Flame in the Streets

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Flame in the Streets
"Flame in the Streets" (1961).jpg
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
(as Roy Baker)
Produced by Roy Ward Baker
(as Roy Baker)
Written by Ted Willis
Starring John Mills
Sylvia Syms
Brenda De Banzie
Earl Cameron
Johnny Sekka
Music by Philip Green
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Roger Cherrill
Distributed by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
22 June 1961 (UK)
12 September 1962 (US)
Running time
93 mins
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Flame in the Streets is a 1961 film directed by Roy Ward Baker[1] and based on the 1958 play Hot Summer Night by Ted Willis. It opened at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 22 June 1961.


Racial tensions manifest themselves at home, work and on the streets during Bonfire Night in the burgeoning West Indian community of post-war Britain. Trades Union leader Jacko Palmer fights for the rights of a black worker but struggles with the news that his own daughter, Kathie, is planning to marry a West Indian, much against his own logic and the hysterical prejudice of his wife Nell.


Hot Summer Night premiered at the Bournemouth Pavilion on 29 September 1958, subsequently reaching the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) in London's West End on 26 November. It ran for 53 performances, closing on 10 January 1959.[2] Directed by Peter Cotes, the cast comprised John Slater (Jacko), Joan Miller (Nell), Andrée Melly (Kathie), Lloyd Reckord (Sonny Lincoln), Harold Scott (Old Man Palmer), Joyce Howard (Judy Gomez) and Richard Walter (Frank Stephens).

"After a leisurely start," noted The Stage, "the play builds up into a passionate, almost violent piece of theatre,"[3] though in The Spectator Alan Brien called the play "Ted Willis's new dramatic pamphlet" and suggested that it failed to rise "above the level of the living newspaper."[4] In later years Peter Cotes called the play "one of the first pieces about relationships between black and white people," noting that it "reaped a fine press in a limited run and Willis was treated with more respect as a stage playwright than he had ever been before."[5] By Willis's own account, "Another less pleasant reaction came in the form of some hate mail."[6]

Three weeks after the play's closure, it was televised on 1 February 1959 as part of the ABC series Armchair Theatre. The director was Ted Kotcheff and the West End cast was retained, with the exception of Joan Miller, whose role was taken by Ruth Dunning. According to The Stage, "The production ... was shot mostly in close-up giving greater emphasis to black and white."[7]


The film version, Flame in the Streets, was produced at Pinewood Studios by the Rank Organisation, with Willis moving the action from the 'hot summer night' of the play to Guy Fawkes Night; filming began, appropriately, on 5 November 1960. Willis also added two characters, Gabriel Gomez and Harry Mitchell, who are only referred to in the play, and opened out the action to include a nocturnal street brawl in the final reel. Producer-director Roy Ward Baker made the film in CinemaScope, with a cast headed by John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Brenda De Banzie, Earl Cameron and Johnny Sekka.

The new title recalled Willis's earlier play No Trees in the Street, which had itself been filmed two years before. Flame in the Streets opened in London on 22 June 1961, with general release following on 9 July.[8] Daily Herald critic Paul Dehn called it a "terrifying and ferocious film",[9] whereas in The Spectator Isabel Quigley observed "its impact is mild," conceding "the obvious visual comparison between the outward and inward flames and fireworks" was effectively handled.[10] Willis's script was nominated for a 'Best British Screenplay' BAFTA award,[11] as well as being novelised by John Burke for Four Square Books.

In his autobiography (published in 2000), Roy Ward Baker noted the film had recently been shown at a Brixton cinema "to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the steamer Windrush, bringing Caribbeans to work here... Some of the older ones [in the audience] testified that it was a true picture of the conditions the incomers faced and in some areas still do face."[12]

Film Cast[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054879/
  2. ^ Frances Stephens, Theatre World Annual (London) Number 10, Barrie and Rockliff 1959
  3. ^ unsigned review, 'The Colour Question', The Stage 2 October 1958
  4. ^ Alan Brien, 'Theatre: Putting Up a Black', The Spectator 5 December 1958
  5. ^ *http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-lord-willis-1565335.html
  6. ^ Ted Willis, Evening All: Fifty Years Over a Hot Typewriter, Macmillan 1991
  7. ^ Derek Hoddinott, 'Our View: Hot Summer Night', The Stage 5 February 1959
  8. ^ F Maurice Speed, Film Review 1962-1963, Macdonald & Co 1962
  9. ^ Paul Dehn, 'This Terrifying and Ferocious Film', Daily Herald 23 June 1961
  10. ^ Isabel Quigley in The Spectator 30 June 1961
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054879/
  12. ^ Roy Ward Baker, The Director's Cut, Reynolds & Hearn 2000