Pinter at the BBC: Theatre 625 – A Night Out (13th February 1967)

Albert Stokes (Tony Selby), a shy young man, lives with his emotionally suffocating widowed mother (Anna Wing). His big night out – a works party – turns sour after he’s falsely accused of groping one of his female colleagues. After this bad start, his night just get worse and worse ….

A Night Out was Harold Pinter’s first substantial success. It debuted on the BBC Third Programme in March 1960 before transferring to television a month later as part of ABC’s Armchair Theatre strand. This version, starring Tom Bell, Madge Ryan and Pinter himself, can be seen on volume three of Network’s Armchair Theatre releases.

The opening scene establishes the strained relationship between Albert and Mrs Stokes. She reacts with surprise to the news that he’s planning on going out, despite the fact that he’s already told her several times. Her cheerful manner doesn’t waver – even when she’s bemoaning the fact that he’ll miss their regular Friday night game of Rummy – but it’s plain that in her non-confrontational way she’s keen to prevent his departure (not revealing the location of his precious tie, for example).

Anna Wing offers a well judged performance, pitched just right. When Mrs Stokes enquires whether her son isn’t “leading an unclean life, are you? … You’re not messing about with girls tonight, are you?” it lays bare her central concern (with her husband dead, Albert is all she has left and clearly can’t bear the thought of losing him). Is it just a coincidence that these themes would be deeply mined just a few years later by Galton and Simpson in Steptoe & Son? Even down to the name Albert?

Meanwhile, Tony Selby – as the softly-spoken, down-trodden Albert – is equally impressive. Although he’s treated with contempt by some of his colleagues – such as the arrogant Gidney (Patrick Cato) – Albert also has his supporters, notably Seeley (John Castle). Seeley and Kedge (Richard Moore) form an entertaining duo, enlivening the early part of the play with their inconsequential chatter. And once both reach the party they prove to be an instant hit with the ladies – indeed, they’re everything that the awkward Albert isn’t.

Albert’s humiliation at the party sends him back home, but as he finds no succour there he heads out again, only to be picked up by a prostitute (Avril Elgar). Her lengthy, rambling monologue is deliberately wearying (it’s Albert’s misfortune to have stumbled into the company of somebody who, in their own way, is as controlling as his mother). Given this, it’s plain that their encounter won’t end well.

Although Albert has found himself unable to express his true feelings to his mother (when he finally returns home again their uneasy status quo is maintained) he can at least vent his frustrations on the unfortunate chattering prostitute. If Selby has been cast in a submissive role for most of the play, then this climatic scene allows Albert’s tightly-wound persona free reign to explode. It’s nicely played by both Selby and Elgar.

A Night Out, given the fact it was the most straightforward of the Pinter Theatre 625 trilogy, attracted the most critical acclaim. But whilst it has the most linear and comprehensible storyline of the three, like the other two it’s replete with disturbing and memorable dialogue.

Minder – Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Enemy

diamonds

Terry rates his latest minding job (a dog with a thirst for beer) as an all-time low.  So when Arthur dangles what appears to be a cushy number – driving a chap called Mr Lily around for a few weeks – he’s interested, although he’s also waiting for the inevitable catch.

When Mr Lily turns out to be Rose Mellors (Ann Lynn) certain alarm bells should have started to ring for him.  But it’s only when Rose’s car is stolen from under Terry’s nose that things really start to go awry.  Rose explains that she uses the car to courier stolen diamonds and that a consignment (worth £100,000) was in the car at the time.  The owner of the diamonds, Mr Tajvir (Zia Mohyeddin), gives Arthur, Terry and Rose a choice – the diamonds returned or they can expect their health to start deteriorating very quickly ….

Following her S1 appearance in Bury my Half At Waltham Green, Rose Mellors makes a welcome reappearance here.  As previously seen, Rose is the wife of a major criminal (currently enjoying a long stretch inside) and has clearly picked up some tips from him over the years.  For example, when Rose becomes the object of unwelcome attention from a hairy type at the local pool club, she’s quite prepared to give him a quick slap with his own cue to quieten him down.

For once, both Arthur and Terry are innocents – neither were aware that “Mr Lily” was actually Rose.  But given that their previous encounter with her was slightly bruising, it’s possibly not too surprising that she used an alias to begin with.  Arthur remains in the dark a little longer than Terry, which allows Terry to wind him up (telling him that Mr Lily enjoys dressing up in women’s clothes and also likes to give him a peck on the cheek).

The ever dependable John Ringham plays Harrison, an exasperated police officer who has to contend with Arthur (he’s come to the station to report Rose’s car as stolen and is insistent that the police do their duty).  This was a point in the series where the comedy would have been ramped up a little had there been a regular police face for Arthur to interact with (Harrison never appears again).

George Cole still entertains in these scenes though, as Arthur’s clearly not impressed with the efficiency of the modern police force.  “You’re not like the way you’re shown on the telly, I’ll tell you that.  There it’s one phone call after another, grab your hat and off.  Diving in and out of cars, bells ringing in all directions.  Book him Dano, Murder One. Here, it’s like rest time at the old folks home”.

Ringham is equally as good.  Harrison wonders why Arthur is so keen to assist Rose.  “In all my years I’ve never known you so much as help an old lady across the street unless you were paid for it”.  Lovely stuff, as is Arthur’s affronted reaction.  And whilst Arthur’s at the police station, Terry’s in bed with Rose.  He clearly believes in fiddling (as it were) whilst Rome burns ….

Tony Selby, as Rose’s hapless gofer Jack, also reappears from Bury My Half At Waltham Green, and his presence helps to inform the audience that Rose knows much more about this business than she’s letting on.

Not the most complex story that the series ever produced, but there’s plenty of entertaining dialogue along the way.  Although not all of it is connected to the matter in hand – for example, the banter between Arthur and Dave at the start of the episode.  Arthur is attempting to tell Dave a very funny story about a chimpanzee who goes into a pub, but finds his storytelling flow constantly interrupted by pointless questions from Dave (“was the chimp over eighteen?”).  Arthur manfully presses on, but since Dave beats him to the punchline it was hardly worth the effort!