This television adaptation of the novel by former MP Chris Mullins was a television highlight from the 80s. It was actually broadcast in the period when I lived without a television and I only caught it when Channel Four rebroadcast it at Christmas time and I was home with my parents.
The cast was an amazing line up of British talent from the time but, of more importance, the story was a highly effective one that was also highly plausible in the era of Thatcher and a right wing government. My mind returned to this series when I was watching the election results come in from the General Election last week.
Ray McAnally played the left wing Labour Party leader, Harry Perkins, who wins an election on an uncompromising agenda of reform and socialist action. He wins in a landslide leading to members of the establishment wondering how this can happen. Unusually, he sets out to implement the manifesto. This is an affront to the people who are used to wielding power, regardless of who wins elections. They work behind the scenes to undermine the Prime Minister and bring down his government.
Alan MacNaughton played the Head of MI5, Marjorie Yates played the fiery left winger who was made Home Secretary and Keith Allen played the Prime Minister’s press secretary. Jim Carter played the Foreign Secretary.
I have heard the American television series, ‘The West Wing’ called liberal wish fulfillment. Well, ‘A Very British Coup’ was the 80s version of escapism for British left wingers. Back then, I watched it and though, ‘if only!’. Of course we have had Labour governments since the 80s but they seem to have had so much more in common with the establishment that they bore little resemblance to the radical and pioneering Harry Perkins.
I read the novel only in recent years and was surprised by the pessimistic ending. The television ends with more of a cliff hanger. Writer Alan Plater obviously decided that some sense of hope was needed. I think he was right. ‘A Very British Coup’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?