'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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Billy Smart
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'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Billy Smart »

With the recent fiftieth anniversary season of The Wednesday Play at BFI Southbank and this week's DVD release of Red Shift, I thought that it would be useful to come up with a list of all of the productions originally made for the Wednesday Play/ Play for Today cycle that have been made commercially available:

The Wednesday Play

07 Apr 1965 Three Clear Sundays (w. James O'Connor d. Ken Loach)
13 Oct 1965 Alice (w. Dennis Potter d. Gareth Davies)
03 Nov 1965 Up The Junction (w. Nell Dunn d. Ken Loach)
17 Nov 1965 The End Of Arthur's Marriage (w. Christopher Logue/ Stanley Myers d. Ken Loach)
08 Dec 1965 Stand Up, Nigel Barton (w. Dennis Potter d. Gareth Davies)
15 Dec 1965 Vote, Vote, Vote For Nigel Barton (w. Dennis Potter d. Gareth Davies)
16 Nov 1966 Cathy Come Home (w. Jeremy Sandford d. Ken Loach)
01 Mar 1967 In Two Minds (w. David Mercer d. Ken Loach)
19 Feb 1969 The Big Flame (w. Jim Allen d. Ken Loach)
01 Oct 1969 The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel (w. Peter Terson d. Alan Clarke)
10 Dec 1969 The Vortex (w. Noel Coward d. Philip Dudley)
24 Apr 1970 Sovereign's Company (w. Don Shaw d. Alan Clarke)

Play For Today

29 Oct 1970 The Lie (w. Ingmar Bergman d. Alan Bridges)
10 Dec 1970 Robin Redbreast (w. John Bowen d. James MacTaggart)
17 Dec 1970 The Hallelujah Handshake (w. Colin Welland d. Alan Clarke)
20 May 1971 The Rank & File (w. Jim Allen d. Ken Loach)
01 Jun 1972 The Fishing Party (w. Peter Terson d. Michael Simpson)
04 Dec 1972 Just Your Luck (w. Peter McDougall d. Mike Newell)
08 Jan 1973 Shakespeare or Bust (w. Peter Terson d. Brian Parker)
12 Mar 1973 Hard Labour (w./d. Mike Leigh)
21 Mar 1974 Penda's Fen (w. David Rudkin d. Alan Clarke)
06 Jun 1974 The Cheviot, The Stag & The Black, Black Oil (w. John McGrath d. John Mackenzie)
04 Jul 1974 A Follower for Emily (w. Brian Clark d. Alan Clarke)
14 Nov 1974 Back of Beyond (w. Julia Jones d. Desmond Davis)
09 Jan 1975 Gangsters (w. Philip Martin d. Philip Saville)
20 Feb 1975 Sunset Across The Bay (w. Alan Bennett d. Stephen Frears)
27 Feb 1975 Funny Farm (w. Roy Minton d. Alan Clarke)
13 Mar 1975 Just Another Saturday (w. Peter McDougall d. John Mackenzie)
09 Dec 1975 A Passage to England (w. Leon Griffiths d. John Mackenzie)
16 Dec 1975 Rumpole Of The Bailey (w. John Mortimer d. John Gorrie)
13 Jan 1976 Nuts In May (w./d. Mike Leigh)
14 Sep 1976 Bar Mitzvah Boy (w. Jack Rosenthal d. Michael Tuchner)
12 Oct 1976 The Elephants' Graveyard (w. Peter McDougall d. John Mackenzie)
26 Oct 1976 Your Man from Six Counties (w. Colin Welland d. Barry Davis)
00 Ooo 1976 Brimstone & Treacle (w. Dennis Potter d. Barry Davies)
11 Jan 1977 The Kiss Of Death (w./d. Mike Leigh)
18 Jan 1977 Our Flesh and Blood (w. Mike Stott d. Pedr James)
15 Mar 1977 Spend, Spend, Spend (w. Jack Rosenthal d. John Goldschmidt)
22 Mar 1977 A Photograph (w. John Bowen d. John Glenister)
01 Nov 1977 Abigail's Party (w./d. Mike Leigh)
00 Ooo 1977 Scum (w. Roy Minton d. Alan Clarke)
17 Jan 1978 Red Shift (w. Alan Garner d. John MacKenzie)
17 Oct 1978 Nina (w. Jehane Markham d. Alan Clarke)
07 Nov 1978 Dinner At The Sporting Club (w. Leon Griffiths d. Brian Gibson)
30 Jan 1979 Blue Remembered Hills (w. Dennis Potter d. Brian Gibson)
05 Feb 1979 Who's Who (w./d. Mike Leigh)
08 Nov 1979 Just A Boy's Game (w. Peter McDougall d. John Mackenzie)
06 Dec 1979 The Slab-Boys (w. John Byrne d. Bob Hird)
24 Apr 1980 The Imitation Game (w. Ian McEwan d. Richard Eyre)
09 Dec 1980 The Flipside of Dominick Hyde (w. Alan Gibson & Jeremy Paul d. Alan Gibson)
10 Feb 1981 Beloved Enemy (w. David Leland & Charles Levison d. Alan Clarke)
12 May 1981 Psy-Warriors (w. David Leland d. Alan Clarke)
16 Mar 1982 Home Sweet Home (w./d. Mike Leigh)
19 Oct 1982 Soft Targets (w. Stephen Poliakoff d. Charles Sturridge)
14 Dec 1982 Another Flip For Dominick (w. Alan Gibson & Jeremy Paul d. Alan Gibson)

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Richard A
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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Richard A »

Great, thanks!

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Post by bent_halo »

Nice work, but you're missing The Slab Boys.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Slab-Boys-G ... =slab+boys

And without wishing to delve too deeply into the Play for Today billing controversies, are you excluding The Price of Coal (on the Ken Loach box)?

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Post by Simon36 »

Excellent work. Just want to add another one to the list, Just Your Luck (tx 4.12.72) w. Peter McDougall, d. Mike Newell

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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I was completely unaware of that release! I'll add to the list.

I didn't know that 'The Price of Coal' was considered a borderline 'Play For Today' - I think that Mike Leigh's 'Four Days In July' also might fall into this shadowy category.

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Post by Simon36 »

Just Your Luck is also available as a stand alone:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-Your-Luck- ... B001AZJD0C

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Richard A »

John Williams Productions (JWP) was a great little company, releasing all kinds of Scottish gems. It's a shame that it appears to be no more.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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I know, there were plans to release loads more archive material but sadly it wasn't to be.

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Post by bent_halo »

Thanks for the more affordable link, Simon.
I didn't know that 'The Price of Coal' was considered a borderline 'Play For Today' - I think that Mike Leigh's 'Four Days In July' also might fall into this shadowy category.
It's such a thorny issue. I tend to side with how it was billed in RT, if only for the sake of consistency, but in terms of production it's not a reliable measure. As you know plays were occasionally commissioned for a strand but not transmitted within it. For instance, Potter's Where Adam Stood was technically a Playhouse but aired as a stand alone and as part of an informal trilogy across channels; Centre Play and Second City Firsts often seemed to blur. I've grown used to seeing recordings of plays with completely unexpected strand titles. Play of the Week is another like this, and that's before you get into the simple matter of plays commissioned for The Wednesday Play but transmitted as Play for Today due to delay or timing (eg. the Angels Are So Few chalk board says TWP, and the much later Thank You Very Much was a TWP commission). There's a similar grey area between Festival and TWP.

And then we get into other confusions when half-fee commissions are transferred to new commissions substituting abandoned plays. They're often referred to strands because of the past association of the project number. I recently tried to make sense of Potter's commissioning in the mid-70s and it almost finished me!

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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My old colleague Leah Panos and I were amused at the BFI's Wednesday Play 50th Anniversary panel the other day when, after a long build-up about the tremendous significance and importance of the strand, etc. etc. we finally got to the selected screening for this great event (Sartre's 'In Camera', 1964), and the unfamiliar opening credits for Festival rolled across the screen!

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Billy Smart wrote:My old colleague Leah Panos and I were amused at the BFI's Wednesday Play 50th Anniversary panel the other day when, after a long build-up about the tremendous significance and importance of the strand, etc. etc. we finally got to the selected screening for this great event (Sartre's 'In Camera', 1964), and the unfamiliar opening credits for Festival rolled across the screen!
I know! I couldn't believe that when I saw it listed. (The BBC4 repeat in 2004 used the Festival credits.)

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bent_halo wrote:Thanks for the more affordable link, Simon.
I didn't know that 'The Price of Coal' was considered a borderline 'Play For Today' - I think that Mike Leigh's 'Four Days In July' also might fall into this shadowy category.
It's such a thorny issue. I tend to side with how it was billed in RT, if only for the sake of consistency, but in terms of production it's not a reliable measure. As you know plays were occasionally commissioned for a strand but not transmitted within it. For instance, Potter's Where Adam Stood was technically a Playhouse but aired as a stand alone and as part of an informal trilogy across channels; Centre Play and Second City Firsts often seemed to blur. I've grown used to seeing recordings of plays with completely unexpected strand titles. Play of the Week is another like this, and that's before you get into the simple matter of plays commissioned for The Wednesday Play but transmitted as Play for Today due to delay or timing (eg. the Angels Are So Few chalk board says TWP, and the much later Thank You Very Much was a TWP commission). There's a similar grey area between Festival and TWP.

And then we get into other confusions when half-fee commissions are transferred to new commissions substituting abandoned plays. They're often referred to strands because of the past association of the project number. I recently tried to make sense of Potter's commissioning in the mid-70s and it almost finished me!
Absolutely. Chalk boards often thow up some surprises: The Philanthropist (1975) claims to be part of something called CLASSIC TWO for instance.

In addition to this, some plays adopted different strand titles on repeat: Play for Today tended to welcome all sorts of strays, so many people think of Our Day Out as a PFT even though it wasn't upon its original broadcast.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by bent_halo »

See also The Black Stuff which wasn't even on the same sodding channel.

Didn't know about The Philanthropist! I've only ever seen it via the Mirren box which doesn't include the chalk board. What a play.

Oh, hang on. Soft Targets was on the US edition of the Mirren at the BBC box, not the UK one. So there's another, Billy.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by longtimelurker »

Could we have a detail about what releases these plays are on too, please? That would be useful. What DVD set is the 1969 version of The Vortex on, for instance? I didn't know about that one.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Billy Smart »

The Loach, Leigh, Bennett, Rosenthal and Potter titles are on the box sets for those directors or writers, with the exception of 'Alice', which is an extra on the R1 edition of the Jonathan Miller 'Alice In Wonderland'. The McDougall plays are on the 'Peter McDougall collection', apart from 'Just Your Luck' which is a separate title.

'The Vortex' is on the BBC Noel Coward collection. 'Gangsters' is on the Gangsters Series set. All of the others are available as individual titles. Many are deleted, though.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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bent_halo wrote:
Billy Smart wrote:My old colleague Leah Panos and I were amused at the BFI's Wednesday Play 50th Anniversary panel the other day when, after a long build-up about the tremendous significance and importance of the strand, etc. etc. we finally got to the selected screening for this great event (Sartre's 'In Camera', 1964), and the unfamiliar opening credits for Festival rolled across the screen!
I know! I couldn't believe that when I saw it listed. (The BBC4 repeat in 2004 used the Festival credits.)
Was it ever shown as part of Festival? I know it had a repeat in BBC 2's Encore series in 1965.
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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Billy Smart »

It was never transmitted as part of Festival, but it was made for that series. I'm pretty sure that the other five Wednesday Plays of 1964 were also Festival commissions (four of them still produced by Peter Luke). BBC1 were just very keen to disassociate themselves from the alarmingly highbrow Festival title and launch their trailblazing new drama showcase as soon as possible.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

Post by Mark »

The "PFT" of "Rumpole Of The Bailey" , is on the original DVD releases of the series ( which I have) but I'm not sure if it's included in the box set re-release.
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Billy Smart wrote:It was never transmitted as part of Festival, but it was made for that series. I'm pretty sure that the other five Wednesday Plays of 1964 were also Festival commissions (four of them still produced by Peter Luke). BBC1 were just very keen to disassociate themselves from the alarmingly highbrow Festival title and launch their trailblazing new drama showcase as soon as possible.
Hmmm. I know that in the early 1960s 'branding' and 'brand identity' wasn't considered to be anything like as important as it's thought to be now, but it still seems strange that the BBC's brave new drama world was heralded by (a) production(s) bearing a different title. Unless, of course, that isn't how they were broadcast.
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bent_halo wrote:
Didn't know about The Philanthropist! I've only ever seen it via the Mirren box which doesn't include the chalk board. What a play.

.
It is indeed, a marvellous play. I've seen so many versions and think the Beeb one is very very good, even though it makes a complete pig's ear of the opening. It was broadcast as one of four plays that had been recent successes in the theatre, but there was no umbrella title for them and CLASSIC TWO only appears on the board for that one. The others, for the record, were Savages, again by Hampton, Forget Me Not Lane by Peter Nichols, and Old Times by Pinter.

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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Billy Smart wrote:The Loach, Leigh, Bennett, Rosenthal and Potter titles are on the box sets for those directors or writers, with the exception of 'Alice', which is an extra on the R1 edition of the Jonathan Miller 'Alice In Wonderland'. The McDougall plays are on the 'Peter McDougall collection', apart from 'Just Your Luck' which is a seperate title.

'The Vortex' is on the BBC Noel Coward collection. 'Gangsters' is on the Gangsters Series set. All of the others are available as individual titles. Many are deleted, though.
Many thanks for the info!

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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bent_halo wrote:Oh, hang on. Soft Targets was on the US edition of the Mirren at the BBC box, not the UK one. So there's another, Billy.
Probably being set aside (at the time) for a Poliakoff boxset. There's a question - do any of the "...at the BBC" boxsets share content, or are there no duplicated programmes across them?
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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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Billy Smart wrote:It was never transmitted as part of Festival, but it was made for that series. I'm pretty sure that the other five Wednesday Plays of 1964 were also Festival commissions (four of them still produced by Peter Luke). BBC1 were just very keen to disassociate themselves from the alarmingly highbrow Festival title and launch their trailblazing new drama showcase as soon as possible.
That explains The July Plot. Brilliant though it is, it's not your average Wednesday Play.
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Nick Cooper 625 wrote:There's a question - do any of the "...at the BBC" boxsets share content, or are there no duplicated programmes across them?
I don't think there can be many. "Blue Remembered Hills" is in both the Potter and Mirren sets but then the Potter set isn't really an "at the BBC" set like the others, it's pretty much just an overbox wrapping all the separate BBC Potter releases, most of which were serials rather than single plays in any case.

That's not to say there aren't other duplicates across the sets, of course, just that most aren't from The Wednesday Play or Play for Today.
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Simon36 wrote:
bent_halo wrote:
Didn't know about The Philanthropist! I've only ever seen it via the Mirren box which doesn't include the chalk board. What a play.

.
It is indeed, a marvellous play. I've seen so many versions and think the Beeb one is very very good, even though it makes a complete pig's ear of the opening. It was broadcast as one of four plays that had been recent successes in the theatre, but there was no umbrella title for them and CLASSIC TWO only appears on the board for that one. The others, for the record, were Savages, again by Hampton, Forget Me Not Lane by Peter Nichols, and Old Times by Pinter.
Savages is one of the recordings I've seen in the past few years which is just miles and miles ahead of anything else. The 70s Hampton productions for the BBC are generally very good indeed, although I couldn't connect with Abel's Will at all.

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I didn't know they'd done any other Hamptons except those two actually! Do tell me more...

Of the others in that season, I do really like Old Times, splendid cast.

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Simon36 wrote:I didn't know they'd done any other Hamptons except those two actually! Do tell me more...
Total Eclipse of course. And Able's Will.
Of the others in that season, I do really like Old Times, splendid cast.
Nothing beats Anna Cropper's trembling lip. One of the better versions, although I quite like the 90s Performance production.

Speaking of Festival, as we were, I've just watched a christawful parody of Krapp's Last Tape and The Bald Prima Donna on TW3 from 30.11.63. The tin ear that people had for this stuff is astounding...

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Bloody nora! I was going to say "if only they'd done Total Eclipse!" This is astounding news.

As for Krapp's Last Tape, it's forever Patrick Magee for me. He's also the best thing in Thrills Galore, and there's some tough competition there :-)

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Re: 'The Wednesday Play'/'Play For Today' on DVD

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Simon Coward wrote:
Billy Smart wrote:It was never transmitted as part of Festival, but it was made for that series. I'm pretty sure that the other five Wednesday Plays of 1964 were also Festival commissions (four of them still produced by Peter Luke). BBC1 were just very keen to disassociate themselves from the alarmingly highbrow Festival title and launch their trailblazing new drama showcase as soon as possible.
Hmmm. I know that in the early 1960s 'branding' and 'brand identity' wasn't considered to be anything like as important as it's thought to be now, but it still seems strange that the BBC's brave new drama world was heralded by (a) production(s) bearing a different title. Unless, of course, that isn't how they were broadcast.
It's funny you say that about branding. I was recently researching the Festival play Stalingrad from 1963 and called up a transcript of a critics radio discussion of it from shortly after broadcast - in which one critic complained about BBC television drama's obsession with brand names like Festival. He suggested the series might just as well be called Mesopotamia as Festival.

Back to the Wednesday Play transmission of In Camera... When it was shown on BBC4 with the (frankly rather tacky) Festival title intact, I wondered whether it was actually seen like that on first transmission. Might the paperwork which (presumably) went to presentation to coincide with the broadcast have specified that vision was faded up only after the Festival title had passed? It is only a few seconds after all. However, whilst it sounds a very simple thing to request/do, I dare say there would be great technical, or at least procedural/bureaucratic, obstacles. Does anyone know whether this would have been feasible?
Nick Cooper 625 wrote:That explains The July Plot. Brilliant though it is, it's not your average Wednesday Play.
Yes, it started life as a Festival production. There a bit of background about the production here: http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1249

When I saw The July Plot at the BFI, it had no Festival title sequence but that doesn't mean it never had one - I believe the print was recovered from overseas so no doubt an unwanted title sequence could have been lopped off at various points in the print's existence.

The whole swapping of plays from one series to another causes any would-be tv drama historian real headaches. It gets very confusing indeed, particularly when those who worked on the strands mix them up too in memoirs and the like. Irene Shubik’s fascinating Play for Today book includes a guide to the Wednesday Play which includes a number of plays which were simply repeats in the Wednesday Play for example (mainly from BBC2's Theatre 625), and at least one that wasn’t even broadcast on a Wednesday.

The swapping of plays between anthologies become particularly obvious when you compile lists of producers' credits during the 1960s. I noted it particularly when researching Cedric Messina’s career. I commented on this in a rather lengthy footnote in my essay about him. In case anyone is interested, it went like this:
Me wrote:Plays for one strand were commonly rescheduled into other strands, despite those strands’ apparently differing remits.

To use Messina as our example, his run as producer of Play of the Month is seemingly broken for the January 1968 instalment, The Parachute, which was produced by Tony Garnett. But Garnett wasn’t temporarily substituted for Messina, he was (intermittently) producing The Wednesday Play, for which The Parachute was commissioned and produced and in which it was later repeated. Why The Parachute’s debut screening was reallocated to Play of the Month is unknown to me. Similarly, A Piece of Resistance had earlier broken in on The Wednesday Play, as had The Order for ‘The Largest Theatre in the World’ project. A Piece of Resistance appears to be one of Messina’s Theatre 625 productions intended for BBC2 relocated to BBC1 – indeed, the Radio Times suggests the Wednesday Play screening was a repeat of a play already seen in Theatre 625 (this was common at the time, probably because not all viewers could receive the new BBC2) but in fact there had been no prior transmission of the play.

These occasional swaps of programmes – presumably at the behest of schedulers or executives rather than those who made the programmes with specific slots in mind – break down the walls between drama anthology strands, diluting their individual identities which were built around a particular type of play (The Wednesday Play’s contemporary writing and Play of the Month’s canonical works, for example). Whether this was for good or ill, and how far the audience noticed or cared, is hard to say. It does, however, make the job of the researcher of television plays somewhat more complicated!

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