Syndicated to newspapers on 18 June 1966
THE BUSINESS executive as a popular hero figure is one of the stranger entertainment phenomena of our time.
Although drama from Shakespeare to Shaw is populated with rich and powerful tycoons, the mechanics of moneymaking has never been afforded anything more than cursory interest.
But because we are a power-mad society – and money is more powerful than it ever has been before – a take-over bid is like watching Richard III disposing of his rivals and a company prospectus can acquire the fascination of those mysterious letters often seen in plays by Wilde and Pinero.
But the truth is that to the outsider business is usually routine and dull. The office hours of most executives are occupied with humdrum details requiring neither daring nor imagination.
The loss of a lavatory key or the disappearance of a bottle of whisky from the board-room are just as likely to create a crisis as the loss of an export order.
Even the oil industry, with its international connections and intense competition, cannot factually produce an acceptable
plot of romance and suspense every week, and the writers of the BBC’s The Troubleshooters are forced to dig up some very weird situations in their efforts to keep the oil flowing and profits growing for Mogul Petroleum.
Recently there was a new Asian state threatening Mogul’s interests. A neat twist to this familiar situation of native resentment of colonial exploitation was that the head of this particular state wanted to keep Europeans running the oilfields and did not want to have it handed over to a local lad who might get too big for his gum-boots.
The plotting and counter-plotting seemed reasonable enough until the last five minutes, when the into story exploded into a farrago of improbable of nonsense. Thus we saw the desperate revolutionaries, having already murdered a Mogul technician, confronted by the two unarmed Britons in an isolated jungle clearing.
Did the gunmen take the action any respectable group of murderers would have taken in similar circumstances and simply mow down the two helpless men facing them?
They did not. Why? Because the white men innate their displayed sense of superiority and authority by curtly insisting that the murderers drop their guns and yield themselves up to British justice.
Faced with unflinching eyes and a pale skin what else could these dusky fellows do? It is reassuring to feel that the BBC, at least, still remains this Kiplingesque vision of the omnipotence of an Englishman’s command and presence.
Until this point, the plot could reasonably have taken at least six different routes. all more plausible than the one it eventually took. It was up to the producer, Peter Graham Scott, to recognise absurdity when he saw it.
The same writer, John Lucarotti was also responsible for the episode, Birdstrike, in which Mogul executives were concerned about the fact that an airliner, using their latest type of aviation fuel, had inexplicably crashed.
Was the petrol to blame or was it an error of judgment on the part of the pilot? Again the underlying assumption in the plot was that the pilot, an unidentified foreigner with bad English, was the more likely cause of the accident.
There was some good work by Peter Copley, as a dedicated, dour civil servant hunting out inefficiency, but at no time did we really feel there was any chance of a big British firm like Mogul marketing faulty fuel that would crash aeroplanes.
But a foreigner from some unspecified foreign country? Well, what can you expect? As it turned out the accident was nobody’s fault – a flock of birds caused it all – but until the very last minute the viewer was being hooked on an assumption that foreign pilot’s qualifications were naturally suspect.
The trouble with both of these plots is not that they are anti-foreigner or condescendingly superior but that they have taken the glib, easy way out of a fictional situation.
Relying upon the viewers’ natural prejudices is a short-cut to story-telling. It’s much harder to make a story acceptable if Mogul oil is faulty or if native rebels don’t quail before British stare. Put them in dark make-up or have them wear a turban and you don’t have to prove they are silly, cowardly or inferior. Conventionally, they just are.
That is why a programme like The Troubleshooters, which in many respects is a more intelligent – and more conscientious TV series than most, should take more trouble over the plots its writers concoct.
If there have to be inefficient pilots make them Australians or Canadians, or Englishmen. Not be cause any of these are naturally inefficient, but because the writer will then have to devise some responsible explanation for the character he has invented rather than rely upon a convenient label he knows the public will accept.
And, too, The Troubleshooters should take more pain over the women in its series. They are inordinately predictable creatures classified simply into bitches or non-bitches.
The non-bitches are ever ready with a cosy smile, a warm welcome and a lacquered hair-do. The bitches insult their husbands in public, moan about the places they have to visit and flirt outrageously with foreign gentlemen.
Again the story would benefit if the writer had to reverse these cliche positions and make the sympathetic woman someone who moaned in public and flirted on the side. Nice wives do that, you know, and credibility is increased if scratches on an ivory, impeccable image are revealed from time to time.
– Milton Shulman