Review

Click to follow
Watching Modern Times' "Going Broke"(BBC2) was like watching a drowning man clinging to a paving slab, in the unshakeable conviction that it would keep him afloat. "If anybody had said three years ago I would have lost my business, lost my house, lost my factory, have my wife divorce me and that I would end up living in a caravan in a field," said Keith Sinclair, former horse-box mogul, "I would never have believed it." This is something of a cliche for television underdogs, though often they have learned enough to make a connection between their former incredulity and the subsequent disaster; they offer the phrase as a rueful account of innocence rudely educated. But after a slightly longer acquaintance with Keith, after you had been exposed to his adamantine conviction that everybody was to blame but himself, and to a capacity for fending off assistance that was little short of genius, you realised the remark also had a flavour of stubborn bloody-mindedness to it. If somebody had warned him when the crash was still avoidable, Keith would probably have replied as he did to the venture capitalist attempting to sketch out a rescue plan: "No, bollocks... why should I?".

It wasn't impossible to feel sympathy for Keith - very nearly, but not quite. For one thing, there seemed no silver lining to which he might look for consolation - he had entrusted pounds 3,000 he didn't have to a man convicted for theft, in the hope of raising new capital, he had been fined for erecting his caravan without planning permission, he was driving his insolvency adviser to distraction with his contempt for legal niceties, the Inland Revenue was after him for unpaid tax - even his favourite horse had died on him. Keith would have agreed with Claudius that "when sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions", although as the Royal House of Denmark hasn't put in a large order for horse-boxes recently, it's unlikely that his regal name-dropping would have included Hamlet's step-father.

When you felt compassion, though, it was because you saw a man trapped in his own character, rather than by the conspiracy of dunces he imagined ranged against him - he was a self-unmade man. There wasn't much Chris Goddard could do to keep any wider themes free of the intense gravitational pull of Keith's idiosyncracies - this was inevitably a film about a person rather than a process - but a few general truths squeezed past his looming figure.

Enough, at least, to strike echoes in Enterprise Culture Revisited (BBC2), which could have been scheduled as a companion piece to Modern Times' film. The fallen hero here was Ken King, a jolly businessman first visited in a series of films about the beneficiaries of Mrs Thatcher's have-a- go revolution. Back in 1989, King was squaring up to the genteel inhabitants of Avebury, scandalised to the point of insensibility by his plan to turn the Manor into an Elizabethan theme-park, complete with torture chambers, wandering minstrels and plastic spiders marked "I crawled out of the woodwork at Avebury". Mr King was a very hands-on entrepreneur, toting bricks and even, it was rumoured, climbing into the dancing-bear costume when necessary. He very sensibly declined to appear in the role of chastened oik, however, so this was more of a repeat than the update promised - though they did have a nice irony to end with: having beaten off the parvenu, the more hoity-toity villagers now find that their white knight, the socially unimpeachable National Trust, is planning its own tourist development.

There was also a detail which enriched the Ealing comedy of that first battle. When King's enterprise finally went bust - defeated by legal opposition and, let's face it, its inherent implausibility, two villagers offered him shelter in a tiny cottage they owned. That simple charity made a chastening contrast to the superior distaste of the village's more prosperous inhabitants. I don't want to be too pious about this - if Mr King turned up in my idyllic backyard, I would probably be first to man the bureaucratic barricades, but I hope I would have the honesty to shift uneasily at such a telling portrait of my motives.

Comments