The Rag Trade – Christmas Box

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Like the later LWT Christmas Rag Trade, this is a programme you can’t imagine receiving a repeat these days – with this one it’s due to the fact that the girls have been making golliwogs on the side.

Although Fenner (Peter Jones) constantly bemoans the poor productivity of his staff, this never seems to be a problem when they’re working on their own initiative.  It’s very impressive that they’ve been able to knock up several hundred golliwogs over the last few days, although since they’ve used Fenner’s materials without his knowledge they have to keep him in the dark …..

Poor Reg (Reg Varney) is deputised to dress up as Father Christmas and is sent out to flog the golliwogs from a street corner, but he runs foul of the law – in the formidable shape of Colin Douglas.  Always good to see Douglas and he’s his usual stolid self as the constable.  This officer may not be the brightest of chaps, but he’s certainly dogged in his determination to run the rogue Father Christmas to justice.

Reg, in haste, has to ditch the Father Christmas costume and so he gives it to Fenner.  It’s not hard to work out what happens next – the constable spies Fenner dressed as Father Christmass and arrests him.  But surely Fenner’s staff will vouch for him?  Mmm, not so.  They have a buyer for the golliwogs coming round and so it suits their purpose for the boss to be out of the way for a few hours.

This seems a tad cruel, especially the way Peter Jones milks the moment.  Fenner can’t even get through to Reg (we learn that they attempted to join the army together but were refused for the same reason – flat feet).  Once Fenner’s been carted off, Fenner’s Fashions undergoes a rapid transformation to become Union Toys!  This may be slightly hard to swallow, but it’s still amusing – especially the way that Reg quickly steps into the role of the boss and Paddy (Miriam Karlin) and Carole (Sheila Hancock) transform themselves into femme fatales as they prepare to use all of their wiles to persuade the hapless buyer that he really should purchase their golliwogs.

The fact that the buyer, Terence Nutley, is played by Terry Scott is something of a bonus since it ensures that every possible bit of comic potential will be wrung from these scenes.  As the girls ply Terence with drinks, he becomes more and more insensible, which creates something of a problem once Fenner returns ….

As with the rest of The Rag Trade, this one’s highly predictable from start to finish, but since everybody attacks the material with such gusto I’ve never regarded this as a problem.  Sheila Hancock is delightful as the dippy Carole whilst Esma Cannon can’t help but steal every scene she appears in (she plays the even dippier Lily).

The ending is quite neat.  After Fenner discovers the toys, the girls are forced to lie and pretend that they’ve made them for the kiddies at the local hospital.  Fenner, touched by this, happily promises to drop them off to the hospital on the way home.  So the workers don’t benefit by their pilfering, instead the only victors are the children – which seems appropriate for a Christmastime story.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Flight into Darkness

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On the eve of demonstrating the results of his groundbreaking research into electromagnetism, Dr Steve Stephens (Geoffrey Keen) disappears.  Brady, a close colleague, attempts to locate him before his work is appropriated by foreign agents ….

The first scene makes it plain that all is not well with Stephens – although Brady tells him how important his work is, Stephens seems subdued and non-committal.  And after Stephens is left alone he smashes up his lab and destroys his papers.  It has to be said that Keen does this in a rather half-hearted way – rather than acting in a mad frenzy, there’s almost an apologetic air as Stephens destroys various instruments and eventually manages to set fire to his papers.  Stephen’s fake-looking beard is a touch distracting (although this is addressed in a few scenes time after we see him clean-shaven, no doubt because he’s attempting to go incognito).

When Stephens doesn’t show up the following day, Brady steps in to demonstrate his work.  It’s certainly eye-opening – you’ll believe a guinea pig could fly – and the men from the ministry can quickly see the possibilities.  Eh?  The ability to levitate guinea pigs isn’t something which has many practical advantages, unless it could also be applied to men ….

And this is the crux of the story.  Stephens is a scientist interested only in pure research – the thought of his work being used in any sort of military or offensive context disgusts him (although it’s odd that he’s never considered this before – after all he’s been working in this area for five years).

Stephens’ research would naturally be of great interest to unfriendly powers, which means that foreign agents such as Wilson (Esmond Knight) are doing their best to obtain it.  Wilson, posing as a member of a peace organisation, attempts to convince Stephens that it would be better if his invention was shared with the entire world.  This is a familiar theme – if a scientist can’t be bought with money, then appealing to his peace-loving nature might just work instead.  To his credit, Stephens sees right through Wilson and even the attentions of Sewell (Colin Douglas) who’s armed with a nasty-looking cosh doesn’t change his mind.

Flight into Darkness raises some interesting points, such as the moral dilemma faced by scientists who risk having their discoveries misused, but there’s simply not the time to develop this in any detail.  The reason for Stephens’ sudden breakdown isn’t at all clear (it’s suggested at one point that Wilson’s earlier arguments had turned his head, but since we later see him reject Wilson’s request for the formula this can’t be so).

Wilson isn’t the most nuanced of characters and by the end of the episode he’s become a frantic, gun-waving heavy.  Stephens’ daughter Pat (Joanna Dunham) adds a touch of glamour as the damsel-in-distress who inevitably falls into the clutches of the baddies, but it’s not long before Brady turns up to rescue her, so only minimal tension is created.

The cast, as so often, can’t be faulted but this is pretty thin stuff.  A trip to Covent Garden market is one highlight from a pretty average episode.

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