I’ve still one more comics series to cover in my Uncompleted Stories strand, but in the meantime the random access butterfly of memory has alighted upon a TV recollection that, in a back-handed way, falls into this category.
I’m talking about the kind of television programme that disappeared from our screens decades ago, the hour-long one-off TV play. Usually, when TV plays of this ilk come up, the mind turns to the BBC and its various Play for Today strands, but ITV contributed this particular effort.
I’m not sure exactly when it was broadcast: my memory suggests that it was probably 1972, but it could have been a year either way. I have no recollection of it’s title nor, with one exception, any of its cast. But I do recall that it was broadcast at 9.00pm.
This is significant. 9.00pm then, as now, was the watershed. For most of the Sixties it had been my bedtime, and whilst I was old enough now to be allowed to stay up until 10.00pm, it was still the witching hour as far as my ten-year-old sister was concerned.
The subject of the play was, to put it simply, Sex, a subject about which I was, simultaneously, highly interested and horribly ignorant (the story of my life, basically). My attention had been drawn to this play at the weekend, when the Week Ahead reviewer was gushing about it, or at least about its star, Dawn Addams, doing a ‘reverse-strip’. Ms Addams was a popular glamour girl in the Sixties, and would have been 42 at the time the play was broadcast, though she seems to be all but completely forgotten today.
Under normal circumstances, there would have been no chance of watching the play at all. But after Dad had died, his elder brother had made a practice of calling round one night in the week, to check we were all well, and the play was being shown on the night of his visit. He and my mother would be sat in the breakfast room, talking and smoking, leaving the television free for someone who was quiet and unobtrusive and who shut the lounge door behind him.
It turned out that Dawn Addams wasn’t the star of the play, and that her ‘reverse-strip’ was simply her putting her clothes back on again (having already donned bra, knickers and black slip – shameless hussy). The reason for this was not because it was the dawning of the day, but because she had not long since emerged from the bed of the play’s central character, a middle-aged businessman, with a middle-aged wife, to whom Ms Addams was both next-door neighbour and mistress.
Nothing special lay behind the affair, though the play son established that the businessman’s wife was getting a bit frumpy, and conscious of it. I recall one scene of him staring at her fixedly, which she misinterpreted as him looking at her neck: this sent her anxiously to the mirror, checking it for sagginess, whilst pointing out that this was more or less to be expected.
The businessman was screwing Addams’ character in a flat he owned, whilst covering up the time the affair was occupying by claiming to be on a health kick, that involved long swimming sessions (necessitating quick dips after assignations in order to maintain that essential faintly chlorine smell about the body, instead of his mistress’s no doubt sluttish perfume).
But something he said or did – maybe a lack of chlorine at the wrong time? – aroused the wife’s suspicion and she started asking awkward questions.
Mr Businessman got a bit nervy, especially after Wifey found out about the flat, and decided to bring in two of his underlings to blow an almighty smokescreen across Wifey’s path. He engineered her discovering the time of his next assignation, but instead of her leaping out and finding him in a compromising position with Dawn Addams, he intended her to discover his assistant and his secretary, both in their early twenties, in a compromising position (what they think about being in a compromising position with each other in the first place was not explored in any depth, though there was, IIRC, a hint that they were wearing compromising positions out off their own bat already).
So the scene was set for Wifey to be humiliatingly embarrassed. Out she leaps. The pretty, long–haired blonde secretary is indeed compromised, her zip-fronted dress unzipped to the waist, though not showing anything more that the material of her bra between her delightfully perky breasts). ‘Ooooh,’, she squeals in a totally wooden and unconvincing manner (I do not now recall whether that was good or bad acting on her part), and exits the room at a rate of knots, leaving embarrassed Young Assistant behind to explain to Wifey that her suspicions are indeed unfounded, that Mr Businessman uses this flat for work but, being kind, and of a generous heart, has lent it to Assistant and Secretary to enable them to shag each other’s brains out.
That there may be flaws in this scenario, such as why this pair should be given the afternoon of a working day off to roger one another, naturally goes by flustered Wifey. She’s made a fool of herself, and she’s shown herself up as a frustrated old bitch untrusting wife in front of these two young people. It’s awful. It’s also dreadfully misogynist, but then again we are talking 1972.
But. We have now arrived at the point where the writer throws in the twist that nobody’s been expecting. Wifey’s horribly embarrassed, and also ashamed, but she’s also conscious of one other thing of which she’s guilty. Here’s this perfectly nice, handsome, virile young man and she’s responsible for denying him his expected afternoon between the sheets. It’s up to her to make that up to him – despite her neck – so, where Dawn Addams started off the play by putting on her clothes, this much less famous actress starts taking off hers.
But. There’s another twist, only this one isn’t on the screen. I mentioned before that my sister’s bed-time was 9.00pm. However, like me, she had been unobtrusive and unnoticed and had quietly curled up in a corner of the lounge and was watching the play with me. I could, and probably should have pointed out her bed-time and, when this got the expected refusal, shopped her to our mother, but I was anxious not to draw attention to myself for the duration of the programme. And now she was curled up watching what was clearly going to end up being sex, and in pretty short order.
What else could I do? I was big brother. I had duties. Despite my urgent desire to see what happened (was a bit of genuine nudity, or at least an exposed bosom going to appear before my wondering eyes?), I had to get up, switch off the TV and tell Mam that she was watching something she shouldn’t be watching, thus telegraphing that I was watching something I shouldn’t be watching (despite being six and a half years older than my sister, our mother drew little or no distinction between us for the purpose of unsuitable programmes).
So she went to bed, and I went to bed, and the programme wound on to its end without me there to see what the hell happened? It wasn’t reviewed and it certainly wasn’t repeated, and thus it has remained forever Uncompleted in my eyes.
Of course I speculated. Given the nature of the twist, it wouldn’t have made any sense on a comic front for Wifey and embarrassed assistant not to have actually got it together, and for him to find the experience unexpectedly enjoyable, leading to the situation where both husband and wife are having affairs. And if I were in charge of writing the ending, a frustrated and jealous husband would have lost his relationship with Dawn Addams, who had more or less disappeared from the story by this point, leaving his sexually revitalised wife having her bell rung.
One thing that was significant about this play was that it was the first time I recall a story playing with the idea of older women having sex with younger men. This was such an unusual thought in mainstream TV in the early Seventies that it wouldn’t surprise me if the story might have ended with the young man being so embarrassed at being in bed with an older woman that it had ended horribly, but that kind of ending would be massively out of step with the feel of the play that I can remember.
Later in the Seventies, there was another ITV play, this time on a Sunday night, this time watched in its entirety by the three of us, which entered into that similar territory. This also was promoted on the strength of its leading actress, in this case June Ritchie, making a return to acting after several years out of the business, and gracing us with a bath scene at the outset (unfortunately, Ms Ritchie being a more than splendid sight in her early forties, opted for the traditional TV bath, heaped with opaque suds). The doorbell rings, Ms Ritchie answers it in bathrobe and towelled hair, only to find a young man in his mid-twenties bearing a knife…
Despite the rather rapey aspect of the set-up, and much of what followed, the play was something of a comedy. The young man was an assistant to Ms Ritchie’s businessman husband, who had, that day gone off to a weekend conference, taking with him his secretary, the young man’s girlfriend. Morosely, the young man had decided that, if his boss was going to spend the weekend screwing his bird, he would spend the weekend screwing the boss’s wife.
It was a two-hander play where most of the writing was in the dialogue. Ms Ritchie, who didn’t take kindly to the thought of sleeping with some snotty-nosed kid almost young enough to be her son, kept a dialogue going to persuade him out of his disgusting plans, that is, until the half-way point when, she having gotten the knife off him (and gotten dressed by now), the thrust turned towards her semi-psychotic threat to kill him and plead self-defence to the Police, he having forced his way in with intent to rape.
The twist turned out to be that, eventually, Ms Ritchie’s control of the situation slid bed-wards and the two ended up naked and giggly between the sheets and quite clearly getting each other’s rocks off, the young man having persuaded her out of her initial refusal to believe that her hubby could be cheating on her with a slip of a secretary. That’s when he called from the conference, having sent the secretary home for the weekend. An amused and naked pair gaze at each other over the total misapprehension that has lead them to bed together – and then falling into each other’s arms, obviously ready for a second go.
To some extent, because of the similarity of the two plays, my memory of the mood of the earlier, the ‘unfinished’ play, may be coloured by the plainly comic tone of the later. Still, it remains an Uncompleted Story from my point of view, because it’s ending forever has to be made up by me.