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The Unfortunates, by BS Johnson

1 hour, 30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 17 October 2010

by B.S. Johnson
adapted by Graham White

Bryan ..... Martin Freeman
Tony ..... Patrick Kennedy
Wendy ..... Claire Rushbrook
June ..... Jacqueline Defferary
Tony's Father ..... Sean Baker
First Aid Woman/Tony's Mother ..... Christine Kavanagh
Sation Announcer/Reporter ..... Tony Bell
Landlady/Clerk ..... Sally Orrock
Guest House owner/Reporter ..... Jude Akuwudike
Clerk/Newspaper Voice ..... Lloyd Thomas
Grocer/Clerk ..... Sam Dale
Passing Child ..... Joseph Dudgeon
Tony's son ..... Greta Dudgeon

directed by Mary Peate

"But I know this city...Tony. This town. His town. Their town."

Adaptation of B.S. Johnson's 1969 novel in which a sports journalist travels to a strange city to cover a football match, only to discover it was the city where he first met his friend Tony who has died young of cancer. We follow the journalist from his arrival at the train station, through lunch, to the match and on the journey home, as different memories of his friend are triggered.

Originally published in 27 unbound pamphlets in a box, The Unfortunates was intended to be read in a random order. The lack of a fixed order is suggestive of the way memories occur, and the book becomes a meditation not just on friendship and loss, but also on the nature of memory and writing as our hero struggles to recall everything in order to 'get it all down' as he promised his dying friend.

B.S. Johnson is not a household name, but his novels are beloved by a growing number of people who have discovered him and he has something of a cult status. Renewed interest in B.S. Johnson came partly from the publication of Jonathan Coe's celebrated biography of Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant.

  • Match Report

    Match Report

    A fictional football match report that was included in the box containing the first edition of 'The Unfortunates' by B S Johnson.

  • Epigrams

    These two Epigrams were also included in the box in which The Unfortunates was first published:

    I will tell you in three words what the book is – It is a history – A history of who ? what ? where? when? Don’t hurry yourself – It is a history-book, Sir (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man’s own mind.

    I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful

  • The First Edition

    The First Edition

    First edition of BS Johnson's The Unfortunates, showing the box and the loose 'chapters' which Johnson intended his readers to shuffle and read in random order.

  • The Unfortunates and BS Johnson

    The book is much loved. Why ? Perhaps because the novel is a compelling and extraordinary one, an intense journey into memory and loss; perhaps because it’s also funny and forceful about the consolations of life – friendship, love, food, football; perhaps because it’s a beautifully rendered account of the precise experience of a day in an English town – mooching, overhearing, remembering, watching and writing; and perhaps because Johnson’s uncompromising approach to the ‘truth’ - which led him to innovations like this shufflable form - is as accessible to a current generation of novelists as it seems to have been ‘difficult’ then.

    Perhaps also some of this interest grew because Bryan Johnson, the author and, in a complex game, the unnamed narrator of the novel, died 4 years later, by his own hand, at the age of 40. At the time he was an experimenter in a literary landscape which really didn’t get the experiment. Now, and particularly since Jonathan Coe’s unravelling of Johnson’s complex life in his 2004 Samuel Johnson award winning biography, Like A Fiery Elephant, it’s that experimentation which has made him a figure of increasing renown and interest. In a literary landscape which includes the confessional style of a David Eggers, the obsessive detail of a Nicholson Baker, the psychogeography of an Iain Sinclair, the innovations of The Unfortunates seem less like a challenge and more like a method which might get near to Johnson’s ‘truth’.


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