In the final play of Allan Prior's Blackpool trilogy, the writer decided to go for a story with a bit more of an edge to it, the theme being betting and gambling.
Dukes, stable-lads and mathematical geniuses have devoted themselves, without success, to finding a system for picking winners. 'Dr. Walter Williams reckons he has the magic formula.
"In this the knives are out and my friends will recognise this with some pleasure," Prior told the TV Times in 1965.
The system of the title is that elusive formula most gamblers would like to clap their eyes on - one for picking winners on the turf. Down-trodden Walter (Derek Francis) bases this system on the mistakes made by handicappers - those whose job it is to assess horses' weights. With Walter this is a consuming interest. But for his nagging wife, Martha (Avis Bunnage), the only thing that matters is the boarding house where they live.
Posh sociology student Val (Kika Markham), a lodger who cares more about "finding herself" has taken a seasonal job on a bingo stall to see "how the other half live." While Harry (Keith Baxter), a wide-boy who outsmarts himself, sees Val as a challenge but ultimately just wants to "cash in."
In the network ratings I've Got a System was watched in an estimated 6,650 homes (TV ratings at this time used this system to record viewing figures rather than individual viewers, which didn't start until August 1977). This placed the production joint 10th for that week along with Coronation Street and The Villains. It was also the only single play to appear in the top ten.
Unfortunately, and unlike Prior's previous two plays which were all set along Blackpool's 'Golden Mile' (They Throw It At You and The Girl In the Picture), I was unable to find any reviews of the play.
Derek Francis was a consummate comedy and character actor who went on to appear in six of the Carry On films and built up an impressive list of credits which included Coronation Street and Up Pompeii! Sadly, he passed away at the age of 60 from a heart attack. Avis Bunnage was also a prolific character actor since she had first appeared on screen (uncredited) in the Cliff Richard film Expresso Bongo. Her television appearances included Rising Damp in which she appeared in one episode (Great Expectations) as Rupert Rigsby's estranged wife. Bunnage passed away in Thorpe Bay, Essex, in 1990, aged 67.
Keith Baxter was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, and was already a noted Shakespearean actor who had made his Broadway debut in 1961 as King Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons. Baxter preferred stage to television and consequently has a small list of television credits compared to the other actors. But at the time of writing, at the age of 90, Keith Baxter is still active.
Kika Markham has had a long career in the cinema, television and theatre. Born in Macclesfield in 1940, Markham made her small screen debut at the age of 16 (as Erika Markham) in a short-lived series titled Barbie. She has appeared in a number of prime-time programmes such as Van der Valk, Mr Selfridge and Call the Midwife. Markham married actor Corin Redgrave in 1985 and they appeared on stage together in an acclaimed revival of Noël Coward's A Song at Twilight, along with her sister-in-law Vanessa Redgrave. Her sister, the poet and dramatist Jehane Markham is the widow of actor Roger Lloyd-Pack. Kika Markham is also very much active and in 2021 she appeared in the tense police thriller Manhunt.
Published on June 15th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.