Tuesday 7 March 2017

101 "Only Two Can Play"

101 “Only Two Can Play
Society was very different in 1962 - there was still capital punishment, and the law forbade homosexuality and abortion.  Just two television channels provided black-and-white programmes, mainly in the evenings - the BBC and, for South Wales, ITV via TWW (Television Wales and the West).  That January the comedy film “Only Two Can Play” opened in cinemas, starring Peter Sellers and the Swedish actress Mai Zetterling, with also a young Richard Attenborough and the Welsh actor Kenneth Griffith.  There was local interest because much of it had been filmed in Swansea, as well as at Shepperton studios, for it was based on the novel “That Uncertain Feeling” by Kingsley Amis, who from 1949 to 1961 had lectured in the English department of the University of Wales, Swansea. 
The black-and-white film, which was given an X certificate rating, was the third most successful film of 1962 in box office takings.  Filming mainly took place around Sketty, Mayhill and in the Kingsway, opposite where the Plaza cinema then stood, and more recently Oceana night club.  Even though Swansea’s Central Library was then in Alexandra Road, it was the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery directly opposite that was used as the library of the fictional town Aberdarcy, which Amis admitted was based on Swansea.  A distinctive Langland property off Southward Lane was used as the councillor’s residence, and the tennis scene was filmed on the public court off De La Beche Road in Sketty. 
Born in Clapham, London, Kingsley Amis won a scholarship to Oxford, where he met the poet Philip Larkin (a friend of Pennard poet Vernon Watkins), who became a close friend.  Amis’s studies were interrupted by first National Service and then by the Second World War, when he served in the Signals Corps.  After completing his degree and marrying, he moved to Swansea in 1949, publishing his first novel “Lucky Jim” in 1954, a satire of the high-brow academic set of a provincial university from the viewpoint of a young lecturer.  This won him the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction, and was eventually translated into several languages, including Hebrew and Korean; three years later the novel was made into a film starring Ian Carmichael. 
In Swansea Amis lived at first no. 24 The Grove in the Uplands, where there is a blue plaque, and then at 53 Glanmor Road.  The story of “Only Two Can Play” concerns a professionally-frustrated provincial librarian (played by Peter Sellers) being tempted towards marital unfaithfulness by the wife (Mai Zetterling) of a councillor who is chairman of the libraries committee.  As Philip Larkin was for 30 years university librarian at the University of Hull, one wonders whether Amis drew on his work experience at all in writing “That Uncertain Feeling”.  The BBC screened a television adaptation as a mini-series in 1985, starring Dennis Lawson as the librarian, and this time Swansea’s Central Library was used, rather than the Art Gallery.  In the novel Amis bitterly satirised Swansea’s Little Theatre - his characters are described from a superior, ironical point of view as vulgar, provincial and immoral.  Although Amis disliked Dylan Thomas, ironically his friendship with Swansea solicitor Stuart Thomas led to Amis becoming a trustee of the Dylan Thomas Trust.  He was the precise opposite of Vernon Watkins, who looked for the good qualities in people.
After leaving Swansea, Amis wrote “The Old Devils” in 1986, mainly at Cliff House in Laugharne, for which he was awarded the Man Booker Prize.  He also wrote poetry, essays, science fiction and short stories.  Knighted in 1990, Kingsley Amis died in London five years later aged 73.  His second son Martin Amis is a novelist.      
The screenplay for the film “Only Two Can Play” was written by Bryan Forbes, who in my opinion curtails much of the biting satire of “That Uncertain Feeling” to produce a far more enjoyable story than the novel.                                               


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