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Armchair Theatre: The Prime Ministers Daughter (ITV Drama, David Langton)

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Comedy drama The Prime Ministers Daughter was about political skullduggery in the house of commons. It was an entry in the Armchair Theatre series.

The play garnered quite a bit of press interest for its view into the workings of the House of Commons, at the time cameras were not allowed into parliament. Not that Thames filmed inside the House of course, they merely recreated a small part of it in the studio.

Author Maurice Edelman was himself an MP for Coventry North with 25 years experience in the House of Commons. He was quoted in the Daily Mirror of Monday 13 July 1970 as saying “the play is about public men who have to conceal their private anguishes.”

Edelman also wrote a one page article for the TV Times (11 Jul 1970) explaining his motivations behind the writing of the play: The greater an MP’s ambitions, the more detached he tends to become from his family. What surprises me at Westminster is not that there are occasional divorces, but that there aren’t many more. But the child of a politician can’t get divorced from him. The tight emotional knot is a genetic fact. To some extent that’s what The Prime Minister’s Daughter is all about. How much and how little should – or can – children communicate to their parents? How responsible are parents for the sins of their children – and children for the sins of their parents? And, in particular, can a good politician also be a wise one.

James Preston was pretty scathing in his review of the play in The Stage of Thursday 16 July 1970: Parliament has always had the capacity of raising the viciousness of midgets to an art form. Playwrights have equally had a penchant to caricature rather than characterise when the surroundings are grander than the players. Hence Edelman’s newspaper proprietor (played in coarse tongue by Joseph O’Conor) as a lout, the P.M’s daughter a junkie in bad need of asbestos knickers, the Chief Whip a three-faced shyster, and the P.M. an honourable man. Do me a favour someone. Even that palace of varieties down by the Thames was never as over-simplified as that. And to throw in a dishonest red herring like the hanky-panky between the P.M’s wife and his brother without casting more than a hint was poor scripting. And what did the P.M’s daughter get up to at Columbia anyway? This was a deceitful play compounded by the fact that hardly anyone had a chance to act and the scenes on the floor of the House gave a glimpse of how a budget can restrict 630 members of the Commons to a mere handful of bit players.

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Mary Malone also reviewed the drama in the Daily Mirror Tuesday 14 July: That well known populariser of goings-on at the House, Mr. Maurice Edelman MP whose word must be taken because he knows, you know, and we don’t, because the club won’t let the cameras in — is pretty high-flown. His MPs, near as dammit, take wing on the flights of their own fancy rhetoric. I got the distinct impression that a cheery good morning in the Commons is liable to lead to unholy uproar. You would be instantly charged with suborning the honour of the House by smooth practices. In the play’s rumpus over the Prime Minister’s daughter – and did he tamper with justice on her behalf? – you could watch your tax money floating down the Thames as one side tried to blacken the other.

ETJ in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 14 July, felt at least the production made one think: The corridors of political power, it seems, are treacherous places inhabited by people concerned only with personal gain. To tread them with confidence man must be a demi-god without mortal feelings: valuing position more than family, party more than friendship. The weakness of not being such a man was the subject of the Thames Armchair Theatre play “The Prime Minister’s Daughter” written by Mr. Maurice Edelman, MP for Coventry North. His Prime Minister was almost a demi-god but not quite. Ruthless opponents and disenchanted supporters combine to exploit the chink in his armour for revenge, for individual advancement, for the opportunity merely to smear. Domestic tragedy gives them the weapon they want – a daughter, emotionally unstable, pathetically sick, in need of her parents’ help in time of trouble – is the perfect fuel for the growing embers of intrigue. The father helps and in the resultant inferno is lucky merely to have his Prime Ministerial fingers burned: he could have destroyed himself. Mr. Edelman has explained the play as an illustration of the extreme stresses put on men by the positions they hold; to show very simply that they are just human. An accomplished cast headed by David Langton as the P.M., Sarah Badel as his daughter, and Joseph O’Conor as a bitter newspaper baron in search of a real peerage, make it compelling viewing. Mr. Edelman’s Parliament, though very like the British in system setting and Speaker was nevertheless fictitious. But like all good plays his would be the poorer if it didn’t make one think.

The drama made it into the top ten shows for the weeks, according to JICTAR (the TV ratings bureau) the show made number 9 with some 5.70 million households tuning in. Number that week was the Wednesday edition of Coronation Street with 6.95 million households.

Cast: David Langton as Melville / Sarah Badel as Sylvia Melville / Sally Lahee as Lady Drayford / Paul Eddington as Ormston / Raymond Adamson as Loring / Helen Lindsay as Elizabeth Melville / Joseph O’Conor as Mayland / Richard Mathews as Hunter / Kenneth Farrington as Talbot / Mark Kingston as Budd / John Bryans as Scott-Bower / Norman Henry as Yates / Lindsay Campbell as Sir Gordon Taylor / Ian Cooper as Frobisher / Arnold Peters as Colson / Robert French as Calder / Geoffrey Morris as Speaker / David Hanson as Cornforth

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Writer: Maurice Edelman / Designer: Bryan Graves / Producer: John Kershaw / Story editor: Monica Menell / Executive Producer: Lloyd Shirley / Director: Mike Vardy

UK | ITV Network – Thames (for Armchair Theatre) / 1×60 minutes / Broadcast: Monday 13 July 1970 at 8.30pm


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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