Tuesday 29 December 1964

"Appointment in Brussels" Writer John Gray Director Peter Collinson

“I’m not lost. I just don’t happen to know where I am.” John Wilder

Sir Gordon Revidge discovers that John Wilder has an appointment to meet Pierre Dagenais (Robin Ford) in Brussels. Dagenais is an old adversary of Revidge’s but his interests are in commercial aviation, not a military plane like the VTOL. Revidge instructs Laura Challis to accompany Wilder, saying he must know what’s being discussed at the meeting. .

Their plane is forced to land at Ostend due to engine failure. Thick fog shrouds the port and although Wilder hires a car, he ends up driving in a circle back to Ostend. They book in at the Hotel Metropole and spend the evening in a restaurant. The next morning, Laura Challis wakes late and finds that Wilder is breakfasting with Pierre Dagenais.

At the end of the previous episode, also written by John Gray, Pamela Wilder asked, “Are you using Laura Challis or is she using you?”. In this episode, Wilder and Challis spend another evening together. It’s not clear if this episode was originally intended to appear after “A Hoopla of Haloes”, which deals with Wilder’s health. At one point Laura asks, “How serious was that illness? I heard you’d been sick.” Broadcast between the Christmas and New Year holidays, “Appointment in Brussels” does not further the ongoing storyline, but does offer an exploration of Wilder’s motivations.

As Wilder and Challis dine, a counterpoint is provided by a rude businessman (Patrick Connor) who is obviously aiming to seduce his secretary (Caron Gardner). Where Wilder and Challis accept the waiter’s suggestions for wine and a three course dinner (minestrone, sole and steak tartare) , the businessman orders pizza and Stella Artois, signifying a crude package-tour exoticism.

Directed by Peter Collinson, who would go on to make The Italian Job, the episode has comic overtones, but does not flag itself up as a comedy in the same way as ‘Costigan’s Rocket’ from the previous series. The opening scene features Bob Grant (pre-On The Buses) as a fey antiques dealer charging Wilder £300 for a Chinese vase (which Pamela Wilder subsequently tips off the bedside table when Wilder cancels her plane ticket to Brussels). There are also some amusing scenes of frustration as Wilder spends three hours trying to drive from Ostend to Brussels, only to end with a fog horn underlining his failure as he comes up against a road sign reading ‘Oostende’.

Francis: "Whisky's a little dreary!" Wilder: "I see there's a touch of tyranny.Perhaps you can suggest something."

The episode is also notable for the casting of Gerald Campion as Francis, the English waiter at Chez Bichette (“I find the continentals very simpatico” says Francis when Wilder ventures that it’s odd to find an Englishman working in Ostend). Campion had played Frank Richards’ schoolboy “Billy Bunter” for the BBC from 1953 to 1961 (he had already been overage from the first episode when he was 29). Just as Patrick Wymark was becoming a household name through the character of Wilder, Campion had been in demand for public appearances, “opening fetes and pie factories”.

Campion (who was born in a pub and had a reputation as the “slowest and rudest barman in London”) also ran a drinking club for actors – Gerry’s Club in Shaftesbury Avenue. At a time when licensing laws meant “the pubs closed as soon as you were thirsty”, private clubs were the only means of getting a drink after the theatres had closed. Remarkably, Campion allegedly ran his club from 6pm to 2am, cooking, serving drinks and clearing up, before reporting to the BBC’s Lime Grove studios at 8am for rehearsals and performing live in the early evening.

Campion continued to perform after “Billy Bunter”, appearing in films such as “Carry on Sergeant” and “The Comedy Man” and as Morse Hudson in “The Six Napoleons” opposite Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (1986). In common with Wymark, Campion had played Mr Toad (1953), and had worked with Peter Collinson’s guardian Noel Coward on 29 November 1964 in a tribute to Winston Churchill called “90 Years On” (Campion had played Graham Moffatt opposite Wilfred Brambell as Moore Marriott).

As noted above, the episode does not really forward the ongoing storyline and we are left to speculate whether it reveals anything about Wilder. We know that Wilder had originally planned to take Pamela on the trip to Brussels. When he learns that Sir Gordon has also booked Laura Challis on the flight, he has a momentary outburst of fury before deciding there’s more than one way to skin a cat and phoning Revidge to thank him for sending Miss Challis.” He then phones Pamela to say it is no longer convenient for her to come (when he previously asked if she wanted to come on the trip, Pamela had said, “Yes. Very much. Too much.” The vulnerability of Ann Firbank’s delivery is the closest we see to the Pamela Wilder of the previous series).

The twist in this tale is that Wilder had intended Pamela to accompany him because the meeting with Dagenais was personal. With Laura Challis forced on him, Wilder makes the meeting seem suspicious in order to keep Revidge guessing. It’s therefore debatable whether anything that Wilder discloses during their evening meal is truthful.

Wilder tells Challis that the prime motivations are survival, goods and comfort. He questions whether power comes next. “I used to think that power would be sufficient – that when you had it you just pulled the strings and everyone would dance. But they don’t do they?”

He goes on to tell Challis that “if you’re looking for motives it’s not money. I have a ‘gentle sufficiency’. It’s the race that I like.”

The episode ends on a cynical note as Revidge fakes outrage at Wilder’s actions and tells Cameron-Grant they will have to “rebuild bridges” with the Government. With Christmas and the pantomime season approaching, Peter Jeffrey fixes Norman Tyrrell with a disbelieving raised eyebrow. Ironically, in the real world, the new Labour Government really was getting cold feet over VTOL projects but no-one at ATV could have known this. Or could they?

“Life is not reward,” he says, “Life is a fact. A process. It can also be an art if you start practicing it early enough. “

Wilder elaborates – “The thing that people never expect a man to be anymore is himself.” Wilder says he is a simple man but admits that he has his fair share of vanity and also enjoys a gamble, “the trouble with taking the simple course is that it’s perfectly obvious to everybody what it is except those who are fools.”

Wilder says if he sees an apple, the simple course is to reach out and take it. But the more entertaining course is to order up a bowl of fruit, and offer a pear to one man, a pomegranate to another and then casually reach out for the apple.

Wilder’s thoughts on progress are still relevant today. “Progress is very useful and a lot of men accept a little of it in the certainty that they’ll get some kind of return instead of reaching and gambling for a great deal that’s unsure. So you can spoon a little bit of progress into them like gruel and they feel very good.”

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

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