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Alan Plater: attacking the rich with hate and humour

This article is over 13 years, 7 months old
That television and plays can be popular, funny and political is generally seen as impossible.
Issue 2209

That television and plays can be popular, funny and political is generally seen as impossible.

But the work of Alan Plater, who died last week, achieved all three.

Plater, born in 1935 in Jarrow, north east England, immersed himself in ordinary people’s lives.

He became known on national television through his scripts for the police series Z Cars, which imported a new realism to television drama.

In particular he wrote a 1963 episode A Quiet Night in which no crimes occur, nor are any investigated.

His plays were resolutely addressed to ordinary people, covering subjects as diverse as the general strike, deep-sea fishing, coal mining, and contained a general dislike of the ruling classes.

He wrote Hollywood movies and an episode of Midsomer Murders.

His play Close the Coalhouse Door in 1968, adapted from Sid Chaplin’s stories, is crowded with incident.

It became hugely popular with its sensitive and humorous portrayal of mining communities.

Many will know the play because of the song the Socialist ABC.

In 1970 Plater wrote Simon Says! which was a wholesale attack on the British ruling class—a string of British prime ministers were shot dead on stage.

Music, and jazz in particular, were woven into his writing.

He also wrote the brilliant Channel 4 series A Very British Coup, based on Chris Mullin’s novel about a socialist prime minister trying to change the world.

He improved both the comedy and the politics of the book.

In an interview late in his life he explained his view. “These days most of the drama I see on screen is only about personal relationships.

“It’s like illustrated births, deaths and marriages columns from the local paper.

“The old Marxists would say that you had a relationship with the economic structures within which you operate. Drama which neglects all relationships except the personal is self-limiting.”

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