The Beiderbecke Affair

The Beiderbecke Affair is the story of two middle-aged teachers in love, in Leeds, at the height of Thatcherism. If you don't know it, just go and get hold of it somehow. It will be five well-spent hours of your time. At present all six episodes are available on Dailymotion:

I fell in love with it at first sight when it was first shown in 1985, the combination of quirky humour, lovng detailed camera work, and upbeat jazz. Here's the first scene after the credits, which introduces us to James Bolam and Barbara Flynn as the protagonists, and Dudley Sutton as their colleague.

There is a plot, as it turns out, but it's kind of marginal to the experience of watching Jill and Trevor exploring their world and their affection for each other, and the beautiful sequences of them and other people simply walking or driving around Leeds to the soundtrack composed by Frank Ricotti. The script is crackling, the actors are electric and the whole thing is a delight.

I was very glad to discover that the show is deemed culturally significant enough to have the British Film Institute publish a book about it, by Bill Gallagher who has also written four Doctor Who audios for Big Finish (all of which I enjoyed). The second paragraph of the book's third chapter (quoting Alan Plater) is:

I said, 'What about Jimmy Bolam?' I'd known Jimmy a long time, socially, and we had worked together in radio. So then we had Jimmy and we got Barbara Flynn. We didn't continue with Bridget Turner because I think there was a feeling that we wanted to go for a new team throughout, and try a new character. I think we've been kind of vindicated in that.

It's a lovely detailed analysis, including the fascinating information that the show was originally intended to continue the story of an earlier Plater series, Get Lost!, but had to be reimagined when Alun Armstrong was no loner available. Somehow it all came together.

I do have to note that there isn't a single non-white speaking part, and very few non-speaking parts either. Leeds is not the most diverse of British cities, but it's not completely white either, nor was it in 1985.

It was funny to come to this at the same time as reading Charles Stross's The Nightmare Stacks, also set in Leeds but from a very different angle.

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