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Plane Makers/Power Game, The (1963-69)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Plane Makers/Power Game, The (1963-69)
ATV for ITV, tx. 13/12/1965-1/4/1969
6 series, 97 x 60-minute episodes total, black and white (colour from 7/1/1969)
Production CompanyATV
ProducerRex Firkin
ScriptsWilfred Greatorex, Peter Draper, Edmund Ward, John Bowen, Raymond Bowers

Cast: Peter Barkworth (Kenneth Bligh), Clifford Evans (Caswell Bligh), Patrick Wymark (John Wilder), Jack Watling (Don Henderson), Rosemary Leach (Susan Weldon), Barbara Murray (Pamela Wilder), Rachel Herbert (Justine Bligh)

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Bored with retirement, Sir John Wilder uses his place on the board of Elbertson's Merchant Bank to secure himself a position as joint managing director of Bligh's Construction Company...

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There was a time when the UK had a large and healthy manufacturing industry, strange though that may seem today. Such was the importance of the sector that it regularly became an ideological battleground that boiled over into conflict. Powerful trade unions, seeing the opportunity to leverage pay increases from their employers clashed with a management whose style was often as unyielding as their militant workforce. As a result, strikes, the so-called 'British disease', came to characterise 1960s labour relations as autocratic managing directors and dogmatic union leaders battled for supremacy. All this made ripe territory for television drama.

The Plane Makers (ITV, 1963-65) told the day-to-day story of a multi-million pound aerospace company, its new jet plane, its test-pilot, its workers and its ruthless and hard-nosed managing director John Wilder, the embodiment of modern, unflinching capitalism. Patrick Wymark played the unrelenting managing director with such zeal and authority that real industrialists offered him places on the boards of their companies, apparently unaware that the actor was totally unlike his screen persona. However Wilder, who quickly became the man audiences loved to hate, got his comeuppance, albeit briefly, when his company Scott-Furlong collapsed at the end of the show's second season.

But you can't keep a man like Wilder down for long, and sure enough he returned in The Power Game (ITV, 1965-69), knighted for services to industry and on the board of a merchant bank. His new financial power quickly enabled him to become managing director of an engineering company of which his bank was an investor, much to the anger of its founder, and before the audience had the chance to hiss its delighted disapproval of his naked capitalism, Wilder was back at work.

The Power Game was almost a serial, with each week's episode largely dependent on the last, a device deliberately developed by script editor Wilfred Greatorex to maximise audience-allegiance. The ploy worked and the show proved a massive ratings success. It was the untimely death of Wymark in 1970, rather than waning audience interest, that finally brought Wilder's career to a close.

By coincidence, Greatorex lived in the village of Taplow, near Maidenhead, alongside David Reid, The Power Game's producer, and Anthony Read, the script editor on The Troubleshooters (1965-72), the BBC's equally successful take on unbridled capitalism. As Read later commented, "All that lust for power and profit emanating from one patch."

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Introduction (1:31)
2. The new office (4:07)
3. Consulting Sir John (3:27)
Complete episode: 'Lady for a Knight' - Part 1 (17:17)
Part 2 (13:55)
Part 3 (14:57)
Collinson, Peter (1936-1980)
Greatorex, Wilfred (1922-2002)
Holm, Sir Ian (1931-)