Eddie Wells and Nicky Hutchinson talking

Four friends in Newcastle have the strands of their lives interwoven with the political and economic events over three decades. Superficially it’s a nine hour film about housing, but it’s much more than that.

The Labour Party, corruption in public life and housing, the rise and fall of T. Dan Smith (Mr Newcastle), John Poulson and Reginald Maudling, sleaze in Soho, corruption in the Met, the Tories rise to power, the violence and politics of the Miners’ strike in 1984 to name but a few of the political events covered.


PLOT SUMMARY BY CHAPTER – 1967


C1. In Soho Geordie is doing well as Benny’s personal assistant but asking for trouble by shagging Benny’s girlfriend Julia Allen (Jules). The Willow Lane flats have severe damp problems, mould on the walls. Tosker works in a factory stencilling crates for South Africa that end up in Rhodesia. (Sanctions busting).

C2. Stop the rot. The title is a pun referring to the damp problems at Willow Lane flats which is ongoing, and the corruption in Soho which is getting worse. On being asked by the Commissioner to clean up Soho John Salway does the opposite and goes to see Benny to demand £750 a week to carry on, which he does.

C3. Mary approaches Eddie Wells about the damp problem and back in Soho the corruption deepens as the Met offer Benny porn they have raided from his shops in the past.

C4. Eddie Wells takes on Austin Donohue and Bede Connor (Head of the Housing committee) about Willow Lane. Connor says Donohue should talk to Edwards (as Poulson) to sort it out. Nicky has a new anarchist girlfriend (Helen Windsor) in London. She gets up Mary’s nose in a restaurant – and on finding out what Tosker does for a living – causes him to lose his job, presumably by reporting the company for sanctions busting.

C5. Donohue takes on Edwards about Willow Lane but Edwards isn’t playing or paying. He says the ratepayers’ can pay. In a move that comes back to bite him, when Eddie and Mary go round to see Nicky to ask whether Connor is on Edwards payroll Nicky refuses to tell them.

C6. Nicky confronts Donohue at the Guildhall offices about the contents of the ESB file. Donohue admits to having received £10,000 for getting Willow Lane built by ESB (by paying Bede Connor). Nicky returns the file and Donohue tells him Willow Lane will only be repaired at the ratepayers’ expense, not Edwards.


NOTES AND COMMENTS – 1967


C1. As the clock ticks

Soho – Geordie struts the streets of his empire as Benny’s personal assistant.

On Willow Lane things are not so good. Mould lines the kitchen and bedroom walls and water runs down the walls.

Tosker leaves for work. The lift lobby area has deteriorated and is grubby and graffiti covered.

Tosker works in a factory, stencilling addresses on packing cases for Durban but they end up in Rhodesia bypassing the apartheid sanctions.

Geordie is flying high. He’s got a briefcase chained to his wrist, he’s doing the cash collections from the numerous porn shops. He goes into Benny’s club and up the stairs to Benny’s apartment to drop off the briefcase. He finds Jules naked on the bed after a shower. Later on Benny comes home. He finds her and Geordie sitting having a post coital drink.

When Benny leaves Jules says “Let’s do it again” [So now he’s shagging Benny’s girlfriend. This won’t end well].

Benny comes back quietly and hears them shagging but says nothing. He sees G’s tie on the mantlepiece but doesn’t interrupt them.

C2. Stop the rot (a punning title referring to both the damp and the Soho corruption.)

Mary finds mouldy clothes in the wardrobe. She attempts to move the wardrobe away from the wall to see the mould and it topples on to the double bed, but fortunately misses Anthony (their first). She is distraught but relieved he isn’t hurt.

Soho – The Police commissioner (Sir Colin Blamire) is being driven around Soho with a colleague observing the prostitutes and Danish porn in the streets. They go into Benny’s club.

Mary talks to Tosker about the damp. They’ve tried Eddie, she wants to know if she should write to Austin Donohue about the damp. Tosker just wants to sleep.

“I hate it here!” Mary is in despair.

What will get through to Tosker?

“I bumped into Nicky today, he’s changed a bit” – Mary

“What’s he doing?” – Tosker

“Photographer, working for the Chronicle.” – Mary

New Scotland Yard – “I want you to stop the rot.” – Sir Colin Balmire to John Salway.

John Salway walks into the lads office and tells them.

John Salway walks into Benny’s new club and demands £750 a week. That’s the new arrangement.

C3. The Sting

Benny wants a meeting with Salway’s governors. They meet in a side street and Benny’s wearing a recorder. Benny wants Walensky to leave his flat, the lease was up five months ago, he tells Geordie to sort it.

The Police turn up in a Rover 2000. They take Benny to the station (West End Central?) and show him a stack of raided porn that’s his for the taking. He laughs, they all laugh, he switches the recorder on.

Geordie goes to see Walensky in his flat.

“My wife died in this room Geordie” Walensky tells him. Geordie pushes some money across the table.

Walensky refuses the bribe.

“End of the month” says Geordie.

Salway distributes the £750 in the office. Ron Conrad looks uneasy and doesn’t want to take it.

Salway puts a share in Conrad’s top pocket. Ron goes to his boss and asks for a move.

He gets his move “but it’ll go on your file.” adds his boss.

Austin Donohue is off on a trip to London to talk about his television franchise bid.

Eddie visits Mary, “they’ve only been up two year” says Mary

“Have you talked to Bede Connor?” asks Eddie

“Oh Eddie, I’ve written him letters begging for help, and it’s not just in here, it’s practically the whole block”.

“Right, there’s only one language Connor understands” says Eddie and leaves Willow Lane.

C4. The Rhodesia question

Eddie takes on Donohue at his TV franchise meeting, about the Willow Lane flats. He takes him to his private office. Bede Connor walks in and Eddie takes him on and doesn’t pull his punches. Connor and Donohue argue about who’s responsible to sort the flats out. Connor says Edwards. Connor tells Donohue that he should talk to Edwards to sort it out. Donohue asks his secretary for the ESB file but it’s gone. (Nicky’s got it).

Nicky has a new girlfriend, Helen Windsor, they meet Tosker and Mary for a meal. Helen gets up Mary’s nose so it doesn’t go too well. Helen is disdainful of Tosker. Helen works in a Merchant Bank, Tosker tells her he stencils crates for South Africa but they go to Rhodesia. Helen has a go at him for sanctions busting. It all gets a bit acrimonious and Tosker and Mary pay and leave.

Nicky isn’t too happy about losing his friends thanks to Helen.

Helen blabs presumably. Tosker loses his job, the company loses the contract.

“It’s the Rhodesia question” says his former boss.

C5. Keeping silent [Nicky being obstructive]

Donohue and Edwards are having dinner somewhere posh, they are awaiting the arrival of Claud Seabrook the Home Secretary (playing Reginald Maudling). Donohue wants to raise the issue of the damp Willow Lane flats.

Eddie has clearly been to the papers about the damp in Mary and Tosker’s flat – Edwards refers to a “photo in the paper in bad taste”, and “weren’t those people those in the promotional film?”

Edwards has a go at Donohue for employing Nicky Hutchinson who turned against him.

Edwards suggests putting Eddie Wells on the payroll, or giving him a holiday. “It would be pointless” replies Donohue.

Donohue challenges Edwards about the condition of the Willow Lane flats and the cost of their refurbishment.

“You’ll get nothing out of me, what are the rates for?” says Edwards who refuses to pay a penny.

Donohue threatens to pull away from Edwards and leaves the table.

Eddie and Mary go round to see Nicky to ask whether Bede Connor is on Edward’s payroll. Nicky refuses to tell them. (I don’t understand why not – Chapter title Keeping Silent).

He’s let his friends down, I think that’s the end of their friendship.

Eddie is round at Willow Lane, Mary is sticking wallpaper back up over mould. Tosker asks her why she’s bothering. Tosker gets angry at Patrick but it’s really about the damp, and his unemployment.

Back in the posh dining room Edwards is buttering up Seabrook to get overseas contracts for Edwards Overseas Construction Services – . Edward’s boot polish hand movement is in very poor taste and very 1960s.

London – Jules meets Geordie in the park. Tosker is coming to London. Geordie is in love with Jules, and wants to run away with her. He doesn’t like having to tell Jules that Barratt wants her to go to bed with John Salway.

Tosker arrives in London, and is picked up by Barratt’s Rolls Royce, with Barratt driving as chaffeur.

Donohue didn’t get the TV franchise so now he’s stuck with Edwards. His secretary is upset about it. Donohue is going to meet Connor to tell him the ratepayers will have to foot the bill for Willow Lane repairs.

Tosker has a new suit thanks to Geordie, Tosker loves the club and the strippers obviously. They’re at the opening night of Benny’s new club.

C6. Crosses to bear

Donohue is in his office standing by a model of the Willow Lane flats. It’s dark – he is presumably awaiting the arrival of Bede Connor. The door creaks open and closed and Nicky walks in holding the ESB folder. They face each other. “Now you’re still in bed with Edwards aren’t you?” says Nicky.

“A new house, a £1000 a year – Bede Connor” says Nicky reading from the file – “and there are hundred of them in here”. Nicky is taking on Donohue face to face. “Why should dozens of MPs be on Edwards payroll?”. What did you get out of it for Willow Lane?

“£10,000” replies Donohue. Nicky returns the ESB file. Donohue tells Nicky the flats will be repaired, at the ratepayers expense.

[I don’t know why Nicky took the ESB file at all. He does nothing with it apart from confronting Donohue in Chapter 6 which achieves nothing anyway.]

Benny knows about Julia. What’s he going to do? The picture comes down and Jules is in bed with Salway. Benny’s got a two way mirror.

End of 1967.

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