Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday 14 October 1963

The fun of this week's Plane Makers comes from seeing Scott Furlong's Works Manager Arthur Sugden (whose down-to-earth, home-loving, pipe-smoking persona is precisely what Harold Wilson was affecting as leader of the opposition) cast in the role of a wide-eyed ingenue adrift in the tricksy world of big business, about which he'd much rather remain ignorant.  Reginald Marsh's performance is, as always, wonderful.

The episode begins with a tour of the Scott Furlong works by a VIP party of Arab Sheikhs (factory hand Geoffrey Hinsliff - later to be Coronation Street's taxi driving pervert Don Brennan - derives a great deal of amusement from their funny clothes).

As he leads his super-rich charges off the factory floor, Managing Director John Wilder casually mentions to Sugden that he wants him to accompany him on a business trip to Milan.  Sugden's reaction is far from casual - he's never been on a trip of this nature before, and he finds the whole thing baffling.  He finds out from Wilder's secretary that three tickets have been booked on the airline, but she's cagey about revealing who the third member of the party will be.  The obvious candidate is Sales Manager Don Henderson (played by Jack Watling and apparently no relation to the late Bulman star).  Henderson's clearly replaced John Arnatt's Peter Humphreys from the series opener, but this isn't referred to.  Here he is enjoying a smoke with his boss, as 1960s men were wont to.

Arthur's colleagues, and his wife Mary, have a good idea who the third passenger's going to be - there's long been a rumour that Wilder always takes a mistress with him when travelling abroad.  And they're not wrong: shortly before departure Wilder produces Kate Barber (first series Avengers star Ingrid Hafner), who'll be acting as his "secretary" on the trip.  She and Wilder cosy up on the plane, while Arthur has to suffer the attentions of an overbearing holidaymaker (Sydney Arnold): "Nice little place.  Very Italian, but there are plenty of English people there so you don't feel out of it.  You don't want a lot of foreigners mucking you around when you're on holiday, do you?"

The ostensible purpose of the trip is to sell Scott Furlong's Sovereign jet to airline InterItalia.  It's a family business run by the elderly Emilio Copparo (Newton Blick - who, like Patrick Wymark, gets a special credit noting that he appears by permission of the RSC). Long in the tooth he might be, but Emilio's still keen to let people know he can twist up a storm with the best of them.

The supremely strait-laced Sugden feels extremely awkward in the presence of Wilder and his mistress, and even more so when he's left alone with Kate.  She proves to be far from the stereotypical scarlet woman he expected.  She's a divorced mother whose husband left her for a 17 year old, and her relationship with Wilder's brought a spot of passion into her difficult life, as well as helping financially.  The scene where she and Sugden have a chat, and she ropes him in to help with her knitting is really lovely stuff.  And her warmth and likeability leaves us feeling there's something more to Wilder than the ruthless tycoon he appears as.

Sugden's baffled when Wilder gives Copparo an estimate of three and a half years to deliver the Sovereigns he wants: in truth it would take nowhere near that long.  Confronting his usually hasty boss about this strange lie, Sugden's shocked to be told that the reason for coming to Milan was expressly not to sell planes to InterItalia.  Wilder's gleaned intelligence that the company's the object of an aggressive takeover bid by a rival Italian firm who only use American jets, and who wouldn't honour any contract with Scott Furlong.  And he's just discovered that Copparo's dying of cancer, making a takeover all the more inevitable.  Priding himself on being a simple man, Arthur is horrified at the level of duplicity going on.  Wilder offers him an insight into the cut-throat world he inhabits: "In big business, if you stick your head out too far there's already someone taking aim at it with an axe."

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