Penda’s Fen 1974 *****

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An untypical entry from Alan Clarke, this BBC Play for Today has developed a cult following and a BFI re-release. Written by David Rudkin, Penda’s Fen is as deliberately obscure as the title; Spencer Banks plays Stephen, a young boy wrestling with homosexual urges, but also struggling to understand the community around him at his Woostershire home. Elements include the appearances of supernatural creatures, conversations with composer Edward Elgar, potentially lethal environmental and pollution issues, and a religious father whose beliefs are not those of a conventional minister. Penda’s Fen is a mystical coming of age drama which looks beyond Christianity and attempts to find something else in the dreams of Albion of an English teenager. It’s hypnotic, doesn’t bother to explain itself and expects the audience to do the heavy lifting; it’s a unique slice of UK television history and as an insight into the kind of high quality  casually dropped into 1970’s tv schedules, a terrific primer in the lost art of drama.

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The Flipside of Dominick Hyde 1980 ****

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Another entry in the minuscule hybrid sub-genre of time-travelling romance, The Flipside of Dominick Hyde is a BBC Play For Today production at feature length; back in the days before the BBC was given over to antiques and home renovation documentaries, these plays were transmitted at 9.25pm and watched by millions. The Flipside is one of the best remembered; Peter Firth plays a traveller from 2130 who is sent back to London in 1980 to research the transport system and secretly search for an ancestor. Instead he falls for Jane (Caroline Langrishe), who takes him for ‘dirty weekends in Herne Bay’ in return for advice about smoking, aerosols and football pools. Alan Gibson and Jeremy Paul’s script has a few brilliant jokes, one involving a trio of virtual musicians who always play Beatles tunes, and a nicely judged sentiment about the past as a foreign land that one may return to, but never find a home in.