I watched the 1982 TV adaptation of A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow.
Although I did not watch it at the time, I did know that Stan Barstow was the author of books called A Kind Of Loving and A Raging Calm. That’s because they were both listed as further titles in the Hutchinson Bulls-Eye series of children’s abridged versions of adult novels, and I had the James Bond editions. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that such a book was ever put into a child-friendly version… but then it doesn’t seem any more absurd than a children’s adaptation of Live And Let Die. The latter is far less exciting than the Bond-does-blaxploitation 70s film version that provided top value TV entertainment. Of course redacting Ian Fleming’s awful opinions about non-Europeans and women can only improve the novel for all age groups, but then all that what’s left has to offer is the curiosity that its readership could accept the premise that a Harlem gangster could also be a top Soviet agent. That was the world of men who saw civil rights as a communist plot, and what they did is well-documented. So maybe kitchen-sink fiction is better reading material for children than 50s spy capers.
A Kind Of Loving was first published in 1960 and first adapted as a film in 1962. At that time it was current and topical. The TV version takes in the 2 sequels, The Watcher On The Shore (1966) and The Right True End (1976), bringing the story up to the end of 1973. In its matured form, the saga has become a panorama of social change over the previous 25 years. Of the 10 episodes, the first novel is 1-4, the second 5-8, and the finale fitting in 9-10. Clive Wood plays Vic Brown all the way through and so he goes from being an old-looking early 20s to a well-preserved late 30s.
The title sequence begins with the jumbled puzzle-image of young Vic, resolving itself as the easy and gentle theme music plays.
Then we zoom in on his forehead and see images of the woman dominating his life – in the first half it’s Ingrid Rothwell, but later Donna Perryman takes over.
We start in the Yorkshire town of Cressley, when the Brown family are getting ready for the wedding of Christine to teacher David. All subsequent episodes start with a montage of the latest action and a voiceover solemnly reminding us what happened in the previous episode.
Young Vic, with his slicked hair, has been working as a draughtsman at a local engineering firm since he left school at 16. His younger brother Jim is more studious and wants to go on to university and study medicine, while Vic has another job at weekends working in a music shop.
On the bus he gets talking to Ingrid Rothwell, who he recognises as working as a clerk in the business.
Of course the lads taunt him about the relationship and he gets in a scrap with the older Albert Conroy, who is then inspired to quit and go somewhere else.
He hasn’t been called up for National Service and it doesn’t look likely he ever will, as it seems to be on its way out. His dad is a miner and thinks the younger generation have fantastic opportunities compared to what he lived through (he also thinks that neither Eisenhower nor Churchill were very good as peacetime leaders. There is little nostalgia here for life before the 50s).
Vic loves classical music and the opportunities to listen to it at the shop and whenever concert tickets are available. Pop music and rock’n’roll doesn’t seem to be in his neighbourhood, although one of his mates has a greased-up hairdo. He discovers that Conroy, far from being the thug he initially seemed, is also a lover of good books and composers, and despises the pretentious office phoney who always talks loudly about them. The correct thing is to have a deep and serious passion but not reveal it. At the same time Vic’s circle of friends all brag and banter about women and their exploits with them, but when he needs them to give advice he realises it’s all fantasy. They don’t know about what they’ve never done, and in fact Ingrid and all other young people in this time are rather confused and uninformed about many things. When Vic tries to get a “packet of 3” from a barber’s shop known to have them available, he loses his nerve at the last moment, but he doesn’t lose his nerve when the chance to get some experience with Ingrid comes up… and so she gets pregnant, and they have to marry.
Ingrid’s parents are rather divided over the matter: her mum can’t stand him and thinks her daughter has made a bad decision, whilst the dad is more tolerant. Moving in with the Rothwells is not a good idea, as young Vic is soon fed up with living with an old bigot who is appalled at the news that 1 black person has come to live in Cressley. Getting drunk and being sick on the carpet doesn’t endear him to her either. After a break-up he goes to Christine for sympathy, but doesn’t get as much as expected.
CHRISTINE: You came here this morning with some vague idea that you only had to tell me about it and it would all disappear, didn’t you. Well I’m sorry Vic, but it’s a bit too big for that.
Things do reach a resolution when Christine and David suggest the couple move in to a flat upstairs. We also get a good look at their Vladimir Tretchikoff print in the living room.
CHRISTINE: I know you’re unhappy and I want to help you. We both do.
VIC: I’ve had enough Chris. It’s just a cheat, a big lousy cheat.
CHRISTINE: People talk glibly about “being in love”. Magazines and films are full of it. And it’s all true. You can be in love with somebody you hardly know – all romance and rapture and starry eyes… but there’s a difference between that and loving. You can’t love a person until you know him or her inside out, until you’ve lived with them, and shared experience: sadness, joy… living. You’ve got to share living before you can find love. Being “in love” doesn’t last, but you can find love to take its place. [PAUSE] You know what I mean?
VIC: I know. All I wanted, Chris, was someone I could be pals with as well as love. Someone who’d help me grow, and grow with me.
This is the moral core of the first novel, and it’s hardly a defence of the traditional family patterns in Cressley, since it rather suggests that Vic should have some more no-strings experimentation before settling down.
We move on to 1962 – of course, in this universe A Kind Of Loving doesn’t exist, but Coronation Street does, and we get to learn that Northern accents are no longer an impediment to success further south. TV and theatre are opening up to stories about people from this part of the world…. so of course Vic has the chance to get away from it. First of all we need to get over the scary business of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Albert Conroy has done well at an engineering firm in Longford in Essex, and so he invites Vic down and fixes it for him to get a job, just like he’s already done for another Cressley old boy, Jimmy Slade. The local Essex lads aren’t too pleased at the Northern migration in to jobs they hoped to rise in to.
In the pub the lads have the chance to meet Donna Perryman and the local theatre people.
At a party at Donna’s flat, Vic gets over-protective when he sees her being pestered by an arrogant posh man who – we are told by the rising young working-class playwright – is a big wheel in TV drama.
Vic has to have another talk with a wise female. There is an ironic reversal of the situation in Christine’s counsel: he is now facing a woman who really did take her time trying out relationships and deciding whether to continue with them. She doesn’t seek or require validation from anyone, nor did her well-off liberal parents ever bother about respectability or gossip.
VIC: Donna, what do you want from me? What do you expect?
DONNA: What kind of question is that?
VIC: Do you love me, for instance?
DONNA: Darling, that’s one of the most misleading and treacherous words in the language… I’d’ve thought from all that you’ve told me that you’d be the first to admit that.
It all breaks down for Vic and he can’t have either Ingrid or Donna. So then we step forward 10 years, where he’s moved on a lot – flashy new motor, and a flashy job in a big office in London. We hear that he “did an external degree at a Poly” and that opened doors in to top management, and also opened up the bedrooms of the wives of his posh colleagues. Flying back from an over-expensed business trip to Australia, he sits in his plush London flat surrounded by the latest music equipment and sees an old face being hassled on TV.
The credits have “Interviewer – Bill Grundy”, but Bill was clearly just playing himself and might well have been ad libbing the deeply patronizing and intrusive questions to actress Donna Perryman, interrogating her about her status as a “single parent”, a term he tells us he dislikes. But at least Vic gets to know that she’s back in the theatre and the chance of a reunion opens up. At the same time, there’s trouble up in Cressley again, as Mum and Dad are now getting on and needing Christine to help them out regularly. She’s got rather bitter over the years. Even though we’re now in the sophisticated 70s, it’s only now we finally get some kitchen sink drama.
CHRISTINE: David and I have been talking a lot lately about emigrating.
VIC: Emigrating? Where to?
CHRISTINE: To wherever conditions and prospects for teachers are better than they are here… and a future for Bobby.
VIC: What’s wrong with Bobby’s future here?
CHRISTINE: Oh Vic, you must know as well as I do, this country’s in for a rude awakening. Been coming for some time now. People wanting everything for nothing. Behaving as though money comes out of a bottomless well.
VIC: Striking over nothing every other day, holding the country to ransom, blacks pouring in and taking white men’s jobs… oh Chris, I used to get all that from Ingrid’s mother.
Vic does finally get a convincing chance of a new beginning, and we hear that Ingrid is doing well for herself without him.
I don’t know if Charlie Bubbles was based on Stan Barstow in any way. As it happens, A Kind Of Loving was also the title given to a bootleg of a gig played in 1985. “Shakespeare’s Sister” was released on the day of that show, and it’s got a better sleeve design than “Hand In Glove”. Unlike Vic, Jimmy Slade didn’t mind moving in with his new wife’s parents.
JIMMY: Pam’s mother thinks the sun rises and sets in me.