Monday 28 November 1966
The Side of the Angels” Writer Edmund Ward Director David Reid.
You’re not God, Mr Tremayne. Just a Consulting Engineer.” Kenneth Bligh.
Following the loss of the Magalian High Dam, Wilder looks for compensation. Bligh Construction was urged to seek the contract by the Treasury (specifically Bagehot in “Ambassador Status”) and the Department of Transport is urged to give Bligh’s the Coalmouth Bridge contract to make up for their losses. Caswell is determined that Ken and Wilder won’t “botch it” . He tells Ken and Wilder that the design is 20 years out of date and that they will lose money on the job, but neither is willing to jeopardise the contract. So Caswell pressures the directors of Bligh Construction to request a new design for the bridge.
Ken Bligh (Peter Barkworth) and Sir John Wilder (Patrick Wymark) greet the Minister (Douglas Muir) as Grainger (Robin Bailey)and Henry Outram (James Cossins) look on.
Edmund Ward once more brings his knowledge of the construction industry (which would form the background of his 1976 series The Hanged Man) to deliver an entertaining story with a mixture of drama and humour.
Early on Don Henderson (Jack Watling) attends the Department of Transport to receive the Tender details from the director of contracts William Metcalfe (Peter Howell). Consulting Engineer Gilbert Tremayne (John Scott) is also at the meeting. As Metcalfe pointedly tells Henderson later, Tremayne’s firm has worked for the Ministry since just after the First World War. “He’s a very able man. Almost one of us.”
Tremayne stands in front of Don and says he’s dealt with Bligh’s before, “They built a harbour for me. Nevertheless, I shall deliver my usual short homily, as I do with all contractors...”..
Jack Watling performs the visual equivalent of a P.G.Wodehouse paragraph as he listens aghast to Tremayne's lecture
After the meeting we learn that other firms have made losses on Ministry contracts designed by Tremayne. Caswell Bligh confirms that Tremayne’s work is 20 years out of date. He shows the plans to Alan Cleeve (Richard Hampton) an award-winning engineer who works in Europe because he’s tried and failed to break into the British closed-shop. Cleeve suggests some improvements and Caswell begins to lobby for change.
Wilder doesn’t want to rock the boat. He’s in it for profit, not aesthetics. But Caswell tells him there will be no profit, “The job will be late. It’ll be overspent. There’ll be questions in the House and they’ll all blame the poor stupid contractor, not the design.”
Ken Bligh (Peter Barkworth) agrees with Wilder that until they’re awarded the contract there should be no challenge to the design. But Caswell phones his hand-picked directors and bullies them into sending a letter requesting a design review. He also approaches Treasury man Charles Grainger (Robin Bailey) on behalf of the National Export Board saying that Britain exports skills and the present system stifles skills.
, while Caswell’s motivations are questioned (Wilder says he’s “building monuments to the Bligh escutcheon”), everyone – even the feline Grainger- agrees that his argument is justified, if doomed. “We know the system is Victorian,” Billy Straker says, “They make the rules. Play the game their way or stay on the outside and go bust.”
Ward manages to make the abstract drama personal, by bringing Susan Wilder back to London. In an earlier scene, Miss Lingard (Norma Ronald) had passed on a message from Wilder’s gardner, told him about a repair bill for his London flat and reminded him that, “Eggs and grapefruit go in the normal refrigerator – not in the deep freeze.” As Wilder keeps a dinner date with Caswell, Pamela has also asked Charles Grainger to accompany her to lunch with her cousin Henry Outram (James Cossins) who just happens to be a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Transport. Pamela confides to Grainger that the rest of her family , “are smug because I’ve left John and they’ve been proved right about him.” Henry greets Pamela by saying she’s lost weight, and when she thanks him, he replies, “I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
"He's lost none of his boyish charm" Pamela (Barbara Murray) comments to Grainger (Robin Bailey) as Wilder snipes with Henry (James Cossins)
Further humour is provided by Wilder’s visit to a Health Farm, where he knows the Minister of Transport (Douglas Muir) is a frequent guest. It’s part of a charm offensive which also entails an hour’s socialising with Gilbert Tremayne (“As a relative new boy to the industry I appreciate your advice”) although as soon as the engineer is out of the door, Wilder tells Miss Lingard, “Remind me to get a snuff box and some mezzotints of the Great Brunel.”
Caswell’s meddling finally pushes Ken too far. He tells Justine (Rachel Herbert) that, “Strong tea. Bacon soaked in lard. All the old stories. It’s easy to be charmed. But you don’t see the bullying. The refusal to listen. The humiliations. “ Ken threatens to resign and sell his stock in Bligh Construction and also make his reasons public. For interfering in business matters, Bligh will lose the National Export Board.
Wilder resolves to settle matters by leaking news of the dispute to Sandy Warren of The Globe (from "Counfound Their Politics"). Now, instead of something that can be swept under the carpet with another company winning the contract, both sides of the argument are in the public domain. “I’ve no objection to you and Caswell organising a family shipwreck,” he tells Ken, “ but I’ll make damned sure I’m not on board when it happens.” David Reid stages the final confrontation at the Ministry of Transport like an Elizabethan court. Wilder dominates the scene perched on the contract director’s desk as Grainger, Cousin Henry, Ken and the Minister sit.
“I think the time has come for what the current jargon calls a full and frank discussion,” Wilder tells the Minister, “We were promised the Coalmouth Bridge as a reward for sticking our neck out in Africa.” Wilder implies he'll publicise the deal if the Minister goes back on it.
When Metcalfe objects that Bligh’s call for a re-design calls the whole mechanism of the Department into question, Wilder replies, “I don’t care if we put the bridge up in marzipan – as long as we get a fair business return with a handsome contingency clause, of course. If we’re working to donkey cart principles, I want some form of insurance.” In return, Wilder promises, “Rationalised Management, Critical Path Job Analysis… use enough syllables to suggest good faith and you’re home and dry.”
The episode ends with Caswell aware that it’s Wilder, not Bligh Construction that has won the contract. While obviously simplified for the purposes of a one hour TV show, Ward’s script touches on some of the issues relating to construction contracts. Once again, it’s not clear whether Norman Scace’s character of Bagehot was a substitution for Grainger. However, Grainger accepts responsibility for the now absent Bagehot’s actions in urging Ken to pursue the Magalian contract.
Ward delivers a fair degree of humour with Wilder’s devious pursuit of the Minister at the Health Farm (when we first see Wilder packing tobacco into a pipe it’s not clear whether he’s assuming the guise of a Labour supporter ala Harold Wilson, but subsequent scenes imply that pipe tobacco was viewed as a healthy alternative to cigarettes in the sixties).
The Minister is played by Douglas Muir (below), who had appeared in the semi-regular role of Tom Bancroft in The Plane Makers. As noted, Muir appeared in the cast list of “A Matter For Speculation” as a Professor although he was not seen in the transmitted episode. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to see Muir playing a Minister in this episode – although fairly benign in his early scenes, the Minister is capable of slapping Wilder down in the final confrontation – certainly something that Tom Bancroft would never have done.
In a nod to continuity, John Tate returns from the first seasons as Bligh’s pal and competitor Billy Straker. Coincidentally, John Tate is a similar physical type to Douglas Muir, raising speculation as to whether Muir was originally intended to play the Minister in this episode.
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