Billy's Last Stand, by Barry Hines
Alistair Wyper

Billy's Last Stand by Barry Hines (Network Three Thursday 12 August 1965)

It is an agreeable piece of serendipity when a gem of a radio play is re-broadcast like this. It is a special occasion or at least a treat. On Radio 4 Extra’s Saturday 9am three hour slot on Saturday 19th September 2015 there was an edition devoted to the late Arthur Lowe “Tell Him, Pike”. Among the programmes selected was the above. This was the 26 year old Barry Hines’ first play.

Billy lives and works alone. He shovels coal into householders’ cellars. He is approached by Darkly who offers to organise Billy’s work. Before long it is clear Billy needs to work harder to support a business partnership with another member.

Hines could be accused of a Ken Loach type of left wing hobby-horsing but the writing and the acting as one would expect from Arthur Lowe as Billy and Ronald Baddiley as Darkly are more nuanced. The character of Billy is, although impoverished and living in something resembling a shed, far from the gullible victim of the con man. He disputes with logic and conviction. This is one of the signs of a well-made drama in which the characters’ depths and their subtleties are drawn within a short space of time. Of course Arthur Lowe is best known for Dad’s Army but I think more of him as part of Lindsay Anderson’s loose “repertory” company in such wonderful films as “If….” (the four dots insisted upon by Anderson) and “O Lucky Man”.

The atmosphere created and sustained in this play is unsettling. It has a feeling of those uncomfortable even menacing exchanges in Pinter. Somehow, in the context of 1960s and 1970s radio drama I found myself sensing echoes of the plays of Rhys Adrian such as “Buffet”.

I find it very interesting that there are current trends in business management which advocate shedding layers of managers in order to give back control over the way the work is organized to those doing the work. Darkly tries to exploit Billy’s simple business model in order to profit from Billy without adding any value other than the promise of promoting the services offered by Billy to a wider market. However, as Billy points out he is still one man with one shovel.

Reproduced by permission of Alistair Wyper.

© Alistair, Diversity Website, Oct 2015.


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