Friday, 27 March 2009
"Just a Boy's Game" is a Play for Today from 1979, set in and around a Greenock estate, Scotland. Jake McQuillan is the local hard-case, who is frequently called upon to defend his status. He lives with his grandparents. His grandfather, it transpires, killed Jake's father in a gang fight when he was a child. Jake wants to make him see that he doesn't blame him for his father's death, he understands that it is just the way things are.
After a heavy night on the booze, Dancer (Ken Hutchison from Murphy's Mob) decides Friday is a holiday and takes a bottle of VAT69 round to the docks, where Jake works, to lure him out for the day. After a visit to the estate's prostitute, Clatty Bella, who is paid in alcohol - a half bottle of wine, and a rendezvous with a young Gregor (Rab C Nesbitt) Fisher, the night ends in tragedy.
However 'authentic' the recent slew of TV series set in the 1970s and 80s may claim to be, it's notable how cosmetic they appear in comparison to this, which looks like it has been filmed in actual houses, rather than a set designer's idea of 70s interiors. A nice touch includes the kids getting up in the morning and switching on 'The Open University' - in those days, 'proper' TV didn't start until about 1.30pm, and then it was 'Pebble Mill'.
You don't see any shops apart from the off-licence, with its stock safely behind cages, and the local shop, in the form of an ice-cream van, which serves to reinforce the very basic daily lifestyle of work, pub, fight. The fight scenes themselves are very realistic, in fact the whole play is charged with a sense of simmering menace; you expect someone to jump from a doorway or alley throughout.
The play closes with the death of Jake's grandfather. It's a chance for them to make peace, and Jake explains how he bears no grudge for his father's death, but his grandfather, straining to choke out his last words says; "I was never fond of you, and when I was your age I could've taken you anyday".