Tuesday November 3, 1964

A Lesson For Corbett. Writer David Weir Director Quentin Lawrence

Alan Dobie as David Corbett

David Weir showcases two of the new characters in this episode as David Corbett invites James Cameron-Grant to watch a test flight of the VTOL. It’s hard for director Quentin Lawrence to disguise the fact that the VTOL mock-up is actually being suspended from a crane, but before this becomes too apparent, the jet wobbles precariously as it comes in for a landing.

Corbett rages at Henry Forbes (Robert Urquhart) for potentially damaging the jet through incompetence, but Forbes replies that the instability is a known problem (some of the real-life VTOL jets had big problems hovering, sometimes resulting in the death of their test pilots). Driving away from the airfield, Corbett tells Cameron Grant that the VTOL is not ready for production, and that if production was suspended and he was given another development grant he could iron out the problems and turn the VTOL into a world-beater. Grant asks if Corbett couldn’t solve the problems during production and upgrade the first outputs, but Corbett says this would be wasting taxpayer’s money. Grant suspects that Corbett’s real objection is that putting the VTOL into production now would be a victory for Wilder, whereas delaying production for a year might mean that Wilder is gone.

Corbett meets up with journalist Garfield Morgan from The Globe, and feeds him information about the VTOL’s flaws. When the story is published, Cameron-Grant suspects that Corbett is the source of the story. Grant convinces Sir Gerald Merle but when they confront Corbett he flatly denies it. However, the story spirals out of control when antagonistic MP Philip Latham (Klove in Dracula Prince of Darkness) follows it up. Soon there are concerns at ministerial level about the viability of the whole VTOL project .

Alan Dobie takes full advantage of an excellent script by Weir which displays the single-minded character of Corbett. In the first episode, Bill Ryan (John Wentworth) warned Corbett that he could only survive by fighting the Wilder’s and Merle’s on their own terms. Weir shows Corbett has taken this advice to heart. We see him openly strategising against Wilder on two fronts; he encourages his works manager Bob Fraser (Duncan McIntyre) to dispute the new production layout designed by Arthur Sugden, and attempts to undermine Henry Forbes’ position as Chief Test Pilot, setting him against the younger Douglas Bradley (Alan Browning) who Corbett continually reminds people has “been with the VTOL project from the start”. .

Weir also gives an edge to the characters on the receiving end of Corbett’s schemes. Bob Fraser is like a less effective version of Tom Bancroft from the second series. He makes a half-hearted attempt to pass the new production layout off as his own initiative but is almost immediately contradicted by Corbett. Douglas Bradley is torn between ambition and loyalty to Forbes, while Forbes himself preserves what Corbett calls his “aging vanity”. When a Ministerial delegation arrives to see the VTOL in action, Forbes has a telegram from Wilder endorsing Forbes’ decisions as Chief Test Pilot. Corbett wants Bradley to fly the VTOL, worried that Forbes will not be able to handle the unstable jet, Forbes is determined to take the lead until Corbett realises that shouting orders won’t work and tells Henry he’d “be very grateful” if Bradley flew the plane. Forbes agrees to let Bradley take control, but after the successful demonstration, the Minister asks why Bradley flew the VTOL. “We wanted you to see that it didn’t need a senior test pilot to fly it” Henry lies.

Weir also gives Sir Gerald Merle a more constructive role as director of Scott Furlong. Without compromising Merle’s established characteristics, he shows him working with Grant to protect the company interests. Peter Jeffrey also gets to demonstrate the persuasiveness of James Cameron-Grant, convincing MP Philip Latham that the problems with the VTOL have been exaggerated, and ensuring that Corbett feels the full force of the press interest in those problems.

As the political pressure on the VTOL project grows, Corbett retreats into the technical issues like a child hiding under the blankets on a stormy night. Eventually it is Cameron-Grant who convinces him that he must confront the most immediate threat to his brainchild – the political threat of his own creation. If the essence of drama is change through conflict, “A Lesson For Corbett” is a textbook example. The final shot is almost a retread of Lawrence’s closing of the previous season’s “Too Much To Lose” – only instead of the whisky-drinking Wilder realising how close he’s come to a career-killing physical disaster, the tomato-juice drinking Corbett greets the end-titles with the realisation that he’s only averted the cancellation of the VTOL by learning to compromise..

Philip Latham would later play Willie Izard, company secretary of the Mogul Oil Company in BBC 1's "The Troubleshooters", for which David Weir would become a principle writer.

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

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