The War of Darkie Pilbeam

Because of war-time rationing Britain, from 1939-1945, was a spiv's paradise, with rich pickings to be made from under the counter deals in "little luxuries", like eggs and bacon and silk stockings. The War of Darkie Pilbeam, a trilogy of plays set in the North of England during the Second World War, is about such a spiv. Darkie Pilbeam (played by Trevor Bannister) is a black marketeer with outsized suit, enormous ties and a fedora hat. The series was written by Tony Warren, the creator of Coronation Street.

Warren based his character on a real-life spiv he'd seen in a shrapnel blasted box office in Manchester during the War, as he explained to readers of the TV Times back in 1968. "In my blitz-ridden childhood, the area leading down to the Manchester docks was locally dubbed the Barbary Coast. For me it was a place of dark and wicked drama. It consisted of two theatres, a market, a sometimes fairground, and the knowledge that this was where the spivs conducted strict cash black market deals in shop doorways. I first saw Darkie Pilbeam pinning an undersized lady into an extra-outsize coat. His suit had shoulders reminiscent of sandbags. His fedora hat was pristine white, and all I can remember the lady wearing was something drab and a scared expression-which was understandable for the enterprise was taking place in the remains of the box office of a bombed out cinema."

Christine Hargreaves (Marie Pilbeam), John Barrett (Toddy Bartholomew) and Lynne Carol (Mrs Cloth)A Granada film crew travelled across the North of England filming at various locations. Residents of Albert Square in Manchester saw their familiar surroundings sandbagged and adorned with cars of the period but a number of people were left confused as Blackpool Promenade had its railings covered with barbed wire as sentries gazed out to sea. "I had to reassure a quaking lady that it was not the real thing" Warren told TV Times. "I don't think she believed me for, as she fled, her quivering finger was pointing in the direction of a sad trail of evacuees." Even Warren found the scenes of the children being led along moving. "To see them, luggage labels around their necks left me slightly shaken. Our director, Richard Everett, had reproduced scenes which I had witnessed in my childhood."

The War of Darkie Pilbeam showed how the fires of Britain's 1939-45 Home Front were kept burning by the women of Britain. And in particular on how the Pilbeam family were affected. The three dramas were set at different times of the War with each episode title indicating which - the first episode was Phase 1 - September 1939, followed by Phase II - June 1942 set at the height of the war. Phase III - August 1945 met up with the family as the War was over and looked at the effects it had on the Pilbeam family. Some emerged triumphantly whilst others only with bitterness. For Darkie, it signalled the end of a golden era which would never occur again.

Also appearing in the series (although not together) were Julie Goodyear and Roy Barraclough who, some years later, were to team up as husband and wife (Bet and Alec Gilroy) in Tony Warren's Coronation Street. Lynne Carol, who played Mrs Cloth, had been in Coronation Street for almost 4 years from the very start as Martha Longhurst.

Review: : Adapted from original 1960s article from TV Times.

for Television Heaven