Pests: a Play in Three Acts - 1994



In 1962, shortly after publishing The Ipcress File, Deighton wrote a TV play for the BBC's 'Armchair Theatre' slot which was broadcast as 'Long Past Glory'. It was a short, three-act play with just three characters and was broadcast on 17 November 1963. It starred TV favourites John Le Mesurier, Maurice Denham and David Andrews. The theme of the play is that people who preach tolerance, equality and generosity are not always the ones who practise such things; the language and themes very much reflected the attitudes of the day and the prejudices of the older generation. The play opens on what appears to be three tramps in a delapidated building - they are in fact soldiers in a dug-out in the First World War.

Why it's interesting

This is Deighton's only play and it is all about ambiguity at the start: who are these old gentlemen, where are they, why are they scrabbling around in the dirt? It continues the theme in much of Deighton's work of analysing the viewpoint of war from the common soldiers' perspective. The play itself is tense and atmospheric, with a real twist in the tale that is typlically Deighton-esque. Deighton seems not to be enamoured by his only theatrical outing. In the preface, he writes: 'When what must be the only surviving copy of this play emerged from more than three decades of oblivion my first reaction was to push it back into oblivion again but one must learn to live with the documents on one's past, whether they are manuscripts, unpaid bills or love letters.'

Sample text

'ROY: There were four coloured boys at school with me. Three of them were in my form. The other one was an Arab.

CHARLES: You can't trust them. They don't share anything. They don't "muck in".

HARRY: They don't need as much as we do. A handful of rice a day, you know, that's all they need.

CHARLES: And they don't feel pain as we do. One of them fellers would put his hand into the fire and feel nothing. Feel nothing.

ROY: So what's amazing about that? I can do that - the bloody fire's gone out.'

Related fact

Pests is Deighton's original title for the play; it was changed by the director Charles Jarrott.


Pests, standard edition, 1994

Collector's note

The play manuscript lay unpublished until it was found by Christopher Martin at an auction. He subsequently published the text in three formats: 150 standard copies, unsigned; 50 special copies signed in matching slipcase; and 26 copies marked A-Z signed by the author.