Monday, 14 July 2014

Vote, Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton (1965)

Vote Vote Vote For Nigel Barton is the second of Dennis Potter's two Nigel Barton plays, but it was in fact supposed to be a stand alone piece.

Deemed too controversial, it was pulled by the BBC from The Wednesday Play strand in 1965 and had rewrites imposed upon it. Potter, ever one to gain a silver lining from a cloud, accepted the BBC's request but on the proviso that he could produce a companion piece to precede Vote, in order to soften the original film's message and place new light on the central character. Thus Stand Up Nigel Barton was born.

Like Stand Up, Potter drew on personal experience when writing this, specifically his own candidacy as a Labour MP for the safe Tory seat of Hertfordshire East in 1964. This brought about some continuity inconsistencies; the semi autobiographical Potter that is Barton in the first film is at Oxford in 1965, returning home to be with his parents, just as Potter did as a student in the 1950s. Whereas the Barton of Vote... is found again in '65 albeit down from Oxford, 5 years married and firmly established, just as Potter was at that time.

On reflection I prefer Stand Up to Vote because although the former has a vast array of Potter's writing techniques - perhaps too much - they are at least on display throughout. Vote's only real concession to the quirky is the breaking of the fourth wall deployed by Barton's cynical agent Jack Hay (played by John Bailey, though Potter had desired to see Tony Hancock in the role!)  in confessional scenes that are supposed to play out as sarcastic party political broadcasts for the audience. Using this single, subversive 'trick' makes its inclusion all the more jarring when we reach the dramatic and heartfelt meat of the tale.

That said, the message to be found within Vote, the desire for the Labour movement to move to the middle ground to appeal to the floating voters, thus betraying its original ideals and the lack of honesty within politics is still one that is still very profoundly topical to this day and Potter's bitter invective remains an uncomfortable pill to swallow.

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