Saturday, 3 March 2018

Take Me Home (1989)


As far as I know Take Me Home, Tony Marchant's three-part drama about a middle aged married cab driver who falls for a young unhappily married woman was only ever shown the once - in 1989. It's weird though because, though I was only ten years old then, a lot of it has stuck with me; that's the power of good tele. It's never been released to DVD (I'm guessing there is an issue with music rights: Dusty Springfield and Deacon Blue feature heavily) but there are very good copies available on the bootleg circuit and so this week, almost thirty years later, I got to watch it again. 


"This used to be a town, now they call it a development..."

Shot in Telford, Take Me Home is set in the fictional Woodsleigh Abbots, an industrial town in the late '80s now experiencing major redevelopment, extending residential areas and roads to focus primarily on the new business park where a Chinese computer technology firm InfoCo has set up home. This social and economic transformation has attracted many white collar workers, who have moved up from London to set up home ("We didn't so much get on our bikes as drive off in our Vauxhall Astras" one Thatcherite yuppie is heard to quip at a dinner party, referencing Norman Tebbit infamous 1981 speech) One such person is Martin (Reece Dinsdale) who has convinced his lonely wife Kathy (Maggie O'Neill) that InfoCo and the town will be a fresh start for them. He tries to integrate them into their new home via badminton and dinner parties with his co-workers and their wives but Kathy is often absent, either mentally or physically.


Tom (Keith Barron) is a former tool maker now trying to make a living as a minicab driver. He is married to Liz (Annette Crosbie) who also has a new job, working in the canteen at InfoCo. Unlike Martin and Kathy, they live in a traditional 50's built semi in the old part of town and have a grown up daughter who has flown the nest to start her own family. Liz has taken to her new role like a duck to water, enjoying the social interaction with the newcomers (even though it is mostly one way on her part - the yuppie workers, including Martin, are all too arrogant to talk to the likes of her) and the camaraderie of her co-workers who are all female and of a similar age. In contrast, Tom is struggling as a minicab driver; he doesn't know the new estates and new roads and he is concerned by the technological encroachment he sees upon traditional industry, having left his 'job for life' when his duties required him to start using computers. He works most evenings, driving around listening to his Dusty Springfield tape and picking up fares, faced with the irony of trying to get to know the town he has spent his life in. It is one such evening that he picks up the distressed Kathy, who stops his cab and tearfully asks him to "Take me home".



Tom's initially fatherly concern for bank worker Kathy soon changes to mild contempt when she tells him she has recently had an abortion at Martin's request and when he has to pick her and a worse-for-wear Martin up from a staff party. He tells Liz that this new couple are trouble, confirming his quiet suspicions that the new town and all its changes aren't necessarily for good. However, Kathy confiding in him about her marriage and her unhappiness leads to them meeting secretly, behind their respective partners' backs and, despite the significant age-gap and social differences, a a mutual attraction starts to develop which turns to an obsessive, passionate affair. 


What I really like about Take Me Home is that Marchant approaches the tidal change of '80s Britain through his central characters. Tom represents the skilled labour being left behind and cast on the scrapheap by Thatcher's government and technological advances, whilst Kathy represents those changes. They are both completely different: she is upwardly mobile, he is stagnating, she represents city living, he is small town, she is new and he is old, and their age-gap of course plays into that, along with their musical tastes - he loves Dusty, she prefers Deacon Blue (their song The Very Thing is the show's theme tune) and the pair exchange tapes. But at the same time they are both kindred spirits in that neither of them can adjust to the world around them and they each feel dissatisfied by it. Their affair points towards the breaking down of barriers, an ill fated attempt for the old world to meet the social and economic encroachments upon it, and this metaphor is also used elsewhere with Take Me Home's secondary characters; Liz's co-worker at the canteen is having an affair with their young manager and her husband, a fellow cabbie and friend of Tom's, is oblivious.  


Beautifully written by Marchant, Take Me Home is directed with great skill by Jane Howell, a female director who cut her teeth on single dramas such as the BBC's Play For Today, Screenplay and Screen Two dating back to the mid '70s. Female directors were sadly all too rare in house during this period, but I'm grateful that it was a female director who got to helm Marchant's script - unlike many adultery orientated dramas, Take Me Home does not indulge in the kind of steamy, nude encounters that I imagine a male director would push for. Sex scenes do occur, but they're kept brief. For Howell and Marchant its the dialogue that matters, and they treat their audiences as mature and intelligent people. At a time when we're still hearing about many (male) directors, writers and producers opting for needless, gratuitous nudity, it's refreshing to see that something from twenty-nine years earlier was ahead of the curve and rather more effective to boot. 


Take Me Home is a vital document on Thatcher's Britain and a bloody good story well told. I think it is the late Keith Barron's finest performance, and all the cast deliver the goods.

8 comments:

  1. Ooh - I often ponder on this drama as like you I only watched it once but it did make a big impact. Very different role at the time for Keith Barron but Maggie O'Neil seemed to be popping up in everything back them (don't remember her in much after that until Shameless). Thanks for this review as I think I just watched it at face value first time around but the themes must have (subliminally) stuck with me.

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    1. I'm just grateful for the fact that I had very liberal parents who let the 10 yr old me stay in the room when they were watching this kind of stuff. Thanks to them it means I had experience and in turn have a very good recall of quality TV from the 80s.

      I think it's a world away from Barron's other adulterous turn in the 1980s, the ITV sitcom Duty Free! Barron was such an exceptional actor though, he made it all seem so natural and authentic. When he passed away Matthew Sweet nailed it when discussing how much he loved the cadences of his voice, smooth and authoritative, yet able to show steel and self pity when required.

      O'Neill seemed to pop up in a lot of single dramas at the time, the Screen One's and Two's. The thing of note that I really remember her being in in the late 90s was the BBC's Invasion: Earth which was much touted at the time as a possible sci-fi revival. After that she returned to Tony Marchant for the excellent Births, Marriages and Deaths and, like you, I didn't really notice her again until Shameless - though I believe she had a stint in Peak Practice, though I never watched that myself.

      If you ever fancy checking Take Me Home again, there's a seller called Stojo who has a good copy at a good price - it's who I got mine from.

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  2. I vaguely remember this one. I'd loved Keith Barron since he was lead in "Stand Up, Nigel Barton" & "Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton" - 2 great plays about the British political system. To me, Maggie O'Neill was a real woman - never an actress playing her part. I believed in her.

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    1. I love the Nigel Barton plays too. Big fan of Potter. Might have reviewed them already on here actually...

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  3. Thanks for the heads up - Yes you were young when you watched this first time around but it obviously made an impact. I watched what would have been classed as inappropriate telly in the late 60s/early 70s but stuck with me too - Revisited Cathy Come Home recently. Heartbreaking.

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    1. I had the pleasure of catching an awful lot of Play For Today's and Wednesday Play's when the BBC repeated them in the 90s - again a good age to respond to them, set me in good stead! Cathy Come Home is just brilliant, totally groundbreaking and sadly still too bloody relevant!

      By the way, I was completely wrong about this never having been repeated: it got a rpt the following year (1990) and again in 1994. I checked with BBC Genome after posting

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  4. Somehow missed this at the time, but am now very keen to see it. Great write-up.

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    1. Thanks Martin. If you're looking for a good copy, seek out the seller Stojo

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