21 October 1963
The Old Boy Network. Writer Edwin Ranch. Director Quentin Lawrence.
“ It hasn’t changed. You don’t have the Means Test, but it hasn’t changed. The Old Boy Network.” Eddie Taylor (Richard Shaw).
63 year old Ernie Wainwright (Bert Palmer) leaves a crate containing a cloud warning radar in the path of a reversing van. With the radar smashed, the test flight of the Sovereign modification for African Airways is delayed. Wainwright is given notice, “He’s cost this company more than he’ll ever make in his life and all we can do is sack him.” It will take over a week for a replacement radar to be finished and Wilder sends out an urgent memo ordering managers to postpone the test flight “without giving an unfortunate impression of the company.” Wilder also phones through to the secretary of Nigel Carr ( Jeremy Burnham), who is meeting with African Airways, ordering him not to commit himself.
Unfortunately, Nigel has come in late with a hangover, ignored his mail (including Wilder’s “urgent and personal” memo) and left for his lunch date before Wilder’s phone message comes through. At lunch, Nigel hands a letter confirming the test flight date to Ronnie Foster and tells him that he’s mailed a duplicate letter to African Airways’ Chairman, which will be received the following day (“I’m a great believer in astonishing chairmen by knowing things ahead of them”). The following morning, Nigel reads his mail and confesses to Wilder that, “I think I’ve made the most appalling boob.”
When he hears what has happened, Wilder tells Nigel, “You were one of the young men I’ve been watching. You’re intelligent and you have the right background. I want executives the men can believe in – be afraid of !! And if anything happens like this again you’ll be in trouble. Real trouble”
Wilder covers for Nigel by telling the Chairman of African Airways that the radar was damaged while Carr was at lunch with Foster and delays the test flight. Unfortunately, Carr’s secretary (Justine Lord) tells a friend what really happened. When word gets round the factory about the unequal treatment of Carr and Wainwright the technicians working on the radar job threaten to refuse to work on the African Airlines job. Wilder reinstates Wainwright saying that, “Mr Sugden feels very strongly that in view of this chap’s age he should be given a second chance.” But then he hears that the radar will be delayed by a couple of days and gives Nigel the job of getting the day of the test flight delayed from Saturday to Monday and tells him to write a letter of resignation, “So I can tear it up Monday evening after the flight.”
Whether deliberate or not, The Old Boy Network delivers a change of pace from the high drama of the opening episodes and the more reflective drama of “Don’t Stick Your Head Out”. The characters of Carr and Wainwright are slightly farcical and even Wilder seems to be played for laughs with his “real trouble” warning to Carr. Thankfully the old Wilder ruthlessness does reappear when he follows through on the threat, demanding to hold Carr’s resignation letter in case he fails again.
The most notable aspect of this episode is that instead of being a simple management V union conflict, the balance of power is held by skilled workers. Union representative Stan Wallace makes a half-hearted plea on behalf of Wainwright which is brushed off by management. It’s the unofficial action of the men who should be installing the radar led by Eddie Taylor (Richard Shaw) which turns matters round. Taylor tells Wainwright, “When was the last time the union was any good to you? I’m a skilled man. They can’t just phone the labour exchange and get someone as can do my job. No, if me and a dozen of my mates down tools, the whole factory stops work. I don’t rely on a union.”
Taylor is reminiscent of the character of Jack Clement played by Colin Blakely in the sole surviving first series episode “Don’t Worry About Me”, although Taylor is more altruistic than “the original I’m alright Jack”. Like Clement, Taylor pays his union subs and acknowledges to union rep Wallace that they’re useful for things like “when the toilets aren’t working”. Wallace voices the conciliatory approach saying, “A union can’t just say they’ve no right to sack a man ” but Shaw believes the skilled workers have more power than the union, “if we stop work, everyone stops.”
The one off character of Breen, the manager who sacks Wainwright, is played by Patrick McGee, (later the police pathologist who examines the body of Marco (Patrick Wymark) in 1965 movie, The Skull ). Just by virtue of being played by McGee, he is tough and single-minded. Jeremy Burnham, as the hapless Nigel Carr would later appear in The Avengers episode “Town of No Return” and become a staff writer for the Linda Thorson series (including the wonderful “Fog” episode *), while his African Airways contact Foster is played by Gordon Rollings, who was the training manager Parsons in “Don’t Worry About Me.”
*Thanks to Michael Richardson’s “Bowler Hat And Kinky Boots” (Telos) for information here.
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