The seventies was a time when music and film were doing some pretty groundbreaking and experimental stuff and, in the UK at least, so was TV.
The BBC’s Play For Today, for example, is looked back upon with dewy eyed reverence these days. And so it should be. There were plays by Dennis Potter –Blue Remembered Hills, Mike Leigh –Abigail’s Party, Alan Bleasdale, John Osborne. Some of them were terrifying to the young mind- I still cringe when I remember the harrowing and brilliant Edna The Inebriated Woman. Others were hilarious –Rumpole Of The Baily, which spawned the television series.
And some were rock hard.
In 1975, Philip Martin’s controversial Gangsters aired and it was great. Gangsters was true Brit Grit television. Set in Birmingham, it was a multicultural crime story about illegal immigrants and corrupt politicians. I was thirteen at the time and I loved it. There was a violence, swearing, nudity! What more could you want?! The next day at school everyone was talking about it. The subsequent media furor only added to the buzz.
Gangsters was such a success it was made into a series with theme music from the prog rock band Greenslade. It told the story of Kline, played by super-craggy Maurice Colborn, ex SAS, fresh out of prison and trying to go straight. And failing. Like the Play For Today it came from the series was hardboiled, with maybe only Mike Hodges’ Get Carter as an antecedent.
By season two, the series really took a turn for mental, though. The title sequence now had blues singer Chris Farlow singing the theme song and looked like something from a low budget Kung Fu film. Indeed, it went down such a weird path that it even had writer Philip Martin regularly appearing as himself dictating scenes to a typist. And later he appeared as The White Devil, a hit man dressed as W C Fields(a role originally intended for Les Dawson!) who eventually killed Kline.
Gangsters, which had started off as a hard hitting social realist crime drama , ended fantastically with the characters walking off the set, shots of the writers literally tossing away the script and a That’s All Folks caption appearing on screen.
‘Daft!’ said my sister in law, who watched it with me. And she was right, I suppose, but then ‘daft’ isn’t always a bad thing.
In one play and the two seasons of Gangsters, there were drug addicts, hit men, sleazy night clubs, triads, murders, racist comedians, the CIA, strippers and all manner of urban rough and tumble. And W C Fields.
And, because You Tube isn’t just about watching divvies on trams, you can watch it here:
Here’s a trailer for Paul’s latest anthology:
6 thoughts on “I Didn’t Say That, Did I?: Gangsters by Paul Brazill”
You had me at WC Fields — wow, that sounds just wow. I want to see this now. Every little gem you’ve resurrected from that time (all those mad kids shows!) makes me wonder who was in charge and what they were smoking — and whether we can put them in charge again.
Blue Remembered Hills: I just saw this over the summer (or last summer? it’s a blur) in London when my ex-boyfriend dug out the video tape with an assured smirk saying, “You won’t have seen this.” Again, just wow. Everything on television is such slick product, you can’t imagine this kind of thing getting trotted out. It’s all moved to YouTube and Vimeo, I suppose.
Terrific memories stirred up there, Paul; cracking article.
Same kind of feelings I had as a kid watching the original ‘Untouchables’ and ‘T.H.E Cat’ on US tv.
Sound like our series: Wiseguy (though Ken Whul’s character Vinne did manage to go straight as an undercover FBI agent.) The Sonny Steelgrave story arc was brilliant as was the Mel Prophett arc. Maybe becfause the villians were player by Ray Sharkey and Kevin Spacy. The oehr Stateside series the description reminds me of is Crime Story with Dennis Farina and a host of great character actors that included a number of actors still getting roles today, like David Caruso. Thanks for stirring my own memories up for me as well as giving me a heads up on The Gangsters.
Paul I remember them all. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.
I was 8 years old when Gangsters aired….
Out of all the crazy stuff, nudity and shocking violence, and the general weirdness of season two. One scene really stands out above all else….
Kline engaging in a strange and so-bad-its-hilarious martial arts fight with an indian/pakistani red pyjama wearing assassin called “Red Stick” – if memory serves me well.
Whats bad/weird/strange about that?
Well Kline was butt naked having just been having sex. Now he was having the worst case of coitus interruptus in history by an ambushing martial artist catching him at his most vulnerable – a tactic that would have put Kato from The Pink Panther films to shame.
Kline kept trying and failing to cover his dick with one hand while delivering lethal martial arts strikes to said assassin. Even with one hand Kline triumphed in that fight.
Got to love 70s Brit late night TV
Thanks for the scream down memory lane, Paul