Games Without Frontiers


Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent

Christopher Fairbank

Christopher Fairbank

Philip Jackson

Philip Jackson







I attended the Kaleidoscope, Pebble Mill archive screening event on Saturday in Stourbridge, and had the opportunity to see some wonderful shows from the 1970s and ‘80s. An added bonus was that some of the programme makers, actors and presenters were able to come along and discuss their work.

One treasure from the archives was the 1980, BBC 2 Playhouse: Games Without Frontiers. It was a multi-camera studio drama, devised and directed by Michael Bradwell, who came along to the screening, as did Philip Jackson, one of the lead actors. The play also featured Jim Broadbent, Eric Allan and Christopher Fairbank – so a very strong cast.

The drama was improvised by the actors during the rehearsal period, and then written down, so that it could be plotted for the cameras, in a similar way to how Mike Leigh’s dramas worked.  It was set on a North Sea ferry from Holland. In order to research ideas for the play the actors went on a weekend away to Amsterdam – including the obligatory trip to the red-light district, paid for, of course, by the BBC!

The action was almost all set in the ferry bar, with a couple of scenes in the corridor, so it had quite a claustrophobic feel. The set was built on the top floor of the Pebble Mill office block, which acted as the studio.

The play was remarkably watchable, mainly because of the developing relationships between the characters. There were some funny comic touches and excellent character acting.  The story revolves around the two main characters, Clive (Philip Jackson) and Stewart (Jim Broadbent), who are on their way home after a weekend in Amsterdam.  They describe their weekend’s adventures, including the trip to the red-light area, and we learn a lot about their home and working lives. Technically the pictures and sound were still good quality.

This kind of drama would not be made nowadays: it is a character driven study, with nowhere near enough action to satisfy a contemporary audience. Also it would not fit into the popular sub-genres of modern drama – it isn’t crime related, or a thriller.

Peter Ansorge was the producer of Games Without Frontiers; he came along to the showing and took part in a panel discussion about it, and other dramas, before the screening. He said to me afterwards that he had no idea that the play still existed, and he hadn’t seen it for many years! So many studio dramas of this era were junked, as videotape was expensive, and tapes were wiped to be re-used.

Vanessa Jackson

Nuts in May title cards from Oliver White

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

These stills are of the original title cards for the 1976 Pebble Mill, Play for Today, ‘Nuts in Play’. The title cards are hand painted on individual sheets of acetate. They have been kept safe by Film Editor, Oliver White.

Mike Leigh was asked by Producer, David Rose, to set a television drama in his home county of Dorset. Mike then wrote and directed ‘Nuts in Play’, which starred Roger Sloman as Keith and Alison Steadman as Candice-Marie.  Keith and Candice-Marie are a politically correct home counties couple on a camping holiday in Dorset.  They have a frustrating encounter with a Brummie motorcycling couple whose loud music and uncivilised behaviour offend them.

Mike Williams was the cameraman, John Gilbert the sound recordist, and Dave Baumber the dubbing mixer.  The costume designer was Gini Hardy, make-up was by Gwen Arthy, the production designer was David Crozier.  The production unit manager was Dawn Robertson, with production assistants Cyril Gates and Gerard Patterson.

Thanks to Oliver White for making the title cards available.

Dawn Trotman (nee Mears) left the following comment about ‘Nuts in May’: ‘Just such a wonderful and very funny film. Pebble Mill at its height, and Oliver White a brilliant editor. He taught so many of us lowly assistants our craft. Who will teach the Tech ops, as they are called, now? There is no training.’

‘The Kiss of Death’ interview with Bob Jacobs

Untitled from pebblemill on Vimeo.

In this interview Bob Jacobs (1st Assistant Director) talks about working with Mike Leigh on the 1977 ‘Play for Today’ The Kiss of Death.

The drama follows the story of a young undertaker, Trevor, played by David Threlfall, as he grows up and explores issues around relationships and commitment.  John Wheatley plays the role of Ronnie, Kay Adshead plays Lindie and Angela Curran plays Sandra.

Bob Jacobs

Oliver White talks about Mike Leigh and Nuts in May

Oliver White on Nuts in May from pebblemill on Vimeo.

This video is of Pebble Mill Film Editor, Oliver White, talking about working with writer and director Mike Leigh on the 1976 Play for Today: ‘Nuts in May’.  The drama starred Alison Steadman as Candice Marie and Roger Sloman as Keith.  It was produced by David Rose.  ‘Nuts in May’ was screened at the ‘It Came from Pebble Mill’ weekend held in July 2010 at the Midlands Arts Centre, and Oliver is talking after watching the drama there.