Sunday, 31 August 2014

Monday 31 August 1964

It's the final Choice of Coward, and in his intro this week Noel informs us that tonight's play was the result of 11 years of trying to come up with the ideal vehicle for him to star alongside the legendary theatrical couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.  Amongst his rejected ideas was a play set entirely in a giant bed, including stage directions "Which, if followed faithfully, would have landed all three of us in gaol."

The eventual result of that gestation period starts in Paris in 1933.  Jill Bennett plays the carefree Gilda (Coward says it with a soft G, everyone else with a hard one), whose stodgy friend Ernest (Richard Pearson) is utterly bemused by her unconventional relationship with flamboyant artist Otto (John Wood) (unconventional for 1933 anyway - they live together but aren't married).  Ernest bears the news that Otto's great friend Leo (from whose side he won Gilda) is in town.  After Otto and Ernest have left, we discover that Leo (Daniel Massey) was in the other room all along, he and Gilda having shared a night of passion while Otto was out of town (Leo's dressing gown and cravat are enough to tell us that this is the Coward character).  The pair laughingly reminisce over old times and their mutual love of Otto, who chooses this moment to return.  Convinced he's been laughed at he storms off, leaving them to it.

A year later, Leo and Gilda are living together in London.  Leo has just become an overnight sensation as a playwright and is facing the dreadful attentions of the press, represented by a gauche reporter (Desmond Newling) whose interview includes such profound questions as "What is your opinion of the modern girl?").  While Leo's off at some hideous publicity thing Gilda receives a visit from Otto, who has also now found huge success as a portraitist.  The pair immediately rekindle their relationship.

The next morning, Gilda decides to leave London.  She's been muse to both Otto and Leo, and now they've both found success she feels she's surplus to requirements, and heads off with a New York-bound Ernest.  At first overjoyed at being reunited, Leo and Otto row over Gilda, then make the discovery that she's gone (leaving identical notes for them both), and proceed to drown their sorrows in brandy and sherry ("a very fine Armadildo").  The maudlin pair, consoling one another over their loss, eventually end up in one another's arms.

Three years later, Gilda's married to Ernest and living in New York.  An intimate soirée held for guests Warren Stanhope, Carol Cleveland and Stella Bonheur is interrupted by the arrival of Otto and Leo, dressed in identical outfits and behaving like far more than good friends.  They've come to reclaim Gilda from conventional society.  She doesn't seem thoroughly opposed to the idea, but to avoid scandal slips them a key and tells them to come back when her guests are gone.  The next morning Ernest returns from a business trip to find Leo and Otto in his home but no sign of Gilda.  She slipped out to think things over, and she's decided that she, Leo and Otto belong together.  The remainder of the play consists of the mischievous trio mocking Ernest and the normal society that he represents.

The cast of Design for Living is excellent, and there's a certain historical fascination to it, but it's by some way the weakest of the Choice of Coward.  At times it feels like it's never going to end, and it seems very pleased with its own attitude to things that, while undoubtedly shocking in the 1930s, now seem pretty banal (all right, three-way relationships like the one here may not be exactly common, but they don't seem all that interesting either).

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sunday 30 August 1964

With the Count's plans for revenge slowly coming together, this is the most incident-packed instalment yet.  We begin with the Count taking breakfast with Albert De Morcerf and his friends (he's especially glad to meet Maximilian Morrel, whose ears prick up when he hears that, like his father's mysterious benefactor, the Count's bankers are Thomson and French).  We learn that the Count's acquired a residence in Paris: a modest, unpretentious palace on the Champs d'Elysees which Louis XV bought for Madame de Pompadour.

As the Count departs, he encounters General de Morcerf, now grey and distinguished-looking, and retired from the army to enter the world of politics.

He also meets the general's wife, who, unlike anybody else, appears to recognise him as her lost love Edmond Dantés.  But, clearly unable to believe her eyes, she says nothing.

The Count's next visit is to another of the men who caused him to be imprisoned, the millionaire banker now known as Baron Danglars.  When we catch up with the baron he's laughing with a pair of clients (Robert Young and Michael Oxley) about Thomson and French's absurd request that extend unlimited credit to this strange Count that nobody's heard of.  Philip Madoc's transformation into the older Fernand seems to have been achieved with little more than a wig and moustache, but Morris Perry looks positively decrepit as the older Danglars.  Although he's spent most of the intervening years wasting away in prison, the ravages of time seem to have been far kinder to Edmond than anyone else (except Mercedes, who looks exactly the same).

The sparring between the sceptical Baron and the acidulous Count is gloriously played by Perry and Badel, and Peter Hammond directs it with his usual inventiveness.  Prepared to inform some dimwitted upstart that his credit will be severely limited, Danglars finds himself ridiculed for affecting an egalitarian style while clinging to a title ("Am I to take it, then, that your servants address you as Danglars?"), and dazzled into silence by the Count's fabulous wealth ("A million? My dear sir, if such a trifle could suffice me I should never have taken the trouble to open an account.  A million? You're talking of a sum I take the trouble to carry in my pocketbook").  The Count decides he'll take six million to be getting on with.

At the de Morcerf residence Mercedes is still unable to voice her suspicions about the Count's identity, but fearing what his sudden appearance may mean, she begs Albert to be careful in his dealings with him.

Now to a new location: the Danglars residence, where the Baron's wife is surprised by her husband while sharing a tender moment with young Lucien Debray.  Sharp-eyed viewers may recognise her as the former mistress of M de Villefort, whose child was saved from being buried alive by Bertuccio, as related last week.

Danglars, deciding he'd do well to cultivate the Count's acquaintance, has brought his latest client to meet his family.  As well as his wife there's his quick-witted young daughter Eugenie (Isobel Black), fiancée of Albert de Morcerf, and her companion Louise d'Armilly (Janette Rowsell).  The Count expresses his wish to be introduced to Parisian society; Eugenie suggests the flighty Mme de Villefort as the ideal person to do it.

Baroness Danglars is aggrieved by the news that her favourite dappled grey carriage horses have disappeared.  We get an insight into her husband's unthinking greed when he admits to her that he sold them that morning to a man who offered over the odds for them.  It turns out they now belong to the Count, who professes that he had no idea who their former owner was.

In the Count's house, his devoted servant/mistress Haydée relaxes decorously in her exotic boudoir (the striking resemblance between Natasha Parry as Mercedes and Valerie Sarruf as Haydée is surely no coincidence, serving as it does to underline Edmond's obsession with his lost love).  Haydée's lived her life in servitude of one kind or another, and doesn't quite understand the freedom that the Count offers her: her fondest wish is to stay as his slave, but he wants her to come out into society with him, and find another man if she wishes.  His one request is that she never reveal the identity of her father.

The Count receives news from Bertuccio (now decked out in proper majordomo livery) that his no-good foster son Benedetto (the illegitimate child of de Villefort and Mme Danglars) is on his way to Paris in response to a summons from the Count.  He also announces that the Count's been successful in buying the very house in Auteuil where he rescued the child from his murderous father.  The Count has a further request for his servant: that he bribe Mme Danglars' coachman to make the horses (now returned to her) bolt when she's out riding with Mme de Villefort - exactly as the coach reaches the Count's residence.

We now get to meet Mme de Villefort (Patricia English), who's extremely taken with what she's heard of the Count, and is even more impressed when Mme Danglars shows off the diamond-studded harness that he threw in when he sent back the horses.  Mme Danglars suggests the Count would make an ideal husband for Mme de Villefort's stepdaughter Valentine (Anna Palk).

The highly amused Eugenie can clearly see that Mme de Villefort has the Count in mind for herself.  Louise likens Valentine's stepmother's jealousy of her to her own jealousy of Albert.  The lesbian subtext of the novel's added an extra piquancy by Sandor Elés' extremely camp performance as Albert.

Mmes Danglars and de Villefort head out for a ride along with Valentine, and it's clear Bertuccio's done his job well.  Before long the horses go wild.  Outside the Count's house his mute Nubian slave Ali awaits them with his lasso...

Phew! See what I mean about this week's episode being full of incident? It's almost exhausting to keep up with what's going on, but it's so utterly compelling thanks to all involved.  Not least, of course, Alexandre Dumas, who, long before the invention of TV, created what is surely one of the greatest soap operas ever.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Saturday 29 August 1964

Alas, this week's Doctor Who episode is one of the many that are missing from the BBC's archive.  Unlike with the vast majority of other programmes with similar gaps, though, soundtrack recordings exist for all Doctor Who's lost instalments.  So that means we're able to get some idea of what the episode was like, at least.  For the DVD release of this story, the soundtracks to the missing episodes were accompanied with animation.  Clearly a lot of work went into it, but it's marred by some dodgy likenesses and the curious decision to liven up talky scenes with huge close-ups of characters' eyes and mouths, something that you certainly don't see much of in the episodes that still exist visually.

The episode's called The Tyrant of France after Robespierre (Keith Anderson), before whom the Doctor, still in the guise of a Regional Officer of the Provinces, is brought by Lemaitre.  Never one to shy away from confrontation, the Doctor happily gives his opinion that the whole reign of terror thing is a terrible way to run a country (I get the impression this is no longer his favourite period in history).  Robespierre turns out to have several screws loose, living in perpetual fear of the enemies he sees in every corner (in fairness, he probably does have quite a few).

Meanwhile, at Jules' house, Susan's still ill, and Barbara learns that her new admirer, Leon, isn't viewed very favourably by Jules' sister Danielle.  There's some good news, though, as Jules and Jean have found Ian (who's not over-chuffed about the fact they knocked him out and put a hood over his head to bring him to their HQ).  Jules confirms he's the man Ian's cellmate sent him to look for, but he's no idea why as he's never heard of Webster or the elusive James Stirling.  Jules suspects that Leon, who "moves in a very wide circle) could be the English spy.  At Conciergerie prison, the tailor's handed the Doctor's ring over to Lemaitre and confirmed his suspicions that the old man's a fraud.

Susan's getting worse, and the physician won't come to Jules' house, so she and Barbara have to go and see him (he's played by a very young Ronald Pickup).  After the consultation the physician follows the tailor's lead by heading straight to the prison to announce he's found some escaped prisoners.  Susan and Barbara are recaptured and returned to Conciergerie, where at least they're reunited with the Doctor.

Jules establishes that Leon isn't Stirling, but he appears to have a lead and Ian heads off to meet him, only to find himself surrounded by soldiers.  Leon's a traitor and Ian's been caught in a trap...

Next tonight a programme that, happily, does still exist.

We're in the grim surroundings of a Victorian prison, where kindly warder Jackson (Kevin McHugh) is trying to make life easier for inmates including a distressed young boy, Terry Martin (Valentine Ashley), who he offers some chocolate...

...which is rapidly snatched away by brutal Chief Warder Holland (Bernard Bresslaw), who's got no time for mollycoddling the scum in his charge.  Bresslaw was yet to appear in a Carry On film at this time, but was still mainly associated with the role of lovably dim-witted Popeye Popplewell in The Army Game, so his casting as a sadistic prison officer may have come as a bit of a shock to some viewers.  He's brilliant.

Major Manning, the governor of the prison (HMP Lewes), is played by John Wentworth, with rather better groomed facial hair than when we saw him last as the Abbé Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo.  He's supportive of Jackson's more lenient method of dealing with the prisoners, but finds Holland too formidable a character to overrule.

But, ironically, when a riot breaks out, it's gentle Jackson who's seriously injured by being thrown from the gallery.

At the Yard, Sergeant Cork's moved by a visit from Bert Fouldes (Alex McDonald), who's just been released from prison after serving five years for breaking into an abandoned building to sleep, the victim of an over-zealous judge determined to make an example of him.  His prison experience has left him the broken shell of a man, and Cork rails against the system that did it to him: "Our prison system is the worst in the world.  They send people from Russia to study our methods and even they go away appalled" (it's another brilliant script from Cork's finest writer, Julian Bond: "I've far too much conscience to make a good politician," Cork tells his superior at one point.  "Far too much conscience to make a good policeman").

With remarkable timing, Superintendent Rodway announces that Cork and Marriott are being sent to Lewes prison to investigate the Jackson case.  Marriott's bemused by the splendour of Major Manning's apartments in comparison to the horrific conditions the inmates live in.

As Cork and Marriott go to interview the suspects (against Holland's wishes they get to interview them one-on-one in their cells), Major Manning is informed by the grotesque prison chaplain (John Garrie) - a man moved to fury by the discovery that the prison library housed a copy of Madame Bovary - that Jackson has died.  The investigation is now into a murder.

The first prisoner Cork and Marriott interview is Aubrey Drummond (John Moffatt, later Radio 4's Poirot), a former actor and ongoing ham.  He insists he had nothing against any of the warders, though the same can't be said for the Padre: "The man can't help being physically repulsive, but he's intolerable socially as well as being a thorn in my agnostic side."  Drummond thinks it more likely that, with Holland due to retire and Jackson favourite to replace him, one of the other warders killed him to prevent a drastic regime change.

Marriott goes alone to interview cheeky chappie Gafy Carter (Leslie Dwyer), who, for the price of a cigar, reveals his own thoughts on the matter, which almost exactly echo Drummond's.

The third suspect, Bartlett (Tony Beckley, who, like Leslie Dwyer, previously appeared in Cork as another criminal) seems an especially likely one, having a history of violence.  But he claims he wouldn't have done anything to jeopardise his release in three months' time, and also points the finger of suspicion at the warders.

It comes as a surprise to everyone when Drummond suddenly confesses to killing Jackson.  Cork and Marriott don't believe him, and they're right - his plea for clemency having just been rejected, he's simply looking for a way out, even if it's at the end of a rope.

Cork's suspicious of Warder Toms (Richard Klee), but, as the man quite reasonably points out, it's a bit of a stretch to suppose you'd kill a man just because you don't agree with his methods.

Holland represents the voice in society (as loud now as it was in the 1880s or the 1960s) that scorns anything but the harshest treatment for wrongdoers.  For him Cork's yet another hand-wringing liberal happy to preach from a distance to those on the ground ("You really want it to be one of us, don't you?").  He admits he hated Jackson, who was only able to earn praise for his attitude toward the prisoners because there were a load of unthanked warders maintaining discipline.  "Humanitarians? I'm sick of 'em".

Cork attempts to force the killer to come forward by pricking his conscience, having the chaplain announce during his sermon that Drummond has confessed.

It doesn't work, so Cork thunderously accuses young Terry Martin of the crime.  Unable to see the kid suffer (and disgusted at Cork for involving a child in such a dirty trick), Bartlett confesses that he killed Jackson.

The episode comes to a powerful conclusion with Major Manning revealing himself as a man who's been haunted by the inadequacies of the prison system since presiding over his first execution, but feeling powerless to do anything about it (John Wentworth muddles a few of his words, but in this context it actually seems pretty appropriate).

The Case of the Wounded Warder is Cork doing what it does best, using the prism of the Victorian era to reflect concerns just as appropriate to the time it was made.  And just as appropriate now.