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The Wednesday Play: Sir Jocelyn, The Minister Would Like A Word (BBC Drama)

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The Wednesday Play

Original Publicity: Sir Jocelyn, The Minister Would Like A Word… The second play in the new Wednesday series has been written by Simon Raven and features music by Dudley Moore.

Tonight’s play will shock some viewers but for those who enjoy polished wit and sophisticated dialogue and like to shy coconuts at sacred cows Simon Raven’s comedy will prove a challenge and a delight. Against the timely background of our current national preoccupation with universities (after all, five have been founded in the same number of years!), Raven eavesdrops on men of learning through a crack in their ivory tower. He shows us the intrigues and the in-fighting of a set of larger-than-life dons and politicians in this age of education. The issue appears to be a simple one: whether a new university – still at the drawing-board stage – should have a chapel or a gadgety lecture hall. It cannot have both. There is not enough money. The struggle that arises out of this dilemma is not merely between the new technologists and the traditionalists. Every member of the committee has a highly personal axe to grind and they manoeuvre, wheedle, cajole, threaten, and bribe each other with jungle ferocity.

Simon Raven confesses that at one time he himself had aspirations to become a don. “I was a scholar at my Cambridge college,” he told me. “When I was writing my fellowship thesis I began to think of myself as a writer. I have read a lot of academic biographies and I have always been amused by the cattiness of dons. This sort of thing is more concentrated in a closed institution like a university, and it’s more vicious because they have civilised weapons at their command. They’re articulate, learned, and unscrupulous”. And his portrait of the vacillating Minister hell-bent on placating his electorate? “In general it’s just comment on the political morality of our time – the horse-trading and cynicism of men in power”. No one escapes Simon Raven’s swift humour, but behind the satire and the ironic parade of hissing, crouching intellectuals is an elegance of thought and expression rarely found in television drama today. To capture the outspoken rakish style of this play the director, Stuart Burge, has assembled a strong cast, including Alec McCowen, John Phillips, Derek Francis, James Maxwell, Agnes Lauchlan, and Felix Felton. Michael Hordern appears as Sir Jocelyn Symonds, chairman of the planning committee. Simon Raven’s dramatic attitude of put-that-in-your-pipe-and-smoke-it will make fascinating television drama, and as a foretaste of the punch he packs here is what one character has to say: “The trouble with modern life, Sir Jocelyn, is that one’s sense of values is perverted. This is because in a democracy the people must be given what they want, and what the people want, for the most part, is nauseating rubbish”. (Radio Times, January 7, 1965 – Article by Tony Aspler).

Cast: Michael Hordern (Sir Jocelyn Symonds), Alec McCowen (Private Secretary), John Phillips (Forbes-Wainright), Derek Francis (Minister), James Maxwell (Donald Prior), Agnes Lauchlan (Baroness Cleethorpe), Leonard Maguire (Burke Farringdon), Gerald Cross (Myles Beresford), Felix Felton (Philip Clewes), Colin Jeavons (Barry Raines), John Kidd (Rendel Smith), Christopher Benjamin (Dan Royston), Frank Williams (John De La Poeur Whiting), Philip Dunbar (Gerald), George Howe (Torquil Flute), Wallace Campbell (First Alderman), William Lyon Brown (Second Alderman), Steven Berkoff (Councillor), Jeanette Landis (Mrs Dan Royston), Frank Littlewood (Spectator), Charles Ross (Spectator)

Writer: Simon Raven / Music: Dudley Moore / Producer: James MacTaggart / Director: Stuart Burge

UK / BBC One / 1×75 minute episode / Broadcast 13 January 1965