TV Legends: Alan Clarke

In a time when integrity was irrelevant and avarice good, film director Alan Clarke fought back. In 1979, the year the Conservative party returned to power, the director’s best-known work, Scum, was released in British cinemas.

Its unrelentingly brutal explosion of borstal life was banned from TV screens two years before, so Clarke shot a film version. Such tenacity and a refusal to be silenced typifies a career of rare intensity, met with an indifference which still sees him as the poor relation behind Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, whose films bear some similarity to his own.

Clarke’s affinity with working class life arose from his diversity of experiences. Born in Cheshire in 1935, he left school and went into national service in Hong Kong (army life would later inspire some of his best work). Returning to work in Liverpool, he emigrated to Canada a year later to work as a miner. His media baptism came with a television and radio course at the University of Toronto and subsequent theatre directing in New York.

Alan Clarke Plays For Britain

Plays For Britain

In 1961 he returned to England to work as a floor manager with Lew Grade’s ATV, ditching the job to stack supermarket shelves when it interfered with his night job directing plays at the Questera Theatre, Ealing. Such audacity could have finished his career, but Clarke went on to work with the RSC before returning to television and a series of unparalleled dramas for the BBC.

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