Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Monday 17 December 1963

It's the final John Betjeman in the West Country, and this week the man himself appears on camera, looking a mite confused by his guide to this week's destination, the seaside resort of Weston-Super-Mare.

Mr B surveys the town's seemingly endless rows of bed and breakfasts before we get to look inside one of them.

Once the kiddies are in bed, the parents head out to view the bright lights of Weston (nobody worried much about babysitting back then).

The next day the poet takes a trip to the beach, where he casts his eye over exactly the sort of things you might expect to see at the seaside.

There's a Salvation Army concert in progress, which garners an interesting range of reactions.

As the film draws to a close, Betjeman takes us away from the seafront to look at some of the more interesting architecture in town, lamenting the forthcoming demolition of a row of old houses to make way for a new supermarket.

We end with him pottering about Weston's modern village like a benign Godzilla in a straw boater, appreciating this record of how the town once was and musing, "It's a curious thing, nowadays, that most of what we like to look at nowadays has to be make-believe."  Too true, Mr B.  Too, too true.

Next tonight, it's that Monday night fixture, The Plane Makers.  Like several previous episodes, it's compelling and deathly dull in equal measure.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers that The Plane Makers' boardroom battles are considerably less interesting to me than what super-secretary Kay Lingard's done with her hair (it's an up do this week - you can see it here in one of the high angle shots that proliferate in this week's episode)...

...So it's not surprising that I wasn't exactly gripped by the main business of How Do You Vote?, a plan by Scott Furlong's managing director John Wilder to build another 12 Sovereign jets, and his attempts to secure the backing of the company's board.  Here's our first sight of Scott Furlong's decrepit new chairman, Sir Gordon Revidge (Norman Tyrrell) -  who seems to have been installed purely to piss Wilder off - discussing Wilder's plan with one Lord Teddington (played by Anthony Sharp, a constant presence in 60s and 70s TV as authority figures of one kind or another, but who never seems quite the same once you've seen his remarkable performance as a homicidal Catholic priest in Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin).

Fortunately writer David Weir seems aware that not every viewer will be fascinated by men boring on about aeroplanes for an hour, and has added in a human interest-type subplot.  Involving Eric Thompson, father of both Emma and Dougal.  He plays Philip Hammond, an employee who's been sacked on the spot by Wilder for apparently having his end away with a young lady in the back of a car hired by Wilder during a works dance - and then calling Wilder a filthy pig and a power-mad idiot when he was discovered.  The next day, Hammond's horrified by what's happened, but his attempts to get his job back are in vain.  At one point it seems he might be contemplating suicide.

As the board convenes for their meeting, Hammond's boss, intense, unsmiling chief researcher Dr Katz (played by Alan Tilvern, and not to be confused with the cartoon of the same name) makes a dramatic entrance.  He's furious that Wilder's fired one of his staff without consulting him, and when the managing director refuses to listen to Hammond's side of the story, he insists it be put before the board (Hammond's a computer operator, and these are very hard to come by).

It turns out that the girl in the back seat with Hammond was his pregnant wife, who'd fallen ill and who Hammond was helping when he was berated by Wilder - hence the abuse.  When Wilder refuses to retract Hammond's sacking Katz insists the board vote on whether to retract it.  The subsequent vote goes in Wilder's favour, but due to the board's moral disapproval of his actions (or possibly just to piss off Sir Gordon), he announces that he'll apologise to Hammond and reinstate him.  Much to Wilder's frustration this move's vetoed by the chair (the climactic meeting's surprisingly nailbiting stuff).

Wilder's plan for the 12 Sovereigns is just about approved, but Sir Gordon (who voted for it), hints darkly that the bank he chairs won't be willing to finance them.  The meeting's dragged on hours longer than it should've, and the episode ends with Wilder phoning his son to tell him he won't be meeting him at his boarding school to take him out to tea after all.  It's the human cost of big business.  Or something.

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