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Jack Rosenthal

Jack Rosenthal

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Jack Rosenthal
    Book Description:

    This is the first-ever critical work on Jack Rosenthal, the award-winning British television dramatist. His career began with Coronation Street in the 1960s and he became famous for his popular sitcoms, including The Lovers and The Dustbinmen. During what is often known as the ‘golden age’ of British television drama, Rosenthal wrote such plays as The Knowledge, The Chain, Spend, Spend, Spend and P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang, as well as the pilot for the series London’s Burning. This study offers a close analysis of all Rosenthal’s best-known works, drawing on archival material as well as interviews with his collaborators and cast members. The book places Rosenthal’s plays in their historical and televisual context. It does so by tracing the events that informed his writing, ranging from his comic take on the ‘permissive society’ of the 1960s, through to recession in the 1970s and Thatcherism in the 1980s. Rosenthal’s distinctive brand of humour and its everyday surrealism is contrasted throughout with the work of his contemporaries, including Dennis Potter, Alan Bleasdale and Johnny Speight, and his influence on contemporary television and film is analysed. Rosenthal is not usually placed in the canon of Anglo-Jewish writing but the book argues this case by focusing on his prize-winning Plays for Today The Evacuees and Bar Mitzvah Boy. This book will appeal to students and researchers in Television, Film and Cultural Studies, as well as those interested in contemporary drama and Jewish Studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-449-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. General editors’ preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sarah Cardwell and Jonathan Bignell
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Jack Rosenthal once claimed that writing ‘starts with the realisation that eccentric means absolutely normal, that comedy comes from pain, and that every day is drama’.¹ His plays were fêted during his lifetime and after his death for their gentle comedy,² and taken to typify the kind of ‘golden age’ social comedy that is no longer in vogue with television networks. Yet, as his own statement suggests, Rosenthal did not shy away from less ‘gentle’ themes, including self-delusion, loneliness, misunderstanding, regret, cruelty and death. His long career as a prizewinning television playwright began with a Coronation Street script, the first...

  6. 1 The beginnings
    (pp. 14-32)

    The television presenter Russell Harty once observed, ‘There was life beforeCoronation Street. But it didn’t add up to much’, while the Labour politician Roy Hattersley called the serial ‘a national institution which has won its way into the hearts of eighteen million viewers’,¹ one of whom is famously the Queen. The late poet laureate John Betjeman likened Coronation Street to Charles Dickens’Pickwick Papers, and added, in reference to its broadcasting schedule, ‘Mondays and Wednesdays, I live for them. Thank God, half past seven and I shall be in paradise.’²

    It was Jack Rosenthal’s great good fortune to be...

  7. 2 Little England
    (pp. 33-57)

    Rosenthal wrote a series of single plays for Granada in the 1970s, each of which has a clearly defined scenario and depends for its humour on a particular notion of British life. This life is characterised by people’s self-delusions, aspirations and small-scale concerns as set against such institutions as English amateur football, the legacy of Empire, and democracy itself. In this chapter, I discuss four of these plays. The earliest of these,Your Name’s Not God, It’s Edgar, uses the cinematic form of 1960s British New Wave cinema,¹ focusing on everyday or ‘kitchen sink’ drama in a working-class setting. However,...

  8. 3 Men at work
    (pp. 58-83)

    Each ofThe Dustbinmen,The KnowledgeandLondon’s Burninghas an ensemble format in which we witness relationships between working men – and sometimes women. Dramatic tension is derived from the hierarchy within which the men work. The plot arises inThe DustbinmenandLondon’s Burningfrom the nature of the job, which involves interaction with the community at large. While rubbish-collection makes for comedy, plots about firefighting are more generically mixed and tend to tragicomedy. Although Charles Clover claims ofLondon’s Burningthat it is one of Rosenthal’s ‘Jack Does …’ films, in which an institution rather than character is...

  9. 4 Love stories
    (pp. 84-111)

    The two situation comedies and one play analysed in this chapter are about love, romance and marriage. The generic differences betweenThe LoversandSadie, It’s Cold Outsideon the one hand, andWide-Eyed and Leglesson the other, are matched by the different kinds of relationship represented in each. The comically unresolved courtship of the young protagonists inThe Lovers, set at a moment at the end of the 1960s when it seemed that ‘the Permissive Society’ had arrived but that the phrase ‘always referred to other people’,¹ is succeeded inSadie, It’s Cold Outsideby a comic portrait...

  10. 5 Structure and plot
    (pp. 112-133)

    In this chapter, I will analyse those of Jack Rosenthal’s plays where an unusual dramatic structure matches the plot. InSpend, Spend, SpendandThe Chain, structural experimentation arises from the plays’ concern with British class formations. Class-related elements of both shocking contrast and surprising interrelation are represented at the level of form and content.Moving StoryandBag Ladyare both dramatic offshoots ofThe Chain, in which the concern for class has been replaced by narrative self-consciousness. WhileMoving Storyis structured fittingly as the pilot for a television comedy series,Bag Ladyis a dramatic monologue fully...

  11. 6 Television satire in 1976 and 2005
    (pp. 134-146)

    Comic self-referentiality, and satire at the expense of television, are staples of Rosenthal’s television writing throughout his career. In the situation comedySadie, It’s Cold Outside(1975) Sadie Potter only finds happiness at the end of six episodes when her husband Norman promises to sell the television set. In an early episode, she sits unwillingly watching a television play with her husband and daughter. We see only her astonished reactions, her face bathed in television’s unearthly blue light, since the reverse-shot to the television screen is withheld, but we learn that, as she says, ‘Now they’re takingalltheir clothes...

  12. 7 Versions of autobiography
    (pp. 147-164)

    Many of Jack Rosenthal’s television plays contain autobiographical elements, particularly the early filmsThe Evacuees(1975) andP’tang, Yang, Kipperbang(1982).Bye, Bye Baby(1992) was described on its release as the third in an informal trilogy consisting of these plays, and was followed ten years later by two further autobiographically based films,Eskimo Day(1996) and its sequel,Cold Enough for Snow(1997).

    Rosenthal writes in a distinctive way about each play in the ‘trilogy’ in his autobiography, ByJack Rosenthal, to suggest a close but not exact relation between fact and fiction. Rather than describing the context of...

  13. 8 Anglo-Jewish plays
    (pp. 165-188)

    In theTimeshiftdocumentaryJack Rosenthal, broadcast on BBC1, 30 September 2004, four months after Rosenthal’s death, Jonathan Lynn argued that Rosenthal’s personal identifications were threefold: northern, working-class and Jewish. In this chapter I will explore the third of these elements.

    There are Jewish incidents and characters in many of Rosenthal’s television plays. These sometimes exist at the level of small details – a removal man bringing Miss Shepherd her long-awaited desk inWell, Thank You, Thursday(1975) shouts ‘Mazeltov!’ as he puts down his burden – simply to imply the presence of Jewish supporting roles. Elsewhere, such references produce a humorous...

  14. Appendix: list of television programmes
    (pp. 189-191)
  15. Select bibliography
    (pp. 192-196)
  16. Index
    (pp. 197-202)