Preston Front: s02 e03 – Spock’s Leg


Preston Front is a howling delight to watch, but it can be a bugger to blog, I can tell you, especially with an episode like this, based around a clearly-defined, one-off story yet full of little threads and tangles that have nothing to do with the plot but which just happen to be taking place at the same time, three of them involving relationships headng in disparate directions.

But first, the story. It’s all about the week of Spock’s Leg. Nothing to do with one of those long, hairy things and proceed in a downwards direction from the, ahem, waist, but rather a leg of a journey. Or in this case a Foreign Exchange Student trip. You see, in that first series, the one with the longer title, when the TA were in Germany, Spock – an intellectual, placid, artistically-minded history teacher who is so far out of place in Roker Bridge as would be a twenty-foot tall orange fluorescent statue of Mao Zedong – made the acquaintance of Dieter, of the German TA. Actually, he stuck his rifle in Dieter’s ear when the latter was flat on his face in the mud, wearing camo, but it’s the thought that counts. Spock being Spock, learning that Dieter was also a history teacher, assumed he was identical of character and set up this Exchange thing for their respective schools, full of local history, art, culture.

Unfortunately, when Dieter (Kim Romer) turns up at the airport, where Spock’s gang is waiting with all manner of transport, up to and and including Lloydy’s latest Waste-of-moneymobile, he turns out to have turned into an arsehole. Dieter wears his peroxided hair in a flashy gelled-back style and goes for short-sleeves and very-cut-off shorts. Dieter is a Warrior, a hard body (with its usual concomitant, a soft mind), out for fun, i.e., pubs and rock gigs. He also has the habit of descriving things of which he approves as ‘Opposite the Hotel!’ This is a meaningless phrase that his fellow teacher has conned him into thinking is cool slang for cool. His fellow teacher is Ingrid (Angela Pearson). Ingrid is tall, with long blonde hair and considerably beautiful. He is a chain smoker, though the cigarettes she smokes turn out to be cannabis, not tobacco, a personal recreation choice that becomes much more understandable when you see how much of an arsehole Dieter is, with his insistence on going for six mile runs, to Deisel’s garage and back, wearing a bin-liner.

It also appears that Ingrid is attracted to, of all people, Spock. His intelligence, his artistic appreciation – they both love Klimt – and his ability to lay food out in an interesting fashion. Typically, Spock is slow to realise this, though thid is based not in obtuseness but the basic inability to believe that a woman as flat out gorgeous as Ingrid could want to get anywhere near him (I know, Spock, mate, I know).

Sadly, it takrs Hodge and Spock to learn from the increasingly morose Ingrid that it is not Spock himself that she is attracted to, but the person he so much reminds her of, namely the pre-German TA Dieter, who was indeed a total and utter Spock. Spock doesn’t realise this, Dieter doesn’t realise this, and ultimately it’s the poor bugger who has to brwak it to his German colleague. So Dieter gets the happy ending and Spock the familiar one. Of course it wasn’t real. It never is. That’s the other side of Tim Firth’s writing, the ability to naturally bring unforced humour out of a situation that’s tragic on a personal level without letting you escape from the real emotions.

So that was the story of Spock’s Leg but of course there’s much more to the episode than that. For all of series 1. Lieutenant Rundle found himself working under Corporal Polson in the Leisure Centre at the Hotel, and Polson exploited that with all the poisonous malice squatting in his short-arsed form. But the great day has arrived. Rundle has completed his training. Not only is he escaping from the Leisure Centre but he’s being invested as Manager of the entire Hotel. Now he’s Pete Polson’s boss in both areas of their acquaintance. Rundle’s so relieved at it that he’s being incautiously open abut the little ‘doom-goblin’ to tha Area Manager, the bright, blonde and beautiful Sarah (Beth Goddard). She loves the phrase, thinks it so perfect, but she does know Pete: after all, she got him his job after he got out of the Regulars. And he’s her husband.

Which leads to an incredibly funny sequence. Ally’s feeling bored. She’s told Dawn that she’s going to apply for a Commission. But at the local Law Society Dinner Dance, held at guess-which-Hotel, Ally’s youth makes her as much out of place as her younger brother is anywhere. She’s bored out of her skull and, spotting a familiar face behind the Reception desk, commandeers Rundle to ostensibly show her a change of rooms for her and husband Frasier, but really to get ten minutes of intelligent, interesting not-small-talk. Which leads to R|undle telling her about Sarah Polson and hysteria about why in God’s name she ever married him? Rundle speculates that it must be that Polson is a sex machine, a splutteringly funny but also mind-curdling thought that leads to Ally’s own speculations about the attraction of a diferent kind of life and their joint wondering about what happens when the spell wears off, which is followed by a long and passionate kiss, which is rather more rapidly followed by the hasty coming-to-their-senses, disengagement and separation. Ally’s left worrying about the implications of what she’s done, whilst Rundle is smiling over all parts that can smile. Hmm.

The best bit though is that this scene is intercut with Polson driving home, to this great, plush, stately Hotel where he lives with Sarah, arriving to find her curled up on the couch watching TV, silently, especially towards him. When he tries to start a conversation about the TA, she chops him off with a question about something he was supposed to bring back, which he hasn’t. Polson sits there, humbled and wanting, the sex machine theory having hopefully been exploded for once and for all.

Better things are happening between Dawn and Eric. She’s still not pressuring him to move out of home, where he’s waited on hand and foot and all is rosy except for his seriously depressed father, who’s as much a dead weight on the easy-to-anchor Eric as Old Man Steptoe. But she wants the flat, and she wants Eric to move in with her, and she needs Eric to afford the rent. And there he is, bumbling to her about all the problems at home, and how it’s not the right time, and the light is running out of Dawn’s eyes at Eric being as Eric as he posibly can, until he tells her it’s never going to be the right time and produces an envelope with his part of the deposit… Good lad.

One up, one down. We need a tie-breaker and we have it in Hodge and Laura. Both have had invitations next week. Laura’s is the infamous ‘business lunch’ with Greg Scarry, and she can’t talk about anything else. That and her professional catering business. Every time Hodge tries to speak, no matter what it’s about, Laura is cutting through the sentence like the classic knife through hot butter (I have been there too, oh have I been there too). It’s running downhill like the Rivers Esk, Irt and Mite at Ravenglass. So Hodge can’t get to tell anyone but Eric about the invitation he’s received, to Kirsty’s birthday party, complete with smiling giraffe. Eric refuses to believe it, insists Hodge must have forged it. But the envelope has been addressed by Jeanetta.

Next week is going to be fun.

2 thoughts on “Preston Front: s02 e03 – Spock’s Leg

  1. Not related to this post, but as you are a TV buff I wondered if you can recall a TV series/film probably in the late-_60s to early seventies. I have no idea of its title but recall Chinese or Japanese people jumping off a cliff and, as they did so, they burst into flames. Sorry to be so vague. Think it was on ITV around about 7pm.

    1. I’m sorry but I don’t recall seeing any such series, but, though I rarely watched it, I do recall a cult programee on BBC2 in the early seventies at about that time. It was called ‘Monkey’ and was a genuine Chinese programme dubbed into English. It was certsainly the kind of thing that would have the sort of things you describe. Anyone else know better than I do?

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