After a young boy retrieves his football from the roof of Carlingham Alloys he collapses and later dies. His death shocks the local community, not least Arnold Payne (Derek Benfield). Payne’s family had previously owned the factory but sold it some time back to a major multi-national concern (and he now views it with a very jaundiced eye).
Carlingham are developing a new process to produce a low-cost substitute for carbon fibre. If they succeed before the Americans then the profits will be immense – which explains why lead scientist Dr Anthony Lewis (Trevor Bannister) spares little thought for the fate of a child who had been trespassing. But the later death of a factory worker confirms there is a major problem and Quist and the others are on hand to suggest a series of measures which will tighten up safety procedures to ensure such tragedies never happen again.
But the story doesn’t end there …..
Public Enemy is a Doomwatch tale of two halves. It begins very much in the mould of a series one episode – a mysterious unexplained death which the team investigate. The show had also covered the conflict between big-business and the environment before (for example in Train and De-Train). Indeed, it’s interesting to directly compare this episode with Train and De-Train. In Train and De-Train, Mitchell, the head of Alminster Chemicals, is only concerned with Alminster’s profit margin. If they’re responsible for environmental damage along the way then that’s regrettable, but to him it’s just a fact of life (his chief scientist is the one shown to have scruples).
In Public Enemy the position is totally reversed. The managing director of Carlingham Alloys, Gerald Marlow (Glyn Houston), totally takes on board all of Quist’s safety recommendations and promises to ensure they’re put into practice. It’s Dr Lewis who’s shown to be dismissive and obstructive – he feels that as the boy shouldn’t have been on the roof it’s not really their fault that he died. His attitude appalls Quist – Lewis is the sort of scientist who, in his opinion, cuts corners and is therefore dangerous – which leads to a major confrontation between Quist and Geoff.
It’s a lovely moment which helps to flesh out Geoff’s character in what turned out to be his final appearance (it was Fay’s last story too). After the pair spend a few seconds staring at each other following Geoff’s outburst, the atmosphere is lightened by Ridge who asks Quist if he’d like him to throw Geoff against the wall to see if he bounces!
Both Glyn Houston and Trevor Bannister (best known for his later role in Are You Being Served?) offer first-rate performances. Houston plays Marlow as the sort of caring, considerate employer who seems almost too good to be true whilst Bannister’s Lewis spends most of the episode simmering with barely concealed rage at the nosy do-gooders from Doomwatch. When Marlow first tells him that Doomwatch have been called in, he reacts by calling them “failed boffins”. Marlow then counters by replying that Quist can hardly be called a failed boffin, but Lewis doesn’t reply, he simply smiles faintly.
After Doomwatch have identified the problem, that seems to be an end of it. But Carlingham are not prepared to pay the hundred thousand pounds needed to implement the safety procedures recommended by Quist – instead they decide to close the factory and move production up to Leicester. All the workers’ jobs are secure, but few are keen to up sticks and move.
This is where the second part of the story kicks in. Up until now both the works committee and Payne have been fully behind Quist’s recommendations. But Payne (a noted local businessman with several shops) knows that once the factory closes he’ll lose most of his trade, so his former virulent criticisms of the factory’s safety record now undergoes an ironic adjustment. If it means keeping the workers here, then surely a little pollution is a small price to pay? The works committee also accepted Quist’s recommendations and indeed welcomed them, but if it’s a choice between a move to Leicester and staying at the old factory (even if, as Quist says, they could face serious lung problems in as little as five years time) many would prefer to stay put and take their chances.
The shift in emphasis helps to spin the story off in a very different direction. Had this been a series one episode then it’s highly likely that the creative team of Pedler and Davis would have chosen to highlight the heartlessness of profit-driven modern corporate business (as happened in both The Red Sky and Train and De-Train). But that doesn’t happen here, which is a good example of how Doomwatch changed direction once Terence Dudley wrested creative control of the series from Pedler and Davis.
The episode culminates in a blistering final scene, excellently performed by John Paul, as Quist addresses the various vested interests who have most to lose if the factory closes. As Quist finishes his impassioned speech, the camera zooms into his face as he stares directly down the lens. Breaking the fourth wall like this was unusual and it can be taken as a clear hint that Quist’s message was meant for the watching millions at home as well. The speech isn’t subtle, but it’s powerfully delivered and closes series two very memorably.
Raise production, raise consumption, raise wages, advance the standard of living. But is anyone any happier? All that happens is that the debris that must inevitable accumulate in the process, slowly builds up until one day it must choke us.
Now we all want a clean, healthy world to live in, don’t we? We’re all against pollution in any form? But only when the cost of fighting it is borne by someone else. When our own pocket’s hit, a shilling on the rates, six weeks on the dole, a capital investment which makes a company merely viable, then no thanks, let’s forget it. Well, I’m warning you, forget it and you’re dead.
Not just this community, but the whole of industrial civilisation. The way we’re carrying on, the way we’re polluting, over-crowding, chemicals, noise, we’ve got thirty years. Thirty years of, dirty, slow, dirty dying. Or it’s thirty years for us to clear up the mess. That’s the choice! That’s your only choice! Pay up or pack up! Not only you, or you, or you, but every single one of us, every living one of us, all of us.
It’s a pity that both Jean Trend and John Nolan were written out of the series following this episode. Nolan spent most of the second series doing very little, but that’s no criticism of him as an actor – simply that Geoff Hardcastle was such an undeveloped character. When he was given a role to play – his double act with Ridge in Invasion or indeed in this episode – he was very watchable. Trend will also be missed. As she was replaced by the rather similar character of Dr Anne Tarrant during series three (who had first appeared in You Killed Toby Wren) I do find the change a little baffling.
Other major changes would occur during the third and final series, but with only three episodes existing from the transmitted twelve, sadly most of the stories now are only accessible via scripts or synopsis.