Friday, 28 March 2008

The Chance of a Lifetime

Last week, I was sitting in my flat trying to get motivated to mark some essays. As usual, the TV was on as I desperately sought a distraction. There was an old black-and-white movie being shown on Film Four. For the first ten minutes I took little notice of it as I psyched myself up for the grim task that lay ahead of me. Then I paid more attention when I realised a good old-fashioned British Leyland-style car park meeting was being played out. The scene was a plough factory in some rural idyll in 1950, and the managing director was telling his petulant workforce a few home truths. He told them that he worked 12 or 14 hours a day, seven days a week (the concept of work-life balance wasn’t yet in vogue) and that if any of the workers wanted his job, they could have it. This was only an act of bravado, but the workers took him up on his offer and rented the company off him. A workers’ co-operative had been born and my interest in The Chance of a Lifetime had been awakened.

Two of the workers now formed the new board of directors. But both suppliers and the bank were wary of this Brave New World and the firm was soon hit by a ‘credit-crunch’. It looked as if it was going under, but the workers had a whip-round to save the day, prompting the headline ‘Workers pledge assets to save the factory’ in the Daily Worker. Then the firm got a lucky break in the form of a huge order from the Zanatobian Trade Delegation, who all looked very dodgy to me with their black hats and Trotsky-like beards. The works-engineer, Adams played by a young Kenneth Moore talking in his trademark Douglas Bader staccato, announced that the firm would have to ‘retool’, concentrate just on the Zanatobia order and ditch its existing customers. This was too much for one of the worker directors who quit and returned to the shopfloor.

Adams now embarked on introducing Fordist mass-production techniques. As a result of such Taylorism, piece-rates were lowered and the workers found themselves losing 12 bob a week. This led to an unofficial strike although this was attributed to four agitators (one of whom was Irish, lol) as we all know that strikes are usually caused by red troublemakers! Full-time union officials were called in and they naturally advised moderation telling the workers ‘you are striking against yourselves’. Does it sound familiar? Everyone throws coins into the Irishman’s tea mug to make up his twelve bob, a stray coin lodges in a busty woman’s cleavage (that of Hattie Jacques of Carry On fame) causing much mirth, and everyone has a laugh and goes back to work.

But there is another crisis to contend with. The Zanatobian government cancels all import orders citing currency difficulties (I told you they looked dodgy!). It looks as if all is lost until the old managing director, Mr. Dickenson, comes to the rescue. He has given 30 years of damned hard work building up the business and his father 40 years before him. He is not going to let it all go down the plughole without a fight. He looks up some old international contacts, gets some new orders and the business, after Stakhanovite contributions all round, not only survives but looks all set to flourish. Mr. Dickenson returns to the Board as is joined by the Fordist engineer. The surviving worker director, knowing his place, returns to the shopfloor announcing that ‘he would rather work for a living’. Hard-headed capitalism had triumphed over naive idealism.

On the face it of it was just another quaint, endearingly silly and typically British old film. But I think that if you locate it in its time with the Atlee administration that some people must have regarded as positively Bolshevik and the growing fear of the ‘red menaces’ of the Soviet Union and China, there was a definite political message. Anyway, it was also good fun and I got my marking done eventually.

1 comment:

Phil BC said...

Silly me. That post should be accredited to Brother S.