David Archibald’s essay on Peter McDougall’s play Just Another Saturday, published with thanks to BFI Video Publishing, also appears in the 60-page book accompanying the new 3-disc Blu-ray set, PLAY FOR TODAY – VOLUME 3, released by the BFI on 11 April. It can be pre-ordered now from the BFI Shop and other outlets. VOLUME 3 contains six plays including Just Another Saturday, Edna the Inebriate Woman and A Hole in Babylon.
Just Another Saturday opens with a fixed shot of a Glasgow skyline. From the centre of the screen, a row of chimneys reaches up to the left. Silhouetted against a sky of various shades of blue, they sit atop darkened sandstone tenements. At least, it looks like tenements. For, although streetlights cast some illumination, the bottom half of the screen is pitch black and it is impossible to discern exactly. On the right of the screen, standing proud, four high-rise flats, a signifier of the modernist-inspired dream to create machines for living in the heart of what was once ambiguously described as the Second City of the Empire. Above the flats, horizontal streaks of orange-yellow light suggest that the sun is going down, or perhaps it is coming up. Silence is broken by the sound of traditional Scottish music – a lightning-fast fiddle, rhythmic drumming – and we cut to a montage of shots of the city at night: dark and deserted streets, colourfully-clothed mannequins in a brightly-lit fashion boutique, a neon taxi sign.
Then, suddenly, we are inside a domestic interior, looking up at a poster of a squad of football players on a bedroom wall: blue jerseys, white shirts. Through the shadows cast across the image, we can make out ‘Cup Kings of Europe.’ Beneath the headline, the Glasgow Rangers squad which lifted the 1972 European Cup Winners Cup, the silver trophy at their feet. It is followed by a tight close up of a young man’s tattooed arms as he lies in bed, then the camera cuts back and forth between Glasgow’s darkened streets and this domestic locus, one replete with Loyalist imagery: a ‘No Surrender’ rosette hangs between a Rangers football player and the arse of King Billy’s white horse.
The pace is frenetic until the camera comes to rest on a pair of black trousers overhanging a door and then tilts down, tracking the trousers’ vertical red stripe before reaching more red, white and blue regalia emblazoned with ‘Muirhill Flute Band’. The music comes to a halt, displaced by light snoring, as the camera moves left across the room towards a young man lying in bed, and we hear a voice quietly singing:
To receive the bright orange and blue
To receive the bright orange and blue
I was ordered to stand at the brother’s command,
To receive the bright orange and blue
The words, almost whispered, are from ‘Bright Orange and Blue’, a song associated with the Orange Order, the organisation founded by Ulster Protestants in the late eighteenth century. With the camera focused on the tattooed young man, the suggestion that it is he who will don these trousers is confirmed during an exchange with a woman who lies in an adjacent bed and who we will later learn is his mother (Eileen McCallum). During their conversation, the boy, John (John Morrison), reveals his nervousness as he waits to participate in Glasgow’s main Orange Order parade. Despite his teenage years, John is not only a foot soldier, but the mace thrower who will lead Muirhill Flute Band. Nerves are mixed with excitement: ‘Those lovely banners of John Knox. Flutes. Drums pounding. Magic,’ he exclaims before once more breaking into a song which shifts focus to Belfast:
Up on The Falls Road the Fenians do dwell
They have their big chapels their priests there as well
But we on The Shankhill we know we are right
And if ever the day comes we’ll show them the fight.
With a toora ly oora ly oora ly ae!
Right over Dungannon tae hell wi them all.
If the initial song expressed some form of innocent or naïve orange pride, the latter speaks directly to the sectarianism and violence associated with the Orange Order and its followers, in Belfast and Glasgow, two cities closely connected.
In this opening sequence, director John Mackenzie, succinctly visualises the main themes which are developed in Peter McDougall’s autobiographical script – loyalism, violence, identity, the irrational lure of militarised ritual – and forewarns of what is to come as the day unfolds. As is documented elsewhere, McDougall had marched with the Orange Order as a teenager and only started writing after a chance exchange with Colin Welland whilst decorating the actor s London flat. On hearing some of McDougall’s tales, Welland advised him that he should put pen to paper and Just Another Saturday was the initial outcome. The story goes, though, that it was deemed too incendiary to be broadcast and McDougall’s debut Play for Today was Just Your Luck (D. Mike Newall, 1972). Based on the writer’s own familial experiences, Just Your Luck’s somewhat absurdist tale was also steeped in the sectarianism which impacts West of Scotland working-class life and was deemed sufficiently successful for McDougall to be given an additional commission. When John Mackenzie teamed up with McDougall, he brought a different aesthetic sensibility to the work, and their Play for Today collaborations, Just Another Saturday, The Elephants’ Graveyard (1976) and Just a Boys’ Game (1979), are high watermarks in the history of Scottish television drama. Perhaps to audiences outwith Scotland, McDougall’s writing is somewhat unknown, but the seventies work had mass popular appeal nearer to home. Recognition reached further, moreover, with Just Another Saturday picking up the highly-prestigious Prix Italia.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that it was in Italy that Just Another Saturday received critical acclaim. For in the tradition of Italian neo-realist cinema, much of the play’s action is shot on the streets as the cast and the crew move through the city, mobile and fluid, mingling with the real-life marchers participating in the Orange parade, lending the events a level of authentication that a studio performance could never achieve. The presence of the Maryhill Flute Band who march with John furthers the rich docudrama aesthetic.
Not unexpectedly, the events of the day do not pass smoothly and John’s faith and commitment to the cause is repeatedly shaken. This first emerges early in the day as the bands prepare to march, and John seems repelled that many of his fellow brethren seem keener on consuming alcoholic beverages than celebrating Orange rituals. It is furthered when the parade takes a break in Kelvingrove Park, in the city’s leafy west end, and the drink flows as freely as the gallus and gallows humour. But John presses on and leads his band through the streets after their booze-filled pit stop in the direction of what the marchers describe as ‘Fenian Alley’. Entering the street, John leads, the mace twirls in the air, the band belts out the tunes, as Irish tricolours and angry tenants hang from windows. ‘Look at those fenians,’ says an Orange Order official to John, before adding ‘give them something to listen to son’, and John moves his mace-throwing up a gear. After stopping to goad the local community, the band moves on once more. But when missiles rain down on their heads, it’s the moment the Orangemen have been waiting for and the attack commences.
The orchestrated violence is shot in a more discontinuous manner which recalls the rapid cutting of the opening montage, and culminates in a close up of a man, white of hair and elder in years, presumably Catholic, the blood pouring down his face, the result of having his face punched through a window. The violence, coupled with an aversion to the excessive drinking, seems to sow doubts in John’s mind about his associations, not least when he sees the police intervening heavily on the side of the Orangemen. When he voices opposition to the arrests, one of his fellow bandsmen responds, ‘It’s a Protestant country. If they don’t like it, they can go back to Rome.’ When John replies, ‘don’t talk stupit. I mean they’re Scottish just the same as you and me,’ it signifies that he’s not on board with the basest of Orange sentiment, a process which is compounded in two further drinking sessions, one with his father in a local hostelry, the other with a group of Catholic workmates (led by Billy Connolly). The group are fully aware of John’s Orange associations yet seek to include him to break down religious barriers. When they protect John from a drunken assailant, it points to an instinctive class solidarity as a solution to disarming sectarianism: proletarian commonality countering Protestant triumphalism.
After a day and night of alcohol and violence, Jon ends up back at home discussing the events with his parents. Initially with his father, a man weakened by alcohol but still aware of the potential of inter-religious solidarity. In a tender concluding scene, John is back in bed, his mother adjacent, contemplating the day’s events. ‘Night son’, she says, as he rests his head on the pillow in a composition mirroring the opening scene. As an upbeat score (uncredited) begins, we might expect John’s experiences to be transformative; but in a bold dramatic twist, we are taken in a different direction. ‘We are the people,’ John says softly, as the camera cuts to a slow-motion close up of a hand and a twirling mace against a blue sky, before he utters the play’s final word: ‘magic’.
Just Another Saturday masterfully embodies complex socio-political forces in a personalised micro-narrative, which allows the viewer an opportunity to enter a world which they might not otherwise inhabit. We follow John, we may despise or sympathise with his cause, but we feel and think with him as he moves through the day. In doing so, it shows us something of loyalism’s irreal allure, the illicit enchantment of militaristic ritual. Despite his negative experiences, John remains under a sorcerer’s spell, one conjured by drums, by banners, by flutes, by marchers, by uniforms: black magic with a bitter orange centre.
McDougall’s writing is often casually associated, dismissed even, as a celebration of hard men and violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, there are great insights in his work that has thus far eluded most critics. Just Another Saturday shows that young working-class men cannot necessarily be separated from the ranks of the Orange Order simply by pointing to its associations with bigotry and violence. If that had been the case, it would have happened long ago.
In one sense, Just Another Saturday looks like a throwback to Glasgow of the past. Of butterfly collars, flares, sideburns, alcoholic fathers, excessive bevvying. Yet Just Another Saturday resonates almost fifty years after its production because sectarian bigotry still mars the city. Although the numbers of Orangemen marching diminishes with each passing year, the spell is not broken. Indeed, as the United Kingdom’s constitutional composition appears increasingly uncertain as Scotland gravitates towards independence and a post-Brexit United Ireland seems at least a possibility, the violence associated with the Orange Order’s British nationalism looms as both a threat and a danger. As the final credits roll, the white mace, like a wizard’s wand, spins through the blue sky. The closing image is a freeze frame of our young mace-thrower caught in mid-flight as he jumps to catch the twirling stick, and we might ponder the unanswered question which the play poses: what might be necessary for John to move forward, liberated from sectarianism’s supernatural spell, and towards another set of possibilities?
 See Peter MacDougall’s essay in the booklet accompanying Play for Today: Volume Two. This booklet also contains the author’s essay on McDougall’s work which provides more background and analysis of The Elephants’ Graveyard and Just a Boys’ Game
 Although the word ‘fenian’ was associated historically with Irish Republicanism, over time it has been used primarily as a sectarian slur for ‘Catholic’.