Do you remember the school trips you went on all those years ago? Often chaotic with the battle for the back seat on the coach and always someone being ill. Those memories will be rushing back when you watch Our Day Out by former teacher Willy Russell, first shown in 1977. That was back in the days when we had the much missed BBC Play of the Week.
The play is set in Liverpool and it’s the remedial class who are off to Conway Castle in Wales. It turns out to be a day out no one will ever forget. The last school trip ended with a mass of complaints; therefore, the strict Mr Briggs (Alun Armstrong) joins the coach party.
Whereas he is the forever shouting teacher, Miss Kay (Jean Hayward) is the exact opposite, a mother figure to her students. Briggs doesn’t agree one bit with her philosophy and describes her as “the great champion of the non-academics.” A discussion on her philosophy takes place later in the play.
Kay’s first job is to pull the wool over the ears of the coach driver. One quick chat about how deprived her pupils are totally changes him. He goes from wanting to search the pupils for chocolate and lemonade to buying them sweeties. Mr Briggs is not so easy to convert.
The other two teachers on the trip are Susan (Elizabeth Estensen of The Liver Birds and Emmerdale fame) and Colin (Lennox Graves). Both have their admirers among the pupils, though they only really have eyes for each other. That’s a problem that has to be dealt with on the trip.
The day out of course has its chaotic moments. This set of teachers are not going to win any awards. When they stop off at a service station, Briggs and Kay have a cuppa while the children go on a shop lifting masterclass. “We’ve made more in the last five minutes than the last month,” declares the owner, until looking in the till. Stealing the chocolate bars is easy, they even get a few jars of sweets.
More problems are on their way though with an unplanned trip to the zoo. Briggs starts to soften a bit when he sees the children showing interest in the animals. Then he gets persuaded to have another cuppa with Miss Kay.
While he’s planning to give them a talk, the children are causing havoc. They end up in the pool with the penguins and playing with the rabbits. When they prepare to leave, their coach is flagged down by a frantic zookeeper. The moment when one animal after another is revealed to have been stolen by the children is hilarious.
Not so for Mr Briggs of course. He’d trusted in them and been let down. Briggs describes them as animals and that talk just isn’t going to happen. When they get to Conway Castle, again the pupils are left on their own to cause trouble.
Briggs isn’t happy at the shambles that the day out has become and wants them to return back to school. It’s then when Miss Kay finally gives him the lecture he deserves. She knows her pupils are factory fodder, and they deserve a good day out.
That includes a trip to the beach. But Briggs just looks on wanting no part of what is happening. He looks on as Susan finally teaches Brian a lesson and then sets him up with Linda. Then a crisis happens as Carol (Susan Jones) goes missing.
That infuriates Briggs even more as he threatens to report the other three teachers when he gets back to school. He seems to have forgotten how he’s been letting the children run around unsupervised.
Briggs searches for Carol and finds her by the edge of a cliff. The young girl loves where they’ve gone, and wants to stay. What is there for her to go home too? Briggs soon stops shouting at her when she threatens suicide. He then gets told some home truths accusing him of hating children and never smiling. This affects him and his tone changes. Eventually he gets her to come back, though she nearly falls off the cliff only to be saved by him.
A kind of Scrooge transformation comes over Briggs. Rather than going home, he takes them to a funfair. He’s having the time of his life with the children but isn’t too happy about Miss Kay taking so many photos. He’s not keen on his tough reputation being ruined. Briggs offers to develop the film and then ruins it.
This is an excellent play and is well worth watching. It has hilarious moments but many others that are thought provoking. The child cast is mostly untrained. You wouldn’t guess though. In later years, Our Day Out became a stage musical. Not quite ‘Blood Brothers’ but still highly entertaining.
About the Reviewer: Steve Ashfield
Steve was probably born watching television. Great fan of everything from comedy to Christmas shows. Loves writing about the great shows of the past.
Published on March 16th, 2021. Written by Steve Ashfield for Television Heaven.