The television play "Our Day Out" was commissioned by the BBC and first broadcast in December 1977 as part of the BBC's Play of the Week series. Due to popular demand, it was shown again in February 1978 as part of the BBC's Play For Today series, and was also re-broadcast in 1979 and again in August 1990, and on BBC4 in 2008.
Willy Russell had taught at Dingle Vale School, one of the locations used in the film, and called on his experiences of school trips—as a teacher and as a child—when writing the screenplay, which he finished in five days. The film was shot on 16mm film by a first-time director in three weeks, and features a largely untrained cast.
The original television version was developed into a musical for the stage with songs by Willy Russell, Chris Mellor, and Bob Eaton. This production, directed by Bob Eaton, was first performed at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool in 1983.
The film centres on a school trip to Conwy Castle in North Wales. Mrs. Kay teaches a remedial class for illiterate children, called the "Progress Class". The whole class - along with Digga and Reilly, the slightly older class bullies who used to be in the Progress Class - are taken on a coach trip. In the original version, the headmaster, Mr Briggs makes the decision to go on the trip as an extra member of staff, emphasising his mistrust of the liberal values of Mrs Kay. However, in the shorter stage version the Headteacher commissions Mr. Briggs, the authoritarian Deputy Headmaster, to supervise the trip.
On the way to the Castle, the coach stops at a roadside cafe with a snack shop, where the students take advantage of the storekeepers' confusion to shoplift sweets and snacks, unbeknownst to the teachers supervising. It makes a second stop at Colwyn Bay Mountain Zoo, where the students enjoy the animals so much that they try to steal most of them. The zoo attendant discovers this just in time before the coach pulls out, and makes them return the animals.
When the coach finally reaches the Castle, the students race around exploring the grounds, cliffs and beach. Soon it's time to leave, but one of the best-behaved students, Carol, is missing. A search ensues and Mr. Briggs finally finds Carol, who is depressed because she doesn't want to return to the bad conditions at her home. She wants a better life and wishes she lived in a nicer area, like that which surrounds the Castle. She becomes so upset that she threatens to jump off the cliff. Mr. Briggs, who up till this point has acted like a harsh disciplinarian, policing the students' bad behaviour and expressing doubts that they should even be allowed to have an outing, shows a more understanding side as he convinces Carol not to jump and to rejoin the rest of the group.
At the suggestion of Mr Briggs, the coach makes one more stop at a fairground where the students have some more fun before returning home. Mr. Briggs joins the students on some of the rides, wears a funny hat, and joins in with the sing-song on the journey home, all of which is photographed by Mrs. Kay. She comments on how she never knew he had a softer side, and that he certainly wouldn't be able to get away from the fact now she had evidence. Not wanting to undermine his strict image, Mr. Briggs offers to develop the photos, as he is a keen amateur photographer. Once he returns to his car, he unravels the undeveloped film, exposing and ruining the photos of him clowning around with the students.
Along the way, two young teachers, Susan and Colin, who are helping Mrs. Kay supervise, must also deal with the fact that Digga and Reilly have a crush on Susan while two older girl students have a crush on Colin. Susan and Colin solve their problem by subtly suggesting that Digga and Reilly should turn their attentions to the two girls.
The most noticeable difference from the play was the omission of the characters John and Mac, who, in the play, are the shop owners in Wales who get robbed by the kids. In the movie they are replaced by two women. In the play Mr Briggs doesn't have a soft side while in the movie he does have a soft side. In the later musical, this soft side is maintained as he enjoys a day out at the fair with the students, but sadly destroys the photographic evidence at the end by exposing the film to the light.