Man at the Top: The Complete Second Series (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (18th April 2011).
The Show

Man at the Top: series two (Thames, 1972)

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Please also see our review of the first series.

Continuing the saga of Joe Lampton, introduced in John Braine’s ‘Northern realist’ novel Room at the Top (written in 1953 but published in 1957) and continued in its sequel Life at the Top (1962), this second series of Man at the Top (Thames, 1972) features Kenneth Haigh as Braine’s anti-hero. On the screen, Lampton had first been played by Laurence Harvey in Jack Clayton’s 1958 screen adaptation of Room at the Top, a film which is often claimed to have spearheaded the British New Wave (see Taylor, 2006: 70; Sinyard, 2000: 37); Harvey played the character again, in Life at the Top (Ted Kotcheff, 1965). Lampton was one of the first wave of the disillusioned post-war ‘angry young men’ associated with the social realist cinema and literature of Britain in the late-1950s and early-1960s; his immediate contemporaries were Jim Dixon (in Kingsley Amis’ 1954 novel Lucky Jim) and Jimmy Porter (in John Osborne’s 1957 play Look Back in Anger). >a href= http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0354078/>Kenneth Haigh’s performance as Jimmy Porter in the original stage production of Look Back in Anger set the tone for the representation of these characters in cinema (although Richard Burton took the role in Tony Richardson’s 1959 film adaptation of the play): in a 1980 article about a revival of the play, featuring Malcolm McDowell as Jimmy Porter, theatre critic John Simon asserted that Haigh’s Porter carried an ‘unrelieved, lachrymose underlying violence’ and ‘was a relentlessly smoldering volcano’ (Simon, 1980: 48). Haigh’s performance as Lampton throughout the two series of Man at the Top offers a view of the archetypal ‘angry young man’, by an actor who helped to define the term, as he moves through middle age.

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Room at the Top focused on Lampton’s desire to improve his life and escape his working-class background in the dreary Yorkshire town of Dufton. Room at the Top was concerned with the theme of social mobility, and Neil Sinyard compares Jack Clayton’s 1958 film adaptation with David Lean’s 1946 adaptation of Great Expectations: ‘both share themes of snobbery and self-realisation, the rise in social class [of their respective protagonists] accompanied by the decline in morals’ (Sinyard, op cit.: 44). Lampton’s journey to ‘the top’, and the motivations of Lampton, have been interrogated from a number of perspectives; however, as Sinyard notes, Lampton’s ‘motivation has more to do with self-perception than self-deception and a feeling that he is entitled to the high life by virtue of skill, intelligence and ambition’ (ibid.).

In Life at the Top, set ten years after Room at the Top, Lampton has married his sweetheart, Susan, with whom he has two children. Having established himself as a moderate success in his job, and with a good income (courtesy of Susan’s father’s company), Lampton also flirts with politics, taking on a role as a Tory councillor. The novel details Lampton’s attempts to hang on to his lifestyle, despite his tendency towards self-destruction: he has become an alcoholic, and his relationship with Susan deteriorates throughout the novel.

Man at the Top continued Lampton’s story. Although not based on a novel by Braine, the first series featured five episodes written by Braine himself. The first series also trod some of the ground covered in Life at the Top, essentially positioning itself as a sequel to Room at the Top (and thus making Kotcheff’s 1965 adaptation of Life at the Top somewhat redundant). The series updates the concerns of Braine’s novels to the 1970s: although published in 1957, Room at the Top had been written in 1952 and was in fact set in the late-1940s. Man at the Top takes Lampton into 1970s Britain, a very different era – in which Lampton’s desire for social mobility and materialism was commonplace, as per the lifestyles of Bob (Rodney Bewes) and Thelma (Brigit Forsythe) in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (BBC 1973-4). By updating the narrative to the 1970s, Man at the Top situates Lampton in an era in which his attitudes no longer mark him as the ‘odd one out’ but simply one of the crowd: a man born into the working class who has acquired a middle class position and seeks to surround himself with material signifiers of his status. Lampton fits neatly into this era, whilst also struggling to remain honest to his working class roots. This internal conflict within Lampton is the stuff of which so many 1970s television dramas and situation comedies were made, perhaps responding to anxieties over identity that were shared by the television viewing public, many of whom (like Bob and Thelma in the aforementioned Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?) may have been working class men and women who had ‘done good’ for themselves and were experiencing a sense of cultural dislocation in their new middle class world of modern semi-detached housing and colour television sets.

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Perhaps more than in the first series, this second series of Man at the Top foregrounds the North-South conflict and Lampton’s ‘fish out of water’ status as a Yorkshireman living in London. The first episode of this second series, ‘You’ll Never Understand Women’, opens in media res, at the tail-end of an argument between Lampton and his wife Susan (Zena Walker). Lampton shouts, ‘’Ere, you forgot this’, before throwing a suitcase at Susan. He repents and walks over to Susan, picking up the bag and putting it in her car. ‘This time you needn’t come back’, he says, softer this time. ‘I’ve no intention of coming back’, she asserts, reminding him that her father, Abe Brown (Paul Hardwick), is ill. ‘Don’t give me all that bullshit about your father [….] I know why you keep going up there: because you’ve got a bloody fancy man’, Lampton declares accusingly. With this, Lampton’s strained and desperate relationship with his wife, and his career (which Lampton owes to Abe), is pushed to the foreground, and the rest of the series sees Lampton commuting between London and Yorkshire.

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The juxtaposition of London and Yorkshire is also foregrounded in the new titles sequence devised for this second series. In contrast to the titles sequence of the first series, which depicts Haigh as a man-about-town, this second series’ titles sequence features a shot of an isolated Haigh standing alone, on top of a rural hill (presumably in Yorkshire), the sky overcast and rain beating down. The irony of the phrase ‘Man at the Top’ is presented in this image: it’s lonely at the top. This image is followed by a shot of a stereotypical Yorkshire town, cobbled streets and terraced houses (with two children playing in the distance), presumably meant to signify Lampton’s youth in the factory town of Dufton, Yorkshire. This is juxtaposed with shots of London, the location anchored by images of the BT tower, Piccadilly Circus and the London Hilton. In a close-up, a bitter-looking Lampton gazes offscreen. There’s a palpable tension between North and South, with the difference meaning a lot to Lampton but little to others: in the first episode of this second series, Lampton is shown in bed, a woman readying her things to leave. ‘I’ll think of you while you’re in Lancashire’, the woman asserts. ‘Yorkshire. It’s Yorkshire’, he corrects her. ‘It’s all the same to me, love’, she tells him.

In fact, it’s the journey between Yorkshire and London that provides the biggest dramatic event of this second series: in ‘A Mug Like Me’, Lampton is invited to a soiree by his new employer, the family-oriented Bernard McLain (James Maxwell). To keep up appearances, Lampton orders the reluctant Susan, who is living with her parents in Yorkshire, to attend with him. However, on the journey down to London Susan is involved in an accident and overturns her car, leaving Susan hospitalised and the Lamptons’ daughter Barbara (Kim McCarthy) dead. Lampton is left with an overwhelming sense of guilt: it was his fault that Susan and Barbara were travelling to London on that day ‘because I wanted to make a good impression on my new boss [….] because I wanted to be the blue-eyed boy’.

This pivotal episode also finds Lampton developing a relationship with the female doctor, Helen Reid (Janet Kay) who is charged with taking care of Susan; Lampton’s conversations with this young woman cause him to reflect on his attitudes towards the issue of social class. Commenting on her fluent French, Lampton tells her, ‘I wish mine was better, but when I was a kid it didn’t seem to matter much: it didn’t seem to have anything to do with going out and making a living’. When asked if that was something that was important to him, Lampton responds, ‘Yes. Why? Because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a place like Dufton [….] Then, of course, once you get out you have to make sure you don’t go back and you’re able to stay out’. ‘Did you ever reach a point where you feel safe?’, Helen asks. ‘You always think you’re going to, but you never do. The next deal, the next job, that’s the one that’s going to make you fireproof. You know what I really feel? Trapped’, he tells her: ‘You know, these days I go to all the best places, but you always feel that somebody, the head waiter, is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, we’re on to you, Lampton. You can’t fool us. We know you’re only posing as a success. We know you’re Joe Lampton from Canal Street. Get back there and leave this place to proper people”’. In fact, Lampton’s entrenched attitudes towards social class have led him to be alienated from his two children, Barbara and Harry – both of whom have been raised in a middle-class environment that is very different to Lampton’s own upbringing. In ‘You’ll Never Understand Women’, Susan asks Lampton, ‘Making up the rules as you go along?’ ‘Sometimes you have to, if you want to stay in the game’, Lampton tells her. Susan tells Lampton that their daughter is going to Susan’s old school. ‘By the time she’s 18, she’ll be taking her A Levels in show jumping’, Lampton notes dryly; ‘At that school, father’s bankbook is required reading… or grandfather’s, in this case’. Lampton’s working-class roots show in his prejudice of Susan’s more privileged background, but he also notes that ‘I wouldn’t want King Kong going to my old school’. In ‘Welcome on the Mat’, Lampton visits his Uncle Dick in Dufton and, returning, expresses his unhappiness with his life in London to Helen Reid. Over dinner, Lampton tells Helen, ‘I’ve had enough of London. I mean, I’ve always known it was full of crap, but I thought I could handle that. In fact, for a while I even enjoyed it. I could always laugh up my sleeve at all of them. But yesterday, I went to visit my uncle Dick in Dufton, and driving through the streets, I felt like… I felt like I was a kid, as if I belonged there. It was nice to be back among real people again, people who’ve got real dignity and not the bullshit that passes for sophistication down here’.

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Lampton’s roots are foregrounded in the second episode, ‘A Very Desirable Property’, which opens with Lampton having been fired from Clayton Textiles. In this episode, Lampton and his childhood friend, entrepreneur Charlie Armitage (Colin Welland), are introduced whilst entertaining a pair of women after a night out. Lampton buys the option to purchase one of Armitage’s mills, although unbeknownst to Armitage Lampton has done this not with the intention of actually purchasing the mill but rather to spite the MacLaine Group. In this episode, Lampton and Armitage reflect on their shared past and their desire to make it to the top, regardless of who they have to trample on to get there: ‘We were both brought up on bread and dripping; who could blame us if we want a touch of caviar and champagne?’, Charlie tells Lampton. However, their shared heritage is worth little when Armitage discovers that Lampton has no intention of buying the mill and has in fact cheated him out of a better offer that has been made by the MacLaine Group. ‘You’ve done me’, Armitage asserts angrily; ‘To think I could have cleaned up. You’ve made a bloody fool of me round here. I won’t be made a bloody muggins for you, lad, or Abe Brown: I’ve come too far under me own steam’. ‘Oh, aye, and you’ve run over a good few and all’, Lampton retorts. ‘Rats they were, just like you; and I’ve not finished yet, matey. I want to see you come unstuck and waste no time about it’, Charlie tells Lampton threateningly.

As with the first series, this second series of Man at the Top casts a dry eye over Lampton’s chauvinistic behaviour. His attempts to rekindle his relationship with Susan are motivated not by love but by a desire to ‘get on’ with his new employer, Bernard MacLaine (James Maxwell), who has taken over Clayton Textiles – the company for which Lampton works. In a letter, Lampton is told that MacLaine likes to see that his employees have stable domestic lives. ‘In other words, Joe, if you want to keep your job, get the wife back’, Lampton mutters to himself. Elsewhere, Lampton begins casual affairs with a number of woman, including Helen Reid (in ‘A Mug Like Me’), a journalist (in ‘You’ll Never Understand Women’) and research chemist Miss Fielding (played by Hilary Dwyer, in ‘Nobody Gets in My Way’). Lampton’s casual chauvinism is evident from the first episode and its opening confrontation between Lampton and Susan, and this second series sometimes manoeuvres Lampton into reflecting on his relationships with women: in ‘Nobody Gets in My Way’, Lampton is forced to reflect on his treatment of Miss Fielding when he is given the task of telling the idealistic young research chemist that her research project for the MacLaine Group is to be shelved indefinitely; most overtly, in ‘Welcome on the Mat’, Lampton must deal with the aftermath of his daughter’s death and its effect on Susan, who is being held in a mental hospital after suffering a breakdown.


Disc One:
1. ‘You’ll Never Understand Women’ (51:34)
2. ‘A Very Desirable Property’ (51:14)
3. ‘The Knacker’s Yard’ (52:34)

Disc Two:
4. ‘Nobody Gets in My Way’ (51:20)
5. ‘A Mug Like Me’ (52:05)
6. ‘Welcome on the Mat’ (52:28)

Disc Three:
7. ‘How to Make a Fortune’ (51:46)
8. ‘All Very Hush Hush’ (51:05)
9. ‘Don’t Rock the Boat’ (51:08)

Disc Four:
10. ‘Living Like a Lord’ (50:41)
11. ‘High Stakes’ (51:57)
12. ‘Winners are Losers’ (51:50)
13. ‘The Foreman’s Job at Last’ (51:41)

Video

The second series of Man at the Top was filmed on a combination of videotape (for studio-based sequences) and film (for location footage). The episodes are presented in their original broadcast screen ratio of 1.33:1, and the original break bumpers are intact. This DVD release contains a handsome presentation of the series, with no flaws that should impact on your enjoyment of the series.

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Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel mono track, which is problem-free. However, there are no subtitles.

Extras

Sadly, there is no contextual material.

Overall

Man at the Top is a fine series, which takes an objective view of its protagonist, Joe Lampton. Haigh gives his all as Lampton, and reminds us of both actor and character’s central position within the ‘Angry Young Man’ movement; this series offers a fascinating depiction of the archetypal ‘Angry Young Man’ of the British New Wave as he moves into middle age. (Haigh would play Lampton once again, in the 1973 film Man at the Top, directed by Mike Vardy.) The series also features consistently strong performances form its secondary cast, including Zena Walker (as Susan) and, in a recurring role throughout this second series, Colin Welland (as Charlie Armitage). Man at the Top is a great series that has sadly been little-seen since its original transmission. This DVD release comes with a strong recommendation, although it’s a shame that it contains no contextual material.

References:
Simon, John, 1980: ‘Revived Anger, Somnolent Sex’. New York Magazine (30 June, 1980): 48-9

Sinyard, Neil, 2000: Jack Clayton. Manchester University Press

Taylor, Barnaby F, 2006: The British New Wave: A Certain Tendency. Manchester University Press

For more information, please visit Network DVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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