'Just A Boys' Game' is my favourite 'Play For Today' edition of all time. It was written by Peter McDougall for whom this was his third entry into the 'Play For Today' strand, ahead of 'Just Another Saturday' and 'The Elephant's Graveyard'.
It was all about the life of a hardman named Jake McQuillen, who works in the shipyards of Greenock. He fills his nights drinking and larking with his friends Dancer ( a lover and joker rather than a fighter ) and Tanza ( a jack-the-lad with a sharp tongue ). Although he wants nothing more than a quiet life, he often finds himself having to call upon the use of his fists whenever someone tries to challenge him. Playing the impassive Jake was Scottish soul singer Frankie Miller in what was his only acting role. It comes clear that Jake's life is not a happy one. He was rejected by his mother and sent to live with his grandparents as a child.
Jake appears to have a close relationship with grandmother but has no bond whatsoever with his dying grandfather, who was once the town's hardest man. Despite their hatred for each other, Jake wants to get as close as possible to the old man before he dies.
One night, whilst on the town with Tanza and Dancer, a young team of thugs, headed by a young razor wielder named McAfferty, corner the three men and a fight ensues. Unfortunately, whilst Jake and Tanza manage to handle themselves, Dancer draws the short straw of luck and, whilst trying to evade the thugs runs headlong into a throat high iron bar, killing him. Tanza is openly distraught at Dancer's fate, however Jake conceals his grief, telling Tanza ''That's how it goes, that's the game!''.
Later, Jake is horrified to hear his grandfather's dying words.
As Jake, the monotone voiced Miller was sparkling, giving a natural performance as the cold yet somehow lovable and ruggedly handsome McQuillen. As a result of his outstanding performance, Miller was offered a string of other roles but turned them down as his interests lay more on music than acting. A pity as I believe he could well have been a contender for one of Scotland's greatest actors. Hector Nicol ( a very good stand-up comedian by the way ) likewise was equally fear striking as Jake's grandfather. Alas, his potential as a straight actor was cut prematurely when he died in 1982.
The supporting cast, including Ken Hutchison, a then unknown Gregor Fisher ( sporting a 'Jason King' moustache rather than a string vest and bandage ), Katherine Stark and Jean Taylor Smith all make their time on screen worthwhile and possibly even make the characters more stronger than they were written. McDougall's script, brought to life by wonderful performances and wonderful production values, was full of many great lines that fizzed like bubbles in a cola.
In 1994, a brain haemorrhage very nearly claimed Frankie Miller's life. He was in a coma for months and for a while after emerging was unable to speak, necessitating the need for rehabilitation. Whilst he is no longer able to perform, his legacy as a singer is still beating strong with fans.
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