A Day Out, Alan Bennett (1972)

Edwardian West Riding wheelers escape Halifax for the day in an enjoyable television drama

Bennett’s first ever television play is the story of the Halifax Cyclists Touring Club’s run to Fountains Abby one Sunday in 1911. The eleven male companions meet early in the deserted streets to negotiate the town’s precipitate hills and cobbles. En route to the Cistercian ruin, the pals negotiate the banter, punctures and spills that anyone who has ridden out in company will recognise.

Historical purists might bridal at some of the details – the clubmen’s tweed uniforms were popular a decade earlier and what evidence there is of Edwardian cycling club membership suggests that they were not as socially mixed at Bennett’s players. That would be to miss the point, however, of a joyful slice of life when cyclists really were kings of the road.

Shot in black and white (it was one of the last television plays to be made in the UK before the universal adoption of colour) its slightly grainy quality adds considerably to the period charm.

In his introduction to the newly available box set of his television plays, Bennett explains that A Day Out’s end had to be reworked because of problems filming. The concluding scene was a hasty afterthought, says the playwright. That is not the way that it feels. Reassembling after the First World War on Remembrance Day, the club’s depleted ranks provide an eloquent reflection on the Edwardian ecstasy and the catastrophe that brought about its end.

The film is newly available on an ‘Alan Bennett at the BBC’ box set, which includes some of his best ever work – particularly Sunset Across the Bay.

TD Oct 12

According to The Independent’s obituay of Paul Shane, who appeared in A Day Out, it was first screened on Christmas Eve 1972 and was Shane’s first straight acting role. He went on to appear in seveal more of Bennett’s brilliant television plays, among them Sunset Accross The Bay.

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