The Organization: Rodney Spurling and Peter Frame (Seventies TV Season)

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I am delighted to kick off my season of posts about 1970s TV shows with this show, which was the winner of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Television Drama Series in 1973, an award which was well deserved in my opinion. Perhaps I should stress that it is not to be confused with the film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier, which may be better known in the US. Actually it may also be better known here, because I can't think why all the rubbish 1970s TV series are so dominant when there is quality like this lying about.

On the surface The Organization is a programme about the machinations and politicking in a large organisation called Greatrick. That is the introduction you will read all over t'internet and it may even say that on the DVD release, which is probably one of the reasons I'd heard of this show but never fancied watching it, because I find sitcoms about office politics deadly. But this show is much much more than that. If I tell you that we never see the oft-mentioned chairman and the business of the company is never made entirely clear (soft drinks and toys are mentioned at various times), it should give you some idea that there is much more going on here. In fact it's a portrait of a particular time and a documentation of people's responses to the stresses; actually scrub that because it makes this show sound terribly stodgy and completely misses how entertaining it is.

The show manages to depict all sorts of aspects of human behaviour and also encapsulates a lot of the concerns about modern life that I have often noted in the TV of the sixties. For example up to this episode we have seen a man apply for a job in Greatrick and the work he goes to to ensure he gets the job: he hires an agency to virtually guarantee he gets it by working on his every movement and response during the interview, even to the extent of him going through dress rehearsals under real conditions. This probably wouldn't be that unusual these days but I think in 1972 this would have been strong stuff and a scary indicator of the way the world was going. I wish I had the sociological history to know exactly when things like personnel, time and motion, audit and public relations hit the business world in the UK (although I have been surprised to find their historical origins go further back than I expected), because my perception has been that there is a common presentation of these things as scary innovations in sixties and seventies TV. I don't necessarily mean quite as scary as the Business Efficiency Bureau in The Avengers, although I think the show encapsulates a fear, as does The Prisoner in some episodes. I have no way of being certain that the fear of the brave new business world was real, but these shows must have perceived some real fear to draw on.

In Rodney Spurling and Peter Frame the Public Relations department is assessed by a psychologist called Dr Ducker (presumably an obvious reference to Peter Drucker), who meets with every member of the department. We go from the natural anxiety before his arrival to the way the entire thing turns into chaos as every member of the department says exactly the wrong thing. In between we see much of the workings of the organisation and I have to say that it's fascinating. You never get the sensation in this show that we are watching meaningless ordinary events as you do in some sitcoms: every event has a meaning which is explored and teased out, and builds up the picture. We see the staff relating to each other and of course how people react as the assessment of the department goes horribly wrong. Because obviously the thing to say to a management psychologist is that your job is completely pointless and unnecessary.

If I have a criticism it would be that the ending of this episode is rather weak and something more really needed to happen instead of the department just carrying on.

I realise that I probably haven't been able to give you an adequate idea of what this show is like so instead I'm going to end with its theme tune which is an absolute BANGER:

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