Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Dinner at the Sporting Club (1978)




"The game doesn't belong to the frilly shirts and dinner jackets. It belongs to the people, 'cos that's where the fighters come from. It's where some of 'em go back an' all, to the people"

Dinner at the Sporting Club is a cracking Play For Today drama starring John Thaw as the kind hearted but disillusioned Small-time London boxing promoter Dinny Matthews. He's disillusioned because he has seven fighters in his stable languishing on the circuit of small-time bouts and sporting club fights for bored Rotarians and small businessmen. The shot at the big time and the glory that comes with it seems perpetually out of reach.


One of Dinny's fighters, is the Glaswegian John Duncan (Billy McColl), who is picked out to fight a featherweight champ at The Wellington dinner club going on between the coffee and the pudding. He's not  the best on Dinny’s books, but he is white, which is what the patrons of the sporting club want to see - they don't want a white champ and local hero being beaten by a black fighter, and Dinny's protestations that his best fighter, Elton (Herbert Norville) isn't all that black "He’s more coffee, like John Conteh" fall on deaf ears.



The sporting club offers Dinny a chance to schmooze and forge contacts with the money men who may sponsor his fighters and, thanks to acquaintances played by Jonathan Lynn and Ken Campbell, he's granted an audience with frozen food magnate Ray Little (Tony Caunter) whose hired a suite upstairs on the night of the fight, but is only interested in the booze and the prostitutes he's hired to entertain his fellow businessmen and valuable contact (including an inspector in the fraud squad and his bank manager) Appalled by the decadence and disinterest in the sport itself and the superficial glamour of these big fishes in small ponds, Dinny goes back to where he feels he belongs - ringside, spurring on his boy. 



Dinner at the Sporting Club came from the pen of Leon Griffiths who would go on to write Euston Film's successful series Minder. Griffiths had a real flair for creating distinctly London based Runyonesque characters and naturalistic, sharp dialogue and they are all on display here in a tight and compact 60 minutes. A straightforward, authentic tale of misplaced hope and the growing realisation that the dream is over, Griffiths' script is ably complemented by wonderful and distinctly 70s seedy photography from director Brian Gibson.



There's a great cast of familiar faces here with actors who would go on to star in many a popular London based earthy drama such as Minder, of course, Big Deal, EastEnders and The Bill to name but a few. Look out for Maureen Lipman as Lynn's cynical wife and a young Liam Neeson as a fighter.

Dinner at the Sporting Club is available to view on YouTube and to buy on DVD, but many of its Play For Today contemporaries are still left in the bowels of the BBC. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

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