Armchair Theatre review project

This page will eventually show my planned reviews of episodes of Armchair Theatre, presented by ABC and later Thames Television, on the UK’s ITV network. This is not a comprehensive list of plays shown.

Armchair Theatre: A Bit of a Lift
Armchair Theatre: A Magnum for Schneider
Armchair Theatre: A Night Out
Armchair Theatre: According to the Rules
Armchair Theatre: After The Show

Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph

A showcase for Janet Munro who is the young and naive aspiring actress who finds herself under the spell of sleazy but ambitious agent Ian Hendry. Against a backdrop of missed opportunities and stuttering careers, these two toy with each other under the machinations of Peter Butterworth (surprisingly good) and Aubrey Morris, with their ambitions thwarted in the world of chocolate commercials.

One of the best known plays in the series, this rips open the underbelly of showbusiness and charts the shattered dreams of the wide-eyed heroine. Off-screen, Munro and Hendry married and entered a self-destructive marriage that would eventually send both of them to alcoholic oblivion – a great pity for two actors who showed such early promise.

Armchair Theatre: Brown Skin Gal, Stay Home and Mind Bay-Bee

Billie Whitelaw is Ruth, a divorcée who needs to take in a lodger to keep herself afloat – Donal McCann is Roger, an electrician from Ireland who needs a berth. Although there are others in the cast, the bulk of this 50 minute play is a two-hander between them. We feel more in the silences and dream sequences than in any words or looks they share.

‘Brown Skin Gal …’ is successful because it presents these people as so real. Roger, shy and sensitive, just can’t get close to Ruth although he longs to – and she is much the same. There is a sense of hopelessness about the whole thing, but something quite pleasant too. Whitelaw and McCann play their parts to perfection without making their characters silly or cloying.

However, their co-stars don’t really make an impact; I only really noticed Ann Firbank because I had recently seen her in other dramas from the same decade.

Armchair Theatre: Call Me Daddy
Armchair Theatre: Can Amelia Quint Keep Writing …
Armchair Theatre: Compensation Alice
Armchair Theatre: Competition
Armchair Theatre: Danger Men Working
Armchair Theatre: Dead Silence
Armchair Theatre: Detective Waiting
Armchair Theatre: Don’t Utter a Note
Armchair Theatre: Dr Kabil

Armchair Theatre: Edward the Confessor

Ian Holm plays Edward Gobey, who confesses to murder, surveys housewives about the ‘intimate aspects of their marriages’, and occasionally watches television with his landlady, played by a disarmingly glamorous Beryl Reid.

Into their domestic set-up comes Gobey’s old schoolfriend, Gland (Alfred Burke) who strikes a spark with the landlady, to Gobey’s simmering resentment. He’s also a bully and a disruptive influence who disturbs Gobey’s already confused state.

Beautifully shot and acted, this television play engages our interest from the start, and Holm and Burke are excellent as men clearly on opposite sides of the moral spectrum.

The scene where Gobey reacts to Gland’s noctural wanderings is quite excellently done, and it is the point where the audience suddenly realises the meek can turn to psychosis, with even boiling a kettle being given an air of menace.

This black comedy keeps us guessing, and the sleek jazz soundtrack which bubbles along throughout gives this play an air of sleaze which is very appealing. It’s got a rather marvellous twist.

Armchair Theatre: High Summer
Armchair Theatre: Hot Summer Night
Armchair Theatre: I Can Destroy The Sun
Armchair Theatre: I Took My Little World Away
Armchair Theatre: Last Word on Julie
Armchair Theatre: Lena, O My Lena
Armchair Theatre: Light the Blue Touch Paper
Armchair Theatre: Living Image

Armchair Theatre: Long Past Glory

The only play by Len Deighton has echoes of Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’, and Sherriff’s ‘Journey’s End’, and was presented within the television strand of Armchair Theatre.

We don’t know why these two scruffy men are in the building, what their motivation is, and who the young man is who comes to join them. They talk about family, about the minutae of life, and show the same intolerance and prejudices we might recognise today. But there is a strange tension throughout.

I guessed the twist before the end, but it is powerful nonetheless, just as a similar shake into reality was at the end of ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’.

Beautifully played by Les Mesurier in particular, this play is small in plot and focus but written well and directed with clarity by Charles Jarrott, using largely close-ups to show claustrophobia.

Armchair Theatre: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
Armchair Theatre: Man and Mirror
Armchair Theatre: Mrs Capper’s Birthday
Armchair Theatre: My Representative
Armchair Theatre: Neighbours

Armchair Theatre: Nothing to Pay

Clifford Evans had yet to make his mark in the long-running series The Power Game when he played this highly-strung Welsh businessman doing his best to ruin the relationship between his daughter (Daphne Slater, who had been a superb Jane Eyre opposite Stanley Baker in 1956) and her Polish lover (Philip Madoc, a reliable actor of many years to come).

Alun Richards writes a drama which sets the social climbing of the businessmen of the Valleys against the working men who have left their village world to come to watch rugby at Twickenham, as Wales develops from the stereotype of singing miners to something much more grasping.

Evans, and Kenneth Griffith as his nephew, give the towering performances here under the direction of Charles Jarrott, but Slater and Madoc match them scene for scene, and this play packs an emotional punch you may not expect.

Armchair Theatre: Now Let Him Go

Armchair Theatre: Office Party

This play centres on a retirement do where office workers and their partners gather to say goodbye to their bank manager (George A Cooper). Aside from the jollities associated with his departure is the back story of a bored secretary (Angharad Rees) who has a little secret which might have a big impact on her future.

Rees, an impish flirt, contrasts with her mousy friend, her wide-boy boyfriend (Ray Brooks), and caring colleague (Peter Denyer). Her boss, Peter Barkworth, at first comes across as a stickler to rules who does not see his subordinates as people – but as we get to know him and them better, we see what is going on beneath the surface.

Written by Fay Weldon, this drama is sharply observed with a realistic view of office politics within its one bank set. With cynical older women, jealous wives, and bubble-headed girls, it feels very much of its time, but somehow still reaches out to an audience forty years later.

Armchair Theatre: Old Man’s Fancy
Armchair Theatre: Poor Cherry
Armchair Theatre: Reason for Sale

Armchair Theatre: Red Riding Hood

An absolutely chilling play in which Rita Tushingham will tear your heart out and frighten you to death, in a deeply disturbing power tussle between her mousy librarian and the sinister but charming Keith Barron.

Armchair Theatre: Say Goodnight to Your Grandma

Tony and Jean, with their baby Cressida, visit their in-laws – Jean’s religious mother, upset at the thought of no baptism for her grandchild, and Tony’s mother, the real mother-in-law from hell.

Written by and starring Colin Welland, with Susan Jameson and Mona Bruce, this play takes place first in the car on the journey, and then in the house of Nana, Tony’s mother. She wants Tony to have a night in drinking with the boys – but has Jean got other plans?

Beautifully observed and well acted, Say Goodnight To Your Grandma feels real, with characters we’ve all met. In the game playing of both Jean and her mother-in-law, we see grown women fighting for their turf – it’s delightful and devastating.

Armchair Theatre: Sharp at Four
Armchair Theatre: The Big Deal

Armchair Theatre: The Cherry on the Top

There are a couple of marvellous performances from Robert Lang as the awkward cocktail cherry salesman, and Pauline Yates as the determined RAF officer, in this absorbing comedy written by Yates’ husband Donald Churchill.

With more or less one location, and most scenes featuring just the principal actors, this is a dramatic tour de force which may not have a lot of tension or conflict, but which is an absolute delight.

Armchair Theatre: The Chocolate Tree
Armchair Theatre: The Creditors
Armchair Theatre: The Criminals
Armchair Theatre: The Cupboard
Armchair Theatre: The Death of Glory
Armchair Theatre: The Emperor Jones
Armchair Theatre: The Fishing Match
Armchair Theatre: The Folk Singer
Armchair Theatre: The Greatest Man in the World
Armchair Theatre: The Hard Knock

Armchair Theatre: The Hothouse

Apart from the first scene, set at the annual dance for the employees of a chain of supermarkets, there are only four characters showcased in this drama of ambition and infidelities, with four actors working at the top of their game.

Diana Rigg makes her debut TV appearance (which would eventually win her the role of The Avengers’ Emma Peel) as Anita Fender, twenty-eight, mother of two, a bit of lush and suspecting her marriage has gone stale.

Veteran Armchair Theatre player Harry H Corbett plays her tycoon husband Harry Fender, who has built up the supermarket business from the time he was a delivery boy in his teens – he’s now over forty and obsessed with developing the exotic plants in his hothouse.

Into this brew are dropped the recently married Parsleys – Gordon (Donald Churchill, who wrote this play) is assistant manager at one of the supermarket branches and hopes to be promoted to manager; his wife Charlotte (Miranda Connell) is a blonde stunner who has already attracted the eye of the boss at the annual dance, where they performed a tango together.

The main premise of the story is what happens when Anita invites the Parsleys for the weekend, and presents Miranda with a proposition which could secure her husband his promotion. But does everything go to plan?

This play is a delight, funny (there’s one delicious double-take between Corbett and Connell which is hilarious), spicy, and surprising. Rigg definitely makes an impression and Corbett removes thoughts of Harold Steptoe with his bored and passionate lover of blondes. Connell also shows a deft gift for comedy and Churchill doesn’t disappoint in a role which he clearly relishes playing.

Armchair Theatre: The Importance of Being Earnest

This truncated adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play snips a lot of the much-loved lines, but makes up for it by having top-notch performances from Ian Carmichael as Jack Worthing, Pamela Brown as Lady Bracknell (who says the famous ‘handbag’ line as if it is the worst of swear words), Susannah York as Cecily, and Fenella Fielding as Gwendolen.

Patrick Macnee’s Algernon has no ear for the play’s wit or rhythm, which is a shame, but he is a smart enough cad in his suit and buttonhole, and his wooing of Cecily is amusing. The play’s country comic pair, the Canon and Miss Prism, are played by those stalwarts Wilfrid Brambell and Irene Handl, who are surprisingly good despite their comic pedigree.

The sets are very interesting – from Algy’s house (a cross between an Art Deco palace and a gentleman’s club), to the country seat of Mr Worthing. A pity it is in black and white – I would have loved to have seen the paintings and Gwendolen’s dress in their full glory.

This isn’t any substitute to seeing a full-length version of the play, but for a 75 minute running time, it does the job, and for those who know the play well, there are many pleasures to be had from watching this cast go through their paces.

Armchair Theatre: The Invasion
Armchair Theatre: The Left-Overs
Armchair Theatre: The Man Out There
Armchair Theatre: The Man Who Came To Die
Armchair Theatre: The Night Before The Morning After
Armchair Theatre: The Noise Stopped
Armchair Theatre: The Omega Mystery

Armchair Theatre: The Paradise Suite

A showcase for the lovely Carroll Baker (best known still for her role as Karl Malden’s thumb sucking ‘Baby Doll’), this is a story of a pill-popping actress, lonely, on the edge, and only given to small and inconsequential encounters with a variety of people.

We see a very young Ian Holm with a shaky American accent, an oily Sam Wanamaker, a fey Jess Conrad as a bell hop with bum-hugging trousers, and we watch Baker’s glamour queen hide away her feelings as she engages more and more superficially with her surroundings.

Written by Robert Muller (who went on to pen ‘The Beauty Jungle’ and the television horror serial ‘Supernatural’) and directed by Philip Saville, this TV play has the gloss of the 1960s all over it.

It is clear to see the inspiration in a real-life tragic story of another blonde actress, and in our more celebrity obsessed world ‘The Paradise Suite’ perhaps feels tighter and more believable than it did over fifty years ago.

Armchair Theatre: The Scent of Fear
Armchair Theatre: The Ship That Couldn’t Stop
Armchair Theatre: The Snag
Armchair Theatre: The Square of Three
Armchair Theatre: The Swindler
Armchair Theatre: The Trial of Dr Fancy
Armchair Theatre: The Trouble With Our Ivy
Armchair Theatre: The Widower
Armchair Theatre: Tune on The Old Tax Fiddle
Armchair Theatre: Wednesday’s Child
Armchair Theatre: What’s Wrong With Humpty Dumpty?
Armchair Theatre: Where I Live
Armchair Theatre: Worm in the Bud


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