Tuesday Oct. 27, 1964

Other People Own Our Jungles Now. Writer Raymond Bowers Director John Nelson Burton

“Election promises – like naughty girls – should be made but not kept.” James Cameron-Grant MP

Peter Jeffrey as James cameron-Grant MP

This series of The Plane Makers had made its debut only four days after Harold Wilson’s Labour Government came to power. Obviously written before the election was called, the script has Sir Gerald Merle (William Devlin) telling Wilder that his job is to fight an election and of his conviction that his party will come to Government.

With a plotline focussed on winning Government funding for production of the Veetol, the episode brings two new characters into the mix. Laura Challiss (Wendy Gifford) is a former journalist, now personal assistant to the Chairman, Sir Gordon Revidge. James Cameron-Grant (Peter Jeffrey) is a Labour MP and former pilot who also runs a public relations firm. Although in the same party as Sir Gerald Merle, Grant is antagonistic to Merle. Wilder is anxious to engage Grant to lobby on behalf of Scott Furlong to win Government support for the VTOL plane. Merle has his eyes on the post of Aviation Minister, and although the jet has previously been funded by a Conservative administration, does not wish to jeapordise his prospects in a Labour government by being seen to lobby for a firm he is a director of."

This episode puts over some essential background detail in dialogue. Possibly for the first time, the public saw how Members of Parliament are bought when Grant tells Wilder he cannot be hired to lobby for the VTOL, but suggests that Scott Furlong retains his public relations firm to promote the Sovereign with a budget that can be spent how Grant sees fit.

Grant tells Wilder that he will act straight away by accepting an invitation to take part in a political talk show. One where Sir Gerald Merle is also on the panel.The sequence gives a good insight into what the ATV studios looked like devoid of scenery.

Everything seems genteel, with Sir Gerald cracking a few jokes, until real-life TV journalist Huw Thomas poses an obviously planted question about the costs of the VTOL. While Merle does a slow burn, Cameron Grant points out that Merle is a director of the group which is developing the VTOL. Grant acknowledges that the UK already has two VTOL jets in development. He asks what use the UK has for a third VTOL. He says it’s a plane designed for use in areas without conventional landing strips such as jungles but, “other people own our jungles now”. Grant says he will object to any future development of the VTOL. Sir Gerald is backed into defending himself, saying he had to balance the interests of the nation against any potential conflict of interest when considering the funding of the project and declaring that he will move heaven and earth to see that production funding is directed to the VTOL.

Before this climax though, the middle act of the episode is devoted to an uncomfortable weekend at the Wilders’ for Grant and Laura Challis. Wilder invites Grant over for a social get-together with the intention of winning him over to support the VTOL project. As Sir Gordon's new assistant,Laura had suggested Grant to Wilder, she hasn’t indicated that she will be Grant’s companion for the weekend (Grant is a widower, Challis is divorced). Unfortunately, Pamela Wilder has discovered that Wilder dined with Challis earlier in the week and suspects that Laura Challis is Wilder’s latest conquest.She spends the whole dinner laying verbal traps for Wilder.

Peter Jeffrey, Ann Firbank and Patrick Wymark

In a TV Times article introducing the new series of “The Plane Makers”, the TV Times had listed returning favourites like Reginald Marsh and Robert Urquhart and in the final line noted “Pamela Wilder played by Ann Firbank”..

In his memoir, “High Drama”, Rex Firkin states that he had forgotten to engage Barbara Murray and she was already committed to the BBC’s “Kipling” when the new series began. As a result, Ann Firbank was engaged to take over the role. Ann Firbank is an excellent actress, and if this had been the first time we had seen Pamela Wilder, she would have made the role her own. In a long running stage play, actors move on or understudies have to step in at the last moment. For some audiences, the character is defined by the understudy. But in a continuing television series, the audience has a physical memory of the previous actor. In this opening episode at least, Firbank appears physically stronger, without the fragile overtones of Barbara Murray. This is unfortunate because Bowers’ waspish script casts Pamela in an unattractive aggressive light (especialy since Wilder is, for once, innocent).

Laura Challis (Wendy Gifford) & John Wilder (Patrick Wymark) innocent dinner is backed by library music better known for "The Gallery" in BBC 1's Vision ON

When we last saw Pamela, she had just stepped back from leaving Wilder, appalled at his treatment of Sugden, “tired of being a bystander at his Roman triumphs.” In this episode she goes on the offensive, circling to catch Wilder and Challis out in what she thinks is the beginning of an affair, undermining her husband at the dinner table and saluting Grant when he shows himself to be a match for Wilder. Seen in the context of the previous series, Pamela’s behaviour is understandable. But divorced from that context, in the body of a new actress, Pamela comes across as aggressive and undermining – like something out of Edward Albee’s then current “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”.

Patrick Wymark delivers some first class sulking as Wilder sees his plotting undermined by Pamela’s mischief. Having failed to weave his web around Cameron-Grant, he is distrustful when the MP shows that he has anticipated Wilder’s offer to lobby for the VTOL. His one sign of pleasure is when Grant deduces that Wilder is enthusiastic about the VTOL because Government funding will put him outside the control of the bank and Sir Gordon Revidge. He also suggests that Wilder’s ultimate aim is a success that will deliver political reward – “No hustings for you – a short hop into the House of Lords.”

John Nelson Burton delivers an adventurous opening sequence. Don Henderson (Jack Watling) drives his sports car up the runway at Scott Furlong, suddenly spots Wilder gazing up at the VTOL,. Cuts to a POV shot zooming up to Wilder and the jet. Wilder tells Henderson to concentrate on selling the VTOL, and while Henderson is mid-answer he turns to see Wilder already being driven off in his limo. .

For more about the "Predator" VTOL jet featured in this series click here 

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