If There Weren't Any Blacks You'd Have to Invent Them

Charles Jarrott | 1968 | ★★★★½ ~~~~ Bill Hays | 1974 | ★★★½
A blind man (Leslie Sands / Leonard Rossiter) accuses a cross-dressing ex-Jew (John Castle / Richard Beckinsale) of being black. His sighted companion (Jimmy Hanley / Donald Gee), who refuses to open his eyes, fails to contradict him. Elsewhere in the graveyard, a sexton (Ronald Radd / Bob Hoskins) bemoans the aristocracy, and posits that there should be a second heaven for the working class; a doctor (Derek Godfrey / Michael Bryant) convinces a young woman (Nerys Hughes / Pam Scotcher) to replace her healthy legs with a pair of false ones, in order to avoid disease; an undertaker (Frank Thornton / Geoffrey Bayldon) bemoans the current trend for living past 50; and a lone army officer (Moray Watson / Lewis Fiander) conscripts a member of the public (Leonard Cracknell / John Nightingale) at gunpoint; all the while a priest (Paul Hardwick / James Grout) and a vicar (Laurence Hardy / Ken Wynne) look on, offering neither help nor hindrance, in Johnny Speight’s blackly comic, satirical state-of-the-nation play. Brilliantly written, staged, and designed, with a raft of excellent performances (John Castle’s turn in particular is quite remarkable), the 1968 version of this short telefilm proves a biting, irreverent gem. 
The 1974 version, filmed in colour on a more fantastical set, suffers slightly in comparison, often feeling a little on the camp side. Hays’s direction is more inventive and arresting, but the performances are generally inferior. Even the great Leonard Rossiter fails to match his predecessor. However, it is still undoubtedly an intelligent, oft hilarious piece of work.