Written by Leon Griffiths, whose later credits include Minder, A Fear of Strangers was written in 1958 but banned for six years by the Independent Television Authority, over concerns about Chief Inspector Tom Dyke’s (Stanley Baker) racial abuse of black musician Ramsey (Earl Cameron).
The ban is curious, because it’s difficult to be certain whether it reflected concern about compromising the integrity of police methods, or concern about the offence the racial abuse might cause to black viewers. One doesn’t have to be a cynic to suspect that the former rationale carried the day. At the time Griffiths made his position clear: ‘A Fear of Strangers was against bad policemen, not policemen in general.’
It’s possible that to some, Dyke may have seemed a fairly reasonable sort. Therefore it was probably incumbent on Griffiths in his characterisation to put the question beyond doubt. One simple and obvious way would be to allow Ramsey to articulate a defence effective enough to counter Dyke’s racism, so that even the most ardent censor might think the characterisations fair in the context. But Ramsey’s defence of himself is feeble.
The interrogation itself is tightly structured. This is partly due to technical restrictions of the time and partly to the way the two central characters are portrayed. The camera roams around the room in long takes and the lighting is stark and harsh. Baker is excellent in the way he dominates the space in the scene; he doesn’t so much speak his lines as bark them. He stands and walks around for much of the play and is able to strike more dynamic and telling postures, while Ramsey sits throughout, imprisoned in the small space of his chair. Cameron, cast against type, has to subvert his usually dignified air to portray a crooked and downbeat wastrel.
In an interview Cameron described the play as ‘a very good, strong two-hander,’ but described the earlier live television transmission as ‘…a nightmare. Nerve-racking.’
Carl Daniels, BFI Screenonline, screenonline.org.uk
The Chocolate Tree was written by the late Andrew Sinclair, whose resumé includes the satirical novel The Breaking of Bumbo (1959) and directing the 1970 film version of that as well as the Burton-Taylor Under Milk Wood (1971). The Strangs have grown wealthy from centuries of trading with one of Britain’s African possessions, but the winds of change are blowing across the continent, independence is near, and the Strangs are welcoming the new head of state to their London home to discuss the future relationship. Proceedings are dominated on the one hand by Paul Rogers, as the ailing, half-mad head of the family, contemptuous of his offspring and patronising to the Africans; on the other by Earl Cameron as the president-to-be, who has his own understanding of the relationship and his own grudges. Their rocklike characters contrast with the mercurial tempers of Peter McEnery as Strang’s grandson, an ex-soldier traumatised by the Mau Mau, and Yemi Ajibade as the president’s proud, militant son. At times, the dialogue puts on display a frank, vehement racial hatred – even in 1963, viewers must have been taken aback by the liberal use of the N-word. And beneath the hatred lies, on the British side, an assumption of privilege that generates both complacency and rage.
Robert Hanks, Sight & Sound, October 2019
DRAMA ’64: A FEAR OF STRANGERS
Directed by: Herbert Wise
Production Company: ATV
Script Consultant: Lewis Greifer
Screenplay: Leon Griffiths
Designer: Peter Roden
Music Composed by: Jack Parnell
Stanley Baker (Chief Inspector Dyke)
Earl Cameron (Ramsey)
Garfield Morgan (Detective Sergeant Miller)
Peter Williams (Superintendent Willis)
Neil Wilson (Station Sergeant Joyce)
Ray Austin (Detective Constable Turnbull)
ITV tx 10.5.1964
ARMCHAIR THEATRE: THE CHOCOLATE TREE
Director: Alan Cooke
Production Company: ABC Television
Producer: Leonard White
Screenplay: Andrew Sinclair
Settings by: Assheton Gorton
Paul Rogers (Israel Strang)
Zena Walker (Rachel Strang)
Arthur Pentelow (Peter Strang)
Peter McEnery (Stephen Strang)
Earl Cameron (William Jones)
Yemi Ajibade (Jacob Jones)
Willie Payne (waiter)
ITV tx 27.10.1963
BRITAIN’S FIRST BLACK SCREEN STAR
Flame in the Streets
Sun 8 Aug 15:00; Sat 28 Aug 17:10
Tue 10 Aug 20:20 (+ discussion); Sat 28 Aug 13:00
The Fear of Strangers (+ intro) + The Chocolate Tree
Sat 14 July 14:10
Thunder on Sycamore Street + discussion with Actor Ashley Walters (schedule permitting) and playwright Stephen S Thompson)
Sat 14 Aug 17:30
African Odysseys present: A Warm December
Wed 18 Aug 20:40
Pool of London
Wed 25 Aug 20:50
Two Gentlemen Sharing
Mon 23 Aug 20:30
Season co-curated by actor-director Burt Caesar and the BFI’s Marcus Prince and David Somerset.
Please note: many of these films contain language, images or other content that reflect views prevalent in its time, but that may cause offence today. The titles are included here for historical, cultural or aesthetic reasons and these views are in no way endorsed by the BFI or its partners.
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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