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Review: Morgan's Boy (1984)

City boy (Manchester) goes to rural Wales to live with confirmed bachelor uncle – that’s the premise of Alick Rowe’s 1984 8-part drama Morgan’s Boy, and it’s one that creates more than its fair share of drama. Before it descended into the political pressure group of modern times, the BBC used to produce superb drama. Morgan’s Boy was a case in point.

Lee (Martyn Hesford) is a troubled teenager. Like many others of his age, he has a chip on his shoulder which makes the character difficult to like initially. He’s rude and feckless; at home he clashes with his mother’s (Marjorie Yates) new fellah Alan (Stephen Yardley) who would very much like Lee to vanish leaving mum all to himself.

The aimless teenager spends time hanging around with ne’er do wells which include Colin (Gary Oldman). The question of what to do about Lee is solved in the form of his mother’s brother Morgan. Played with a superb blend of stoicism and innocence by Gareth Thomas, Morgan has lived all his life on the family farm in deepest, rural Wales and now, sole inhabitant of the farm, is plagued by loneliness. (Some may recall Thomas in the equally superb six-parter from 1979 How Green Was My Valley).

Morgan is a creature of habit, a man who has lived an ascetic monk-like existence in the same farmhouse in which he was born. Thomas makes this role his own; the trademark tousled hair, the bull-like shoulders and that voice of the valleys accent – even in 1984 Morgan is a man out of time, an anachronism, old-fashioned but solid, dependable, honourable. How will this rather austere man get on with his streetwise nephew?

The answer to that question lies at the heart of this drama. The clash between city and country, between youth and age is handled rather tenderly as both protagonists are forced to adjust to each other. It’s by no means a perfect drama for into the mix writer Alick Rowe adds some sub-plots which can at times seem tenuous and even superfluous.

For example, Lee hooks up with fledgling paratrooper Matthew (John Skitt) through a shared interest in tropical fish. Middle-class Matthew is lodging at the grand country house of the Gregorys – a couple of impoverished ex-pat farmers whose role in this drama is never quite certain. One of several odd scenes which occurs in episode 6 has the Gregorys throwing the dinner party from hell with Lee engaged as a waiter. Endearingly odd.

And that’s not the only loose end. The appearance in episode 5 of the ever-delectable Tracey Childs throws Lee in a spin – not surprisingly. (Childs would soon hook up with Stephen Yardley again in BBC yachting soap Howard’s Way). Matthew’s sister has turned up for no other reason than to add some spice into the Brecon Hills and boy she manages to do just that. With the frisson of incest hanging in the air, Ms Childs shows she has a decidedly wicked side to her nature before exiting the series as swiftly as she had arrived. Odder still.

Alick Rowe might have missed a trick or two here. For Ms Childs arrival coincides with what we are led to believe will be Lee’s romantic relationship with farmer’s daughter Sarah (Pippa Hinchley). Lee though is warned off – the only time that his role of outsider is ever really examined. It seems that the young Mancunian has not that much difficulty being accepted into his new environment. Hence, the script only skirts with issues of acculturation and alienation which is a shame because there was much potential here.

Sub-plots are secondary though to the real drama: the developing relationship between an uncle and nephew who have begun to forge a mutual reliance on one another. Both characters have mellowed. Lee is mucking in with the farm and when Oldman and friends visit, the city dwellers are shocked at the transformation of their mate. Lee has become responsible, hard-working. He even gets protective over Morgan.

Despite a few flaws, Morgan’s Boy is a fine drama – much better than imdb user’s rating of 7.0. With its theme of inner city escapism to a Welsh paradise it brings to mind dramas such as Our Day Out and One Summer – a 1983 drama in which two Liverpudlian teenagers hook up with another Welsh hermit played by James Hazeldine. Ah, the pastoral dream.

For my money Morgan’s Boy is the cream of the crop. Gareth Thomas’ monosyllabic performance as the noble Welsh farmer is a tour de force of restrained stoicism. It’s impossible not to warm to this naïve and vulnerable man; indeed, it often seems like Lee is the adult, his uncle the one in need of protection. Under threat of eviction from his childhood home, this story can only ever end one way: tragedy. (Spoiler: the ending is that of Flory – the anti-hero of Orwell’s masterpiece Burmese Days.)

Currently available on YouTube, catch it while you still can because sadly dramas like Morgan’s Boy are a thing of the past.

Episode 1: here