Genre: Sci-fiChannel: BBC1
An oft bandied around paradox about time travel is the 'Grandfather paradox'. This questions the effects of a time traveller going back in time and killing their Grandfather. Headaches then begin to form whilst trying to figure out how this could happen if the protagonist was, in theory, never born due to their Grandfather's untimely demise.
The Flipside of Dominick Hide eschews this and, instead, looks at the great-great-great-Grandmother paradox. This curious postulation features a time traveller going back in time to kick-start his own lineage with their great-great-great-Grandmother. Child's play for any theoretical physicist.
The Flipside of Dominik Hide was a 90 minute sci fi drama broadcast on BBC1 on 9th December 1980 at 9.35pm. Part of the Play For Today series, the show was cooked up by Alan Gibson and Jeremy Paul - the blueprints of the show being inspired by the Alan Gibson's fascination with flying saucers in the 1950s.
A fresh faced Peter Firth took on the mantle of Dominick with the delectably beautiful Caroline Langrishe playing Jane. The great Patrick Magee featured in a supporting role as Caleb. Filming for the play started on 10th May 1980 and wrapped on 4th June 1980.
In 2130, time travel is possible and any period before the Time Barrier was broken is known as the 'flipside'. This has led to the employment of time travellers whose mission is to travel back to the flipside and observe the mechanics of past societies.
Dominick Hide has been tasked with observing transport systems in London, 1980. Tracing his family history has led to Dominick discovering that he has a distant ancestor, also called Dominick, living in this same era and location.
Against strict instructions, Dominick begins to land and search for his great-great-grandfather in London, 1980. Any slight change Dominick makes to the past could buckle the future, but his yearning compels him to continue.
Compared to the ordered and steady society of 2130, the London of 1980 is noisy and chaotic. Finding himself in Portobello Market on a particularly busy day, Dominick befriends a small group of pals who vow to help find his distant relative 'Dominick' whilst he takes on the name 'Gilbey' - influenced by a quick glance at a bottle of gin.
Whilst the search for 'Dominick' continues, Jane and Dominick become increasingly attracted to each other. A romance fuelled by the difference between their backgrounds and outlooks. Jane eventually falls pregnant with Dominick's child and at this time, Dominick's superior - Caleb Line - reveals that this is the ancestor Dominick has been searching for.
Due to a one in a million genetic time mutation, Dominick is his own great-great-great Grandfather - a fact that Caleb has long known and why he has allowed Dominick to land on the flipside.
Dominick returns to London, 1980 one more time to set Jane and his son up for life with details on how to win the next week's football pools. Returning to the future, Dominick proceeds to have a child with his 2130 'wife', Ava.
The Flipside of Dominick Hide attained viewing figures of 5.3 million and a respectable reaction index of 75 - compared to an average Play For Today score of 59. The Radio Times letter editor claimed that "No other single new BBC tv play in 1980 attracted so much correspondence " - highlighting the public's affection for the show.
The success of the show led to a sequel in 1982 entitled Another Flip for Dominick. A DVD containing both plays was released in 2005 accompanied by a very detailed viewing notes booklet.
Curious British Telly first discovered Dominick a few months back and was thoroughly charmed by the production. The originality of the core concept is clever and well written - the divides between the two time periods are highlighted subtly, but leave a powerful question about the values of freedom over security.
Peter Firth, Caroline Langrishe, Sylvia Coleridge and Patrick Magee all put in terrific performances and capture the essence of their characters perfectly. Some of the acting does fall below par - Pippa Guard came across a little wooden and Timothy Davies was a bit too hammy, but this could also be down to poor characterisation on the writers' part. On the whole, though, there are more hits than misses which is impressive for the era.
One other area of the play which impressed was the music. The theme tune being a soulful number entitled You'd Better Believe It Babe by the band Meal Ticket which is echoed throughout. Also present, in the 2130 scenes, are wonderful medieval muzak takes on the Beatles songs: Yesterday and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
All in all, this is a fantastic play which comes across with charm and innocence whilst balancing the genres of comedy, sci fi and drama. We thoroughly advise picking up the DVD.
Radio Times 06 - 12 December 1980
At 26 Peter Firth has come a long way from the time he was ‘the boy in Equus’. After some notable achievements in films and television, and a good deal of foreign travel, he returns to television in Tuesday’s play as a very different sort of traveller – one who specialises in time-warp. He tells Benedict Nightingale why this part particularly appeals to him.
What Peter Firth ruefully calls his ‘damaged-cherub face’ was looking strangely phosphorescent when we met at his imposing pad in London W9. Perhaps it was a natural charisma, perhaps a blend of exhilaration and exhaustion, the result of the arrival of a son and heir within the past week. The birth had occurred at home, in defiance of medical scruple, and had brought with it a still unresolved problem. What was the ‘small person’, as he’s still known, to be called?
‘I keep coming up with names I think are all right, then I tell my wife, and they just seem to fall to pieces,’ said Peter. ‘I hope one will suggest itself when his character begins to form. We’ve got to register him some times.’
Up the stairs, puffing and contentedly grunting in his mother’s arms, went Timothy, Tristram or Tyrone; and Peter ambled through the house, into the big communal garden through which Nicholas, Nigel or Norbert will one day no doubt make his way to school. That is not a prospect that altogether pleases his father.
He is a warm, enthusiastic, outgoing young man; but he cannot speak about his education without resentment. Understandably so. He spent his schooldays in the D stream of a large comprehensive, never was encouraged to read literature or even taught to punctuate properly, and left with no qualifications whatever.
‘I felt cheated, frustrated. They were always telling me I was stupid, so I believed I was stupid and became stupid, and even now I feel stupid inside. I keep waiting for someone to tumble me as a fake and fraud – tell me I can’t really act. I was stamped as a second-class citizen, educated to be factory fodder. It’s hard to get over that.’
That was in Bradford, where Peter’s parent ran a pub in a rough, rowdy neighbourhood. His main occupations seem to have been hanging around on street corners and, just occasionally, getting into trouble with the police and putting in an appearance at juvenile court. But a girl he fancied went to drama classes and one Saturday he followed her there, arriving late and having to hammer on the door. If no one had answered he probably would have mooched off, never to return. As it was, the door opened, he was allowed in and someone even offered him a ‘scholarship’, meaning the two pounds ten shillings course fee he didn’t have.
‘Luck, chance, fortune, the line is this thin,’ says Peter, indicating with thumb and forefinger the tiny gap between success and disaster in his life. The point was re-emphasised when Yorkshire TV came to the drama class recruiting schoolboy walk ons: it was ‘you, you and you’, and he was one of the three.
From that came a part in a serial called The Flaxton Boys, and from that a leading part in another – Here Comes the Double-Deckers. At age 15 Peter was in London, beginning to lose his thick Yorkshire accent, and being paid for what he found he liked best: acting.
He never went formally to drama school, and doesn’t regret the omission, because he feels there’s no substitute for ‘the real thing’.
The real thing was St Francis’s youngest disciple in the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It was also the boy with an overwhelming and finally destructive passion for horses in Peter Shaffer’s play, Equus.
‘I had ten auditions over two months for that part,’ he recalls, ‘the last time before the whole National Theatre board, Laurence Olivier and all. I had to get on the stage of the Old Vic, get astride a table, and mime an orgasm; and I had this awful moment, thinking to myself, this is insane, what am I doing? Then I went into the pub next door, my nerves absolutely shattered, and someone came in and told me: you’ve done it.’
He recreated the part in New York, and then in a film version, and found himself internationally acclaimed at the age of 20. It wasn’t an experience he altogether liked. For one thing, he found it difficult to appear on chat shows, smile on demand at press photographers, go lobbying for an Oscar in Hollywood, and do all the other things expected of showbiz celebrities in America. For another, ten months on Broadway proved too long.
‘If you’re going to take your clothes off you’ve got to believe in the part and the play to keep sane. And after a while I started to have doubts, get analytical, feel I couldn’t do it. It was worst on the matinees, when the blue-rinsed brigade was there for a day out. I felt like a circus sideshow: come and see the naked boy. It became a nightmare.’
If Peter had pursued success more relentlessly, he might not now be mainly remembered as ‘the boy in Equus’ and, on occasions be obliged to audition for roles which would once have been thrust upon him. But he preferred to go his own way, rejecting tempting offers, indulging his enthusiasm for travel (‘one way of making up for the education I never had’), and enjoying what he wryly calls the decadent, leisured life in New York City.
There were notable achievements over the years – among them Dorian Gray in a television adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel, the title part in Tony Richardson’s movie, Joseph Andrews – but there’s no doubt his career was becalmed when Roman Polanski lured him back to Europe from America to play Angel Clare in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
This movie, already a considerable success on the continent, arrives in Britain next January. Meanwhile, the important even in Peter’s professional life is his return to British Television in The Flipside of Dom Hide, in which he plays a prim young pilot who time warps his flying saucer from the future to the London on 1980.
‘The nice thing about acting is that you can live out your schoolboy fantasies, and one of mine is to go back in time. So for this part I tried to imagine what it was like being in London in 1830, with all the gin palaces, debauchery, filth in the streets. Someone who came back to our era would probably feel the same – that we were decadent by his standards.’
The naïve and confused attempts of its time travelling Candide to come to terms with our world give a strong comic slant to the play; and that, too, appealed to Peter when he first read the script.
‘Serious drama takes its toll,’ he says, remembering those fearful matinees in New York. ‘It is so gruelling, so wearying. I’d like to do more comedy. You get an instant gratification, a wonderful feeling of rapport, an immediate reward for your efforts.’
Peter would like to return to the stage, provided the play doesn’t run too long; but it’s clear his heart belongs to the camera.
‘It’s very real to me, not an inanimate object at all. You can feel when it’s happy and when it’s not. You can see it glow, and get bored. You can move it, and make it laugh. Yes, I love it.’