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 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.
See J. D. Taylor, ‘The Party's Over? The Angry Brigade, the Counterculture and the British New Left, 1967–72’, The Historical Journal , 58:3 (2015), p. 885.
Well-known examples include the rear cover of the 7” single, ‘White Riot’ and both front and rear covers of ‘Remote Control/London's Burning’ (live) 7” single, both by The Clash, 1977, and the front and rear covers of their
Margaret Harkness, the Salvation Army, and A Curate’s Promise (1921)
an air raid, evacuating people from
After Londonburning houses and providing food, shelter, and medical and emotional
support for those bombed out of their homes. These scenes are full of
sensory detail – the noise of sirens, the rush of panicked crowds, the
glare and heat of fire – and convey a strong sense of purpose as well
as chaos and urgency. Scenes like these emphasise the sense of ‘an old
world disappearing’, as Bottrill states (Bottrill, 2006: 385); it is being
violently effaced, as the ‘new world emerging’ produces the means of its
I looked at The Clash not as a band or as music of the moment, but as a harbinger of the future. … only The Clash made me believe. Each song became an anthem delivering me from anguish, teaching me not to waste a moment of my life. The world is not ending. It is just beginning. This is a truth I learn every time I hear Strummer launch into ‘London's Burning’.
Strummer's external leadership was not unproblematic in terms of the expectations followers had of him. Recalling NME (5
common pastoral name, frequently paired with Chloris).
6] Chloris: Queen Henrietta Maria (also a common pastoral name).
7] Troynovant’s: London’s. Pulter’s description of London as Troynovant or ‘New Troy’
echoes Spenser in The Ruins of Time (1591) and in The Faerie Queene (1590).
7] ingrate: ungrateful.
9] salt, abortive tears: see Pulter, ‘The Weeping Wish’.
14] This reference to Londonburning is oddly prescient, or may suggest that Pulter’s
poem was revised after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
17] Albian: St Alban, a British martyr who parted the waters of