This is a critical work on Jack Rosenthal, the highly regarded 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 his best-known works, drawing on archival material as well as interviews with his collaborators, including Jonathan Lynn and Don Black. The book places Rosenthal's plays in their historical and televisual context, and does so by tracing the events that informed his writing – ranging from his comic take on the ‘permissive society’ of the 1960s, to recession in the 1970s and Thatcherism in the 1980s. His distinctive brand of melancholy humour is contrasted throughout with the work of contemporaries such as 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 chapter provides a profile of the television-series writer and creator Jack Rosenthal, who was born in 1931 in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, the second son of Sam and Leah. His parents were working class and Jewish, elements of his background that characterised all his work. Rosenthal was delighted to be commissioned in 1961 to write for Coronation Street, a soap opera set in a milieu he knew well. Almost everything for which his writing became famous stems from Coronation Street, including his interest in the underprivileged and the underdog, and their salty, everyday discourse and Englishness. Rosenthal's career paralleled and was integral to a formative period in the history of British television drama and he worked for the independent television company Granada before becoming a freelance writer in 1962. Throughout his career, his writing was characterised by the same kinds of comic verbal trope. Despite his many industry awards and nominations, Rosenthal's archive contains several examples of plays that were never televised or filmed.
This chapter discusses the beginning of the Jack Rosenthal's career, as a television-serial writer with Coronation Street. It was his great good fortune to be employed by Granada as a graduate trainee working in research and promotions, at just the time the production company launched their groundbreaking serial. Rosenthal had the biggest, luckiest break a hopeful writer could have dreamt of, when he was invited to write his first-ever script for Coronation Street. His first foray into dramatic writing was episode 30 of this, the world's longest-running continuous television serial, broadcast on 17 March 1961. Although much has been written on the serial's history, Rosenthal's role in it has not been analysed, in spite of the fact that he was a member of the core team of Coronation Street writers between 1961 and 1969. He became a freelance writer in 1962, and spent a period in 1967 as the producer of Coronation Street, a role he was reluctant to take up in contrast to that of writer.
This chapter explores four of Jack Rosenthal's plays: Your Name's Not God, It's Edgar (1968), Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. (1972), Mr Ellis Versus the People (1974) and There'll Almost Always be an England (1974). Each play 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. Your Name's Not God, It's Edgar uses the cinematic form of 1960s British New Wave cinema, focusing on everyday or kitchen-sink drama in a working-class setting. In Another Sunday and Sweet F.A., the supposedly British virtue of fairness is sacrificed by an amateur football league referee to the end of salvaging his own crushed ambitions. In There'll Almost Always Be an England, comedy arises from the dissonance between nostalgic wartime views of Britishness and its class-ridden, consumerist present; while disenchantment with the process of voting is represented in Mr Ellis Versus the People in a way well suited to its mid-1970s context.
This chapter explores three of Jack Rosenthal's plays: The Dustbinmen, The Knowledge and London's Burning. The plot arises in The Dustbinmen and London's Burning from 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. As is customary in Rosenthal's plays, The Knowledge opens enigmatically so that information about its setting has to be pieced together by the viewer. In London's Burning, an institution rather than a character is under scrutiny; but none of these plays is primarily documentary in form. Rather, each deploys a precise and accurate backdrop of factual detail as a way of generating both character and narrative, particularly in the setting for London's Burning.
This chapter discusses three television love story serials: The Lovers, Sadie, It's Cold Outside and Wide-Eyed and Legless. The comically unresolved courtship of the young protagonists in The 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, is succeeded in Sadie, It's Cold Outside by a comic portrait of middle-aged jadedness also suited to its historical setting in the mid-1970s. Wide-Eyed and Legless is more naturalistic, in keeping with its basis on a true story and with Rosenthal's late televisual style. The film's humour operates both intra- and extra-diegetically, for the audience's sake and as a way for the married protagonists to relate to each other. In each, the central female character is in her own way an unruly figure of the kind described by sitcom critics as excessive in behaviour and opinion, rejecting a life of domesticity and good motherhood.
This chapter analyses those of Jack Rosenthal's plays, such as Spend, Spend, Spend, The Chain, Moving Story and Bag Lady, where an unusual dramatic structure matches the plot. In all four plays, unusual or experimental form does double duty in complementing or even constituting the plot. In Spend, Spend, Spend and The Chain, structural experimentation arises from the plays' concern with British class formations. The Chain's plaited structure emphasises interconnections between people at either end of the social scale. In both Moving Story and Bag Lady, class distinction and social injustice are unexplored backdrops in plays, which are more concerned with narrative. Moving Story is the pilot for a series, and as such sets up open-ended subplots and exaggerated character traits among its dramatis personae; while Bag Lady is an interior monologue made audible, which exists in order to fall silent with the completion of a quest.
This chapter discusses satire of Jack Rosenthal's Ready When You Are, Mr McGill in 1976 and 2005. Rosenthal wrote two versions of his television play Ready When You Are, Mr McGill, which were broadcast respectively by Granada on 11 January 1976, and by ITV Sky on 26 December 2005, after Rosenthal's death. The earlier play was one of a seven-part Granada anthology called Red Letter Day, originated by Rosenthal himself, in which the common theme was an outstanding occasion in someone's life. The first episode, Ready When You Are, Mr McGill, gained such accolades as the television critic Richard Last's description of it as a clear contender for the funniest television play of 1976. The 1976 version was a satirical metafiction, exposing the workings of television drama. By contrast, the 2005 version has extra layers of self-consciousness, and the satire targets much more specific elements of television in the new millennium, particularly the control exerted over broadcasting by producers and television networks.
This chapter explores autobiographical elements in Jack Rosenthal plays such as P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang, Bye, Bye Baby, Eskimo Day and Cold Enough for Snow. Rosenthal writes in a distinctive way about each play in the trilogy in his autobiography, By Jack Rosenthal, to suggest a close but not exact relation between fact and fiction. Rather than describing the context of writing the plays, as he usually does, Rosenthal actually substitutes extracts from the P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang and Bye, Bye, Baby for autobiography. In each case, Rosenthal emphasises the links between life and art: he introduces the protagonist of The Evacuees as Danny (i.e. Jack), of P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang as Alan Duckworth (i.e. me) and of Bye, Bye, Baby as Leo (Jack). This is the case even though the autobiographical and dramatic material does not always match up. The presence of a self-consciously styled protagonist who is an equivalent for Rosenthal makes certain films, such as P'tang Yang Kipperbang and Bye, Bye, Baby, autobiographically based in a more conventional way.
This chapter explores Anglo-Jewish incidents and characters in Jack Rosenthal's television plays. The two plays, The Evacuees and Bar Mitzvah Boy, represent elements of Anglo-Jewish life using different techniques. While The Evacuees presents Jewishness and Englishness separately, Bar Mitzvah Boy derives its comedy from a British–Jewish synthesis, a difference that is partly due to dramatic imperatives. As its title suggests, The Evacuees is about urban Jewish life as it is forced into interaction with a more rural gentile world. The dialogic representation of Jewish life in Britain in Rosenthal's plays arises necessarily from the diasporic nature of the community. Voices are characterised by the accents of at least two cultures. In general, Rosenthal's Anglo-Jewish plays reverse the historian Colin Richmond's remark that Englishness is always equated with non-Jewishness. Instead, Rosenthal shows that Englishness may be expressed as Jewishness.