Will Real F alkirk follow The Majestics to small-screen fame? Stuart Bathgate reports on BBC Scotland’s latest drama series, kicking off this fortnight.
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‘lt's got nothing in common with 'l‘iilli Fruiti‘. says BB(‘ Scotland's press officer.
We are talking about Playing For Real. the new networked six-part drama series which begins on Friday 2‘). It features the Subbuteo table football team Real Falkirk. a once-mighty force now in disarray following the death of their manager and greatest player Billy Buchan. ‘the Bill Shankly of table football‘. The first episode sees Billy‘s daughter Chrissie. inheritor of her father's Subbuteo skills and. she hopes. his place in the team. returning from London and meeting the six current members of Real. While the younger men are happy to judge her purely on merit. new player-manager Sam Montgomery (played by Alec l leggie). a dyed in the wool misogynist. will stop at nothing to prevent her joining.
But even excluding the obvious
fact that Playing For Real. as a networked drama. is ofsome importance to BBC Scotland. there are a number ofsimilarities to John Byrne‘s award-festooncd production.ln both series a relative of the dead man returns from exile to take his place; in both a woman ~ Suzi Kettles in Tani l-‘riiui. ('hrissie (played by Patricia Kerrigan) in Playing For Real — meets with hostility and rejection from a group of males. But above all. both — on the evidence at least of Playing Fm- Real's first episode — are tragicomedies deeply imbued with a typically Scottish drolerie and gallows humour.
Four of the six episodes were written by Julie Welch. formerly football correspondent on The Observer. otherwise best known for the semi-autobiographical 'l'hose (ilory Glory Days. a nostalgic account of a schoolgirl‘s
hero-worship of Danny Blanchflower (captain of Spurs' double-winning side of 1961 ) shown in Channel Four‘s First Love series in 1983. So about the Tutti l-‘rimi connection. Julie. . .
‘There isn‘t one really‘. But what about the —
‘Yes. I know both series begin with a funeral. but apart from that. . . I began writing Playing For Real in 1986. before I‘d even heard of 'l'uui l’rulii. far less seen it'.
Daniel Boyle from (ireenock. a writer new to television. scripted one of the episodes. while the other writers involved were the directors themselves (they contributed the script for episode three). But it was Welch who created the characters.
I asked the [England-born Welch if thinking her way into the Scottishness of the piece had been a problem. ‘Not at all. I‘ve worked with so many Scots in Fleet Street over the years that I think I’ve a pretty good idea of how Scots behave‘. When all that existed of the series was the basic concept. Welch was commissioned because. she says. ‘the idea of a series about a Subbuteo team was so insane that I must have seemed the right person‘.
For the unenlightened. Subbuteo is a table football game in which plastic players on round bases are flicked about the pitch in pursuit of a ball two-thirds their own size. You may think you have never seen a Subbuteo match. but cast your mind back to the last time you sought out the loos in one of our more cavernous hostclries. Remember walking down the dark corridor. Remember the door you opened. thinking. as your bladder reached bursting point. that here at last was relief. only to find instead a desultory group of beings hunched over a floodlit table. You probably thought they were masons. or vivisectionists. when they were in fact playing Subbuteo.
Although Welch does not play the game herself. a teenage son does. and she is well aware of how obsessive players can become about what to untrained eyes may seem nothing more than some lumps of plastic (the players) being propelled around a cloth pitch. ‘A whole universe in miniature' is her description of the game. one with which manufacturers Waddingtons would be happy to agreefl'hey began forty years ago with cardboard
players and wire—framed goals: no 5 playing surface was supplied in those ? days. the kit coming complete with a
piece of chalk and details of how to mark out the pitch on an ex-army blanket.
Now there are not only six hundred and fifty teams to choose from. but a
; from kit (i1 107 (referee and two
Q linesmen) to the motley crew of
L spectators (some glum. some
I celebratory. while two — for reasons j best known to themselves— sit
l l !
iinpassively in blue anoraks and snap-brim trilbies) which constitute reference bl l4l.
The fact that many clubs wear identical strips means that one box of
players can represent several teams.
Celtic and Shamrock Rovers both have green and white hooped shirts. hence are both reference ()35. Less immediately understandable. perhaps. is the fact that kit (Ml purports to be both Brechin City and Dubai. while ()02 has the particularly onerous task of representing. among others. Cardiff-City. lithnikos‘ of (ireece. Stranraer. Queen of the South. and Japan. Such duplication inevitably leads to the odd diplomatic faux pas: none of the Iranian team has a beard (as obliged to under Islamic law). and it is rumoured that the entire (‘hilean learn is black.
Despite this latter innovation. it is still the case -- due. no doubt. to the exigencies of production rather than a BOSS-inspired conspiracy" that not a single Subbuteo team is multi-racial.
Real obsessives can. of course. overcome this drab uniformity by customising the players: one afficionado I know of gives each man his own hairstyle. It is quite easy. as well. to give these plastic l’eles their own personalities: log the fouls commited by each man and you will soon find. for example. that that
innocent-looking sweeper averages seven offences a match.
In Playng For Real the late Billy's best player. (‘harlie Nicholas. identifiable by his ear-ring. is hidden by Sam in an attempt to thwart ('hrissie‘s application to join the l’alkirk team.She finds him on time. beats an established squad member. and is thus able to claim her place in the team built up by her father to be the most feared in Britain. But there will. needless to say. be many obstacles in the path to the British Subbuteo l-‘inal »- not least a team of existentialists from (‘helsea captained by one Jean-Paul \Vithenpoon.
Although the first episode unfolds at a leisurely pace to allow for the introduction of a dozen or so main characters. Playing For Real promises to become as important a part of urban Scots mythology as. er that other programme. Too many comparisonsmaybe invidious. but one final thing the two works have in common is their deflation of the self-important machismo of the typical Scots male. We shall. over the next six Fridays. find out if Sam Montgomery of Real l-‘alkirk. like Danny .\lc(}lone of'l’lie Majestics. learns his lesson on time.
Playng For Real begins this Friday. 2‘Hu/y. (m lilﬂ'l (119.3012)»
'l he list 23 July 4 August WSSQ