The Compartment

Produced by John McGrath
Writer: Johnny Speight


  • Michael Caine ... Young man
    Frank Finlay ... Middle-aged Man

  • The play was crucial to Michael Caine's career because it was highly acclaimed and increased his visibility. It also led to him being signed by a new agent, Denis Selinger, and to being offered a number of other TV jobs.

    According to Caine, there is no existing recording of this programme. The BBC told him that the tape used for the broadcast was re-used, a common practice on some networks in the early days of television.

  • WHEN scriptwriter Johnny Speight takes the train to London from his home at Northwood in Middlesex he travels on a line which still uses outdated non-corridor coaches. 'Between stations' he says, 'you're completely isolated in your compartment. I've often thought that a nervous type could get into quite a state of twitch if he found himself alone with some dubious-looking character -knowing there was no chance of getting out until the next station.'

    Therein lies the germ of his first play, The Compartment, which will be televised tonight.

    Best known to radio and TV audiences as a writer for such comedians as Peter Sellers, Cyril Fletcher, Frankie Howerd, and Eric Sykes, Johnny describes The Compartment as 'comic, but also frightening.'

    The play has a cast of two : a young musician and a middle-aged businessman, played by Michael Caine and Frank Finlay. Explains Johnny: 'The businessman is one of those people who would never talk to anyone in a train, and are so engrossed in themselves they resent even sharing a compartment. The boy is a sort of beatnik, a drummer in a jazz band - a mixed-up lad who has so often run into self-satisfied people while being interviewed for jobs that he has a terrible obsession about important-looking faces.'

    When these two are thrown together on a half-hour journey, with no way of escape from each other, and the youth begins to resent the man ... well, if you've ever felt a fiendish itch to prick the bubble of someone else's pomposity, you'll enjoy The Compartment.

    Radio Times 17th August 1961