In 1958 Ted Willis (best known for creating Dixon of Dock Green) wrote a stage play called Hot Summer Night that was adapted for the Armchair Theatre series on British television. Then in 1961 it was revamped and reproduced as a drama feature film Flame in the Streets, directed by Roy Ward Baker. The main action takes place on Guy Fawkes Night in West London. In the busy furniture factory the trade’s union leader Jacko Palmer (John Mills) fights for the right of a black worker Gabriel Gomez (Earl Cameron) to become the loading bay foreman. When Jacko’s daughter Kathie (Sylvia Syms) breaks the news that she intends to marry a West Indian school teacher both her parents struggle to come to terms with it, especially her mother (Brenda De Banzie) whose latent racial prejudice shocks the whole family.
In 1959’s Sapphire we were introduced to a section of society previously ignored by British cinema but Bakers handles the subject of race differently from the Basil Dearden’s film. Willis’s screenplay highlights the squalid living conditions of the black immigrants and the day-to-day prejudice they incurred. The bigotry is presented as deeply rooted in the cosmopolitan community highlighting the sexual frustrations of racially mixed marriages. Shot on location in the streets of Notting Hill Gate, this is an exceptionally brave attempt to deal with the issues of that period. The film is obviously helped by having a script written by someone who completely empathies with his working class characters. Critically acclaimed but never a box office success, both this and Sapphire can now be obtained on DVD and both are well worth a look especially by people interested in the social history of that time.