The BBC broadcast new television productions of Love on the Dole in 1960 and 1965, both produced by Vivian A. Daniels, with distinguished casts, including Billie Whitelaw in both versions (remembered more now for her extraordinary Samuel Beckett performances, than for playing Sally Hardcastle). However, we have no recordings of these productions, while we do have a recording of the excellent ITV production of 1967, with its also remarkable cast. The play was first broadcast on Thursday, seventeenth of January, 1967, and starred Anne Stallybrass as Sally Hardcastle, and Malcolm Tierney as Larry Meath, as well as Betty Driver as Mrs Bull, among others. These three actors went on to long and successful television and/or film careers. The production was directed by John Finch, who had already been commissioned in 1960 to write episodes for that other Salford drama, Coronation Street, and later also worked as the programme’s script-editor and then producer. Betty Driver, of course, also became a long-term Coronation Street cast-member. (1)
Anne Stallybrass as Sally Hardcastle and Malcolm Tierney as Larry Meath featured on the cover of the TV Times (14/1/1967) in a still taken from the scene in the adaptation where they go rambling on the moors above Hanky Park. Of course, the colour image does not at all give an impression of the darkly-lit black and white of the actual broadcast. Image found at the Anne Stallybrass & Peter Gilmore site (http://www.gilmore-stallybrass.eu/html/anne/tv/60s/as_television60s_love_on_the_dole.htm).
The Granada production itself was closer to the 1934 play than to either the 1933 novel or the 1941 film (which itself drew on both novel and play, but altered the sequence of quite a few plot events so that its structure was different from either predecessor). One noticeable feature of this production is that it removed all clear reference to the nineteen-thirties, making it perhaps more relevant to the nineteen-sixties and to a sense of enduring working-class insecurity. Though there was almost full employment in sixties Britain, this began to seem a little less assured towards the end of the of the decade. Even early on in the sixties Love on the Dole was not wholly forgotten, as a Sunday Mirror article about unemployment from November 1962 suggests in its reference to Greenwood’s work. The article was headed ‘Back to the dirtiest word in the Desolate Thirties – Dole’, and was a labelled as ‘A Sunday Mirror Pictorial Documentary – by Lionel Crane’. It started by describing the restricted life of the Carrey family since the father, George, had been made redundant seven months ago and had to sign on. The second paragraph says:
In the Thirties, the book and play Love on the Dole walloped the national conscience with its brutal show-up of the truth of unemployment. Now George and the rest of the half-million men out of work in this country are getting a small taste of love on the dole in the sixties’ (11/11/1962, p. 24).
The article draws attention to the recent rise of unemployment to the half-million mark, to a fear that it may rise further, and to the still miserable experience of getting by on the dole for the relatively smaller proportion of the population who had to do so. As we shall see, reviews of the Granada production debated its relevance, asserted its continuing value as drama, and/or put it in the context of current joblessness in the sixties.
Much of the dramaturgy and dialogue of the adaptation is certainly very close to that of the stage-adaptation, first performed thirty-three years earlier. There are additions and amendments, but there is considerable continuity with Gow and Greenwood’s play-script, and a key question is how this thirties text is being seen in nineteen-sixty-seven. Part of the continuity may be to do with the practicalities of staging, where there were perhaps many similarities between thirties stage and sixties TV studio, with its lack of access to real outdoor scenes and exterior filming. In turn, however, these practical conditions may also imply or produce other continuities. Just as in the thirties play, the protest march happens off stage and is reported to avoid relatively problematic staging demands (and police/demonstrator conflict?). Like the stage-play, the adaptation begins with Larry’s street-corner speech and a heckler, but the speech is considerably altered, and actually shown as the opening of the television play, whereas it happens semi-off-stage in the stage-play (heard though the Hardcastle’s doorway). Here when the heckler says, as in the play, ‘Y’ can’t do without capickle!’, instead of giving the play’s essentially Marxist explanation of what ‘Labour Power’ is, Larry responds more simply by saying to the heckler, you mean we can’t ‘do without starvation and insecurity’. This perhaps avoids reference to what some might see as ’old-fashioned’ thirties ‘communist rhetoric’, while maintaining the point that absorbing and echoing capitalism’s justifications is not in the interests of working people. One thing which is markedly different about this adaptation of the scene as compared to the film’s version is that here Larry has an attentive and supportive audience in the street, who with the one exception of the heckler, verbally express support for his ideas, including his view that they are the ones suffering from ‘the legacy of the industrial revolution’ and the way the industrial system is set up to advantage some classes and disadvantage others. As in the film, Larry urges them to use the democratic tools they have: ‘You’ve got votes, use them’.
The set itself, including the notably dark streets and interiors, may be intended to imply that for some people living conditions have not changed that much in post-war Britain and therefore that the play itself is a current rather than an historical picture. The Hardcastle house here does look much more spacious than in the 1941 film set (it has a separate and large hall), which slightly undermines the point, but it probably still looked pretty basic and old-fashioned to many sixties’ viewers, while presumably not unimaginable in actual contemporary older and poorer housing. Ellor Street, Greenwood’s birth-place was, after all, not demolished until 1960. Indeed, to avoid paying compensation to breweries, Salford Council allowed the pubs in the area to stay in business until 1965, catering for ex-Hanky Park residents who still made their way back to favourite haunts for a period (nevertheless, the presentation to Greenwood by the Council of an old wooden sign saying ‘Hankinson Park’ in March 1960 marked the start of the demolition of all the streets around Ellor Street). (2) The set of the play and the lighting are indeed among the stars of the show, with both interior and exterior scenes producing remarkable chiaroscuro effects, which may echo the contrasts between the dark environment and the flickering hopes and emotions of Hanky Park’s inhabitants.
Once Larry has finished his speech, he returns the chair he has borrowed to the Hardcastle household, where Sally has just arrived home, having heard part of Larry’s speech as she walked by in the street. We have just seen her talking to her mother and offering to take a basket of laundry back to a customer, but her mother refuses the help, saying she does not like to see Sally carrying laundry through the streets. Sally at this point says to Larry that she ‘knows nought about politics’, and in a completely new speech for the TV adaptation Larry says that she knows that her mother takes in laundry, that her father is on short time and that Harry can’t go out on a Sunday because he has no clothes other than his work overalls. He assures her that if she knows these things, then she knows about politics.
Sally worries next that Larry is giving up his own future (and perhaps hers) for the sake of everyone else in Hanky Park: ‘You could do better than Hanky Park … don’t try to pretend you’re not different, ‘cause you are’. She then in effect proposes to him (as in the novel and play and film) showing her strong character, independence, and agency. Larry agrees that they love each other, but says they cannot marry on 45 shillings a week (his wages – noticeably not updated into a sixties equivalent, likely to have been more like £14 per week for a skilled worker).
Larry’s practical politics are reinforced in the next scene, as Mr Hardcastle comes home from the pit, clearly tired and unhappy. Harry asks him if he can have his new suit because he cannot go out at weekends in his work’s overalls, the only clothes he has. His father is cross and says they cannot afford it, but in the end accepts that Harry’s situation is desperate and reluctantly agrees that they can get Harry’s new suit on the never-never. in As in the play, Mrs Hardcastle says he shouldn’t have given in, and Mr Hardcastle says he’ll have to give up his pipe to help raise the money. As in the stage-play, Mr Hardcastle is very unhappy about ‘the millstone’ of weekly repayments, this worry a sign of the thrift which he would exercise if he were not now brought to the impossibility of managing in any other way. A tiny detail in the play-set also concerned with showing Mr Hardcastle as a ‘deserving’ working-man is remembered and adapted in the Granada set. The Samuel French edition of the play has a ‘Property Plot’, which lists as its first item, ‘Small dark-coloured picture-frame, containing 3 war medals on red plush, on wall down R.’ (p.72). In the television set this is replaced by a group photograph of men in uniform, presumably serving the same function of showing that Mr Hardcastle has served his country in hour of need (you have to be pretty observant to pick this up, though I note that in this set there are also a number of prints hanging on the wall, absent from the original property plot, and suggesting a slightly better standard of living for the Hardcastles at some earlier point).
It is difficult to know how many viewers of the 1967 production were familiar with the 1941 film – I imagine that many would have been, in which case they might have compared the casting decisions. Compared to Deborah Kerr as Sally, Anne Stallybrass seems more robust and plainer speaking (though both are seen as very determined). In casting Clifford Evans in the film with his Welsh accent, the 1941 film provides an implicit origin story for why Larry is different from everyone else in Hanky Park, bringing with him his radical ideas from sorely depressed mining communities. John Finch by casting Malcolm Tierney makes him seem more of an insider who has lived there all his life, but has developed critical ideas through his labour activism in Salford itself. Certainly, Tierney’s Larry also looks the more robust and does not look at all delicate and prone to illness, until he suddenly develops a severe cough just before the protest march.
The reception of the Granada production was mainly positive, with considerable commentary on relationships between the thirties and the sixties. The Crewe Chronicle was unusual in arguing that the adaptation by Granada and all it brought to mind was mainly irrelevant in a time of full employment, with only a minor useful function of showing that a BBC 2 adaptation of a different author’s work gave a partial view of past British society:
No one readily admits to being working-class these days – all part of the snobbery of belonging to a so-called affluent society, I suppose – and consequently much of the emotional torment poured Into Walter Greenwood’s novel, Love on the Dole (adapted by Granada) seemed outdated and quite incapable of triggering off any warnings about the misery and indignity of being out of work.
Frankly, I doubt if people want to know about or be reminded of the bad old days … In an age of wealthy, all-pervading, complex, but well-organised trade unionism, the raw melodrama of Love on the Dole and the commonplace uniting of families in eternal penury is something we’d rather not know about.
It may be, of course, that Granada, in commissioning this play, thought it would serve as a salutary reminder that the riches so glibly enjoyed in The Forsyte Saga (running along so splendidly on BBC 2) were far from being freely available (Laurence Shelley, Television column, 26/1/1967, p.2)
In contrast, the Stage showed considerable eagerness for the new adaptation, publishing two brief pieces about the forthcoming production (3/11/1966, p.9) and its final cast (1/12/1966, p. 10). These were followed up by a substantial and positive review on 26/1/1967 (p.14) by N. Alice Frick:
Nothing is so likely to make one feel his years as to see a play become a period piece in his professional lifetime. When I first read Love on the Dole the hungry ‘30s had just been lived through, and the play was a social document as fresh as yesterday’s newspaper. Now it seems about a time long ago and far away. But it’s still honest and moving. In format it’s old-fashioned with echoes of Victorian melodrama, but it’s still forceful and real. The Granada production by Derek Bennett on January 14 was respectful of the play’s values, careful in detail (although I thought the furniture in the Hardcastle house might have looked shabbier) and excellently cast. Jane [sic] Stallybrass struck the right balance between deep feeling and high-mindedness for Sally Hardcastle, the girl destroyed by Hankey Park, Salford in one year of the dole, 1933. Her tragedy was greater than Larry Meath’s because she had to go on living after his death. Malcolm Tierney was fine in the part, the doomed man of principle in a society where principles earned no money. The gambler had a better chance, although only fleeting. Harry’s win on a threepenny treble chance was manna, but it fell only once. Ronald Cunliffe (Harry) and Maggie Don (Harry’s girl, Helen) gave good accounts of parts that are basically foils for Sally and Larry. Eve Pearce and Jack Woolgar were admirable as the Hardcastle parents, bewildered and defeated. Sam Grundy, the man with the brass in both material goods and character, was the villain who could have come from East Lynne, but George A. Cooper gave him flesh and blood. Betty Driver, Hazel Hughes and Hazel Coppen were an ample chorus of Hankey Park women. The play by Ronald Gow and Walter Greenwood from the latter’s novel, was adapted for television by John Finch. It’s a classic play of the Great Depression, as germinal in its way as Look Back in Anger was in the ‘50s. It belongs in any national drama programme, on the stage or television.
Frick brings to his experience of watching the adaptation a memory of the play and the thirties context dating back (I presume) to at least the nineteen-forties. He is aware the play has become a period piece, and that the dramatic tools themselves may be old-fashioned, but is sure that the play, the production and the performances still have life in them, and sees the play as relevant in its own self-contained right as a work of art, rather than deriving its significance from the current state of society or unemployment rates. Clearly, he also recognises the contribution of the excellent performances by the cast for their contribution to this impact.
The Guardian review by Stanley Reynolds had similarly high praise for the adaptation, though related it more closely to the current employment situation and wavered over whether or in what way it was a period piece:
It is rather hard to regard Love on the Dole as a period piece on a day when the highest unemployment figures in four years have been announced. Still, this is a period piece, if for no other reason than because every line seems to be loaded with a bitterness you seldom hear anymore. The acting in Granada’s production last night, particularly that of Ann Stallybrass as Sally and Ronald Cunliffe as Harry, her brother, had the same freshness and unconsciousness which distinguished Granada’s D.H. Lawrence series. There was also a brilliant cameo performance by Betty Driver as Mrs Bull …
John Finch’s adaptation pulled no punches, even before the titles went up: Larry Meath, the 45 shilling a week Labour leader, was on a soapbox, decrying the workers’ lives as ‘poverty, pawnshops and labour unending’. In spite of there being no work, Walter Greenwood’s respect for the dignity of the working-man, even in the appalling crush of abject poverty and weeping despair, is timely and significant, even 30 years on into the welfare state (20/1/1967, p.9).
I think Reynolds regards it as a period piece in its evocation of a bitterness and depth of working-class feeling which he sees as more characteristic of the thirties than of the present, but has no doubt of the play’s continuing relevance to the jobless of the present.
Much of the reception of the Granada adaptation was focussed on the relationship between the thirties and the sixties, and on whether Love on the Dole was important in both decades more for its topical reference to society or as a moving piece of theatre. The Daily Mirror noted that Walter Greenwood was planning to watch the adaptation of his novel, and the paper at least saw it as firmly part of the past – about the ‘bad old days’, ‘a story of romance in the slums of the slump period of the 30s’ (19/1/1967, p.14). We do not know what Greenwood thought of Finch’s production or of the acting, though we do know broadly that he had not much liked at least one of the BBC TV adaptations of the sixties. A completely neglected interview with Greenwood in the Guardian just before the Granada production of Love on the Dole was broadcast reported that he was not sure there was ‘any significance in its revival in the era of “redeployment”’ (presumably a word used to suggest some differences at least of tone between thirties and sixties forms of job shortages). Greenwood said that:
He was a bit disappointed with the BBC’s production of Love on the Dole some year’s ago. ‘But when you hand these things over to television people you’ve just got to hope for the best. I much prefer the theatre. These maniac lads from university have no idea of this kind of life. Very airy-fairy, no contact with the rough tough life’ (15/1/1967, p.23).
Greenwood clearly here associates the BBC, or these productions anyway, with an educated elite who find it difficult to imagine the world of Hanky Park. Though I would not necessarily accept Greenwood’s assumptions (the cast, at least, across BBC and Granada adaptations had mainly shared backgrounds in regional theatre or drama schools rather than universities), it does seem fair to observe that neither the producer nor the cast of the Granada production were at all from this kind of elite and that the adaptation seems very much grounded in realities. I hope that Greenwood was better pleased with the ITV treatment of his play, which certainly tried, as the reviews above noted, intensely to evoke for the present a darkly-lit but not that distant a world, where there were few choices and where many hopes were disappointed.
For more on radio and TV adaptations of Love on the Dole and on Greenwood’s relationship to those media see: Walter Greenwood on Radio and TV
Note 1. See Wikipedia and other biographical sources for the producer and these actors:
My special thanks to Robin Bray at ITV Programme Sales for providing me with a DVD copy of the Granada/ATV adaptation so that I was able to watch this remarkable version of Greenwood and Gow’s work.
Note 2. See ‘Memento of Hanky Park’, ‘Farewell to Hanky Park’ and ‘Where Only Memories Linger’ (the last signed by Dan O’Neill) in the Guardian, 10/3/1960, p.18, 20/4/1963, p. 4 and 31/8/1965, p.4. Accessed via the Guardian and Observer Proquest database.