1968

 

Shaggy Dog

 

 

Title: Shaggy Dog

 

Transmission Info: First transmitted at 10.20 p.m. on 10 November 1968 by London Weekend Television for performance by a repertory group of actors - "The Company of Five". Duration 51 mins. Not since repeated. No recording was thought to exist.

However, a copy of Shaggy Dog (1968) has been re-discovered recently at LWT and was shown (to a very small audience, (myself and Dr. John Cook included) on Saturday 12th March 2005, 6.00pm in the Amblecote Room, Stourbridge Town Hall, Stourbridge, West Midlands, UK. See Kaleidoscope's website for further details.

 

Cast

 

Actor Character
John Neville
Wilkie
Ray Smith
Johnson
Derek Godfrey
Parker
Ann Bell
Receptionist
Cyril Luckman
James
Betty Bowden
Pedestrian
Jane Murdoch
Girl in lift

 

Crew

Costume
Ernest Hewitt
Music
Norman Kay
Designer
John Emery
Editing
Mike Taylor
Producer
Stella Richmond
Director
Gareth Davies
Writer Dennis Potter

Source: Gilbert 1995: 335

 

Plot

A cranky businessman, Mr. Wilkie, is interviewed for a position with a top-ranking hotel chain, Rest Awhile. He ogles the legs of the receptionist while he waits. Finally he is greeted by James, the company personnel manager, and Parker, a rather eccentric management consultant who has previously arrived wearing a bizarre suit and sporting a comic red nose. During the interview, despite attempts by Parker, now wearing a blond wig and trying to disorient and unnerve, Wilkie attempts to complete the well-worn shaggy-dog story about the extinct animal - the Rary (Punch line: "It's a long way to tip a Rary!!!"). His frustrations lead to a total breakdown. He suddenly snaps and pulls a gun on the interviewers and shoots them. Finally, he hauls the receptionist to the window ledge and, emulating the fate of the Rary, Wilkie jumps out of the twenty-ninth floor window to his death.

 

Reviews

 

 

Billington,M. (1968) TV Review, The Times, 11 November
Black, P. (1968) TV Review, Daily Mail, 11 November

Comment

 

 

 

 

Gilbert (1995: 163) reports the director, Gareth Davies, commenting on Shaggy Dog as follows: "A sad piece about a madman applying for a job. Not a great play. A sort of sour joke." Potter himself described the play as "an anguished sort of comedy which was in large part written with my ball pen strapped onto my right hand. It was not a masterpiece either. I suspect that the stress will spill out onto the page, insufficiently controlled."(Sun 13 May 1968)This comment on stress refers to the fact that during the writing of Shaggy Dog, Potter's health had once again taken a turn for the worse as a result of the side effects of Methotrexate.

Shaggy Dog was thought to have been effectively lost to the Potter oeuvre. The recording of the play was, it was thought, wiped by LWT and references to it in Potter's entry in Who's Who are absent. However, a copy has recently been re-discovered at LWT archive. A copy of the script is held by the British Film Institute.

This is hardly one of Potter's most memorable pieces, but he does use it to take the opportunity to engage, through the mouth of Wilkie, in a series of rants about the corrupt and inefficient nature of management (and management consultancy!) in British (and indeed multinational) commerce and business. John Cook wonders whether this may have arisen from an experience of having been interviewed at the BBC at some stage!

More likely, I think, given the desperate state of Potter's health it may reflect, more cynically, a case of Potter taking the opportunity to use the Company of Five commission to earn some money by cobbling together an odd but amusing piece wrapped around a rather tedious joke which was certainly, to my knowledge, doing the rounds in the late 60s. (The version I knew concerned an alien plant called a Rary which grew in an uncontrollable way until it had to be taken to a landfill site and jettisoned from the back of a lorry.)

This rather cynical explanation for the rather uncharacteristic nature of the play is, to some extent, borne out by Potter's comment to Graham Fuller (1993: 33) when asked why, after completing seven plays for the BBC, Potter had gone to ITV companies with Bonegrinder and Shaggy Dog:

"I can't remember really. I think that was immediately after Cinderella and there was some peevishness going on somewhere. But also I think I had been approached to do something and I was just filling the slot."

Cinderella had been a Christmas Wednesday Play for the BBC which was finally rejected and which caused bad feeling between Potter and the BBC. Potter was at this time on the top rate for a TV playwright, earning about £900 a play. When Cinderella was rejected he is recorded to have said, "If I can arrange my career so that I never have to write plays for BBC TV again then I intend to do so." (Carpenter 1998: 190)

Given some of the references made by characters in this play which would now be regarded at best as politically incorrect - or even racist, it seems unlikely that Shaggy Dog will ever be transmitted on TV in spite of having been so unexpectedly re-discovered.

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