Trevor Griffith’s play Oi For England was screened on ITV on 17th April, 1982. It’s first theatrical tour ran 12th May to 5th June 1982.
A reworked Oi For England had an afterlife touring youth clubs and community theatres in an attempt to unite working-class audiences against fascism.
From Sounds, June 12, 1982
During the Manchester’s Moss Side riots, skinhead band White Ammunition are rehearsing in a basement, which is also full of things they’ve nicked. It’s a snapshot of a period of time when it seemed this country was about to descend into the cataclysmic apocalypse predicted by Enoch Powell in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The crux of the drama is simple: the band are all young, unemployed, disenfranchised white lads, and we gather early on, when Jess – the black daughter of the man who rented them the space – is called chocolate drop and spat at, that they are racists. Or are they? The piece opens up debate about what racism means. Are there degrees of racism? They are all proud of their English/Britishness, but guitarist Finn, it is revealed, is actually Irish. When lead singer Napper arrives late at rehearsal to tell then that a shady character called The Man wants to book them for a gig the divisions in the band begin to show. Its no ordinary gig. Thousands of racist thugs are going to be bussed in from all over the North West. It’s a rallying cry. It’s a latter day Nuremberg. There are issues raised, its a fine distinction between patriotism and racism. If you’re really proud of being British, how can you be a Nazi? The Nazis fought the British in the war. Theres a hopeful ending, when Finn is left alone and sings an Irish ballad, then leaves on friendly terms with Jess.
Griffiths had been involved with the Anti-Nazi League and had attended a conference on Race in The Classroom at which he heard a lot about fascist recruitment in schools, playgrounds and on football terraces. He had the idea to writing a classroom drama aimed at teenagers and this took on an urgency after the summer of ’81 riots. He said, “After a long a long involvement with nuanced scripts like Country and The Cherry Orchard – not to mention the Reds saga – I felt the need to write something more urgent and immediate. And there’s nothing more urgent than racism.”
With an already negotiated timeslot from Margaret Matheson at Central TV he’d written the play by Christmas of 1981.
The play doesn’t take the usual media tack of ‘all skinheads are brainless Nazis’, instead the question the band in the play have is just what they have in common with the fascist recruiter who approaches them.
Once the play toured Griffiths had dropped some of the dialogue and put in two more songs. There was also a discussion after the play, but there often wasn’t much of that.
One of the journalists reviewing the tour wrote “One black youth goes right to the heart of Griffiths’s concerns when he expresses an affinity with the problems faced by the skins portrayed in the play. A number of whites in the audience are visibly shocked.”