The novel A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow was made into a 1962 film directed by John Schlesinger but Barstow went on to write two more books about the characters and the Vic Brown trilogy was made into an absorbing 10-part television series 20 years later in 1982.
The TV series, which is called A Kind of Loving, is an unpretentious depiction of the three novels and, in the portrayal of the relationship between draughtsman Vic and typist Ingrid, explores contemporary attitudes to love, sex and marriage, and the claims of morality, responsibility and individual choice.
The story of Vic Brown covers the original book plus The Watchers On The Shore (published in 1966) and The Right True End (1976), and the trilogy was adapted for television by Barstow himself. The TV series explores Vic’s domestic and work life in unhurried detail, heavy on dialogue and character exposition.
All the cast, including Joanne Whalley as Ingrid, are excellent, but Clive Wood is particularly great as Vic. He perfectly captures the degree of attractiveness, vulnerability, ruthlessness and self-determination which marks Vic’s progress from trainee draughtsman in a small Yorkshire town through record shop manager to divorced executive in an engineering firm, enjoying international travel, a bachelor pad in London and an affair with his boss’s wife.
The marriage to Ingrid crumbled when he moved south for another job and became involved with Donna, an actress in local rep and a million miles removed from the rather dim and narrow-minded Ingrid. The affair with Donna finishes when she moves away to Cornwall and has a child. The latter episodes of the series explore Vic’s continued search for his true soulmate, and the reappearance of Donna.
The challenge of change
You want Vic to find happiness, you really do. But instinctively you expect the flawed hero to grow and develop so that he earns it, so that a happy ending really is ‘the right true end’.
But Vic doesn’t change, and it isn’t just our present-day slowly evolving social norms which throw an unsavoury light on Vic’s behaviour.
Meeting Donna was his introduction to the idea of sexually liberated, independent women, but he struggles with this concept and never totally accepts it. At heart, he’s still the boy sniggering over pin-up mags. At a work do, he makes a ‘joke’ about rape. He flirts with his secretary in quite a creepy way — the constant touching, the arm round the shoulder, the gift of a silky jacket which she slips on for him.
He should know better, you think. If he wants a Donna, he should adjust his attitude to women. Donna was a challenge to him, a woman who had lovers and who had a baby without marrying the father and who didn’t buckle under with shame.
But even at the end, he can’t accept that Donna told her child she hadn’t wanted to marry his father, instead of pretending that the father hadn’t wanted to marry her. Vic really doesn’t get it.
Donna’s choices show her to be brave and independent. In 1973, well after the dawn of free love and mini-skirts, we see a television interviewer (Bill Grundy as himself) questioning Donna’s choice to become, as he puts it, a single-parent family.
Donna doesn’t seem to have struggled in material terms in spite of stepping back from her career to raise her child, and she and the youngster live in some comfort in her mother’s house in Chiswick in south-west London. So you wonder why she welcomes back into her life the man she once called provincial and small-minded, and who shows no sign of having changed? The nice suit, the thick hair, the beguiling smile and the easy manner with her son all help. But look at the number plate on Vic’s snazzy open-topped sports car. WNA. Run, Donna. Vic is never likely to be a New Man.
The series loses something of its oomph when the location shifts from Yorkshire. In the early episodes, the place was a character in its own right, and you could understand how profoundly it shaped and affected its inhabitants.
Vic leaves for a job in Essex, a locale which is presented as attractive enough, but somewhat bland and generic. His home and his workplace in the London scenes also lack specificity. However, it’s quite refreshing to experience London on screen without the glamourising shots aimed at a global market, and to see the area around Wyndham’s Theatre (when no one referred to ‘Theatreland’) populated by ordinary playgoers, residents and passers-by, who get a drink and a seat with ease at the pub round the corner.
When A Kind Of Loving was broadcast in 1982, it was kept off the top ratings slot by another Granada success, Coronation Street. Vic and Ingrid have a touch of Corrie’s Ken and Deirdre about them — the clever, cultured, educated man and the woman who’s presented as being his intellectual inferior.
At one point in Coronation Street much later, Ken takes up with an actress who is all that Deirdre isn’t, sophisticated, arty, well-read, living on a houseboat. He is about to go off with her and live in London, but chickens out at the last minute and stands on the riverbank watching her chug away, a latter-day Billy Liar on the railway platform in Bradford watching Julie Christie’s train pull out of the station.
At least Vic has courage. He has the moral courage to stay with Ingrid initially, and the moral courage to leave her. He has the capacity to be the kind of man he wants to be. Things may look different once the tan acquired from his Australian business trip fades, and he gets a different number plate, swaps that WNA for a LNA. He can learn, in time.
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