Play for Today: The Slab Boys, 1979

Play for Today: The Slab Boys, directed by Bob Hird.  Starring Gerard Kelly, Billy McColl, Joseph McKenna and Tom Watson.  75 minutes.  1979.

An excellent ‘Play for Today’, this stage to screen adaptation by John Byrne, the first of an eventual trilogy, shows life in a Scottish carpet factory from the floor where the ‘slab boys’ mix the colours for the designers: three lads work there from the dim clown to the sparky fireball and the sarcastic quiff wearer.

When a posh lad comes into the firm straight from ‘uni’ and starts earning more in a week than all three slab boys together they get a glimpse of what could be, and what might be, for one of them. With realistic regional dialogue and some sense of urban working class life, there are watchable and strong performances from Billy McColl (d. 2014), Gerard Kelly (d. 2010), and Joseph McKenna (not seen on screen since Absolute Beginners).

The boss is one Willie Curry, sardonic and nostalgic for his desert war service. Tom Watson reprised the role nearly two decades later for the glossy feature film, but I find his performance here is more spot on.

Finally, the new lad Alan, still in his blazer and polite to a fault, is played by Mark Windsor, who has also disappeared from the screen after a brief flourish in the late 70s/early 80s. I didn’t find him that convincing but you need this kind of character for contrast and conflict, I suppose.

Very watchable and although it betrays its stage origins now and then, it translates well to the screen.

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About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, editor, creative. Blogger since 2011. View all posts by Louise Penn

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