A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow, adapted by Diana Griffiths

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BBC Radio 4, 12-23 July 2010
Memorably filmed by John Schlesinger in 1962 with Alan Bates and Thora Hird, A Kind of Loving is redolent of early 1960s attitudes. Young men and women keep to themselves, in the belief that it is 'safer' - both emotionally and physically - to do so. When they do get together, they are frequently tongue-tied, unable to translate what is actually on their minds into words. However no one is prepared to admit their faults: Vic Brown (Lee Ingleby) spends much of his time trying to justify his behaviour to listeners through asides.
Pauline Harris' production showed how Vic's and his girlfriend (later wife) Ingrid's (Rebecca Callard) lives comprised a series of social rituals that discouraged intimacy. They had little to do with one another in the engineering works where they were employed; and they spent much of their leisure time either in the pub or in fumbling encounters in the local cinema. They tried to forge a life for themselves in a close-knit northern industrial community where everyone knew everyone else, and men and women were expected to conform to preordained social roles. Thus men had to find good jobs with prospects, while women's destiny consisted of marrying and starting a family as soon as possible. In this kind of world, it was hardly surprising that Vic and Ingrid could seldom disclose their feelings to one another.
And there was the question of sex. In this society it was perceived as something dirty, on a par with drunkenness. Everyone talked about it, but could never enjoy it. When Vic accidently got Ingrid pregnant, and thereby had to marry her to ensure social respectability, it was hardly surprising that he felt disillusioned as a result. He was always on the lookout for something better - an ideal relationship, a good job, the prospect of escaping from his stultifying world - but could never find it. On this view, Barstow's novel came across as profoundly depressing - a portrayal of characters imprisoned both by their society and their inability to communicate with one another.
This aspect of the novel was amply illustrated on the fateful night when Vic impregnated Ingrid. Everything happened too quickly: Ingrid asked Vic whether "it'll be all right"; and Vic replied in a hoarse whisper that everything would be fine. The physical act of love-making was over almost as soon as it had begun; this was followed by a few moments' agonizing silence, as if the two of them had nothing to say to one another. In the background the strains of Phil Spector's song "To Know Him is to Love Him" could be heard, creating an idealized image that contrasted starkly with Vic and Ingrid's plight. Vic admitted rather bitterly in an aside that he was "caught, and that's a fact ... I'm trapped, and there's no way out." Both he and Ingrid were emotionally trapped; this is why their love-making proved such an anticlimax.
From then on, things went from bad to worse. Ingrid found herself torn between loyalty to her new husband and respect for her overbearing mother (Brigid Forsyth). Vic couldn't expect sympathy from anyone; in his world, it was simply a case of "you've made your bed, now you've got to sleep in it." However as the production unfolded, director Harris suggested that no-one should be blamed for such opinions; they were the products of a world dominaed by repression. Despite her dominant manner, Ingrid's mother was as much of an emotional cripple as Ingrid herself. The only way people could cope with this was to indulge in social rituals - the visit to the pub, or watching endless quiz shows on commercial television.
At one level, A Kind of Loving is a period piece, an evocation of an England before the so-called "Swinging Sixties" took effect. At another level, Harris' production showed how important it was for people to be honest with one another. Only then would they be able to achieve "a kind of loving" that could transcend the social rituals imposed on them. The adaptation ended with Vic dimly understanding this, as he resolved to "make the best" of his situation, while continuing to do the right thing by his spouse. One could only wish him well in his future endeavours.