Service Not Included: History

Service Not Included is notably both the only produced screenplay Alan Ayckbourn has written and his only piece written specifically for television.

Alan Ayckbourn was contacted by the television director Herbert Wise in 1973 regarding a new BBC drama series
Masquerade; previously Herbert Wise had been responsible for filming Alan's plays Relatively Speaking (1969) and he would go on to direct The Norman Conquests for television in 1977. Alan agreed to consider writing for the programme and was commissioned by the BBC in July 1973 to write a thirty minute piece for the series Masquerade, which would consist of six original plays all united by the theme of 'a masked fancy dress party, taking place now in a large 19th century country house.'

He was advised that the screenplay should have no more than four main speaking parts and not more than four sets. Alan responded in July 1973 that he had already had an idea about "an end-of-convention party for a group of Rentokil representatives and their wives." Alan wrote his first screenplay in November 1973 (sending it to his agent
Margaret 'Peggy' Ramsay on 1 December), noting: 'It has taken me more time than any full length play ever took me [to write] - and I'm far less sure of the result.' The script was sent to the BBC on the same day suggesting it was 'very downbeat for me' along with the title Now Being Served.

Although the screenplay was well-received, there were initial concerns about the budget and the size of the cast, which included a three piece band. However, by January 1974, a slightly larger budget had been arranged for the production and only the band had to be dropped with a final draft of the screenplay being send to the director Herbert Wise on 4th February 1974.

With everything in place, the first read-through for the script took place on 18 March 1974 with filming scheduled for 26 - 27 March following a week of rehearsals. Filming took place entirely on location at the Berystede Hotel, Ascot. With the title now altered to
Service Not Included, it was broadcast on BBC2 at 10.25pm on 20 May 1974. The programme has never been repeated and never had a commercial release.

Interestingly, only five of the six proposed plays were ever filmed with the pieces contributed by Alan Ayckbourn, Caryl Churchill, Eric Chappell, Adrian Mitchell & Charles Wood.

Service Not Included has no plot as such, but offers a waiter's eye view of an end of conference party at a hotel. All the events of the night are seen through the eyes of the waiter Jace, offering snippets of conversation between the party-goers. The idea was later refined for stage when Alan wrote the one act piece Between Mouthfuls for the play Confusions that same year; within it a waiter moves between two tables and the audience hears only what the waiter hears as he moves back and forth between the diners.

The only other time the screenplay has seen the light of day was during the
Ayckbourn 2011 event at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, when participants had the exclusive chance to do a read-through of the screenplay. This was the first time the screenplay had been 'performed' since it was filmed in 1974.

Service Not Included has not been published and is not available for production.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.