother's front room and when Lindsay-Hogg cuts back to a shot of a very tired looking Alex who has clearly stayed up into the night to hear the results. In 'Yarn' Brand sides with the textile workers' occupation and, much to the chagrin of the Party, makes the headlines in a Sunday paper. In episode four 'Now and in England' Brand is the victim of a media sting during a radio phone-in interview after a newspaper rings ups and attempts to question him about his stance on abortion after helping a constituent seek one through private means when a Catholic gynaecologist (Robert Hardy) refuses to carry out the procedure.
By 'Now and in England' the personal and the political are becoming more and more intertwined. Brand and his wife Miriam are filing for divorce and the marriage is over. The relationship with Alex continues to open up many of the debates about personal and sexual politics that run through the series and in a brilliantly executed scene Brand and Alex discuss their thoughts about sleeping with the same sex and the repression and intolerance she has encountered in her meeting with a gay and lesbian group earlier in the episode. These intimate moments are the dramatic links between the analysis of constituency and Parlimentary politics but they also colour them. Brand is seen as a repressed man who believes his personal life can be managed through rational resolution. As Tony Williams notes, "sexual politics does play an important role in this series and this is neither accidental nor sensationalist since it parallels the impotence of many characters trapped in the realms of Parliamentary procedure and Labour Party loyalty." 'August for the Party' underlines the need for Brand to preserve his public respectability with a witty sequence where Alf, his agent, decides he must compromise and be seen as a good constituency MP by attending cheese and wine parties, opening fetes and, most ironically and clearly against his own awareness of gender politics, judging beauty contests. It's interesting to note that as Brand becomes more and more frustrated with the Machiavellian dimensions of Parliamentary procedure, his sexual potency is also compromised and his relationship with Alex deteriorates.
Many of the examples of radical political and gender tolerance that Alex provides offer a foretaste of the kind of broad spectrum political resolution that saw gays and lesbians finding common ground with the miners during the 1984 strike. There are also further explorations of the independence of women in the series, represented through Alex particularly, who categorically refuses to take on the role of wife after Brand's divorce from Miriam, and in the character of Winnie Scoular, herself battling against the patriarchal forces within a very male-dominated Parliament. In 'August for the Party', the fifth episode, these figures are joined by Angie Shaw, the wife of a middle class Labour candidate, Bernard Shaw (who can be seen as a Blairite figure) and who articulates a desire to seduce Brand.
Griffiths places this in contrast to Brand addressing a female audience at Ruskin College, attempting to articulate the importance of gender and sexuality within politics even though his own grasp on such matters in prejudiced by the repression that haunts his personality. The revisionist and divisionist aspect of the Party is also emblematically made with the appearance of the donnish Home Secretary John Venables (Peter Howell) at the end of 'August for the Party'. Brand will later clash with Venables, in 'Tranquility of the Realm', over an anti-terrorist Bill which he is expected to support as per the party line. He leaves himself very vulnerable and concerned about the cause and effect of his actions after a spectacular speech, which pleads for the British to allow the Irish to manage their own problems, leads to violent personal attacks. This not only rouses the ire of the press and his own constituents but it also leads to the end of his affair with Alex who now feels she has become a "surrogate wife."
The end of the series is highly prescient and Griffiths, writing episode ten 'Revisions' before events actually overtook the Labour Party in 1976, postulates that the revisionism of figures like Venables and Last and their internecine dealings with the Right of the Party, after the resignation of the Prime Minister Watson, will lead to an ousting of 'traditional' figures such as Alf Jowett as the right wing of the Party reasserts itself through Venables to the detriment of David Last. This predicts Callaghan's time as Prime Minister where as Garner notes in Trevor Griffiths: Politics, Drama, History, "support from the Centre-Right gave Callaghan victory over the Leftist Micheal Foot."
At the time, Griffiths captured explicitly what would happen if the Right of the Party came into ascendancy. He even has Venables concoct a Thatcherite style policy to use unemployment to combat inflation as he shunts Maddocks, who questions Venables' revisionist 'new deal', into the Lords as a pat on the back for services rendered, and then silences recalcitrant and radical trade unionists such as Willie Moores (Ray Smith), the AGWU leader. As Martin Pugh acknowledges in Speak for Britain! the adoption of some of these tactics by Callaghan, "proved fateful... Labour's repudiation of Keynesianism and full employment effectively legitimised the adoption of full-blown monetarism by the Conservatives in 1979... it also meant the abandonment of the kind of social policies desired by most Labour supporters and the end of the social contract with the unions."
The last episode 'It's the People Who Create' sees Brand, his position at Westminster left ambiguous and unresolved, accommodate an agit-prop theatre group who give a performance at his Leighley Labour Club. It brings the series back to square one and to Griffiths' own intentions for the drama - forging connections and presenting ideas at the socialist realist level, arguably within a working class context, and avoiding "middle class, guilt ridden hang-ups." The theatre performance is perhaps a metatextual acknowledgement of Griffiths' own desire to use drama to subvert its own conventions, where melodrama, for example, both informs and raises awareness of the audience about the political and historical aspects of the series. The series ends with Griffiths leaving political choice open to both characters and audience. As Tony Williams offers in his review "the conclusion is open ended, placing hero (and audience) at an intellectual crossroads. Political struggle can not be fought only on the national level. It involves an international approach culturally, historically, and politically. At this point, Bill is at the half-way point of his development. He can either commit himself to a broader type of struggle or remain skeptically removed from it."
Bill Brand offers a compelling examination of what happened to Labour at the end of the 1970s and provides an often startling counterpoint to a post-Blair/Brown Labour Party and government. Griffiths writes with great truth and wit about what he calls "the actual tissue and texture, of the social democratic processes within a major party. About which people know next to nothing." After watching these eleven episodes you'll perhaps be wiser about the issues that drove the Labour Party into its frustrating decline during the Thatcher and Major years and wonder why prime time drama doesn't rigorously engage with such ideas and concepts at this level today, employing writers like Griffiths to explore the ramifications of socialist realism in the 21st Century. Essential viewing if you enjoy an intelligent and clear presentation of political ideas within a drama populated by sympathetic characters and situations.
Bill Brand - The Complete Series
Thames Television 1976
Network Releasing - Website exclusive / Released 14 November 2011 / Region 2 / PAL / Running Time: 550 mins approx / 1.33:1 / Colour / Cert 15