Monday, 28 October 2013
Monday 28 October 1963
The great thing about The Plane Makers is that it works both as an ongoing series and as a series of individual playlets about the workers at the Scott-Furlong factory (as such it's an obvious forerunner to the BBC's Clocking Off of the early 2000s). The star-studded, immensely fun Any More for the Skylark? is one of the most successful episodes so far in combining the two styles.
The Scott-Furlong Sovereign is being prepared for its trial flight down to the south of France. A technical crew of 10 will be aboard, and by longstanding tradition the remaining 60 seats will be occupied by factory employees. Competition for a place on the flight is likely to be stiff, and managing director John Wilder has assigned the task of allocating the seats to deeply unwilling sales manager Don Henderson. Henderson, in turn, has decided to give the job to some other idiot: in this case clueless PR man Michael Fletley (Peter Myers). Jack Watling is especially wonderful as the sardonic Henderson, who clearly spends most of his working life exasperated by the stupidity of those around him. When Fletley protests "But I don't even know the right people to ask, Sir!" he's met with a stupendously weary response: "Well let me assure you, we're not the least interested in their social status, merely that when they sit down the weight of their bodies exerts the required gravitational pull... don't allow anybody aboard who has a tendency to float three or four inches above the surface of the ground... apart from that it it's up to you... you're a public relations man aren't you? Well go and relate to the public!"
Fletley repeats these words almost verbatim (though with a good deal more pomposity) to his subordinate Tim Ormiston (Rodney Bewes, poring over a copy of Lord Denning's report on the Profumo affair when we first see him) who he passes the job on to.
With no subordinates of his own, Ormiston just has to get on with it. But how exactly are the seats to be allocated? First come, first served? "Oh good heavens, man!" cries a horrified Fletley, "You can't do things like that... there are channels." (As Ormiston later observes, "You know what usually happens in channels - mud goes down them slowly").
While the PR department are trying to decide who's worthy of a trip to the Med, several employees are getting ideas of their own. Jack-the-lad/sex pest (delete according to opinion) craftsman Hammy Hopkins (Victor Maddern, whose remarkable mugging throughout shows he'd have cleaned up on the gurning circuit had he ever decided to jack in acting) is desperate to be up to his neck in little French dollies (his words), and hatches an elaborate plan to ensure he is, sweet-talking Mr Campbell (Malcolm Hayes), head of Scott-Furlong's amateur dramatics group, to organise a talent contest - which he manages to talk Ormiston into providing four seats on the plane as prizes for (in fact, two of them will be prizes - Hammy's snaffling the others for himself and a bird he wants to take with him).
The acts Hammy rounds up to take part in the contest include Scott-Furlong's very own beat group, the Gustos, and Marlene Canter (a pre-Carry On Barbara Windsor, who truly sounds common as muck), who works in the paint shop by day and a strip club by night (I suppose you could call her a paint stripper). The none-too-bright Marlene's convinced by Hammy that Mr Campbell's a talent scout for a national chain of night clubs: "Does he want me to do my strip? Cos if he does I'll have to take my teddy bear."
Also planning to get hold of a seat is young draughtsman Willie Cooper (Terry Palmer), who plans to give it to a love rival in order to get him out of the way for his girlfriend Shirl's (Madeleine Mills) birthday party.
And then there's Fletley's immediate superior James Nett (John Woodvine), who demands a couple of seats for himself and Rosalind Perry (Isobel Black), a new girl at the factory he's trying to get his end away with.
Rosalind's not especially interested in this sleazy old married man, though - when she meets Tim Ormiston the pair very swiftly fall in love. Their budding relationship is very sweet - he takes her out for a drink and they share their disillusionment with the majority of their respective opposite sex. Tim's never had much luck with women: "All I've got is a television set and a copy of the Kama Sutra," he sighs (racy stuff for 1963). "Did you enjoy the Kama Sutra?" Rosalind asks. "No, I thought it was daft, really." Bewes and Black are both adorable. There's a cloud on the horizon, though, in the form of Nett, who swiftly moves in to separate them, sending Ormiston back to the office on some stupid pretext.
An angered Ormiston goes to cross Nett off the list, only to be told by Fletley that there won't be a list: Wilder, never a fan of tradition (or his workforce, for that matter), has decided that instead of employees the empty seats will be allocated to journalists. Incensed by the amount of work he's put in for nothing (not to mention the loss of a holiday with Rosalind), Ormiston recklessly heads off to confront the top man. He's forthright to say the least: Don Henderson chokes on his drink when the young man flatly tells Wilder he's made a bad decision. Wilder's face is a picture.
But, in the way of film and TV bosses, Wilder's initial incredulity shades into admiration for Ormiston's chutzpah. When he tries to counter Ormiston's insistence on the importance of tradition to staff morale with a condescending "It's a ridiculous tradition, Mr Ormiston," Tim rocks him back on his heels with the astute "Yes Sir, but it is a tradition."
"You can almost feel that breath on the back of your neck already, can't you?" Wilder says to Henderson once Ormiston's left. "We'll have to watch him."
Ormiston's plea proves successful. He and Rosalind are getting their romantic trip, Nett is apopleptic with rage on learning there's no seat for him, Willie is gobsmacked to learn there are seats for him, Shirl and Shirl's other bloke, and Hammy decides to forsake his potential ladyfriend in favour of his mate Bluey (Ken Wayne). And it's just possible that John Wider's beginning to think of his workers as human beings. Marlene, meanwhile, is offered a seat by a smitten Mr Campbell, whose wife suddenly isn't feeling too well...