Still remembered in these parts for his portrayal of hapless revolutionary Wolfie Smith, ROBERT LINDSAY plays a rather more ruthless political leader in Alan Bleasdale’s new drama series GBH. Tom Lappin finds him enthusing about a ‘brilliant script.’
reedom for Tooting‘ - that was his catchphrase. I refer of course to the late great Wolfie Smith. leader of the Tooting Popular Front. sporting a Che T-shirt, patched flares and sideburns. and leading his motley crew of half-hearted revolutionaries in John Sullivan‘s 70s sitcom Citizen Smith. It‘s a telling reflection on the powers of the small screen that Wolfie is still the part most often associated with the versatile and respected stage performer Robert Lindsay. who has won critical plaudits for performances in everything from King Lear to Me And My Girl. and inspired Hollywood director Carl Reiner to write a screenplay especially for him (the less-than-blockbusting Bert Rigby You 're A Fool).
That seems likely to change over the next few weeks. however. ifAlan Bleasdale‘s seven-part drama series GBH begins to exert its grip on the nation. Bleasdale‘s previous successes. Boys From The Blackstuff and The Monocled Mutineer were acclaimed for their ability to make powerful political statements. without surrendering human interest. GBH aims to cover the contradictions and compromises of left-wing
L politics through the clash oftwo contrasting
individuals, one a ruthlessly ambitious council leader adept at power-games. the other an idealistic and morally upright socialist ofthe old school. Bleasdale attempts to use them as a microcosm of a wider struggle in left-wing politics, with relevance to events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well as in Britain. Confrontational in true Bleasdale style, easy
3 viewing it ain’t.
Lindsay, looking a stone or so heavier and distinctly more sartorially elegant than in
the Wolfie days, plays Michael Murray, ‘a baddie who has a change of heart‘. Lindsay
has become inured to playing baddies of late, so he is keen to emphasise the change of heart bit. Murray is a left-wing council leader, coming up against the ‘good guy‘,
Jim Nelson (played by the suitably lovable Michael Palin), a teacher at a remedial L
school who fails to comply with a day of action organised by Murray. ‘It‘s basically a power struggle between my character and Jim Nelson.‘ says Lindsay. ‘When Murray finds out that Nelson is continuing teaching, he breaks into the school and threatens him. The series then concentrates on the conﬂict between the two of them .‘
Murray is a leftie of a considerably more sinister bent than dear old Wolfie. The son of a hallowed figure from the 30s Labour Movement. he comes to power with the aid ofTrotskyist hardliners. Once in power. he is constantly haunted by an event (never made explicitly clear) that occurred in his childhood. and keeps harking back. in Singing Detective style. to a thrashing administered by his headmaster. ‘l lc‘s an extreme left-wing charismatic council leader with a terrible past and background that is uncovered by a right-wing faction. which consequently brings about his downfall. both personally and in his political career.‘ says Lindsay all in one breath. He also wears sharp suits. has a nice line in cynical wisecracks. and the series is set ‘somewhere near Manchester.‘ Sound to you like a certain watch-advertising former Militant Council Leader we all know and love?
‘We were aware of the obvious parallels. and I went straight for the jugular at first.‘ admits Lindsay. ‘but I suddenly realised in rehearsal that ifl based the character totally on him, the wider relevance would be lost. What Alan and I decided was that ifI based my portrayal on any single individual. which would be the easy way, it would weaken the scope ofthe story. Once you get into it. you realise that all these political events have been happening in Romania or Czechoslovakia or Russia or America so it has a sort ofworld stage. All we‘ve done is localised it so it‘s happening in Lancashire.‘
The caring. slightly woolly, side of socialism is represented by Michael Palin‘s Jim Nelson. a character ‘who embraces the old-fashioned. traditional values. and
because of those values is confused.‘ His confusion takes the form of neuroticism, hypochondria, and a morbid fear of bridges.
Palin has said that GBH was the finest script he has seen since Alan Bennett‘s screenplay forA Private Function. Lindsay goes even further. ‘I think it‘s probably the most exciting thing I‘ve ever been involved in.‘ he says. ‘Everyone I spoke to said it was the best script they‘d read. It was just electric. I just hope we‘ve managed to do it on screen.‘
The playwright and Lindsay had enjoyed a mutual admiration for years. but this series is the first occasion they‘ve had an opportunity to work together. Lindsay is particularly impressed with the political scope of the series. Boys From The Blackstuffwas ahead of its (and Thatcher‘s) time in its depiction of the effects of unemployment and the black economy, and The Monoclea’ Mutineer stirred up controversy with its liberality with historical fact and strong anti-militaristic message. GBH looks likely to be equally potent.
‘He has encapsulated in this piece what‘s been going on in left-wing politics over the last fifteen years,” claims Lindsay, ‘not just in thiscountry but in the West and the East. There has been so much upheaval politically. and he has just told it through a very simple story. The way my character is being blackmailed by a shady right-wing group comes across as being very truthful. The allegory is that we are all manipulated. There was a film in the 60s that had a huge
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10Thc List3l May- 131une 1991