BBC Radio 4, 1-8 September 2013
First published in 1958, Saturday
Night and Sunday Morning is an archetypal tale of the "You've never had it so good" era proclaimed by the then Prime
Minister Harold Macmillan. A booming economy and full employment meant that people now had disposable income - perhaps
for the first time - which they could spend on consumer goods (for example, televisions), or on going out and "having a good
(Joe Dempsie) is one such person. Stuck in a boring job as a factory machinist, he spends his 14/- a week pay-packet
on visceral thrills; drinking himself into a stupor with his mates down the pub, picking up any available
women, and spending what remaining hours he has by going fishing. He revels in the (apparent) freedom of being
able to do as he wishes, as he regularly informs us in direct asides.
However Carl Prekopp's production suggested that such freedoms were nothing more than illusions. Seaton
lives in a tight-knit world in which everyone knows everybody else; anything he does (for example, making love to married
sisters Brenda (Natalie Grady) and Winnie (Sarah Smart) on separate occasions) is bound to be observed and disseminated among
the community. Gossips such as Mrs. Bull (Rachel Atkins) assume a pivotal role in this process - although Seaton
despises her, he cannot stop her tattle. Eventually he ends up taking a risk too far, and suffers violent consequences.
Prekopp's production also stressed
how ignorant many people were - especially about sexual matters. Seaton ended up getting Brenda pregnant; his sole
solution was to visit his kind Aunt Ada (Shirley Anne Field), whose advice Brenda about getting rid of the baby was to
soak herself in a bath of hot water and drink a bottle of gin. In the subsequent sequence, the combination of incessantly
running water and the glug-glug of the gin bottle emphasized just how unpleasant this remedy actually was. Seaton
proved no help whatsoever; he was more concerned with escaping responsibility by blaming Brenda for her plight.
At the end of the first episode, Seaton proclaimed once again that he was a free
man: no one could either categorize him or force him to do something against his will. By now we understood
that his life was precisely the opposite. Caught on a repetitive treadmill of work, sex, and the pub, he had no real
means of escape, in spite of his money. In light of this, we wondered whether Macmillan's statement that "you've never
had it so good" should be viewed ironically. What was so good about Seaton's life?
Prekopp's production recreated the world
of working-class Nottingham in the late Fifties through a clutch of memorable performances. Field (who starred in Karel
Reisz's ground-breaking 1960 film of Sillitoe's book) came across as sympathetic but ineffective; while Arthur's mother
Vera (Julia Hills) offered her son tea but no sympathy. Consumerism had reduced her husband Harold (Philip
Fox) into a television-fixated vegetable. Brenda's husband Jack (Graeme Hawley) tried to be friendly with Arthur, but
lacked emotional as well as mental strength.
At the centre of the production stood Dempsie's Seaton, a tearaway at heart, who revelled
in his ability to deceive others - for example Jack. However his cockiness was tempered by an increasing understanding
of the sterility of his existence. By the end of episode one, we felt sorry for him as he desperately tried to find
a meaning in his life.
Like Johnny Vegas' This Sporting Life, broadcast a day earlier, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
was quite simply superb; both adapter and director knew how to render the material significant to listeners, despite the fact
that it is over half a century old.