Danger Man: s03 e09 – Loyalty Always Pays


danger

Out to Africa. That’s where we and our old friend John Drake are this week. The setting is an unnamed African country, a former British colony not so long since given its Independence, but where Britain still has substantial interests, in terms of the level of Foreign Aid it is supplying. But if said country has concluded a secret treaty with the Chinese, to purchase arms, there will no longer be such support (or influence, he read between the lines, cynically). An Agent of United African Insurance, M9’s representatives out here, insists there is such a treaty, before he’s killed. The Prime Minister, good old Earl Cameron, whose innate dignity makes him perfect for such roles, insists there is not, but is allowing a British representative a free hand to investigate. Enter John Drake, aka John Hamilton, supposedly of Consolidated Minerals incorporated, seeking to negotiate mineral rights from the Minister of Defence, Mr Enugu (Errol John). If there is a treaty it’s in his very-securely protected safe. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

This is the setting for a very fine episode of intrigue. The treaty’s in the safe. Yes, the keys can be got at and duplicated. Yes, the alarm system can be disconnected, perhaps a little bit too easily. These things can be and are done. But in order to get to the Minister’s suite in the Ministry of Defence in the first place, Drake and his allies Sam Beyla (Johnny Sekka) and Miss Sefada (Dolores Mantez) must corrupt someone in the Army. The last person who can be corrupted is white English Major Bert Barrington (Nigel Stock), who is a bear for extreme and unrelenting attention to duty and detail. Major Barrington is incorruptible.

Major Barrington is also something of a racist, though this is nowhere made explicit and is not represented by his actions at any point. But it’s inherent in his ‘type’: the English Army Officer who was a big man in the Colonial Army, but who has lost prestige and standing now that the country is no longer what it used to be in “the good old days”. Yet he’s loyal to those he works for, not out of respect and/or attachment to the ‘new lot’ who are in charge, but because of his own personal integrity. Barrington is loyal because it matters to him to be loyal, an admirable thing.

So Drake, Sam and Miss Sefada set a trap for him, a complex web of deceit and seduction, built up cleverly and at length. Barrington dreams of returning to England, a little house in the country. Drake sets up a deal to defraud his own company: rights can be purchased for £110,000, the company are happy to pay £150,000, ‘Hamilton’ can’t be seen interfering in the deal and his would-be partner in crime has gone down with ticker-trouble. Where can he find a willing partner to buy at the lower price, sell to Consolidated at the higher price and split the difference?

Barrington is exploited into the scheme and hustled into providing his cheque for 10% deposit, £11,000. He hasn’t got £11,000. He’s got ‘Hamilton’s cheque for £11,000., but what is that worth? When ‘Consolidated’ drop the deal he’s so far up excrement creek that they haven’t invented paddles. But he can be rescued if he will take Hamilton into the Ministry of Defence and stand by.

Let me pause for a moment and backtrack slightly to an earlier incident when Drake is attacked and captured by men working for the Chinese representative, Chin Lee, who addresses him as Drake. At the time I put that down to excellent intelligence work on their part, but… well, let’s leave it there for now.

Barrington takes Hamilton into the Ministry. The scheme works. The treaty is found and photographed. But surveillance has reported their presence to Enugu, who orders security to find them and expel them. Then orders change: arrest them. The safe is closed but the interlopers can’t get out of the suite in time. They are captured and imprisoned. For the Major it’s utter disaster, absolute ruin. But Drake is confident: after all, the Prime Minister is, he believes, an honest man and, having used one of his elaborate gadgets to fire the photos out of the window to Sam…

And so it plays out. Enugu goes into one cell, Drake and Barrington are released from the other. The Prime Minister tears up the treaty and is grateful to Drake. He will expel Chin Lee and sends Colonol M’bota to deliver this message. Drake halts him. Chin Lee called him Drake. Only two people in the country knew his real name. One was the Prime Minister. The other was…

Between them, Drake and Barrington stop M’Bota shooting his way out. We end with the Prime Minister congratulating Barrington on his part in this, assuring him that his service will not be forgotten. Drake’s final words are even more ironic, revealing the title to be two-edged. Drake tells the Major that loyalty always pays…

This episode was made in 1965, when Britain was in the process of divesting itself of its African colonies. This was not an uncontroversial thing, and feelings ran high amongst those who believed in the Empire, who were often vocal in their rage at independence being given to jumped-up tribesmen who did not know how to run a country. It was colonialism and paternalism writ large: they still needed the British to tell them what to do. What impressed me about this episode was that, outside of the Major’s veiled reference to the ‘good old days’, there was not the slightest sniff of this attitude. This unnamed country was presented as a grown up nation, serious, thoughtful, obviously proud and in no way needing paternalist approaches. The episode featured an overwhelmingly black cast, although its guest star, Nigel Stock, was also white (yet he was the weak link) and there were only two other roles, both small, one nothing but a cameo, for white actors.

What was also typical of the times, and I confess that I am too young to know whether this is a criticism or not, was how Westernised everybody was, in clothing, in activities, in decor. There was an air of familiarity to this, as if I had seen that approach much more often than just in this episode, as if that was a standardised approach on British TV: if you want to make the African nation look noble, respectable and sincere, dress it in our clothes, make it look as much as possible like our country. Or were such emerging nations at first looking to ape the West in order to be taken seriously? Was this a trope, or did it have real elements to it? I have no idea, just suspicions, but if this really was a fantasy, then despite the inherent cultural insensitivity of it, then I take the episode to be with genuine good intent, so that an audience that would almost certainly be ignorant might treat this country with respect, however paternalistic the attitude.

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