Lead us not into temptation

Friday, January 26, 2007 by

I first heard ages ago that The Afternoon Play was coming to BBC1 when the controller was interviewed on 5Live by Simon Mayo. Despite my interest being aroused by the idea at the time, only yesterday did I get round to watching one.

What an absolutely terrific, thrilling, provocative 60 minutes of drama it was. Shakespeare specialist Jimmy Yuill played a retired vicar who, under pressure from his demanding wife, became a council tax martyr and got 28 days, during which time he was forced to share a cell with Trevor “Zig” Byfield’s unscrupulous lifer. The struggle that the petrified man of God went through to get his cellmate’s respect and trust culminated in his acquisition of an ill-gotten fortune via hidden diamonds, even sacrificing his greedy, vile wife along the way.

The human debate in the story was about the diamonds. Byfield’s character had stashed them before his arrest, but had told anyone in jail wanting to find them that they were in the Thames, leading to pointless dredging exercises upon the re-issue of their liberty. Only when Yuill’s vicar established the two attended the same school (though years apart) did he give some gently coded clues as to where the diamonds were, if they existed at all. Everyone – fellow lags, screws, the wife – just wanted the diamonds and the wealth. The vicar wanted his cellie’s approval, especially when the lifer succumbed to a heart attack the day before the vicar’s release.

So, by refusing to be greedy and saying a few prayers, he got posthumous approval. His wife kicked him out after he flogged the diamonds and gave all the money to an asylum hostel, but hidden in his trusty King James bible was an emergency stash.

What a wonderful yarn.

It’s a shame that performances like these, conceived and delivered with absolute brilliance, aren’t being shown to a wider audience. Where would the harm be in putting them on after soulless faux-drama like that ever-worsening shambles, EastEnders? I can’t help but feel that for all the decent peak-time drama there may be (and none of it is on ITV except when Doc Martin is on call), the public would never object to a little bit more.

Some of this play was more suited to an adult audience too – have you ever heard the expression, “A bit of hot chocolate with the choirboys” before? The lifer used it to describe a “proper” crime the vicar could have committed, rather than failing to pay his council tax. Now I blinked at that – it was 2.30pm!


Comments are closed.