The Edwardians – Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce (21st November 1972)

The Edwardians was an eight part series which aired during late 1972 and early 1973. Each episode shone the spotlight on a different key figure in Edwardian society – some (like today’s subjects) still remain familiar whilst others are now a little more obscure. Like a number of other television series from this era, it survives as a mixture of colour originals and black and white telerecordings (only the first and last episodes are still in colour) but, of course, it’s preferable to have all the episodes existing in some form than not.

Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce, written by Ian Curteis, is a strong series opener. Michael Jayston has the plum role of Royce, a dour Northern engineer who, after bemoaning the poor standard of the available motor cars, decides with intense single-minded drive to create his own. Despite being saddled with a very false-looking beard, Jayston delightfully deadpans throughout.

That Royce is a tough taskmaster is made plain right at the start, when it’s revealed that his staff are now working a seventy hour week. But although he’s a hard, hard man to please (capable of flying into sudden rages over the most trivial matters) it becomes clear over time that he does have his men’s best interests at heart (if the company fails, then he’s uncomfortably aware that they might all end up destitute – which is one reason why he pushes himself to breaking point).

In contrast, Robert Powell’s Mr Rolls is a dilettante playboy – indulged by his parents, he’s a silver-tongued car salesman with access to the highest in the land (hence the reason why Royce and Rolls team up) but he can never seem to settle at anything too long. Ballooning is one of his passions, and he’s also become a keen aviator.

On the surface Rolls seems to be a more readable character than Royce, but Powell manages to tease out some of his complexities. Although it’s also true that he seems to delight in going over the top – Rolls’ sudden barking laughter at nothing in particular being a case in point.

Although Jayston and Powell dominate the 75 minute play, there’s still time for several other actors to shine. John Franklin-Robbins (Ernest Claremont) and Barrie Cookson (Claude Johnson) are both solid as the devoted factotums of Royce and Rolls. Eve Pearce as Mrs Royce, makes a late impression and Mary Hignett, as Rolls’ autocratic mother, Lady Langattock, has a key final scene with Royce.

The chalk and cheese nature of Rolls and Royce is the motor (sorry) which drives the play along. But although they have several ferocious arguments, there’s also the sense that both respect the other (articulated especially by Royce, who wishes he had Rolls’ charm and poise).

Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce could easily have been developed into a serial (say 4 x 50 minute episodes) as there seems to have been enough material available, and I would have been happy to see more of Jayston and Powell. Still, I can’t grumble about what we did get and this opener makes me keen to revisit the remainder of the series (although I know not all the future installments are as strong as this one).