The BBC's Play For Today series wasn't really one that I avidly followed. To start with, they were aimed at a much older audience than little young-me, but every once in while I'd tune in if The Radio Times write-up caught my interest. This was done in private, usually on my 14" black and white portable television with the sound really low so as not to alert my parents to my viewing after the 9 O'Clock lights out time.
The day the world awoke to the news of John Lennon's death, December 9th 1980, saw the broadcast of The Flipside of Dominick Hide, a Play For Today which made such an impression on me that I remembered it for well over 25 years, until I finally saw it again on DVD. I wasn't disappointed. If you can forgive the very limited special effects budget then what you have is a wonderfully scripted time travel adventure, full of heart and perfectly cast.
Initially set on a futuristic Earth during the year 2130, we are introduced to Dominick Hide (played by Peter Firth). Dominick is 'Corro', a correspondent, who's work as a time traveller involves him observing transport systems in the eras before the time barrier was broken and time travel became possible, a period of time they call the 'flipside'. Dominick is given an era to observe which is known as a 'circuit' - the key word is observe, as there are strict rules of non-engagement with the people of the past. He is tasked with travelling to London in 1980, but against regulations he lands his flying saucer and attempts to search out his great-great-grandfather, who just happens to also be named Dominick Hide.
Unprepared for life in 1980, Dominick finds himself lost and without any money. He calls himself Gilbey (after the name on a bottle of Gin) and relies upon the kindness of strangers. One of them, a clothes shop owner called Jane (played by Caroline Langrishe), is particularly enchanting to Dominick. Her messy lifestyle and happy-go-lucky approach to life contrast with the staid and proper marriage from his own time. In 2130 couples are matched up through computer selection, and society as a whole has become sanitised. Dominick's introduction to this strange new world, complete with a multitude of new sensations, is a joy to watch.
Unsuccessful in his quest for his ancestor, Dominick returns to 2130 but is determined to try again. He confides in his wife, Ava (played by Pippa Guard), who is confused and troubled by his intentions. Yet knowing the risks involved, and the potential of trouble from his superior, Caleb Line (played by Patrick Magee), Dominick visits the flipside again.
This time, although still not able to locate his relative, Dominick begins an affair with Jane. His visits flipside are now more frequent, gone is his desire to track down his great-great-grandfather, now his concern is with seeing Jane.
On one eventful flip, Dominick narrowly avoids causing a fatal accident whilst landing, which results in he and Jane spending a weekend in Herne Bay, and the discovery that Jane is pregnant. Knowing he has interfered with the time stream Dominick is forced to admit all to his superior.
Unbeknown to Dominick is that Caleb Line had been aware of what was going on the whole time. He had deliberately given Dominick that circuit to investigate because he knew he was a victim of a genetic time-slip. Which means Dominick is his own great-great-grandfather, and so the unborn child Jane is carrying will be Dominick's great-grandfather.
Dominick makes one final flip to provide for his unborn child. He delivers the following week's newspaper to Jane so she can see the football results and win the pools. He says goodbye to Jane, his lover and great-great grandmother, explaining that this will be the last time he can visit the flipside.
When he returns to his wife he feels liberated and treats her with a passion that was entirely absent, not only in their marriage, but throughout all of society in Earth 2130. The closing credits show Dominick and Ava walking and laughing in the surf at Herne Bay with their own baby.
The idea for The Flipside of Dominick Hide came from the shows director Alan Gibson. As a child he had overheard his family discussing a recent UFO report and thought to himself:
"Since there had been sightings of flying saucers recorded throughout history, it occurred to me that they were man-made machines, time machines from the future."
The play has aged remarkably well, admittedly the pacing is a little slow compared to today's modern television, and the inclusion of a Sinclair computer keyboard inside Dominick's flying saucer reveals the show's true age, but all is easily forgiven when you have something as enchanting as this. Both Peter Firth and Caroline Langrishe are nothing short of magnificent, making the unbelievable believable and oozing a sexual chemistry that went over my head somewhat on initial viewing. The attention to detail is exquisite, small scenes involving Dominick and Ava listening to holographic musicians performing, what is referred to as 'classical music' but is actually the Beatles (an unplanned tribute to the news of the day), pay off much later when we watch Dominick's confusion after being confronted with a real musician in a London café.
All in all The Flipside of Dominick Hide is a terrific combination of drama, romance, science fiction and comedy, that not only captured my imagination but that of the majority of the 5.3million people who tuned in. The Radio Times later revealed that "No other single new BBC TV play in 1980 attracted so much correspondence", yet, prior to the arrival of multi-channel TV, it was only ever repeated once, two years later when it preceded its sequel - Another Flip For Dominick.
That is a Play For Another Day.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin Rayburn still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 47.