Alan Clarke

In the late '60s and early '70s, Alan Clarke worked extensively on The Wednesday Play and Play for Today, directing the works of writers like Peter Terson (The Last Train through Harecastle Tunnel, 1969), Don Shaw (Sovereign's Company, 1970), Alun Owen (Joan, 1970), and Colin Welland (The Hallelujah Handshake, 1970). A lighter effort was Douglas Livingstone's seaside postcard tableaux I Can't See My Little Willie (1970), and Everybody Say Cheese (1971).

In 1972 he directed the episode Horatio Bottomley for The Edwardians (with Timothy West in the title role), and David A Yallop's dramatised reconstruction of the Craig-Bentley murder case, To Encourage the Others. For Play for Today he directed A Life is Forever by Tony Parker. Much of Clarke's work was firmly rooted in the realism of ordinary people's lives, yet he was also capable of a romantic intensity bordering on the mystical, especially David Rudkin's Penda's Fen (1974) - ironically repeated by Channel 4 less than a week before Clarke died in July 1990.

In Elephant he turned his attention to the troubles in Northern Ireland, the latter being a remarkable virtually dialogue-free rendering of a series of sectarian murders. Contact was an only slightly more wordy treatment ex-Parachute Regiment officer A.F.N. Clarke's book based on his experiences in the the province, with a powerful near-silent performance by Sean Chapman effectively conveying the build-up of psychological pressure on the troops. Similar territory had been explored by Clarke in David Leland's Psy Warriors in 1981, and he went on to direct Made in Britain for the writer's 1983 series Birth of a Nation, with Tim Roth's powerful performance as a skinhead. The same year saw Clarke directing a different portrait of youthful rebellion in Michael Hastings' Orwellian Stars of the Roller State Disco.

After Arthur Ellis' Christine (1987) about under-age drug addicts, in 1988 Clarke directed Jim Cartwright's Road, an angry yet humorous picture of Northern life on the poverty line, which was contrasted by Al Hunter's The Firm the following year, the story of yuppie football hooligan Bex (Gary Oldman). The fact that the violence of Bex and his cronies has very little real connection with the game itself was demonstrated by the fact that they were never shown actually watching a match, something which Clarke - with a life-long passion for football - was keen to reflect.

Apart from the genially dirty feature film Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Alan Clarke's most notorious work was Roy Minton's borstal drama, Scum. Made for Play for Today in 1977, it was deemed unsuitable for transmission by BBC Director General Alasdair Milne, who doubted the veracity of the play, but also thought that Clarke had directed something so naturalistic it could easily be mistaken for a documentary. Coming so soon after Potter's Brimstone and Treacle, the BBC tried to suppress the play, but Clarke and producer Margaret Matheson - and the critics they smuggled into BBC Television Centre to view it - were outspoken in its defence. Clarke went on to direct the cinema version with much of the same cast, but it was not until after his death that the original was eventually screened in a series of repeats in 1991, preceded by his friend and colleague David Leland's empassioned introduction, which urged viewers to take advantage of probably their only chance to see and record Scum.

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[Biography as submitted for inclusion in The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (1996, 2nd edition), with minor corrections]

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