The Black British presence on television in Barrie Keeffe’s Play for Today (BBC1) dramas and beyond

Tom May*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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This chapter offers a cross-disciplinary study drawing on both Stuart Hall’s ‘Whose Heritage?’ essay and his other television and media studies work. In ‘Whose Heritage?’ he argued that those who cannot see themselves reflected in the ‘mirror’ of ‘National Heritage’ cannot properly ‘belong’. In the ‘canon’ of 1980s television, the period drama adaptations Brideshead Revisited (1981) and The Jewel in the Crown (1984) are, to paraphrase Laurajane Smith, the usual suspects: a selected, naturalized ‘legitimate national heritage’ that smooths over internal national conflicts (Smith, 2006). This chapter studies an alternative heritage, that of Play for Today (1970–84), which was regarded as the BBC’s flagship strand of single plays that reflected topical social issues and concerns. In particular, the chapter examines the content and reception of Barrie Keeffe’s neglected Plays for Today ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (1979) and ‘King’ (1984), evolving representations of Black experiences in multicultural Britain. Through their ‘trans-coding’ of stereotypes and progressive realism, Keeffe’s plays laid some crucial groundwork for the resurgence in Black-led creativity in 2020 via the transformative work of Michaela Coel and Steve McQueen.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhose Heritage?
Subtitle of host publicationChallenging Race and Identity in Stuart Hall’s Post-Nation Britain
EditorsSusan L.T. Ashley, Degna Stone
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781000856170, 9781003092735
ISBN (Print)9780367552732
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2023

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