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An Englishman Abroad (BBC Drama Coral Browne, Alan Bates)

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An Englishman Abroad BBC Drama Alan Bates

Period drama An Englishman Abroad, written by Alan Bennett and based on a true story was set in 1958 when actress Coral Browne (here playing her younger self) is touring Moscow with a production of Hamlet. She strikes up a friendship with disgraced British spy Guy Burgess (Alan Bates) who defected in 1951.

The Eton and Cambridge educated Guy Burgess rose through the ranks of the Foreign Office to become secretary of the British Embassy in Washington. However, it emerged he’d been colluding with the KGB, having been recruited along with Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Donald Maclean while at Cambridge. Burgess bolted and was to spend the rest of his troubled, boozy life in Moscow. Burgess is full of contradictions. He’s a Marxist but retains a deep fondness for England and the trappings of wealth, such as a Savile Row suit. He mourns: “So little, England. Little music, little art. Timid, tasteful nice. But one loves it, one loves it.”

Such is the strength of Alan Bennett’s script and performances from the leads you don’t even think twice about the incongruity of Browne playing her 25 years younger self.

Classic quote: “I wouldn’t care, but it’s only the interval. If you want to come round and be sick you might at least save it for the end of the performance.”

Cast: CORAL BROWNE as Coral; ALAN BATES as Guy Burgess; CHARLES GRAY as Claudius; HAROLD INNOCENT as Rosencrantz; VERNON DOBTCHEFF as Guildenstern; CZESLAW GROCHOLSKI as General; MARK WING-DAVEY as Hamlet; JUDY GRIDLEY as Tessa; ALEXEI JAWDOKIMOV as Tolya; MOLLY VENESS as Mrs Burgess; DENYS HAWTHORNE as Tailor; DOUGLAS REITH as Toby

Writer: Alan Bennett / Music: George Fenton / Producer: Innes Lloyd / Director: John Schlesinger

UK / BBC One / 1×60 minute episode / 29 November 1983