Friday, March 29, 2019

White Gold: A not so golden age

by Ben Soton

White Gold. BBC2, also available on BBC iPlayer.
Creator: Damon Beesley. Stars: Ed Westwick, James Buckley, Joe Thomas.

The 1980s were a dreadful decade. After the rather promising 1970s they saw massive defeats for the working class both in Britain and internationally.
At home we witnessed the defeat of the miners and print workers. Internationally we saw progressive governments under siege in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola. The decade ended with the counter-revolutions resulting from the treacherous policies of Mikhail Gorbachov.
Unfortunately, the 1980s had no redeeming features. In terms of film and television the decade was noted for a string of dreadful teen movies and we also saw the Australian soap opera Neighbours came to Britain. For music buffs the most prominent artist of the decade was Madonna. Even the clothes were bad; they resembled a cross between Alan Partridge’s Sports Casual Wear and prison uniforms.
The period was also noted for the myth that you could make large amounts of money knocking on people’s doors selling products such as life insurance, double glazing and various other home improvements.
Home improvements were a growth industry as home owners were encouraged to spend hard earned (often through overtime) money in DIY stores. The so-called home-improvement boom was partly encouraged by the sale of council houses at knock-down prices. This is the basis for the BBC2 Wednesday night black comedy White Gold; a programme, now in its second series, centring around a fictional double-glazing firm called Cachet based in early 1980s Essex.
The lead character in White Gold is head salesman Vincent Swan. Swan is as a wide-boy and social-climber who uses dishonest and probably illegal tactics to sell double glazing and now conservatories. In many ways the ultimate anti-hero.
Played by Ed Westwick, Swan regularly breaks the fourth wall by interrupting the script to talk directly to the audience. This is intended to give the audience an insight both to the plot and to explain Swan’s highly individualistic world view. He runs a team of social misfits and drop-outs who lack the competence to run a school tuck shop.
In the first series Swan had an extra-marital affair with his child’s primary school teacher whilst his wife became involved with a member of his sales team – a plot-line that may re-emerge in this series.
In episode two of the second series (13 March 2019) Cachet attempts to use a Page Three model to promote their business only to find themselves, through a series of mishaps, with the snooker player Steve Davis – a man not known for being exciting.
The series is worth watching, if only as an epitaph to a particularly unpleasant decade.
The programme raises the issue of organised crime’s involvement in the so-called enterprise culture of the 1980s. At the end of the first series Cachet was bought by an Essex gangster. Was this something the Thatcher government tolerated? It was after all a time when the police were needed elsewhere. Did the Tory government turn a blind eye to what was effectively money laundering?
In a television interview Thatcher admitted turning a blind eye to the black economy, where people often worked and claimed benefits at the same time. Allowing people to get away with what was technically fraud acted as a safety valve limiting potential opposition, although this was an improvement on today’s benefits system where claimants are sanctioned at the drop of a hat.
On a personal note, I was at school for most of the 1980s. In the early 1990s I found myself working for a company selling fitted kitchens door to door. In the two or so weeks before my somewhat heated resignation I earned less than £100. Myself and the other young people would be driven to random parts of Southern England and were given pep-talks telling us that our lack of motivation and drive were the only things blocking us from acquiring unlimited wealth.
I was told by a fellow employee that our employer, who bore sticking similarities to Vincent Swan, offered to pay him his sales commission in marijuana. Further proof that the ‘enterprise culture’ was nothing but a cover for crime and degenerate behaviour.

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