OK, here’s another four part adaptation of a novel, of which there are the first three episodes here, and the fourth episode is quite a way away in the queue.
The first episode has just started as the tape starts. This is an adaptation of the novel by David Lodge, with which I’m not familiar.
Haydn Gwynne plays an English lecturer at the fictional East Midlands University of Rummidge. Times are tough, and we first meet her, after saying goodbye to her husband, whom she only sees at weekends because of their respective jobs, as she joins a picket line at the University protesting cuts.
The cuts are affecting her too. She’s told that, after her three year temporary appointment they won’t be keeping her on. And then, to compound the hurt, she’s told that she has to shadow someone working in industry.
The man she’s assigned to shadow is Warren Clarke, manager of a factory making machine parts.
What we get is the almost inevitable clash of the liberal, left wing college professor Gwynne versus the no-nonsense, sexist and racist factory management. But whilst I should be entirely on Gwynne’s side, she seems ludicrously ignorant of what a factory is like, and terribly condescending about the reality of what such a place would be like.
In a management meeting, she hears a discussion about one of their workers whose work isn’t up to scratch, and the suggestion that, because they need a paper trail to fire him, they should start putting him under pressure so he’ll make mistakes, and they can report on those, until they’ve got grounds to fire him. She’s horrified at this injustice, and seeks out the man to warn him, triggering a mass walkout.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 4th October 1989 – 21:25
The next episode sees Gwynne having to apologise for her ‘misunderstanding’, and the company tell the man that in fact he’s getting additional training, during which he’s be paid his regular salary.
There’s a rather lengthy sequence in which we see Gwynne and her husband, and Clarke and his wife, and their respective sex lives. Gwynne and hubby practice ‘non-penetrative sex’ but he’d prefer some old-fashioned sex instead. And Clarke’s wife wonders why they haven’t had sex for a long time.
As is almost mandatory in this kind of drama, Clarke is starting to fall for Gwynne, dreaming about her frolicking in an idyllic pond with nymphs (as they are credited).
We also meet Gwynne’s brother, who’s some kind of money trader in London, along with his girlfriend Debbie (Zoe Nathenson), another trader, but who’s presented here as ‘common’ because she has a regional accent and doesn’t have a degree. Gwynne’s partner is clearly taken with her, probably under the assumption that she’ll not have even heard of non-penetrative sex.
Clarke, wanting to improve his relationship with Gwynne after the rocky start, invites her to Sunday dinner. He even insists on them having a starter. Avocado and vinaigrette. Much to the consternation of his family.
Naturally, he’s embarrassed by his family, but Gwynne maintains her general air of condescension, so I’m mostly on their side.
Clarke and Gwynne go for a walk, including the nearby University halls of residence. This show was filmed around the University of Birmingham, so some of it is a bit familiar to me, as I went there for a year, before dropping out and getting a job writing software for the BBC Micro. This fact might be significant later. The University gets its own credit.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 11th October 1989 – 21:25
The next episode opens with Clarke driving past the university, and there’s a nice aerial shot, including the huge clock tower.
The university legend had it that if you walked under the clock tower when the clock was striking the hour, you’d either get a first, or you’d fail. I can supply one data point that would confirm that – I happened to walk under it while it was striking, and I ended up dropping out after the first year.
I should give a mention to the great David Calder, who plays Clarke’s ultimate boss. Clarke wants to invest in some new equipment, and Calder keeps equivocating.
Clarke, at Gwynne’s prompting, decides to give a talk to his workforce, but he’s undermined by a stunt arranged by his sales manager, who has spent the last two episodes trying to persuade him to make a ‘sexy calendar’ to promote the company, featuring the daughter of Clarke’s secretary. Clarke’s speech is interrupted by a kissogram, whom Gwynne recognises as one of her students.
Over a drink in a crooked pub later, she mentions that next week is her last week, and he tells her he’s going to Dusseldorf to buy a new core blower, and insists she goes with him.
Later, she’s doing some writing, and I’m delighted to see that not only does she use a BBC Micro for her word processing, but the software she’s using is Wordwise. Remember I said I dropped out of Birmingham University to write software for the BBC Micro? The company I joined was Computer Concepts, and the first product I worked on when I joined was Wordwise Plus, their new version of Wordwise. Given that this programme was made in 1989, it’s entirely possible that it’s running code that I wrote – it was almost complete when I joined, but I did do maintenance and bug fixes for a while, as well as a bit of work on the original release, the bulk of which had been written by the owner of the company, Charles Moir.
That’s not a very high word count, by the way. Almost as if there’s only a short piece of text there, and not a whole chapter. Wordwise was limited to files that could fit into the memory of the BBC Micro, so only about 24K in total.
Sorry, just got distracted by 80s computing. Back to the story.
Gwynne is visited by her brother who suspects that his girlfrend Debbie has been sleeping with Gwynne’s partner, a suspicion that’s all but confirmed when Gwynne receives a phone call from her partner telling him he wouldn’t be around that weekend, so she asks him flat out if he was sleeping with Debbie.
Given this turn of events, Gwynne is only too happy to go to Dusseldorf with Clarke, and, using her stealth German skills, they manage to get a good deal for the equipment, and Gwynne is having so much fun she and Clarke have sex. Which means a lot more to Clarke than it does to Gwynne.
He tells her that he wants to marry her, seemingly unconcerned that he’s already married, dismissing his current marriage as ‘dead for years’. Gwynne once again treats him like a naughty schoolboy, since it never meant that much to her, and asks him to leave her alone.
The end of the episode, following another of his dreams of Gwynne frolicking, takes us to the art gallery, and a painting of Artemis, the source of his dream, which puts him as Acteon, who was punished by Artemis for looking at her as she was bathing by turning him into a stag and having him hunted to death by dogs.
So it turns out his pervy dream was actually a clever classical allusion. Awfully clever, these English Literature types.
I’m afraid I don’t have much patience with stories like this, which I tend to view as wish fulfillment by middle-aged writers, as they always seem to have a middle-aged man falling for a younger woman. At least in this one it isn’t the man who’s the university lecturer.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 18th October 1989 – 21:25
After this, recording continues with the very start of Building Sights, then the tape ends.