Working-class heroes are still making waves

The week in radio

Summer's over, the kids are back at school and Radio 4's has blown the budget on a new drama season. When I first heard about the station's revival of British New Wave I adopted my best excited face. I mean, just look at the people involved – James Purefoy, Emily Watson, Sheridan Smith and John Thomson. But then I remembered that this is Radio 4, for much of the time a repository for the kind of half-arsed, sketchily drawn drama that makes the TV soap Doctors look like Ibsen.

This looked unusually promising, however: a "kitchen sink" season celebrating the fictional works that became iconic films during the late Fifties and Sixties by the likes of Alan Sillitoe, Nell Dunn, David Storey and, of course, John Osborne. And it started well at the weekend with Storey's This Sporting Life, which was a film starring Richard Harris and directed by Lindsay Anderson. It was fêted by critics at the time and seen by pretty much no one. The public didn't take to "gritty realism" back then though now it's all the rage, along with "distressed" furniture and "vintage" clothes.

Here, Johnny Vegas was directing, which was a surprise in itself, and Arthur Machin was played by James Purefoy, which was even more of a shock as I have only ever seen him on screen being smarmy. Here, though, he was unrecognisable, his every word uttered with a defeated sigh. Machin is an ex-miner who, after a punch-up in a pub, is spotted by a rugby league club owner and becomes a star player. He is having an unsatisfactory affair with his widowed landlady (Emily Watson), whose contempt for Machin is matched only by her contempt for herself. Both are, in different ways, hamstrung by their working-class values. The fight like bears but don't know how to talk.

Under Vegas's sympathetic direction, Purefoy revealed the complexities of Machin's predicament, a man of limited intelligence who is celebrated for using physical force on the field struggling not to do the same with his lover. Watson's Mrs Hammond is no pushover, as in the film version. She feels trapped by their relationship and compromised by his ham-fisted displays of generosity – a new TV, a fur coat – so she builds a wall around herself that even Machin, a giant of a man, cannot scale.

People talk a lot nowadays about a "crisis of masculinity", though if you want to see a man flailing like a fish in the face of political inertia, social disillusionment and personal adequacy, then look no further than these New Wave dramas. Such portrayals reveal the turmoil experienced by a generation that had been promised life would be better after the war, and found it wasn't.

Later, in the Radio 4 documentary British New Wave: Beyond the Kitchen Sink, Paul Allen observed "a new generation saying, 'Look at me, listen to me'." A new experience was being presented in books and in theatres, displaying abominable behaviour without necessarily condemning it, along with a gathering sense of alienation.

Allen also demolished a few myths including the terms "angry young man", invented not by the critics but by the Royal Court press office, and "kitchen sink", a label actually coined by the art critic David Sylvester to describe a mode of painting.

David Jacobs, the BBC's longest-serving presenter, has died. His best work was before my time but, like anyone else who ever turned on a radio, his voice was as fixed a part of my early years as hot summers and Sunday lunches. If he came over a little too old-school to younger listeners, it's worth remembering that he was once sacked for giggling while reading the news.

Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week