A departure from Mike Leigh, centring on the social mores among a firm of stockbrokers. Obsequious junior partner Alan (Richard Kane) is the main focus – a pathetically insecure creep obsessed with status, both class-based (he idolises the royals) and celebrity (he collects oleaginously solicited signed photographs of everyone from Russell Harty to Petula Clark, Dr Christiaan Barnard to fingerless pianist ‘Rhythmic Roberto’). Two of the posher brokers, slobbish Giles (Adam Norton) and uptight Nigel (Simon ‘Imitation Game’ Chandler), live together in an Odd Couple-esque relationship of mutual dislike.
A dinner party they throw for two girlfriends, loud Samantha (Catherine Hall) and timid Caroline (Felicity ‘Shooting the Chandelier’ Dean) plus another office colleague, predatory Anthony (Graham Seed). The dinner descends into a loud orgy of half-baked chat (‘the punk thing’ is oafishly discussed), clumsy seduction and boozy incoherence. Senior partner Francis (Jeffrey Wickham) discusses the financial woes of Lord and Lady Crouchurst (David ‘Country’ Neville and Richenda ‘Nuts in May’ Carey), who offer up insufferably plumy non-sequitirs and hopelessly complicated organisational news respectively, in a round robin of escalating obtuseness and confusion.
Alan, who crawls to everyone in the office save young, sarcastic Kevin (Phil ‘Quadrophenia’ Davis), annoys his eccentric, cat-loving wife April (Joolia Cappleman), when he co-opts visiting cat photographer Desmond Shakespeare (Sam ‘Grown Ups’ Kelly) into touring his collection of autographs from the great and good and even the rejection slips from the secretaries of the ones that got away – nothing is beneath proud display). He also interrupts her efforts to sell a prized puss to moneyed Miss Hunt (Geraldine James), intruding into the private life and bloodline of this genuine member of the aristocracy in his very home, and furtively looking up her mother’s surname in a handy copy of Debrett’s.
This description seems rather convoluted and directionless even by Leigh’s standards, and to be fair it does have the feel of a loose collection of ideas and scenes more than any of his other entries in the strand (even the bitty Hard Labour). Series producer Margaret Matheson had encouraged him to do something beyond what, after the success of Abigail’s Party, had come to be characterised as his trademark milieu of lower middle class suburbia. Matheson’s initiative to push writers away from their familiar areas, which worked so well in 1978’s ‘Social Issues’ season, was less successful here here.
The nearest thing to a central performance is Alan’s wonderful Rigsbyesque creation, and scenes without him suffer, with the exception of the spiralling Crouchurst interview. Like Abigail’s Party before it, this was a quick commission by series producer Louis Marks, after an ambitious Anglo-Israeli co-production authored by David Mercer fell through. Leigh himself admits that illness and the birth of his first child interrupted the shoot, and an extra few weeks could have helped iron out the rougher element – in particular the dinner party scene, which sails as close as Leigh’s work has come to the alleged vices of improvised caricature and loud, repetitious cliché his harshest critics have levelled at him, but even here there are the pockets of great character work and observation characteristic of even Leigh’s weakest work.