Max Fischer (Alfie Bass) reacts angrily to the news that the President of West Germany is due to make a visit to London. It may be nearly twenty years since the end of WW2 but Fischer, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, finds it impossible to forgive or forget. Fischer works in a laboratory where he has access to explosives and he slowly begins to plan a way to gain revenge for all his years of hurt ….
Although The State Visit was set twenty years after the Second World War, this was still recent enough to make it a fertile area for drama. Whilst it’s made clear very early on that the German President is personally blameless (Fischer’s wife tells him that the man was a staunch anti-Nazi) this cuts no ice with Max. He retorts that nowadays every German claims they didn’t support Hitler, but if that were true where did the millions who joined the Nazi party come from? Max’s view taps into real life opinions – for many, especially those who had fought, it was impossible not to regard any German as an ex-Nazi by default. A decade later, the Fawlty Towers episode The Germans would make this very point.
Max is initially presented as a sympathetic man and we’re asked to emphasise with his suffering. But it becomes clear that he’s also blinkered, obsessed and incapable of adjusting to modern life. It’s a tricky character to play, so casting Alfie Bass would no doubt have helped to engage the audience’s affections. Already a very familiar face on both the big and small screens by the mid sixties, Bass is able to give Max a certain dignity. And since Bass was forced to flee his native Russia with his parents when he was a child, it could be that he was able to tap some of his own memories when approaching the part.
Gideon’s been assigned to handle the security for the visit, much to the chagrin of Deputy Commissioner Rae Cox (Gerald Harper). Cox’s youth and inexperience are the reasons why he isn’t placed in overall charge and although Gideon does his best to pour oil on troubled waters by involving him every step of the way, there’s a clear lingering resentment on Cox’s part. His character is made plain very early on: after receiving the unwelcome news from Gideon, he returns home to berate his wife. All of his actions – such as chastising her for not replacing the soda siphon – show him to be a man keen to find fault in others but incapable of taking criticism himself.
Max plans to explode a bomb made of nitro glycerine during the President’s parade. His wife Sarah (Catherine Lacey) reacts in horror, such a bomb will kill dozens of people but by now Max seems to be incapable of rational thought. His increasing detachment from reality is shown as he rides on the bus, clutching the bomb in a vacuum flask. He begins to hear the voices of his Nazi persecutors in his head and answers them aloud, to the bemusement of his fellow passengers.
It’s no surprise that it’s Gideon himself who talks Max down. “You’ve got it wrong Max, you’ve got it terribly wrong. You don’t want to kill all these women and children do you, Max? Because that’s what you’ll do if you throw that thing. What harm have these people done to you, Max? You throw that bomb you’ll be as bad as any Nazi.”
If the ending is predicable, then at least it’s another good showcase for John Gregson. And apart from a few dodgy projection shots, The State Visit is decent enough fare, helped by a number of familiar faces popping up in small roles. David Lodge and Julian Holloway appear as Max’s colleagues and Desmond Llewelyn has an uncredited role as a senior police officer. Interestingly, he plays it with a broad Welsh accent, which is how Terence Young initially wanted Llewelyn to play Q in the second James Bond film. But after the reluctant Llewelyn did so, Young agreed that Q would sound much better as an Englishman!