Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I DREAM OF 'TO THE BRINK' (Peter Davies, 1988)

A boy (Matthew Rhys) dreams about a television show that he is convinced must be real, so rich is the detail in his head. He spends a day walking around his small Welsh town, asking people if they have heard of it. They have not. Every time he sleeps, he is taken to this world, a forgotten comedy-drama from the 1970s, an alternative past that only he can access.

Upon waking, he carried back with him the fully-formed history (life, loves, unloves) of a character he knew to be fictional, and yet: it was perfect in all the ways that a plausible outline should be, but vague and imprecise at the exact points that made it seem flesh rather than a carefully sculpted invention (taking into account the obvious, which is that art must consider logic in a way that real life does not, swathes of this dreamt figure's history were in the shadow, as blurry as a stranger at a station about which nothing is known except their keenness for the arrival of a train).

In the dream, the man was an English actor, a descendent of the Barrymore clan, whose name was Richard, or Rich, or maybe he was just rich. He was handsome in a slightly exotic way, dark like Tom Conti, but taller. Richard Barrymore then, estranged nephew of Sir John, who played posh con artist Hugh Brinkman in 70s sitcom To The Brink. He knew that this didn't exist, this show, but it sat in place in his mind as comfortably as those that did. To The Brink, numbers could be fabricated that seemed correct: 140 episodes, between 1974 and 1981, with a Christmas special in 1983 completing the cycle. By that point, Barrymore was starring in minor British films, small cameos in Hollywood productions, a grey beard for the stage, the usual. He died on-set in 1989, liver failure, the drink. 53. Loved, missed. They said nice things about him as a man, more than his acting. His technique was neither here nor there, his charms were his chops.

In the dream, the boy is looking at black and white photos from this show under a Christmas tree at his grandmother's old house, the one that stayed as a constant in his childhood. He can see the faces of the cast, including the grumpy pub landlord with the catchphrase ('Last orders, gentlemen. You too Mr Brinkman.'), the very common and very pretty Susie Soap, who works for Hugh in some capacity or other, and Mr Constable (played by an actor who was clearly well-respected and famous, because despite appearing for only one scene every week he was billed in the credits in large lingering letters as 'featuring Leo Carmichael as Mr Constable', to canned applause), a pensioner who Brink stops in to check up on, as some kind of penance or display of his virtuousness, lest the rest of the show leave us in doubt as to the golden heart below the caddish exterior. To The Brink survived the axe with the introduction of thick but loveable Jamaican sidekick Malcolm in the second series, a step that caused the show to be both praised for racial diversity and attacked for an apparent lampooning of immigrants. The boy loved Malcolm, and laughed just thinking of him.

Escapades: Brink always needed money, despite being to the manor born. Each week he would trip into some scam designed to return his crumbling estate to fortune. But everybody around him, except a select few, thought that his bank account was overflowing, and were trying to rip him off at every turn. Thus the frequent situation where Brink would be lavishing presents on a disinterested socialite while trying to convince would-be gangsters of his poverty.

There always seemed to be a scene where, Brink, cornered by some heavies/ an annoyed husband/ the police would feign a cockney accent and talk his way out of trouble; an inverse Eliza Doolittle, dropping 'is H's like smart bombs, for deliberate effect, and burying schooled vowels in South London lock-ups with the documented evidence of his five-hundred year-old family tree.

The boy even recounted some of the lines, pulling off approximations of the normal cut-glass Brink voice and his rougher alter-ego, but the town just laughed indulgently, and spoke of other television shows that they remembered, and were actually real. But none of them were vehicles, souped-up or otherwise, for the elusive and charming Hugh Brinkman.

I Dream Of 'To The Brink' Directed by Peter Davies Produced by Vic Marshall Written by Rick Green Starring Matthew Rhys, Thomas Bowen, Laura Ashe, Willie Ross Channel 4 Films 107mins Release Date UK: Nov 1988 US:N/A Tagline: 'Come Back, Hughie Brink, Your Drink Needs Drinking!'

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