Scum (television play)

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Scum is a British television play written by Roy Minton and directed by Alan Clarke. It was intended to be screened as part of the Play for Today series. Instead the production was banned by the BBC after it was completed in 1977, and it not aired until 27 July 1991. In the interim, a theatrical film version was released in 1979. The original version features Ray Winstone (in one of his earliest roles), Phil Daniels and David Threlfall.


Roy Minton's play deals with the subject of youth imprisonment and its lack of actual rehabilitation practised during the 1970s in young offenders' institutions. The film also deals with racism, authority, gang rape and suicide.

Hardened Trainee 4737 Carlin (Ray Winstone) arrives at a new borstal after allegedly brutally attacking a prison officer at his previous borstal. On arrival he is subject to abuse from the prison officers and Pongo (the Daddy) because of his previous reputation. Using the hostile environment to his advantage, Carlin decides to become “The Daddy” of his wing.

One of the young inmates, Davis is gang-raped by two other inmates and subsequently commits suicide in his cell, using a razor blade.


To protect against possible trouble, considerable research had been undertaken to establish the authenticity of the drama, although executives in the corporation considered it unrealistic, according to Play for Today producer Margaret Matheson, because of the potential confusion between documentary and drama because of the detailed representation.[1] An 'Early Warning Synopsis' practice existed in the BBC between producers and their superiors whereby details of a programme's content was communicated. In the case of Scum, this had been seen by the controller of BBC 1, Bryan Cowgill without any problems being raised.[2] A change in personnel, with Bill Cotton succeeding Cowgill, soon led to difficulties in October 1977 when the completed work was awaiting its now scheduled transmission.

Some cuts were made at Cotton's request, an earlier suicide was removed;[3] those involved in the play hoped the edits would prevent it being banned, but no avail.[1] The play was not transmitted at the time. Matheson managed to screen the film for the press, outside the BBC in a Soho preview theatre, which did manage result in press coverage about the suppression, not necessarily favourable to Scum itself. At the screening, Minton dubbed the production the 'Billy Cotton Banned Show'[3] after the light-entertainment programme Billy Cotton Band Show, hosted by the BBC executive's father.


  1. ^ a b James Knight "Break Down The Walls! How Play for Today Changed British Screens for Ever and Ever", Vice, nd
  2. ^ Richard T. Kelly Alan Clarke, London: Faber, 2011, p.114
  3. ^ a b Dave Rollinson Alan Clarke, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005, p.81

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