Bill Brand tells the story of a left-wing Labour MP, played by Jack Shepherd, in a fictionalised but highly recognisable version of the 1970s. Originally broadcast in 1976 by Thames TV, Bill Brand was unusual – and is still of interest now – thanks to the way individual episodes really dug deep into different aspects of British politics.
The episode all about a political party leadership contest does not stand out that much from many other political TV dramas. But an episode all about compositing and possibly referring back a motion at a party conference? That you don’t get with other political dramas.
The themes of the show still have much resonance today, such as whether the Labour Party should tack towards socialism or moderation, whether it is more honourable to stick to what you believe or instead to seek compromise to get a majority for action, and how to protect civil liberties in the face of terrorism.
Bill Brand was written by a socialist, Trevor Griffiths. Yet watching it reminded me why I’m not a socialist. The drama prompts the audience rather than headbutts it. The final scene in particular, for me, is an eloquent summary of the self-indulgent failures of socialists who prize personal purity above making a difference to other people’s lives. But given his politics, I’m sure Griffiths meant it differently. That we can draw such different conclusions is a tribute to the quality of his work.
The pacing and the development of the central character, left-wing Labour MP Bill Brand, at times feel rather dated. But even when they appeared slow-moving and unconvincing, the ideas behind the plot still gave much to think about.
An enjoyable watch, and one that – as with all the best political and history dramas – had me reaching for the historical record afterwards to refresh my memory and find out more about the real incidents used to inspire points in the plot.
You can watch the trailer here:
If you like this, you might also be interested in Mr Palfrey of Westminster.