Monday, 21 April 2014

Friday 7 February 1964

Tonight's It's Dark Outside tackles what, 1964, would have been widely known as Rachmanism (after the infamously unscrupulous property developer - and former lover of Mandy Rice-Davies - Peter Rachman): the process of filling properties up with ethnic minority tenants barred from most other accommodation, charging them scandalously exorbitant rents and meeting any dissent, or failure to pay, with extreme violence.

Alfred De Souza (Charles Hyatt) is an apparent victim of this violence.  He claims he fell up the stairs, but Sergeant Swift, called in after a pair of elderly sisters across the hall dialled 999 on witnessing him being attacked, can see that his injuries were caused by a vicious dog.

Meanwhile, Anthony Brand is preparing to attend a regimental reunion.  His smugly leftist wife Alice inevitably mocks his medals, claiming she last saw them at Christmas: "I put them away with the other decorations".  Nonetheless, relations seem to be improving between these two since last week, and they plan a romantic weekend in Paris.  Alice, however, is still enjoying her inevitably doomed liaison with Swift, who contacts her to suggest she write an article about the conditions De Souza and his fellow tenants live in.

Inspector Rose, a member of the same regiment as Brand, reluctantly attends the same do.  As he complains to Swift, "The cowards have blossomed into braggarts, the true heroes are all dead".  One such braggart is the event's interminably dull convenor (Donald Eccles), who reacquaints Rose with a Lieutenant Miller (Tony Steedman) who he briefly met once many years ago.

Miller's presence means little to Rose, but it has a big effect on a strangely panicky Brand.  Miller seems to find Brand's name oddly familiar too.

Alice gets to work on the story Swift suggested by interviewing the spinster sisters (Nora Nicholson and The Plane Makers' Aimee Delamain).  They claim to be bewildered by the changes that have happened to the house since the "coloured people" came to live there and the rent rose so steeply, but they were born there and are determined that they'll die there.  What's more, they've become quite fond of their neighbours, and enjoy learning about the far-flung corners of the globe they hail from.

Meanwhile, the hallways are stalked by an enforcer known as The Leopard (Dan Jackson), who has a very big dog (whose fearsome growls are all too obviously dubbed on: the beast itself looks perfectly placid).

At the regimental bash, Inspector Rose, likeable git that he is, is having a great time observing Brand's discomfort over Miller.  It turns out Miller and Brand both served in Greece, where Miller was imprisoned and sentenced to death for killing Greek citizens - which the authorities were informed about by another officer looking to save his own skin.  The realisation is dawning on Miller that Brand was the man who betrayed him.  Miller, infamous among the other members of the regiment as a freeloader, sees in this first and foremost an opportunity to make money, starting off by getting Brand to stump up for his membership fee.

Alice and Swift want to speak to De Souza, and head for the tatty club where he plays the drums.  The bar staff consists of a raddled old woman who sits knitting, and the clientele are mainly black.  To complete this vivid portrait of London lowlife, the manager is a screaming queen called Bobby Bascombe (played with great gusto by Jerome Willis), who turns out (of course) to be an old friend of Alice's.

I think It's Dark Outside is the first show I've featured at TV Minus 50 to feature unequivocally gay characters, with Bobby joining Aubrey Morris's character from the first episode.  He's a slightly more encouraging depiction, a happy-go-lucky, Julian and Sandy-esque character, despite his insalubrious surroundings.  Thought the fact he's attracted to a character played by Keith Barron means even the most committed of homosexuals will probably consider him a dangerous pervert.

Tearing himself away from Bobby's attentions, Swift goes to see De Souza.  The drummer still claims he fell, but his panic when Swift voices his concern that he might have caught rabies gives the game away.

Meanwhile, Brand has shared a taxi back from the reunion with Miller.  Accompanying him into his flat, he insists it wasn't he who betrayed Miller.  But, er, just to stop any nasty rumours getting about he gives him £10.  It seems likely this won't be the last money he gives his former comrade.

Swift gets De Souza to tell him all about the Leopard - and he heads round to sort the enforcer out.  Turns out this was a bit of a rash move, as there are several other burly men present all too willing to beat the sergeant up.  But a knock at the door brings an unlikely saviour.

It's Bobby, who makes short work of the crooks.  I was convinced I knew what was going to happen here.  He'd suddenly come over all butch, and it'd turn out he was an undercover man all along, the effeminate persona just a front.  Thrillingly, that doesn't happen at all.  He explains to Swift that four years in the Hong Kong police made him an expert in unarmed combat, but he's still just as much of a queen as ever.  A camp gay man who can not only handle himself in a fight but comes to the hero's rescue seems a radical idea even today.  And this was in Nineteen-Sixty-flippin-Four! It's astonishing to see.  In a wonderful parallel universe, Bobby got his own spin-off series after his appearance in this episode, a cross between The Avengers and Round the Horne.

Amid this excitement, the revelation that the elderly sisters were the evil landlords all along barely registers (though the pulling back of a curtain to reveal them, and the image of Aimee Delamain in a wheelchair toting a vicious dog certainly add to the episode's camp value).

The episode ends with Brand returning home, his guilt-ridden demeanour baffling to his wife (whose heavily made-up face, it must be said, looks terrifying out of focus).  There are two episodes left in this series of It's Dark Outside, and it seems a safe bet that the issue of Brand's less-than-honourable past is going to raise its head again...

Thursday 6 February 1964

The Saint is a show few people would look to as a paradigm of feminist thought, but even so, tonight's episode is quite outrageously sexist.  It's a highly entertaining episode in its own way, but the treatment of its main female character means it's also pretty depressing.  Still, at least it gives The Plane Makers' Barbara Murray an opportunity to go the full Joan Crawford in her portrayal of a dastardly businesswoman who (inevitably) meets her comeuppance at the hands of Simon Templar.

We're in Paris, which means we get some stock footage of gendarmes poncing about the Arc de Triomphe and clips from an old fashion show (as well as an alarmingly phallic hairdo).

Simon Templar's in town, of course, and is greeted by old friend of the week Dave Stern (Bill Nagy, taking a break from playing baddies), Paris correspondent for the International Press.  For some mysterious reason, he's keen on Simon's path crossing that of cosmetics magnate Denise Dumont (Murray)...

Bringing Simon to a restaurant table in view of that occupied by Mme Dumont, Dave relates (in flashback) the story of how this simple village girl became a multi-millionaire bastion of the beauty industry.  She started off as an assistant to meek local pharmacist Phillipe Dumont (Anthony Newlands), to whom she swiftly became engaged, despite being more physically interested in his much younger assistant Jacques (Bruce Montague).  The actors all have their own individual approach to their characters' Frenchness: Montague's accent is pretty full-on, Newlands' half-hearted, and Murray doesn't bother with one at all (what's the point of casting Barbara Murray if you don't want a drawling English accent that makes the word "daaaaarling" sound like it lasts a minute?).

The main obstacle in the way of Denise and Philippe's money was his querulous invalid mother (Veronica Turleigh), determined to be the only woman in his life.  Denise accuses her of treating her son like a lapdog: "Force him to choose between your lap and mine, and believe me, he will choose mine."  It doesn't quite come to that though: for a moment it looks like Denise is going to make like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and withhold vital medicine from the old lady when she has an attack, but she relents and Mme Dumont's dead within a few days anyway.

Once she was married to Phillipe, Denise became set on expanding the business, encouraging her husband to experiment with creating new toiletries and cosmetics, eventually producing a substance called Dreemykreem.  As Denise observes: "It sounds American to the French, and French to the Americans."  Phillipe's baffled as to why she'd care what Americans think, but the Denise Dumont brand rapidly takes over those parts of the world that matter - in Dave's picturesque phrase, "She spread like bubonic plague" (the map used to show this to us is hilariously woeful - Scotland appears to have transformed into a giant rabbit's head).

It didn't take long for Denise to get tired of her husband.  One day, when he questioned her relationship with an American ad executive, she had him forcibly removed from her office and sent back to the little village of Beauvais: "Get out of my office, my home, and my life!" she snarls, in true uber-bitch fashion.

Years later, Denise's position as the queen of the cosmetics industry is secure, and she swanks around Paris like she owns the place.  Her latest male companion is the quarter-witted Count Alfredo (John Bennett), who clearly comes some way beneath her dog in her affections.

For reasons he hasn't yet divulged, Dave wants this uppity broad taught a lesson, and plans that Simon will be the one to bring about this retribution.  To Simon's puzzlement, he's introduced to Denise as "Simon Tombs", a wealthy man-about-town, and she's instantly taken with him.

Now Dave explains what his plan's all about, taking Simon to the pharmacist's shop in Beauvais, where Phillipe and his sister Marie (Jean Marsh) now live in little more than poverty.  Phillipe's ill, but can't afford treatment, or the six month holiday his doctor's prescribed as essential to his health.  Naive Phillipe signed away all his rights to the products he and Denise invented, but Simon has a plan involving the 100% effective (but prohibitively expensive to make) insect repellent he's recently invented.  Meanwhile, he encourages Marie to go and ask her sister-in-law (who she's never met, having taught in America for the duration of Phillipe and Denise's marriage) for financial help.

With this avenue definitively closed off, Simon puts his plan into action, starting off by going on a date with Denise.  "A woman as beautiful as you, in control of a vast empire - it's hard to believe," he tells her, patronisingly.  Interestingly, Denise here gives her side of the story regarding her marriage to Phillipe: she had wanted the marriage to work, but he was shiftless and continually unfaithful.  Up to now, all we know about Denise's past life has been related to us by Dave Stern, and, for all we know, might not have been totally accurate.  However, it's already been confirmed to us that Denise is a bad egg through her beastly treatment of her maid (Alexandra Dane, who's accent is seriously odd: "Sssanks for everysing!").  It's interesting to imagine an alternative version of The Good Medicine in which Dave's account of Denise's behaviour turns out to be faulty, having been related to him by an embittered Phillipe, that it turns out he did mistreat her, and Simon realises the plot he's been drawn into is simply an attempt to slur a successful woman.  You'd have to find some way to work a punch-up into it.

It's clear that what Denise likes about Simon is that he's not a lapdog - in other words, that what she wants, deep down is for a man who'll dominate her, unlike the submissive count  (John Bennett's extremely camp performance suggests that these two probably don't have a physical relationship).  Simon exploits both her interest in him and her greed by piquing her interest in a pill he claims to be trying to find a manufacturer for.

Idiot he might be, but the count's presence could seriously hinder Dave and Simon's plans, so they decide the best thing to do is kidnap him, forcing him to endure the indignity of being locked up in a room in his underwear.  They're even quite lax in bringing his pink gins.

Meanwhile, Simon's installed Marie as Denise's new maid (obviously she hasn't got a clue it's actually her sister-in-law administering her massages).  Simon's taking Denise out again, and encourages her to swallow one of his pills before they head off.  This would surely set alarm bells ringing for most people, especially as he refuses to say what the pill is, but eventually he convinces her to take it.

When the two dine in the open air, Simon announces that the pill was a brand new insect repellent (made from a nut his explorer father found in the jungle).  Astonished by how well it works, Denise offers him 650,000 francs for it.  Meanwhile, there's some more comic business with the count.

Simon accepts the cheque from Denise - and swiftly takes it to Phillipe, popping back the next day to tell Denise he conned her - there was nothing in the pill, though Marie had spiked all her toiletries with Phillipe's insect repellent.  Not unsurprisingly, she's livid (though, oddly, the idea of stopping the cheque never seems to occur to her), though Simon seems willing to compensate for the loss of the money in his own, particular way - the implication being that massive success in the business world is nothing compared to a tumble with Roger Moore.  It would make for an interesting debate.

Wednesday 5 February 1964

Things have changed since our last visit to Weatherfield, at Christmas: for one thing, Dennis Tanner's dreams of being a music biz svengali have been put on hold for a bit - he's now working night shifts packing boxes (Kenneth Colley is among his workmates.  It's not something he's finding especially fulfilling.

It doesn't help that his supervisor can't stand the sight of him, and promises to have him sacked if makes one more mistake.

Another Street resident who's not having a brilliant time of it is Ken Barlow.  He's being all broody and, who's gone all brooding and bites poor Val's head off for caring more about him eating his dinner at the optimum temperature than his mental wellbeing.

"All you're fit for is mithering about me dinner!"
"I'm your wife, I'm supposed to give you your meals."
"If I'd wanted a housekeeper I would've got one.  I thought I'd married a person! Someone with feeling and someone who thinks something about me! And you don't even know what I'm talking about, do you? You never did!"

No wonder Val seems confused, she seems to have walked into a revival of Look Back in Anger.  She storms out - and who could blame her?

Her destination is the bedsit occupied by Dave Robbins (former Avenger Jon Rollason), a teaching colleague of Ken's who's recovering from an accident.  Being very much attracted to Val, he proves almost too good a shoulder to cry on as she reveals her fear that she and Ken have "married the wrong ones".

At number 11, Elsie Tanner's getting ready for a night at work, which is also play since she landed a position in the casino owned by her current boyfriend Laurie Frazer (Stanley Meadows).

Ken's at the Rover's, on the way to drinking himself into oblivion.  "A Scotch, Kenneth?" asks a scandalised Annie Walker when he gives his order.

The watching Ena Sharples puts Ken's fragile state down to the prospect of a nightclub soon opening on Coronation Street.  Martha Longhurst thinks the present generation's "moral behaviour" is the worst ever known in history, but Minnie Caldwell thinks there was plenty of "shenanigan" going on when they were young.  Ena's highly sceptical that Minnie would know a shenanigan if she saw it.

As Ken seeks solace at the bottom of a glass, Val returns home in a right old state.  Concepta Hewitt pops in to jolly her along, but ends up making things worse: Val mumbles the consolatory words Dave said to her and Concepta, assuming it was Ken who said them, insists that any man who could talk to her like that must be the right feller for her.

When Concepta leaves, Val makes her way to Ken's hallowed bookshelves (we see a copy of Anthony Sampson's Anatomy of Britain, precisely the sort of book we'd expect a Guardian reader like Ken to display in pride of place, and it's surely a safe bet that Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy - which some have suggested was a key influence on Coronation Street - is nestling somewhere on those shelves too).  In a shocking act of desecration (well that's how I'd see it, anyway), Val pulls all the books down and tears out a page to scribble a note on.

Meanwhile, Dennis, deciding he doesn't want the stupid job after all, makes out he was responsible for smashing the contents of a crate purely in order to get fired.

Harry and Concepta Hewitt find a heavily inebriated Ken in the Rovers, and finally convince him to return home to Val.  When he gets there she's gone.  He's so drunk he barely notices the books covering the bedspread, and passes out halfway through reading her farewell note.

We end with Dave Robbins awakening from a nap to the unexpected sight of Val who, he's startled to discover, has left Ken for him.

This episode's written by probably Coronation Street's greatest writer of all, Jack Rosenthal, but it's not a particularly distinguished script, and the episode seems a bit of an odd choice to release on DVD.  The deterioration of Ken and Val's relationship is heart-rending, but most viewers watching retrospectively will know they get back together, and the lack of resolution to this storyline (I won't be featuring another episode here till May, by which time the whole thing's bound to be forgotten) is really just frustrating.