Orphaned Episodes: A Passage to Inverness (Centre Play)

The introduction to this series of posts can be found here.

Centre Play was a BBC anthology series of plays broadcast from 1973 to 1977. I am struck by how many anthology series of plays there were in the sixties and seventies, and it must have meant that TV had a very theatre-influenced feel at the time. I have no idea of the archive status of this show, although I would think it is unlikely to be complete, and in fact only discovered it by chance this week. There is also very little about it online. The fact I found it was purely by chance because I was attracted by this play's title and it wasn't immediately apparent it was from a series.

To be absolutely frank I have found this play quite difficult to get my head round - God only knows that people must have been faster on the uptake to take this in on one viewing. I was going to summarize the plot but I'm going to take an impressionistic approach because the play tends to cut from one thing to another quite frequently so it reflects the play's own approach.

First up the title obviously references EM Forster's book A Passage to India, which is basically about how the British imperial approach to India isn't a long term possibility. Mind you, I haven't read it but I found that on a review.

The play is about Carlton Campbell-White, a man whose parents (his father was a colonial civil servant in India) died in a bombing in British Malaya, who was then brought up by his aunt, went to his father and grandfather's school before doing a degree in sociology. At the time of the play he is writing a book about British dialects while supporting himself by working as a stripper. He has married an American woman to help her with a visa, who is expecting his baby. He has also previously spent time travelling in India (presumably he was brought up here) and absolutely hated it.

Much of the show is about his trial for an offence. The exact nature of it is never explained although it is something that took place in his stripping act and at one point the barrister asks whether he removed his briefs so must have been something to do with exposure or sexual. He ends up being fined so must have been found guilty. Much of the rest of the show is about the titular visit to Inverness to see his dying aunt after a long estrangement.

This play has been well worth watching several times to understand.

You could, if you were so inclined, read it as a straightforward account of how Campbell-White has turned his back on the values of his family. If you wanted to you could read it as meaning that degeneracy follows post colonialism - the fact he is a stripper is the invitation to that.

But I think it's intended to be much more complex. Campbell-White isn't bitter about his parents' death and has gone to the trouble of going to India to see what it is like. He has decided on his own values and follows them. The turning point on this is the bit where Ashok, his aunt's servant expresses sorrow that he is too old to earn his own living by stripping and welcomes Campbell-White home to his aunt's house. The message is perhaps that human connection has to be individual and authentic, and not through taking over whole countries. We also have to allow other people their autonomy. I looove the way he is so antagonistic to pretty well everyone else! And yet, and yet, it is stressed repeatedly how Campbell-White is the product of his heritage, for example he inherited his ability at languages from his father. The irony is illustrated by the 'oriental' trappings of his stripping act, which is in itself colonial, so it seems genes are unavoidable.

If I have one criticism it is the rather backwards and forwards way the narrative goes - it is actually quite hard to follow because it really isn't linear. It's on YouTube and the sound is fine but the picture really isn't good, to the extent that I haven't been able to get a screenshot to illustrate this post. So instead I have put a video of the theme music (which is also used for him to strip to) below.

Highly recommended.

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