TV review: A whiff of floral dissent

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The Independent Culture
Documentary

Blood on the Carpet BBC2

Wednesday's Blood on the Carpet came just in time to put us off ordering flowers for Valentine's Day. It described the hostilities behind the hyacinths in Britain's biggest bouquet delivery firm, and in the process it served as a wonderfully British Ealing Comedy about life under New Labour. There's a lot you can say with flowers.

Just a few years ago, so the story went, Interflora was a cosy family of independent florists. Its annual general meetings were seaside postcard scenes of egg-and-spoon races and cockney sing-songs. Then, in 1990, someone - we're not told who - hired Doug McGrath to modernise the company. Shockingly, he had no experience of the dahlia world. He was a hard-nosed businessman, brought in, he recalls with some pride, "to be a bastard". He did his best.

Interflora's next AGM was well and truly Mandied. The traditional lusty choruses of "I'm Henery the Eighth I Am" were drowned out by lectures on the "effective quality assurance programme". The knees-up had turned into a tightly organised, slickly stage-managed rally. "Suddenly we were like a conference [you] see on television," remembers Rose-Marie Watkins. Soon after, Interflora's members received glossy brochures ordering them to remake their shops in the corporate image. Watkins was horrified. She and another florist struck back, which was disastrous news for McGrath - but terrific news for the makers of Blood on the Carpet. Watkins and her co-conspirator, Bev Wood, are two very slightly dotty women who finish each other's sentences as they recount the David-and-Goliath yarn of their mutiny. They are so bubbly that any docusoap producers watching must have scribbled "Florists?" in their notepads.

The war of the roses commenced. Writing by hand to all 2,600 Interflorists, the two dissidents campaigned for an Extraordinary General Meeting. Their efforts bore fruit, the meeting was called, and the members turned on their directors - even claiming that the conference catering was a rip- off. This detail was a gift to Blood on the Carpet's producers. The narrator, Jim Carter, currently to be seen as the Nurse in Shakespeare in Love, enunciated darkly: "Fate in the form of a cold quiche buffet conspired to play a decisive role." It was the Night of the Long Stems: all 13 directors were voted off the board and on to the compost heap.

Following this climactic pruning, the programme withered away disappointingly, not knowing quite how to finish. Up until then, though, it had been typical of the series. Blood on the Carpet's depiction of boardroom brawls is shaded with sly wit, mischievous editing, a playful use of music and imagery, and a delight in the contrast between an outwardly chummy industry and the unchummy machinations behind the scenes. Floristry? "Ruthless." Ice cream? "Dirty." Who knows what savage power struggles are going on even now in the teddy bear business?

For those of us who would rather read a gas bill than the financial pages, Blood on the Carpet has been a treat, simply because it has insisted that head-swimming, multi-million-pound deals can rest on the personalities of three or four people. In the end, though, it's a depressing series: those personalities tend to remind me why I was put off the financial pages in the first place. A typical programme will be the story of a David becoming a Goliath. Hotel magnate Rocco Forte emerged as an unlikely hero in his episode. He and his family were ousted from their empire because they were keener on long-term investment than on short-term cutbacks. Forte's principles make him the exception.

In last week's programme, one of the Interflora rebels, Geoff Hughes, became the firm's new chairman, and went on to implement the old board's proposals, point by point, with just as much steeliness as the people he had deposed. And in "The Ice Cream Wars", Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield fought for their company's life when Haagen-Dazs wanted to stop the cuddly hippies using the big boy's distribution network. But later, when a third premium ice cream firm entered the market and tried to get some freezer space, Ben & Jerry's took a similarly frosty attitude. You can spot the beginnings of the rot in the declaration of war which Cohen and Greenfield's lawyer sent to Haagen-Dazs. "Ben & Jerry's is a classic entrepreneurial success, and its owners are aggressive. They like the taste of success and they will fight for it." And you thought they liked the taste of ice cream.

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