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The Square Ring
ITV's Play of the Week, 9.vi.59

Cast in order of appearance:
Danny Felton: David Davies
Frank Ford: Alfred Burke
Joe: Vic Wise
Eddie Burke: Alan Bates
Happy Coombes: Harry Landis
Rick Martell: Sean Connery
Rowdie Rawlings: Percy Herbert
Sailor Johnston: Thomas Heathcote
The manager: Arthur Gomez
Docker Starkie: George Baker
The doctor: David Waller
Watty: Neil McCarthy

Written by Ralph W. Peterson
Adapted for television by Jessica Morton
Designed by John Clements
Directed by Bill Hitchcock

 Drama: Docker Starkie, a famous boxer, is making his comeback tonight against everybody's advice -- including his wife's. Will he be successful? Despite their own problems, this is the main subject of discussion for the five fighters who are waiting for their turn to enter the square ring.

The Square Ring

IS BOXING a manly art in which courage is matched with courage, or is it merely savagery, demoralising for both contestants and spectators?
This is the question which the Australian dramatist, Ralph W. Peterson, author of "The Square Ring" asks, and answers, through the case-histories of six boxers.
The action of the play takes place while the boxers are cooped up in a dressing room, each awaiting his turn to go into the ring. Mercilessly, Peterson reveals the strength and weakness of each man and the effect the fight game has on his body and mind. By the end, the audience can have no doubt what Peterson thinks of boxing. Bill Hitchcock, who directs the play, sums up the author's verdict: "Ruthless, cruel, crooked. Why do they do it?"
Hitchcock says: "If a man has the strength of character to retire at the peak of his career and save his money, as Freddie Mills did, the profession is a good one. But -- how many boxers are there like him?"
"The Square Ring" is mainly concerned with the boxer past his prime. The central character -- to whom five boxers are subsidiary -- is Docker Starkie (George Baker). He was a champion at 27 who retired at the peak of his career. But, born a fighter, he missed the crowds, changes, excitements.
Starkie decides to make a comeback. The action takes place on the night he is to appear in the ring after an absence of 10 years. He is now 37. To the young boxers, Docker Starkie is a legend, but when they hear that he is to join them, they treat him as a joke. "How are we going to get him into the ring without a wheelchair?" asks one of the attendants.

- vivid portrait -

"Peterson creates a vivid portrait of the young novice Eddie (Alan Bates)," said Hitchcock. Bates, at 24, is a dynamic up and coming actor with a TV personality remarkable for its impact. In three ITV plays he has increased his fan mail with every role.
"Then there is the irrepressible Cockney welterweight Happy Coombes (Harry Landis), the crooked boxer, Rick Martell (Sean Connery), the middleweight, Rowdie Rawlings (Percy Herbert), a calculating fighter but no intellectual, and finally, another 'old-timer,' the punch-drunk Sailor Johnston (Thomas Heathcote)."
This is Hitchcock's first ITV drama, although he has been in television since he earned £5 a week as a call boy in 1949. He has worked in most departments of television including acting. (He has no connection with that "other" Hitchcock -- "except that I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with his daughter Pat.")
Thomas Heathcote, as Sailor, again plays one of those "difficult" parts for which he is usually chosen. A clever actor, he has the knack and talent to portray convincingly good and bad characteristics in one person.
In "The Square Ring," he portrays a character who is, as he says, "nothing more than a child, but a dangerous child who, when aroused, can become a killer. Sailor's brain and vision have been damaged through continual knocks, and he should not be in the game. But, as in real life, these pathetic boxers are to be found in every gym.
"If I had a son I would encourage him to box at school -- it builds character -- but after that, no. I would not let any young man join commercial boxing as we know it today."
The all-male cast stars 27 year old George Baker as Starkie. Baker has appeared in many ITV dramas. He was 15 when he first started in theatre, as an assistant stage manager for the Richmond repertory.
The last word on boxing goes like this: "as a spectacle -- enjoyable. As a means of making a living -- lamentable. |||