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Museum Attendant, The (1973)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The museum staff arrive prior to opening: Jim Regan in charge, then Dennis, Frank, Thomas (nicknamed 'Hermann Goering' on account of his authoritarian demeanour), Bill (nicknamed 'Peg Leg' because of his pronounced limp), Flynn and John. Flynn tells a racist joke to wind the African-born John up. Jim breaks the news that Howard, the other black attendant, is recovering from his wife leaving him. The others are more interested in who's going to be promoted to Deputy Head Attendant: Thomas, Bill and Flynn have applied.

Dennis and Flynn discuss the issue of Howard's wife and whether or not Flynn deserves a promotion. Frank joins them and turns the conversation back to Howard. Flynn tells a racist joke about Howard's wife. Thomas looks at him in disgust, and walks out. Howard arrives and the others fall silent. Frank commiserates with him over his wife, and Howard says that he couldn't stay at home any more.

In the main gallery, Frank and Dennis leer at a woman in a revealing dress. They waylay John on the way to his floor and ask if he fancies her. Jim turns up to discuss the lunch arrangements. An American visitor is told that he can take photographs, then banned from using flash.

Howard tells Frank that his wife left a note, but she didn't even sign it. She also took her favourite clothes, the spare television and emptied her bank account. Howard feels that there is nothing he can do.

Later, John and Howard have a more sympathetic conversation, because Howard believes that John actually cares. John muses about the way that the English hate their workmates, and Howard says that that's why immigrants are so essential, to provide someone at the bottom of the pile for everyone to hate. They discuss Howard's background as an educated middle-class man who is clearly overqualified for the job. He arrived in Britain six years ago with ambitions to become a writer. He believes that middle-class West Indians live in permanent fear of being found out, unlike the Jews, who stick together. People like Howard so want to be accepted that it's no wonder that they end up in a mental home or hidden away in places like the museum. John thinks his talents are being wasted.

In the staff room, Flynn berates John for being friendly with Thomas. John complains about not being made to feel welcome in Britain, so Flynn suggests that he return home. After John leaves, Howard confronts him, saying he's fed up with people like Flynn. He demolishes Flynn's myths about black people and says that they no longer care what he thinks, as the Empire is long gone. He asks Flynn where he belongs, saying that the English don't care about him unless they have a war to fight. Flynn launches into a lengthy self-justifying monologue, saying that successive governments have asked him to make countless sacrifices "for England", and he has nothing to show for it. He leaves, and Bill comments that Howard is just as hard-nosed as the rest of them. He suggests that his wife left him because a museum attendant is a hopelessly inadequate job for him. Howard angrily tells him to mind his own business, but sobs quietly after he leaves.

Frank and Dennis continue their rounds, berating a visitor for touching one of the paintings. Dennis complains about how people think that his is an easy job, but he has to deal with countless visitors, many of whom don't even speak English. They are momentarily distracted by a mixed-race couple (he's black, she's white). Jim asks them if they've seen Howard, and tells them that Thomas was given the deputy's job.

In the staff room, Dennis and Flynn have a smoke. Flynn is unhappy about Thomas's promotion. Flynn shows off his tattoos, which cover his chest. Dennis finds Howard in a side room, lying dead with a bottle of bleach by his side. Flynn says that an Englishman would have had the decency to kill himself in his own home. Dennis worries that this will mean that they won't get off at five o'clock.