Books: The Crystal Bucket : Bonjour twistesse | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Bonjour twistesse

The Beeb having fielded a reasonably adequate substitute for The Brothers — I refer, of course, to Rough Justice — the pressure on ITV was redoubled to come up with a reasonably adequate substitute for their own all-time hit sudser, the one and only Bouquet of Barbed Wire. Clearly an impossible task, yet with The Foundation (ATV) they have done something to accomplish it. The first series finished on Friday, but you can be certain that it won’t be the last.

Sensibly there has been no attempt to recapture the basic Bouquet gimmick, by which every character concerned went to bed with all the others, so that you ended up with a genteel version of those Marquis de Sade fantasies in which the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker find themselves being roped into the action. The Foundation plot is more of a revision to the trusty Planemakers format. Big business, rich living, tough at the top, etc. The decision-makers, etc.

For some reason, even though the Beeb is constantly attempting versions of its own, this format flourishes best on ITV. The only time the Corporation ever got it right was with The Brothers, and there they cheated by transposing the idea downwards, so that the high-flying executives looked and sounded lower middle class, or even plebeian. The Foundation is the format in its pure state, with all the principal characters placed firmly in the equestrian order or above. Apart from a token brace of lovable proles who seem to have been included mainly so that their up-market acquaintances can gain some ethical credit by being nice to them, the only unusual element in the set-up is that the decision-maker furthest to the forefront is wearing skirts instead of trousers.

Davinia Prince, played by Lynette Davies, is a business-woman of flair and determination. But her tremulous lower lip, which under the stress of emotion droops to reveal a glistening row of tiny teeth, is the clue to her susceptible heart. Against her better judgment, she is in love with a married man, a foreign wheeler-dealer called Philippe, pronounced Philippe. ‘Do you know how you make me feel, Philippe?’ she muses, as they lie together in her luxurious bed with only their heads sticking out. ‘I theenk so. You make me feel the same way.’

Philippe likes making love with the light on, a sure sign of Continental sophistication. In fact he is so sophisticated that he is sometimes hard for the ordinary viewer to understand. ‘Do you know the French word, twist?’ I didn’t, but realised on reflection that he meant the French word triste.

Davinia and Philippe ought to be eternal lovers, but are doomed by circumstances to a fleeting affair. It is inevitable that they should feel twist. To match her slightly atavistic, early 1950s grooming (think of Ann Todd in The Sound Barrier and you’ve got it exactly), Davinia discreetly flaunts a Rank-starlet version of patrician elocution. Not even her passion for Philippe can put a dent in her refinement. ‘Ay can’t control it,’ she whimpers. ‘The trouble with being in love is all you do is feel, feel, feel!’

Lest Davinia fly too high for the rest of us to identify with her, she is provided with a sister, Katherine. Straightforward, no-nonsense, unstuffy Katherine. Katherine the school-teacher. It might be a private school, but still we can see that Katherine’s origins are nothing grand. It follows that Davinia’s aren’t either. Although she might now be up there with Them, nevertheless she started down here with Us. And while Katherine might not have Davinia’s privileges, she hasn’t got her problems either. ‘Do be careful,’ Katherine staunchly advises her beautiful sister. ‘Try not to get yourself hurt.’ Davinia is lucky to have so wise a confidante as Katherine. After all, Katherine’s advice might easily have been the opposite. ‘Do be careless. Try to bugger yourself up as much as possible.’

There is no secret about why soap opera makes compulsive television. They simplify life. It is not so much a matter of simplifying events as of simplifying character. Most of the events in The Foundation could easily happen in real life — Davinias are continually fighting their way up from nowhere for the privilege of falling into bed with Philippe and feeling twist. But in real life the matter of character is never so elementary. In a soap opera, character is destiny: everything anybody does is determined by his nature. In real life we are stuck with the existentialist responsibility of remaking ourselves every morning. It is we who are the real decision makers. By the time Friday rolls around we are worn out from taking the rap. Hence the charm of being able to reach out and switch on Davinia, who is always and only what she is.

4 September, 1977