BBC celebrates 50 years of Play For Today with archive photos


Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren can be seen in previously unseen images from BBC drama series Play For Today to mark 50 years since it first aired.

The pictures, released by the BBC Photo Archive, show Alison Steadman in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, as well as Sir Anthony in Peter Nichols’ Hearts And Flowers and Dame Helen in Stephen Poliakoff’s Soft Targets.

The series began in October 1970 with The Long Distance Piano Player by Alan Sharp.

The series went on to broadcast more than 300 single dramas, before it ended in 1984, with some plays reaching audiences of more than eight million people.

Also featured in the images is Ray Winstone, who starred in one of the series’ most controversial plays, Scum.

Robert Seatter, head of BBC History, said: “When Play For Today launched, dramatist Dennis Potter stated ‘Television is the true national theatre’; looking back 50 years later we can see what an arresting and memorable portrayal of the nation this seminal strand gave us.”

The documentary Drama Out Of A Crisis: A Celebration Of Play For Today, commissioned by BBC Arts, will air on BBC Four at 9pm on Monday and showcases a range of archive extracts and original interviews with many who created the series, including directors Leigh, David Hare and Ken Loach.

Select plays will be repeated on BBC Four, beginning on October 12 with Country by Trevor Griffiths and Abigail’s Party.

Mark Bell, commissioner for BBC Arts, said: “Tonight on BBC Four, we explore the BBC’s era-defining series of one-act plays, in Drama Out Of A Crisis: A Celebration Of Play For Today looking at the strand’s extraordinary range and cultural impact, followed by screenings of fondly remembered productions from the archive throughout the week, beginning with Country and Abigail’s Party.”

Steadman will celebrate the series in a special episode of Archive On 4 on BBC Radio 4, which also includes contributions from Leigh and Loach, as well as BFI National Archive curator Lisa Kerrigan.