Recent controversy about M.P.’s drinking habits reminded me of ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ the 24 March 1981 episode of When The Boat Comes In, and Geordie Watson MP, another vivid creation of James Mitchell played by former Z Cars star Ian Cullen. Mitchell uses Watson to explore the differences between members of the Labour party and the expectations we have of Labour politicians.
We first meet Geordie Watson (centre above) in the 21 Jan 1977 episode The Way It Was In Murmansk . In Gallowshield 1921, the local Labour movement ask Jack Ford (James Bolam, above right) to speak at an election rally. Geordie’s agent Stan Liddle (Roger Avon, above left) doesn’t trust fitters union secretary Ford and refuses to enter into deals. The more astute, if lugubrious Geordie recognises that Jack has the skills he needs to win over voters. And he convinces Stan to agree to Jack’s terms.

Jack makes an impassioned speech (“a vote is a weapon, as strong as any hammer…it’s a weapon some of you are too daft to use”) and also packs the crowd with stooges to get the right reaction. We later learn in the 20 October 1977 episode Debts Owed, Debts Paid that Geordie has been elected to parliament but Stan has not followed through on their deal. Jack ensures that the debt is paid.
Stan and Geordie return in the final series episode Friends, Romans, Countrymen (24 March 1981). Now set in London, 1936, Stan (above centre) has walked 300 miles to London from Gallowshield as part of a March for Jobs. At a drill hall, Geordie discusses tactics with Labour Party candidate Mrs Lawrence (Louie Ramsey, above left). Mrs Lawrence is one of the new breed of upper class intellectual socialists. Geordie tells her to stop calling him “Comrade”. He tells her, “I’m a Democratic Socialist, Mrs Lawrence, not a Marxist, and I’m not one to sail under false colours.” There is strong debate about whether the marchers should walk back to Tyneside or accept train travel paid for by Mrs Lawrence’s fundraising. “Just imagine what the newspapers would make of the marchers travelling back by train!”
The script must have under-run on this episode as the scenes of the entitled rich dancing and drinking at Mrs Lawrence’s fundraising ‘Roman Orgy’ go on far too long. But the sequence does re-unite Jack Ford with his lost love Jessie (Susan Jameson) last seen in the 22 Sep 1977 episode My Bonnie Lass, Goodbye.

It also shows Geordie worrying over privileged information he’s given Jack about an oil company wanting to build a Refinery at Gallowshield (allowing Jack to buy up the land they need to build on). Jack tries to keep him from worrying that he’s betrayed his class. “Only politicians use words like betrayal.” Jack tops up his glass of champagne and Geordie tells him, “I like champagne so I drink it. Back home I drink Bitter. I don’t like it, but I drink it.”

The sub-text of the episode is all about appearances. No-one would raise an eyebrow at a Conservative or Liberal candidate drinking champagne, but Labour MP’s are always supposed to stick to Bitter. James Mitchell’s script quotes from Julius Caesar and the sub-text of this episode may well be that some men are born to champagne, some achieve champagne and others have champagne thrust upon them.

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