The Second Mr. Bailey by Andrew Doyle

Contact Us

The Second Mr. Bailey by Andrew Doyle (2010). Dir. Bruce Young. Perf. Richard Greenwood, Owen Whitelaw, Gerda Stevenson. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 12 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 14 Mar. 2015.

In 1967 attitudes towards homosexuality were far less relaxed than today. Leo Abse's bill had yet to go through Parliament, and it was still possible to be arrested for "illegal practices" and thereby suffer the kind of social ignominy that destroyed Oscar Wilde's career at the end of the nineteenth century.

This form of social stigmatizing forms the backdrop for Andrew Doyle's poignant piece, as the younger John (Sam Swann) tries to continue his relationship with Brian (Owen Whitelaw) while pursuing his studies at Edinburgh University. To maintain a veneer of respectability, John moves into lodgings with Margaret (Gerda Stevenson), a middle-aged homemaker whose husband Francis apparently away on active service in Aden.

As the action unfolds, so John realizes that Margaret not only wants to develop a close relationship with him, but actually treats him as a reincarnation of her husband. She clothes him in Francis's suits, serves him port before going to bed, and makes him listen to Al Bowlly and Fred Astaire records - all the things her husband liked to do before going away. John relishes the attention, even if he becomes a little disturbed when Margaret starts calling him Francis; but Brian becomes exceptionally jealous, especially when it seems that John would rather spend time with Margaret.

Told in flashback by the now-elderly John (Richard Greenwood), "The Second Mr. Bailey" offers a poignant commentary on the ways in which people cope with adversity by creating fantasies for themselves. The younger John realizes that he can only have a covert relationship with Brian, and takes refuge under Margaret's protective wing. Likewise Margaret contents herself by treating John as if he were her husband. Even when the truth about both relationships (Margaret/ John and Margaret/ Francis) is exposed, we cannot help but sympathize with their desire to shy away from it. The older John tries his best to justify his behavior by addressing the listeners directly, but he only serves to exacerbate the situation. It might have been far better for him to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak; to acknowledge that human beings are happier sometimes to inhabit fantasy-worlds, even at the expense of their closest friends and lovers.

The play ends with the passing of Abse's bill; now Brian and John can pursue their relationship without fear of censure. Or perhaps not; John's encounter with a local police officer suggests that prejudices are very difficult to erase, even if the law has changed. Perhaps John was right to persist with his fantasies after all.