During the 60s John Hopkins was writing for television. When his series Z Cars began in 1962 it had a ‘socio-realism’ that had only ever been seen in theatre before with ‘kitchen sink’ writers Arnold Wesker, Shelagh Delaney and John Osborne in vogue at the time. It was a startling innovation on our television screens after the more comforting series of Dixon of Dock Green with its clear message of good winning over evil.
Z Cars was the launch of Hopkins’ career and whilst the series has been superseded by contemporary police dramas, the catchy theme tune has become Everton Football club’s anthem. Hopkins wrote 53 scripts for Z Cars and went on to write for theatre with a foray into film, co-scripting the screenplay for the James Bond film Thunderball starring Sean Connery (1965).
He wrote his first stage play, THIS STORY OF YOURS in 1968. The play, with its tale of a burned-out police sergeant murdering a suspect arrested for the rape of a child had poor reviews when it premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. However, a young Sean Connery, sitting in the audience, saw its potential. As a consequence, Hopkins decided to revive it as a feature film under the title of The Offence (1973). It starred Sean Connery as the policeman and Ian Bannen as the suspect.
Now, 50 years after its theatre premiere, a revival of THIS STORY OF YOURS is at White Bear Theatre produced by Time and Tide theatre company. Director David Sayers first became aware of the play through the film. “As a youngster I was big Connery (and Bond) fan and had a book about all his films” says Sayers. “There was a page dedicated to ‘The Offence’ and the stark images always fascinated me. It was many years before I finally saw it, but I remember it being an incredibly gritty and disturbing film and not at all what I expected from Sean Connery”.
Sayers came across a copy of the play, THIS STORY OF YOURS in a bookshop whilst at University. “I didn’t realise at first that it was the same story as ‘The Offence’ as the title was so different. I would occasionally pick it up and read bits, but I was very much aware that the characters as written were for middle aged actors and since I was a young actor just starting out I didn’t see much point paying particular attention to a script in which there wasn’t a part for me.”
Time and Time Theatre Company was set up by husband and wife couple Sayers and Emma Reade-Davies (along with their friend Louisa Warner) in 2009 to mount their inaugural production. Since then they have been pursuing their acting careers and have toured all over the world. Meanwhile, Sayers kept coming back to THIS STORY OF YOURS. “I told Emma to read it and she immediately fell in love with the play and in particular the character of Maureen, the long-suffering wife of the protagonist Johnson. I recognised that all the characters in the play are strong (Hopkins writes brilliant and recognisable characters) but we agreed that it would be odd and disturbing to play husband and wife in this play, especially since I also planned to direct it. However, I was very keen to be part of the production each night (I don’t like sitting on the sidelines) and felt that I could bring something interesting to role of Baxter, the suspected child molester.”
“Hopkins isn’t afraid to show the dark side of humanity and possibly that is why his plays aren’t staged too often”, says Sayers. “They certainly aren’t crowd-pleasers, but they are a fascinating examination of the human psyche. As actors that is a big draw but as a big commercial theatre it doesn’t tend to put bums on seats. However, I totally respect that he didn’t try and dilute his theatre writing.”
Sayers believes that Hopkins was a few years too early with this play. “In the late 60’s people didn’t want to see anything this gritty that challenged perceptions of policing and domestic life. However, in the 70’s (perhaps the world became more cynical) this play would have found a much bigger audience and be recognised for the gritty brilliance that it is.”
50 years later we are used to police dramas on TV that are closer to Hopkins view of the world with Prime Suspect and Broadchurch. Z Cars was deemed gritty in its day but was still palatable for a mainstream audience. Sayers believes that ‘This Story of Yours’ was “obviously his way of exorcising some demons from stories he wasn’t allowed to develop for that primetime show. It certainly seems like the ‘Dark side’ to ‘Z-Cars’ ‘Jedi’!”
Tickets for THIS STORY OF YOURS are available at www.whitebeartheatre.com
Editor’s Note: Also recommended is John Hopkins’ play FIND YOUR WAY HOME coming to Etcetera Theatre in February 2018. Read our article here
Below: production images from THIS STORY OF YOURS