Alan Plater


By Jeremy Miles

Just mention the name Alan Plater and a vintage collection of TV plays spring to mind. For the generation that grew up watching television in the 1960s and 70s Plater's name became a byword for gritty quality.

Apart from his own original dramas like The Nutter and The Incident, he wrote 18 episodes of the then cutting-edge police drama Z-Cars and further 30 for the spin-off series Softly Softly.

This straight-talking Yorkshireman was, he admits, lucky to arrive, pen in hand, at exactly the point where northern realism had become a negotiable currency for young writers.

With budding actors like John Thaw and Alfred Lynch to bring his dialogue to life on screen, there can be no doubt that Plater was in the right place at the right time. He was also enormously talented; a fact borne out by the clamour his work still creates four decades later.

This week his stage play The Blonde Bombshells of 1943 is playing Lighthouse at Poole. It is based on his hugely successful TV drama The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, which was screened by the BBC in 2000, and featured Judi Dench as an ageing one-time jazz musician who decides to track down the other members of the all-girl band she played with during the Second World War.

The stage play is a prequel, which visits the Bombshells back in their Blitz busting heyday. The most glamorous all-girl swing band on the circuit, they lose members every time they play a GI camp. Now with an important BBC job in the offing, they need new musicians fast. The show features a heart-warming story set against the dangers of life on the road in wartime. There's also a nostalgic soundtrack of classics made famous by everyone from Fats Waller and The Andrews Sisters to Glenn Miller.

For 71-year-old Plater writing the drama was clearly a joy although he admits that it wasn't without its frustrations. Things have changed since the days in the 1960s when he was answerable to just one producer/director.

Forty-five years ago his work, produced with virtually no interference from outside ideas men, was described as "The voice of Coronation Street with the spirit of Chekhov".

Today he admits he has 18 different versions of Blonde Bombshells on his computer. The trick is clearly to produce writing that has sufficient spirit to survive the committee-led tweaks.

"Most of the producers I work with are young enough to be my children if not my grandchildren. I'm afraid I can get rather grumpy."

However, Plater is the first to accept that times change and is more inclined to look at his good fortune than complain about his lot.

Born in 1935 he arrived in the world at almost exactly the same time as television.

"Not only have I lived through the entire history of television but I've worked through most of it, too."

He admits that he had a lucky start.

"People forget that I actually started off writing six absolutely lousy plays. We were allowed to make our mistakes in public in those days and nothing too terrible happened."

He learnt well from his errors and the high quality of his subsequent output has ensured that Plater is now revered as a teacher as well as a writer.

Tomorrow he will be going to Bournemouth University in his capacity as a visiting professor to give a seminar on writing drama.

"Afterwards I'll be going to Lighthouse with the students to see The Blonde Bombshells of 1943."

© Jeremy Miles 2022